Debates and questions about the impact of the recent national strike staged by the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) are still lingering about. As a breakaway formation from the once gigantic Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) -an ally of the ruling party- SAFTU’s activity tells a fascinating political story of South Africa.
SAFTU features gigantic unions like the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) alongside 30 other unions. It’s become the second largest federation after Cosatu with a membership base approaching the 1 million mark. Its significance was further showcased during the commemorations of the 2018 workers day with messages that are clearly marked to pull the rug under Cosatu’s feet.
One other strategic formation within SAFTU is the South African Liberated Public Sector Workers Union (Salipswu). In making an alternative play for civil servants, many of which tend to be branded as servants or deployees of the National Democratic Revolution, Salipswu threatens to spoil the party. We spoke to Salipswu President, Jacob Molefe, about the impact of the national strike.
How do you rate the outcome of the strike?
It was a huge success. We’ve managed to make workers and the broader South African public aware that the minimum wage on the table does not enjoy the support of the majority of workers in the country.
If you look around, if you listen carefully you will realise that the debate around this terrible minimum wage has been reopened.
Before the strike, the air was dominated by the false sense of consensus, being the agreement between the government and these other federations. We’ve exposed the lie that this minimum wage, the poverty wage, is a good and generally accepted starting point.
Solidarity offered by political parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and other civil society formations goes to show that Cosatu and FEDUSA (Federation of Unions of South Africa) sold out workers in consenting to the proposed minimum wage.
The huge workers’ show up was also a clear indication that they are opposed to the Labour Relations Amended Bill which wants to deny workers the sacrosanct right to strike amongst other horrible proposition. The show up also adds to the weight of the argument that there is no justification for parties in the NEDLAC (National Economic Development and Labour and Labour Council) not to allow SAFTU (South African Federation of Trade Unions) to participate in its key proceeding.
What’s the significance of the issues raised in the memorandum of the national strike to Salipswu?
We are workers too. And we are part of SAFTU. We believe that every person who has the interest of this country at heart should stand up against the poverty wage that is proposed as a minimum wage.
In light of macroeconomic indicators we are seeing in the country, it’s obvious that no one can survive with the ridiculous so-called minimum wage of R20.00 per hour. And the latest proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act will have a direct impact on our members. And this is where we are drawing the line between us and the other unions in the public service space. We are fiercely independent and militant in fighting for workers’ rights. That’s why we are part of SAFTU and not Cosatu.
Where to from here?
We will participate in the public consultation on the minimum wage debate with the view that our influence will change the amount on the table.
As for amendments to the Labour Relations Act (LRA) and in particular the proposed clauses that want to deny workers the right to strike, will be met by the mother of all industrial actions, if it is enforced in its current form.
The proposed amendments to the LRA must be reconsidered. We are exploring every possible angle, including the courts, to bring the matters back to the negotiating table. We are of the view that the resolutions adopted by NEDLAC, around the LRA amendments, were not undertaken in good faith. The processes were manipulated to exclude us.
How do you think we got here, where South Africa seems to be reversing labour friendly legislation agreed upon in the early years of democracy? What explains this shift?
The compromised position of Cosatu within the tripartite alliance is a key factor to the losses suffered by workers in recent years. The compromise is largely shaped by the so-called strategic placement leaders of Cosatu and the SACP (South African Communist Party) leaders in the government of the day. Instead of inserting the workers’ voice in government this placement has actually diluted the workers’ voice. The so-called deployees have become captured by the bourgeoisie state.
The case in point is SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande. The malleability of these leaders once they reach government is reflected in Nzimande’s shifting position on e-tolls. It boggled the mind.
All this goes to firm up the point that ultimately the working class interest can only be served by a worker movement.
The article was first published on www.ujuh.co.za