Breaking the Paralysis, Rebuilding the Trade Union Movement
1 February 2016
“Alter today to be relevant tomorrow - don’t lock yourselves in perpetual court battles when workers are crying out for leaders to fight against labour brokers, low wages and exploitation of the working class” - Sello Selepe interim President of newly registered DEMAWUSA
The National Office Bearers of the Nine Plus unions acting on the historic mandates they have received, to work with other unions, to convene a Workers Summit based on the principles that unions must be independent and militant, met for the first time this year on 28 January 2016.
A. We made an analysis of the ongoing and deepening political, economic and trade union movement crisis in our country and made the following key points:
1. The government is consciously entrenching a neoliberal approach that is strengthening the ruling class, and which is increasing levels of exploitation and poverty.
2. The ruling class nationally and internationally have unlimited access and pressure points to check Government strategy, while the working class has been marginalised and subject to attack.
3. The economy is being systematically deindustrialised, sold off and opened for unfettered market forces, and more recently to serve as a subservient conduit for the expansionist policies of external world powers which all have their own agenda.
4. The Alliance and the government it supports and protects are faced with an unprecedented credibility crisis and are increasingly dependent on patronage networks and historical loyalties in order to maintain support and control.
5. There is a ‘crisis of representation’ in the country with millions feeling disempowered and marginalised, and the very nature of our system of representative democracy is being questioned.
6. The State has increasing become an instrument of class oppression, especially in terms of quelling community protest, surveillance and secrecy, derailing democratic organisations, undermining of existing democratic processes, and serving as a cover for institutionalised corruption.
7. Despite the above, government and the ruling party/alliance are aware of their own fragility, and have been forced to make concessions in the face of popular mass action of students who have political and agitation power but limited economic power.
8. The quadruple crisis of unemployment, poverty, inequalities and corruption continues to deepen whilst at the same time the drive towards a kleptocractic capitalist order wherein predatory elites will not be held accountable continues unabated.
B. In our analysis of the state of the trade union movement we have noted the following:
1. The political and organisational paralysis of the main federation, but also the impact of a period of ‘pacification’ on those working to break the paralysis.
2. The fragmentation of the movement generally, the growth of new unions, and the very limited collective activity that has taken place over the last period.
3. The extremely limited amount of grass roots organising and education taking place across the trade union movement, compounded by a worsening resource crisis.
4. An inability to make common cause with those layers (especially within the poor communities of the working class) who are actively struggling but who remain largely uncoordinated and without campaigning resources.
5. The huge numbers of formal (7m) and informal workers (4m if agriculture and domestic workers are included) who remain almost all unorganised.
6. The parlous state of internal democracy/mandating/constitutional observance in many unions and the increasing use of victimisations and the ruthless purging of dissent. The absence of internal democracy has also allowed certain leaders to loot their unions for personal accumulation.
C. Workers Summit: Radical Re-Think Required: Our Proposals
1. We will call together all of those we have worked with in the Steering Committee and propose that we discuss and hopefully agree on the need to convert the Workers Summit into the Founding Meeting of a new Federation, based on a Minimum Platform.
2. At the Founding Meeting or Workers Summit, we propose an Interim Leadership committee will be elected that seeks to be an inclusive and representative body to put in place infrastructure and plan for the first policy and elections Congress that should take place on May Day of 2016.
3. That a series of urgent task teams be formed to focus on matters such as the principles, Constitution/Structure, Finances and Resources, Policy Development, Education and Campaigns, External Relations etc.
4. Work is however required to allow all unions to sufficiently consult members and their structures to endorse the new approach. In this regard it was noted that:
- FAWU had thorough going debate on this issue at the NOB level, will convene the NEC and hold a congress in April 2016
- SACCAWU will hold its normal congress in September 2016
-SASAWU is convening a NEC and is working towards a congress in April and or May 2016
- SAFPU will hold its NEC during the month of February
- SAPSU will hold its NEC during the month of February
5. The more direct conception of the Workers Summit, we have agreed, must be politically won with our friends and allies. We want an independent, militant and fighting workers movement capable of working with other civil society formations to drive change. A failure to do this will not only make us lose not only the moment but will be abdication of our revolutionary responsibility to the working people.
