Starvation NMW legitimises poverty – SAFTU

In May Day message Federation also condemns proposed requirement for ballot ahead of strike

Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

27 April 2018

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) joins hands with millions of workers across the world to celebrate May Day, when workers celebrate their victories, remember their fallen heroes, demonstrate their solidarity and renew the fight to liberate our class from exploitation and poverty wages from our bosses. 

It is a day when we stand up for our right to be treated with dignity and to fight for a new socialist society in which exploitation, unemployment, insecurity, poverty, hunger and inequality will be banished into the dustbin of history, and in which the Freedom Charter’s promised a country which “belongs to all who live in it, black and white” and where “the national wealth of our country, the heritage of all South Africans, shall be restored to the people” will be a reality. 

The day is recognized in every country except the countries where it all started in the 1880s - the USA and Canada, during a fight for an eight-hour working day, when workers were forced to work as long as sixteen hours a day. 

In 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions passed a resolution that eight hours would constitute a legal day`s work from 1 May 1886. 

250 000 American workers heeded the call and in Haymarket Square, Chicago, police attacked a rally of striking workers and killed six. The next day, during a demonstration to protest against the police brutality, a bomb exploded in the middle of a crowd of police. Seven officers were killed and 66 injured.

It was never established who threw the bomb - an 'anarchist,' or a police 'agent provocateur’.  But police fired on the demonstrators, killing and wounding many. They rounded up hundreds of union activists throughout the country. Eight union leaders were put on trial for murdering the policemen. 

Seven of them had not been at the demonstration and the eighth was the speaker on the platform, so none of them could have thrown the bomb. But they just wanted to  find scapegoats. The Chicago Tribune of the day gave the game away with the headline: "Hang an organiser from every lamp-post!”

One of the eight, August Spies, a leader of the International Working People's Association, made a powerful speech: 

"Your Honour, in addressing this court I speak as the representative of one class to the representative of another… If you think that by hanging us you can stamp out the labour movement... the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil in want and misery expect salvation - if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there and there, behind you - and in front of you, and everywhere, flames blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out."

On 11 November 1887, four of the union leaders were executed.

To commemorate these ‘Haymarket Martyrs’ the International Working Men`s Association declared 1 May an international working-class holiday and in 1904 the International Socialist Conference called on "all Social-Democratic Party organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on 1 May for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace."

The South African Federation of Trade Unions is continuing to honour that pledge, as we proved in magnificent fashion last Wednesday, when thousands of workers went on strike and took over the streets of our big cities to reject a poverty minimum wage and attacks on workers’ constitutional right to strike.

They were supported by thousands more workers in the small town and rural communities where workers heeded the call to stay away from work to fight for “the class demands of the proletariat”. 

It is a campaign that will continue and grow, as workers revive the traditions of the 1880s in the USA and the 1980s in South Africa when workers forced even Botha’s apartheid dictatorship to declare 1 May a public holiday.

This general strike and the mass marches were just the start of a wave protests not just to stop these bills being passed but to turn the tide against the erosion of workers' power and falling living standards by a rampant capitalist class of employers.

It is fitting that the Workers’ Month, of May follows Freedom Month. Last Friday we commemorated the first democratic elections on 27 April 1994, for which the organized workers can take most of the credit. It led to votes for all, and a constitution which safeguards human rights and workers’ right to organize and strike.

We have however yet to see any similar progress in the fight for economic freedom. Millions of workers, employed and unemployed have yet to win the freedom from the risk of losing their job, being plunged into poverty or racially abused and discriminated against. 

The majority of poor, overwhelmingly black, women and men are still struggling from day to day just to keep their families alive and healthy. They have to live on poverty wages or social grants, or in many case just the generosity of family and friends to keep them alive. 

And the situation is getting even worse. In the fourth quarter of 2017, 9.2 million people were unemployed, 36.6% of the working population by the more realistic expanded definition, which includes people who are unemployed but have stopped looking for work. This is one of the top six highest levels in the world. 

Jobs are disappearing daily and thousands more are now under threat. The latest breaking horror story is that Lonmin is embarking on cutting 12,600 jobs as it closes old mines, while Impala Platinum is reviewing the future of mines at Impala Lease Area near Rustenburg

More and more of the remaining jobs are insecure and low-paid, as outsourcing, casualisation and exploitation by labour brokers continue unabated. Millions of workers in the farms, security, catering and domestic sectors and other casual workers continue to face super-exploitation at the hands of the same mainly white and male employers who humiliated and abused them during the colonial and apartheid days. 

