This is what we stand for - SAFTU

New federation calls for a programme of nationalisation guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism

Declaration of the Launching Congress of the South African Federation of Trade Unions

21-23 April 2017

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has been born. We have passed a milestone in the history of the South African trade union movement at this Launching Congress held in Boksburg from 21-23 April 2017.

700,000 workers represented by 1,384 voting delegates from 24 unions and other non-voting unions have taken the first decisive step to building a new, vibrant, independent, and democratic workers’ federation, leading the struggle against exploitation, mass unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption and taking up the struggle for the total emancipation of the working class from the chains of its capitalist oppressors.

Delegates formally adopted the name, logo and colours of red, black and gold. A constitution was adopted and a Report from the Steering Committee which spelt out the way forward for the coming period, and endorsed the principles adopted by the Workers Summit on 30 April 2016.

We are building a fundamentally different type of workers’ organisation - independent of political parties and employers but not apolitical - democratic, worker-controlled, militant, socialist-orienatated, internationalist, panafricanist from a Marxist perspective and inspired by the principles of Marxism-Leninism. 

Our historic mission is to rapidly build a united mass force of workers, which will transform their lives and pave the way for the transformation of society as a whole from one based on the greed of a rapacious capitalist elite to one run for the benefit of the working class and all the people of South Africa and the world.

But time is not on our side. Unless we urgently mobilize our forces to confront the quadruple challenge of unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption and revive the trade union movement, turn the tide and fight back against their appalling conditions of life, we shall slide into a new age of barbarism, and even worse exploitation of the working class and the poor. 

Principles and character of the Federation

We have built on the founding principles adopted by the Workers’ Summit on 30 April 2016, made important additions and adopted the following:

1. Independence: Unions must be independent from employers (in the private and public sector) and from political parties. This does not mean that unions are apolitical. 

2. Worker control and democracy: Unions must be worker-controlled and practice democracy, accountability, transparency and be tolerant. Within the federation affiliates must have autonomy. 

3. Non-racialism and non-sexism: Unions must fight for the maximum unity of all workers and reject all divisive and negative sentiment such as racism, xenophobia, tribalism and ethnicity, all of which are the product of the capitalist system which exploits divisions within the working class. We should welcome and recruit migrant workers.

4. Financial self-sufficiency and accountability and opposition, in word and deed, to business unionism, corruption, fraud and maladministration within its own ranks and in a capitalist society which is inherently corrupt, which we must fight continuously and support workers exposing corruption, e.g. Prasa and all state-owned industries, and the former Midrand municipality 

5. Internationalist and anti-imperialist: Unions must place a high priority on international solidarity. 

6. Socialist orientation: We are committed to fight the exploitation of workers and must be ready to engage in the transformation of our societies to counter capitalist exploitation, inequalities and poverty. We are inspired by Marxism-Leninism and Marxist panafricanism, based on a commitment to socialism, internationalism, all of which are complementary.

7. Militancy in fighting for the working class and the poor: Unions must be ready to actively campaign for change, and made links with all of the oppressed South Africans. 

8. We are committed to build effective organisation and representation and organise in the most effective manner to represent workers and serve their interests. 

9. We pledge our solidarity with all workers struggling for better wages and conditions of service or to save jobs and to do everything possible to save and create jobs.


Our struggle is to end class exploitation, and to dismantle colonial and apartheid capitalism and land dispossession, through a programme to reclaim land and for a socialist-orientated society. In pursuance of this we shall take up the following campaigns:

  • We support the Section 77 Notice submitted by the Steering Committee. In addition to its demand on unemployment, poverty and attacks on workers’ constitutional right to strike, we demand the banning of labour brokers, action to resolve the health crisis, for land to be restored to its rightful owners without compensation, for the scrapping of e-tolls and toll gates and the repeal of the Employment Tax Incentive Act.
  • Workers pension funds should be invested in projects which build houses for the workers and the poor, not to finance glass office towers in Sandton.
  • We demand an urgent moratorium on farm evictions of farm workers and demands that the states restored their dignity by building better houses for dwellers, who now live in houses that are no better than pigsties and go hungry even though they are the producers of food. We resolve to mobilize a campaign to end the abuses they suffer from and the fraudulent attempt to form “co-operatives” which are just fronts for the employers.
  • We shall mobilize workers to oppose Eskom’s planned closure of five coal-powered power stations, which could produce 30-40000 job losses, fight the partial privatisation of Eskom by involving independent power producers, step up the campaign against nuclear energy and develop a position on transition to socially owned renewable energy. 
  • We shall convene a Bargaining Conference to fight the attempts by the Free Market Foundation and employers to liquidate collective and centralised bargaining, and shall mobilize mass action to stop this attempt.
  • We shall resist with everything in our power a developing strategy by the state and their sweetheart unions to deny workers their right  to join trade unions and condemn employers who refuse to grant union rights and the Department of Labour, which insists on a certificate from employers that they are prepared to process debit orders, and we condemn those employers in the public service who collude with COSATU unions to  exclude independent unions and maintain conservative policies. We also call for amendments to Section 21of the Labour Relations Act.
  • We demand changes to the Pensions Amendment Act and support the call for public servants to be able to use their own pensions for housing for public servants who can’t get loans because of indebtedness and don’t qualify for RDP houses. 
  • GEMS should be a choice not compulsory, as it doesn’t work in favour of public servants. Medical aid is exorbitant and the National Health Insurance still a dream; we are not deserting it but need immediate measures. We created GEMS, but its board is now dominated by COSATU unions.
  • We shall tackle the health crisis, where we see long queues only to receive a panado while the minority enjoy private care. Emergencies are not attended to and indignity and even death is imposed on psychiatric patients through outsourcing. We shall demand public quality service like in Cuba.
  • The education crisis is a core issue. We shall convene an education crisis summit, which will focus on the class basis of a system which generates unemployment and poverty and creates workers who are only meant to serve the interests of the capitalists and the state is limited to what the capitalists allow them to do. SA’s education system is worse than those of many poorer countries.
  • We shall fight against food dumping, e.g.chickens and job losses linked to sugar tax, and against the use of EPWP Workers, which is used as a form of increased casualisation of work in local government and exploitation.
  • Banks must be nationalised, in particular the Reserve Bank, not just mineral resources.