D. Campaigns to break the paralysis and fight for workers’ interests – Hands Off Workers’ Provident Funds!
1. All unions will in writing support the NUMSA Section 77 notice on the changes to Provident Funds/Pensions already submitted at Nedlac and will do so by 1 February so that Nedlac constituencies takes this into account in the Section 77 committee that will consider Section 77 notice on 2 February 2016.
2. We call on all workers kick-start lunch-hour mass general meeting and factory demonstrations as from 2 February. This will ensure that members gives us a mandate on the programme we are announcing and to ensure every worker is mobilised in support of our demands
3. In this regard the first day of national action shall be 6 February. Gauteng is to organise shop stewards and activists to do a human chain surrounding the Union Buildings under a slogan “Hands off our provident funds”. All other provinces should target government institutions.
4. It is important that we recognise that public sector workers will also be affected by the changes in pension/tax law, not immediately but as part of a process of the state abrogating its responsibilities to provide a living pension to all workers.
5. The President of the country has been caught out lying! He claimed that there was sufficient consultation with the unions, even putting in a number of meetings that never happened. We call on the President to withdraw the amendments or face the wrath of the working people! Instead of telling lies, he must put on the table for negotiations a comprehensive social security system and a social wage to deal with the poverty that is ravaging working class communities.
E. Resist verkrampte bosses’ attempt to destroy centralised bargaining structures
1. We note that the Free Market Foundation case in which they seek to liquidate centralised bargaining will be heard in the High Court on 28 and 29 February 2016. We call on all workers to stage picket demonstrations at the High Court during these hearings.
2. We note with concern that the man who signed the Free Market Foundations affidavits, launching this assault on hard-won workers gains, Herman Mashaba, who is/was the chairperson of the Free Market Foundation, is now the DA candidate for the Mayorship of Johannesburg. This underlines the unholy intersection between the DA as the party of workers’ class enemies and the most backward and conservative anti-union bosses who seek to reverse every gain workers have made.
F. A new recruitment campaign to reach the 71% unorganised workers
1. A meeting of the new/smaller unions to help strength them is going to be an essential activity moving forward, and this will be taking place shortly.
2. A workshop of all organisers to develop a concrete recruitment campaign to reach out to the 71% unorganised workers shall be convened early in February. This strategy will include a plan to organise in rural and small towns. Accordingly we shall announce very soon when we walk into every city street and rural area to insist that all employers observe the letter and spirit of the law on such as issues as casualisation, equal pay for work of equal value, pay, etc. This will be a high-energy campaign.
3. The General Secretaries will convene a meeting of the NOBs in which the current weaknesses of the unions will be openly confronted. Without addressing the current weaknesses and/or inability to recruit new members, service workers and education, weaknesses will be reproduced in the future. This will herald a conscious break of in the cycle of paralysis.
G. Fight the Labour Brokering System and outsourcing
1. The campaign will continue to demand a total ban of the labour brokering system, while at the same time demand that the legal status of all workers employed by labour brokers for longer than three months be changed to direct and permanent employment, in line with the amended legislation. This campaign will be centred on the mass recruitment of workers, in particular vulnerable workers in the retail, hospitality, security, cleaning, taxi drivers, farm, domestic worker sectors, etc.
2. The 9 Plus Unions will in their own right, write to the Minister of Labour demanding a joint monitoring and enforcement process of the amendments and other laws! This will not be done on a sectarian basis and all federations will be encouraged to participate in the campaign.
3. To take up the campaign again the phenomenon of outsourcing in both private and public sector. In this regard we will link up with other gallant struggles being fought by the alliance of students and workers and extend this campaign across the length and breadth of our country.
H. Support Community Health Workers – Support the Extended Public Works Workers!
1. We will link up directly with these workers and through other progressive civil society formations working with them. We demand that all of these workers be absorbed into the public sector and their status be changed to permanent workers.
