Sa Workers Take To The Streets

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SAFTU poster produced for the 25th April General Strike
SAFTU poster produced for the 25th April General Strike

THE SOUTH African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) said last Wednesday 25 April 2018 will be recorded in the history of the South African trade union movement as an historic turning point. This was when workers took to the streets in their many thousands to demonstrate against a poverty minimum wage and amendments to labour laws which threaten the basic constitutional right to strike.

SAFTU added last Thursday: ‘The South African Federation of Trade Unions congratulates and thanks all the members of its affiliated unions, civil society groups, political parties and members of the public who flooded the streets of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, PE, Bloemfontein and Polokwane, plus thousands more in rural areas and small towns who joined the protest by not working on the day.

‘The marchers delivered a thunderous warning shot to the government, employers and sweetheart union leaders that the people of South Africa are angrily opposed to the proposed national minimum wage of R20-an-hour minimum wage, which entrenches poverty, legitimises the apartheid wage gap and will keep thousands of workers in a daily struggle to survive, to feed the family and to pay for their children’s education.

‘It will make the world’s most unequal society even more unequal and leave millions of the poor effectively excluded from the economy with all their meagre income being used just to survive.

‘There is no less anger at the proposed bills to amend labour laws, which will make it even more difficult for workers to exercise their constitutional right to strike.

‘Existing laws already require secret ballots to be held before workers can get a certificate for a protected strike, which most unions already use but as decided democratically by the members, not imposed by government. ‘Under the new amendments unions will have to navigate even more procedural obstacles, including extra laws on how secret ballots must be conducted, an even longer period for conciliation and picketing rules to be drawn up before a strike can begin.

‘A new clause will allow employers to sit tight, make no attempt to negotiate and then go back to the CCMA and argue that the strike has been going on for “too long” or is causing ‘too much damage’ and demand arbitration of the dispute, which will become compulsory unless unions object within a short period during which they have to consult their members. ‘If they miss the deadline the arbitration can become compulsory, which would be an unconstitutional way to force workers back to work.

‘These bills will cause a particular problem for small unions with limited resources, and even more for groups of workers not in any union, who make up 76% of all employees but who have exactly the same constitutional right to strike. ‘They cannot possibly comply with all these rules.

‘The effect of these bills will be to strengthen the power of already dominant employers, and the teams of lawyers they hire to represent them.

‘It will enable them to emasculate trade unions, deny workers their basic human rights, allow their bosses to continue to exploit increasingly vulnerable workers and shift the balance of power even further in their favour. ‘If passed, these bills will severely worsen the already desperate plight of millions of workers, who face more job losses, casualisation of labour, a rising cost of living after increases in VAT, fuel levy and road accident fund levy, and deplorable levels of service in education, healthcare, and all other essential services.

‘The bills have been referred back to the Department of Labour for redrafting to include the submissions made to the parliamentary portfolio committee on labour, one of which was made by SAFTU on 17th April 2018. ‘The federation will study the new drafts and demand that they are referred back for further discussion by Nedlac, but Nedlac with SAFTU admitted that we can expose and oppose the scandalous deal on the bills which leaders of COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU negotiated behind workers’ backs and then signed off with government and business.

‘The bills will then return to Parliament and SAFTU will continue to persuade MPs to support its demands. ‘Already we have convinced three parties to support our views – the Economic Freedom Fighters, the United Democratic Movement and the African People’s Convention. We hope to convince more, including some ANC MPs. ‘We are also taking legal advice on a possible court challenge to parts of the bills.

‘But our campaign will never depend on MPs or courts to succeed, but on more of what we saw today – mass action on the streets, which will get bigger each time, until we finally achieve our goals, which are for a living minimum wage of R12 500 and amendments to labour laws to make it easier, not harder, for workers to be able to enjoy their constitutional right to strike.’ A Memorandum issued by SAFTU last Wednesday said: ‘Workers in particular are campaigning against a ferocious declaration of war by the ruling class of white monopoly capitalists, who are trying to get Parliament to pass new laws, which will entrench poverty and threaten workers’ constitutional right to withdraw their labour.

‘Already the government has increased VAT from 14% to 15% which amounts to a 7% increase. They increased a fuel levy which as you know will impact on those staying far from their places of work. They have increased the so-called sin taxes on such things used more by the frustrated working class, cigarettes and liquor. They have introduced a sugar tax despite protests from FAWU that this will lead to more job losses. ‘The government is trying to resolve a crisis created by them and a capitalist crisis workers did not create but are victims of.’ The poverty national minimum wage

of R20 an hour

‘In 2015, 30.4 million South Africans, 55,5% of the population, lived below the upper-bound poverty line of R992 a month, an increase of 2.3% from 53,2% in 2011. 40% lived below the lower bound poverty line of R544 and 25.2% had to live below the food poverty line of R441. ‘According to Oxfam, 26% of South Africa’s population is hungry on a daily basis; and half of all South Africans do not have sufficient access to affordable, nutritious and safe food to meet the basic health requirements.

‘In addition, malnutrition is the major underlying cause of death in 64% of deaths of children under the age of five; one in five children are stunted because of malnutrition and many more are deficient in the minerals and vitamins necessary for optimal development. ‘These hunger-related indicators of extreme poverty exist despite the fact that South Africa is officially food secure, i.e. it produces enough food to feed the entire population. But every year R61.5bn worth of food is wasted along the production-to-consumption chain.

‘Given that 47% of all workers earn below the proposed national hourly minimum wage of R20, it is hardly surprising that so many are going hungry. ‘We have reached these levels of hunger and food insecurity despite the very important growth in spending in social grants. In 1994 less than 2% of government spending was allocated to social grants, and it has now reached around 9% of government spending.

‘There is no doubt that poverty has been alleviated for many. 17 million people currently receive social grants of between R360 and R1600 a month. Social grants are the largest source of income for one in five households. But most unemployed people of working age are left out of the grant system and depend on others who are grant recipients.

‘It is therefore no surprise that the poorest 20% of households is now largely made up of young unemployed couples with one or two children and no grandparents. This serious gap is what has driven the demand for a universal Basic Income Grant, for which all adults would be eligible.

‘SAFTU fully supports the calls for a comprehensive social security system including for the introduction of the Basic Income Grant. ‘It is an indictment on our democracy that we have so much poverty. Workers should not be made to pay for this crisis nor should they be made to resolve a capitalist crisis.’