After their three-day National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, the South African Federation of the Trade Unions (Saftu) took a decision to join the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in their call for a national shutdown on the 20th of March to demand that the government address the many crises racking the country and that the country’s sitting president step down.
During their press briefing on Thursday, the federation’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi went to great lengths to defend this move and dispel the notion that joining the EFF in this march will be seen as further dividing the federation along narrow, party political lines.
“This decision comes with conditions that will be emphasised in our next engagements with EFF prior to the national shutdown. We made it very clear that by participating in this march, we are not joining them on their political programmes. We are not going to participate in any sectarian activities. We are independent and not aligned to any political parties. This is our opportunity to eventually form a broader, mass-based organisation of left-leaning political parties, working class formations and the progressive non-governmental organisations,” he said, adding that this is not the first time they have worked together. “We worked together before with the EFF during the students’ struggles, and they also helped mobilise masses during last year’s public unions’ strike for wages. We’ve worked together and shared the stage with the PAC [Pan Africanist Congress] and Azapo [Azanian People’s Organisation] on numerous occasions.”
To ensure workers in and outside the federation who will be participating in the shutdown on the 20th are protected from victimisation from their employers, he said they have already submitted a section 77 notice for a general strike to Nedlac (National Economic Development and Labour Council). Saftu’s application to join Nedlac was recently approved.
The consensus emerged in the NEC, Vavi said, that South Africa has become a failed state due to its failure to protect citizens from acts of criminality and violence as the criminal justice system is unable to bring perpetrators to book. The NEC was also concerned with the collapse of the state-owned enterprises, Eskom particularly as citizens suffer from rolling blackouts. According to the federation, the triple crises of poverty, unemployment and inequality are now quadrupled when austerity and corruption are added to the burden.
“The expanded unemployment rate is still high above 42%, with more than 8.9-million young people between the ages of 15 and 34 not in any form of employment, education and training, because under capitalism people survive by buying commodities [sic], and those who are unemployed are then condemned into poverty. The combination of poverty and dismal low wages has widened inequalities in which the few, who are filthy rich, possess about 90% of the country’s wealth, whilst the overwhelming majority share the meekly 10%,” reads the statement from the NEC.
On the looming public sector strike which Saftu is part of through its affiliate Nupsaw, Vavi noted their disappointment with the withdrawal by Cosatu’s biggest union, Sadtu, followed by Fedusa. He said this has weakened the working class action and the employer is smiling as they thrive on these divisions. “Collective bargaining has been reduced to a collective begging,” he concluded. “Until the working class is united, they will never achieve anything”.
Public sector unions affiliated to Cosatu and Saftu are adamant that their demand for a salary increase is 10% and no less. Archive photo by Asive Mabula
The same sentiment was shared by the president of the federation, Ruth Mamolaba Ntlokotse when she said, ”The unity that was demonstrated and portrayed by the workers throughout last year when they were handling government in the wage negotiations, compared to the recent developments where we see some unions pulling out is very disturbing as we focus on the fresh rounds of negotiations. This is very unfortunate and we are still calling for unity across all working class movements like we’ve seen last year.”
Another campaign of the federation in addition to the national shutdown is to support Numsa’s court action against the ongoing loadshedding and the government’s declaration of a state of disaster. This will also be taken up on the 20th of March.