K. Organize, Fight with and Support Vulnerable Workers, Communities and Students
1. As part of the 71% unorganized worker recruitment campaign, we will develop an aggressive organizing program and fight with and support the struggles of vulnerable workers in call centres, the agriculture and forestry sectors, restaurants and fast-food outlets, retail and wholesale, and other sectors where precarious work takes place.
2. In this regard, we wish to salute the 3 000+ Umbhaba banana farm workers in Hoedspruit, close to Malelane in Mpumalanga, who are on their 11th week of strike action in pursuit of recognition of FAWU as their union of choice. In the same way we salute other farm workers, such as those of Du Toit Farms and Ceres Fruit Growers in the Western and Eastern Cape and countless others pursuing their struggles. That workers have to campaign for recognition in this day and age is indicative of how far we have regressed.
3. We will organise those workers in retail and wholesale chains as well as those in fast food outlets and restaurants, especially those family-owned businesses. We will include those workers in hotels, conference centres and game farms/theme parks and related or similar sectors. It is time these workers were given the protection of the trade union movement.
4. We will continue to show solidarity with all of those communities that are campaigning for appropriate and adequate service delivery and the right to be heard! We can no longer allow those thousands of communities to be isolated, ignored and maltreated. We will link arms with all those who are fighting against the divisiveness of xenophobia and other negative sentiments, understanding that division undermines our power. In addition we shall find ways of supporting the student movement who have inspired us all by their determination and innovative forms of struggle. It is time we re-learned from our children that mass democratic campaigning is amongst the most crucial tools in our struggle toolbox.
L. Revive the campaign against e-tolls and for a public transport system
1. We will continue to call for civil disobedience against e-tolls in Gauteng and join forces against the introduction of the system in Cape Town and Durban as mooted by SANRAL.
2. We shall revive the Gauteng pickets and drive-slows. We shall actively link the campaign with our historic demand for a safe, reliable, affordable and accessible public transport system.
M. Fight Youth Wage Subsidy and Two-tier Wage System in Favour of a National Minimum Wage
The Freedom Charter adopted by the Congress of the People committed to a national minimum wage and a forty-hour week. Almost 22 years into our democracy these demands have not been realised. We will continue to pursue the demand for a meaningful national minimum wage not a symbolic gesture that will make no difference to the current levels of poverty and inequalities.
N. Fight the scourge of corruption including within our unions
We will renew the campaign against corruption and call on all shop stewards and members across the trade union movement to expose corruption wherever it rears its ugly head, including inside the trade unions. We will continue to support the United Against Corruption Campaign and ensure it has a working-class orientation in recognition of the fact that corruption affects workers and the poor more than anyone else, and because workers have the potential power to stop corruption and insist on accountability. The Workers Summit and the processes beyond this to form a new federation must develop more detailed strategies to deal with this phenomenon. We now have accumulated excellent experiences to draw upon to inform this process and rid the trade union movement of its own self-destructive forms of corruption.
The Struggle Continues: A New Chapter Unfolds
The activities listed above represent a decisive break with the trade union paralysis that has plagued the workers’ movement. We are moving out of the boardrooms and into the workplaces and communities where our people are facing the consequences of a bankrupt economic system that delivers poverty, inequality and unemployment, a system that allows billionaires to flourish while basic needs, food, water, electricity, decent schools and healthcare are denied to millions of our people. To deny the depth of the crisis we are in is part of the problem, and to simply say we have a ‘good story to tell’ is nothing short of an insult to those who struggle every day to make ends meet, and provide for their beleaguered families. Enough is Enough!
We have already started to organize across all provinces, and we are deeply encouraged by the willingness of workers to struggle and campaign if given the opportunity. Our task is to help strengthen organization on the ground, give solidarity and support to all of those workers and communities who are struggling now, and help coordinate and build class consciousness in the process. We remain more convinced than ever that it is only when workers and the oppressed of our country unite together in common cause that real and lasting change can be brought about.
Today we make a call to workers and the poor in every corner of our country. The time to organize is upon us.
Don’t Moan! Don’t Mourn! Organise!
Statement issued by the Nine Plus Unions, 1 February 2016