Trade union federations, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) will join hands for a national shutdown tomorrow, 24 August, but the unity between the two rival federations remains fractured. The two federations agreed to cooperate in demonstrations but held two separate press briefings.
During their press briefing, Saftu’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi spent a lot of time explaining how important the unity of all the labour movements is to “achieve a total emancipation of all the working class from capitalist exploitation, poverty and inequality”. He said petty squabbles and internal factional battles which are real in many trade unions and federations must be put aside to advance the aspirations of the working class.
‘’Working class formations must unite and complement each other, not compete with one another. We now have to rely on the unity of all of us combined. No single trade union in South Africa is strong enough to force government to abandon neoliberalism and austerity measures. It doesn’t exist. If it does, it would have liberated us ages ago during macro-economic policies that have led us thus far to this crisis,” he said.
Vavi said that Saftu’s national executive committee has adopted a declaration that says: “We are moving beyond divisiveness in favour of principled unity and recommit to building a fighting trade union movement guided by Marxism. Furthermore, we declare that we must seek to work together in solidarity with other trade union federations, unions and other working class orientated organisations to protect workers against consistent and unrelenting attacks from capitalists and their systems. We need unity in action on the ground not just declared.”
The Treatment Action Campaign is also joining the national shutdown. Sounding much like a labour union leader, the general secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign, Anele Yawa said, “The unity of all federations and the working class is sacrosanct in order to achieve our cause and defeat capitalism. When we are weak and divided that is when the enemy is strong. The unity must be that of action and purpose. Our struggles are the same. We need to pledge solidarity to one another at all times. We need to work together and bury our differences. It takes maturity to agree to disagree while forging ahead for a common purpose. At the end of the day, this should not be about us as individuals but for the greater good of society, which is social justice, equality and freedom for all.”
Amos Monyela, the Gauteng provincial chairperson of Cosatu echoed the unity chorus. Though the departure of Zwelinzima Vavi and many of their comrades to form Saftu was not a good one, he said, Cosatu has been raising its long standing slogan of one union, one federation and one country. “We are still pushing for that even now. Unity of all labour forces is paramount,” Monyela said.
Assembly of the Unemployed’s Princess Majola said that when federations are not united, unorganised labour, and marginalised and vulnerable workers are the ones that mostly suffer. “When we are arrested, they become our trusted ally during legal wars,” he said, adding that their participation in the strike is to call for free sanitary ware for women and also for a basic income grant of R1,500 for all unemployed people between 18 and 59 years.
To mark World Day for Decent Work on 7 October 2020, the two federations marched in major cities against corruption and austerity measures. Photo by Lilita Gcwabe
The two labour federations and their political and social partners seem to be agreed on their call for job creation, an end to austerity measures, fuel and food price cuts, and a basic income grant of R1,500 per month among other demands. To achieve this, Vavi said the government will have to tax the wealthy, increase corporate tax and recover billions stolen yearly through illicit financial flows. The 24th of August national shutdown is just the start, he said, and will be followed by many more demonstrations. The minister of finance’s tabling of his midterm budget policy statement on the 26th of October, will be another occasion soon to protest. “The cumulative effect of these sustained programmes [of protest] will eventually convince the government to abandon neoliberalism and the austerity measures and to act in the best interest of the working class and the marginalised poor majority in society,” Vavi said.
The last time the two federations marched side by side was in October 2020 against corruption, poverty and austerity.