Recruitment and organization

  • We shall immediately launch a recruitment campaign which must focus on the 76% of unorganised workers, but should also target COSATU affiliates because they are considered as unorganised and trapped. Shop stewards must be capacitated to take up recruitment and service.
  • Unions should support each other’s struggles and big unions give special material help to small unions and not just look after their own interests. No union should further expand its scope. We must encourage mergers where it is makes the union more effective and makes organisational sense, but in the meantime unions in the same sector should cooperate. 
  • There are disturbing developments in Nedlac proposing laws to ensure that all strikes must be peaceful, which ignores the problem that violence in strikes is instigated by employers who use police and private security to provoke and harass strikers. 
  • We strongly condemn the refusal by government to recognise unions which have recruited in parastatals and the public service, which undermines the right to freedom of association. Those workers who have joined a union of own choice must be given organisational rights including stop orders. We shall declare war on the political interventions by government.
  • We shall discuss with all unions about how best to deliver quality service – working towards the development of a service charter. 

Economic, social and political crisis

The current crisis, which is simultaneously political, economic and social, is rooted in the Codesa negotiated settlement which led to the end of apartheid The settlement conceded democratic political rights, but ensured that the economy remained firmly in the hands of white monopoly capitalism, through the property clause. 

This led to capture of the state and the government, the ANC and its allies by monopoly capital, and to the adoption of neoliberal, free-market capitalist economic policies in their interests. This started with Gear which was followed by the NDP. The Treasury and successive Finance Ministers were the main drivers of this process. 

At the same time a section of black capitalists who were excluded from the mainstream capitalist economy, colluded with Zuma, his cronies, public officials which he appointed, and the Guptas to embark on an orgy of looting of public resources and self-enrichment though the manipulation of tenders in both the state and state-owner enterprises. 

SAFTU opposes both these factions of the ruling class and refuses to take sides to defend either the corrupt looters or the mainstream white monopoly capitalists who are both fighting each other for control of the state and government for their own selfish class interests and not  those of the working class and poor majority which they both exploit. We shall never support one butcher against another.

The federation will oppose any attempt to resolve this crisis within the parameters of a capitalist system which has proved that it has no solutions. It is the working class who produce the country’s wealth and who are the main consumers of its commodities.

The only way out of the crisis has to be through a mass movement of the working-class based on a program guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism for the nationalisation of the mineral and manufacturing monopolies, the banks and the land, in line with the aspiration expressed in the Freedom Charter. This discussion will be further developed in an Ideological and Political Commission.


At this historic Congress, we have asserted our independence and enshrined it in our decisions. We have insisted that we must be independent, but definitely not apolitical. On the contrary, being independent means that we have to be more ready to explain our positions, because these are rooted in the needs of the working class. 

The new federation can show how different it is from other formations by showing that its principles are not just slogans, but guide our programmes in all that we do. There are huge expectations amongst the working class for SAFTU, and therefore have to live up to these expectations of the workers.

The new leadership that is elected to lead the New Federation are conscious of the very different traditions that we are now encompassing. Our differences are not a weakness, but an advantage, especially if we draw upon them to strengthen our overall approach. 

Viva SAFTU Viva!

President: Mack Tshabalala of NUMSA

1st deputy president: Nomvume Ralarala of SALIPSU

2nd deputy president: Thabo Matsotse of SAPU

General Secretary: Zwelinzima Vavi of NUMSA

Deputy GS : Phakedi Moleko of FAWU. 

National treasurer: Motshwari Lecogo of NUPSAW

Issued by SAFTU, 23 April 2017