Saftu Trade Unions Convene A Working Class Summit To Fight Rising Cost Of Living And Privatisation

SAFTU demonstration during a general strike action

SAFTU (South African Federation of Trade Unions) has convened a Working Class Summit on Friday August 5 ‘to prepare a fight back’.

It said: ‘In carrying out the National Executive Committee (NEC) resolution of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), the Extended Steering Committee of the Working Class Summit has resolved to convene the Working Class Summit (WCS) on the 5th of August 2022 to assemble a fighting plan against the rising costs of living, austerity, privatisation, job losses/unemployment, crime including GBV and killing of the police officials and climate change calamity.
‘Our intent to organise and mobilise protracted struggles is not borne of unfailing fondness for strikes and protests, but because history has not presented the working class with better tools to fight for the betterment of society.
‘If anything, the historical lessons of the post-apartheid period have demonstrated that other methods such as negotiating in corporatist structures in NEDLAC, and Bargaining Councils are not adequate to bring us to a society that affords ordinary citizens a better life.
‘28 years of negotiating for a better life for all, conditions have worsened for the working class majority: Unemployment has risen to 45.6% (75.1% amongst the youth between the ages of 15 and 24 and 53.7% among Black African women).
‘The cost of food basket has increased by 46.5% since December 2019; electricity has increased by 506.53% since 2007; a price of a litre of 93 unleaded petrol has increased by 72% since March 2020 to R26.31 in July 2022.
‘The austerity cuts have reduced the number of public servants at the time when population is growing; and increases in interest rates have made debts expensive and causes mass consumer defaults by households that hold financial liabilities with financial institutions.
‘This reflects the deepening crisis of capitalism of unemployment and poverty, the burden of which is carried by the ordinary working people, and the working class has no other way to reverse the situation except to force concessions out of the government and the capitalist class on whose behalf it is serving through struggles.
‘The post-1994 euphoria has gradually evaporated, and the working class must reckon that the pre-1994 tools i.e., mass struggles, are the most effective tools we must use to fight for a better life for all.
‘#FeesMustFall and #OutsourcingMustFall have demonstrated that the ruling class will not volunteer any concession, we must organise and fight.
‘Despite the rhetoric of a “better life for all”, not only has the ANC failed to deliver, but is committed to a neo-liberal path that has reproduced poverty, unemployment inequalities and corruption.
‘In the absence of the reorganisation of the progressive working class movement, impoverished workers, the unemployed and students are giving in to the ideologies of the right wing demagogues and right wing reaction.
‘Today, the xenophobic sentiments are at a heightened level as a result. This is made possible by the vacuum created by the absence of a unified working-class movement armed with the correct ideology to steer the anger of the working class towards right enemies.
‘All working class formations must join the Working Class Summit (WCS) to become part of the organisations that organise towards unity of the working class, and together struggle to fight right wing reaction, austerity, attacks on wages and for the introduction of the Basic Income Grant (BIG).
‘We invite all the organisations wishes to participate in the summit to contact the Working Class Summit Coordinator Ferron Pedro at .’
Last month, SAFTU condemned plans to extend the privatisation of state utility Eskom.
The union federation said: ‘In a statement addressed to the nation on Monday night (25 July 2022), President Cyril Ramaphosa unveiled plans to increase the pace of energy privatisation. The DA and Big Business continue to score victory after victory when it comes to neo-liberal economic policy, under the leadership of the African National Congress.
‘We want to state upfront that the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) was not consulted by the government. In fact, SAFTU – like many other working class formations rooted in working class communities, such as those which formed the Cry of the Xcluded coalition – have never been consulted on state policy, even during the period of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘SAFTU, the second largest workers organisation, and home of the biggest private sector unions – was not consulted by the Ramaphosa administration when it comes to the supposed social compact promised several months ago as a top state priority.
‘Coming to the contents of the new policy, the President premised his plans on five areas:

  • improve the performance of Eskom’s existing fleet of power stations;
  • accelerate the procurement of new generation capacity;
  • massively increase private investment in generation capacity;
  • enable businesses and households to invest in rooftop solar; and
  • fundamentally transform the electricity sector to position it for future privatisation.

‘What we witnessed is a culmination of the process that was started by the ANC in 1997 when they refused to invest in apartheid’s ageing infrastructure, ignoring desperate calls by Eskom executives and many other experts who were then becoming aware of South Africa’s enormous renewable energy capacity.
‘There were numerous warnings that without refurbishing infrastructure, the country would soon experience load shedding (power cuts and blackouts). This is exactly what happened. It reminds of US left scholar Noam Chomsky’s analysis: “That’s the standard technique of privatisation – defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.”
‘Last night Monday 25 July, came the announcement of measures to do just that – privatisation of generation of energy! Soon this will be joined by privatised transmission and distribution. How do they plan to do that?

  • scrapping licensing requirements for private energy projects that feed into the electricity grid. Until August 2021, all energy generation facilities of more than 1MW required a licence. Then, the cap was lifted to 100MW – which led to more than 80 private sector electricity projects with a combined planned capacity of over 6,000MW.
  • accelerating an existing programme to buy electricity from Independent Power Producers which are effectively being subsided by Eskom, since the utility’s incompetence and favouring of foreign corporations meant far higher prices than prevailed elsewhere – instead of developing internal Eskom renewable energy capacity.
  • allowing Eskom to buy power from existing private generators such as mines, paper mills, shopping centres and other private entities that have surplus power.
  • importing power from Botswana and Zambia, which have more electricity capacity than they require. Before the ANC collapsed Eskom, the firm used to export – and not import – electricity.
  • using using locally manufactured inputs for green energy projects. The amount of new generation capacity procured through Bid Window 6 for wind and solar power will be doubled from 2,600 MW to 5,200 MW. Further bid windows will be released “on an expedited basis”. While localisation and renewable have our support, of course our standpoint is that this should be achieved through Eskom’s transformation, not by the private sector which has generally proven unable and unwilling to make the leap to renewable energy.
  • introducing special legislation in Parliament soon to address legal and regulatory obstacles to new generation capacity “for a limited period”.
  • encouraging businesses and households to instal rooftop solar and to connect this to the grid. We are worried that only wealthier households will have the capital resources – typically more than R150,000 for a standard 60-ampere connection – to do so and they will therefore escape the necessary cross-subsidisation that the world’s most unequal country needs.

‘We, more than anyone else, are desperate to end load-shedding. But under the current Eskom management, load shedding may one day end, but the prices of electricity will be subjected to the rules of profit maximisation.
‘As California and Texas experiences conclusively show, profiteering can be catastrophic for energy supply. So electricity will become even more of a commodity that can be accessed only by those who can afford exorbitant prices.
‘SAFTU rejects this DA and Big Business plan with the contempt it deserves.’