Employers also want to destroy collective bargaining and drive down wages to the lowest level which desperate workers are prepared to accept.

Inequality is the widest in the world with the highest Gini coefficient, which measures inequality, at about 0.68. Deloitte accountants revealed that the average pay of executives in the country’s top 100 companies is now R17.97 million a year, which amounts to R69 000 a day and R8 625 an hour! That is 430 times the R20 an hour that the same employers expect workers to survive on.

That is why SAFTU is so incensed by COSATU, NACTU and FEDUSA agreeing to a starvation national minimum wage which legitimises poverty and entrenches the wage gap we inherited from the apartheid racist dictatorship. 

We are going to continue with our campaign to get the National Minimum Wage billed scrapped and to fight for a living minimum on which workers and they families can lave a decent life.

Inequality is equally stark in the share of the social wage. Top-quality education, healthcare, housing and transport are available for the rich minority. The poor majority have to suffer underfunded schools, slum housing, understaffed hospitals and overcrowded and dangerous public transport.

All these problems are made even worse for the workers and the poor by the corruption by political and business leaders in both the private and public sectors, which robs people of the money desperately need to improve these services. 

This looting of public resources involves not just the president and the Gupta family but a capitalist system which in inherently corrupt, based on the stealing the surplus value created by the sweat of workers’ labour. This is becoming clearer every day as scandals unfold in big companies like KPMG and Steinhoff and the latest evidence of price fixing the construction cartels.

Meanwhile the trade union movement is fragmented and weak. 76% of workers are not organised in any union, many of them in the most vulnerable sectors These are those with the greatest need for unionsand SAFTU has made it a priority to organise them.

These are also the most at risk from the amendments to the labour laws, agreed to by the same federations in Nedlac who have caved in to the employers and government, with an agreement to legal measures which will undermine workers’ hard-fought-for and constitutional right to strike.

SAFTU had no part in the discussions on this sell-out agreement. it was deliberately excluded by a change in Nedlac’s protocols, made at the suggestion of the labour constituency,  just before SAFTU was launched in April 2017, to require new federations applying for admission to have been in existence for two years and to have submitted audited accounts for that period. 

They knew full-well that SAFTU, which was only launched thee months later, would be unable to comply with this rule. This was a conscious move to keep out a new militant federation which would expose and oppose the sell-out deals which the other federations were negotiating and later signed. 

The new obstacles which unions will have to navigate before they can get a certificate to allow a protected strike will make what is already a complex and time-consuming process even more onerous. 

For thousands of workers in small unions and millions in no union at all, it will become virtually impossible to organize and pay for the necessary compulsory balloting, conciliation processes and drawing up picketing rules. 

These unorganized workers have the same constitutional right to strike, but are effectively denied the possibility of a protected strike, and will face the danger of victimization or retrenchment if they strike. That is why we must get them organised in SAFTU unions as fast as possible.

None of South Africa’s workers have yet enjoyed the future promised by the Freedom Charter, and it was outrageous for Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, who has masterminded the legislation on both the poverty minimum wage and the labour law amendments, to pronounce last week that these new laws are a "mission accomplished”, and that "Measured against the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, the 1955 Freedom Charter, the 1996 South African Constitution and the 2009 and 2014 ANC election manifestos, our labour laws will score a 100% mark. Our labour laws tick all the right boxes on all fronts and these call for celebration by none other than the workers themselves”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The only people celebrating if these laws are passed will be the employers, who are being given green light to continue paying starvation wages and impose new rules and restrictions on worker which will leave employers in an even stronger position to force them to stay at work.

SAFTU’s mission is to revive the hopes of working class, by building a mighty mass movement and to mobilise workers and poor communities, in their workplace and on the streets, to assert their power and start the fight-back, as we showed last Wednesday.

But time is not on our side. If we do not urgently confront the quadruple challenge of unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption, if workers cannot turn the tide and fight back against their appalling conditions of life, we shall slide into a new age of barbarism in which workers and the poor will, as always suffer most.

Finally on this day of international solidarity let us remember, and pledge our solidarity with, workers struggling around the world - the people of Palestine, still fighting for independence and human rights after 70 years of Israeli apartheid oppression, the people of Syria devastated by imperialist proxy wars and our fellow workers in Africa who still suffer hunger, disease and civil wars.

Workers of the world unite!

Issued by Zwelinzima Vavi, SAFTU General Secretary, 27 April 2018