Young people are in crisis across the world, facing high levels of unemployment, precarious and exploitative work, and exploding costs of education. This is such a pronounced global trend that many political commentators have predicted that disenfranchised young people may form a new, international revolutionary sub-class that may initiate mass insurrection. Certainly, young people with nothing to lose have been at the vanguard of political uprisings across the planet: from Occupy in the West, to the Indignados in Spain, Yo Soy 132 in Mexico, the student uprising in Chile and the Arab Spring.
Young people in South Africa are equally disenfranchised, but have not yet had an adequate political outlet or mechanism to express and address their grievances. We believe it is important to work with them to help them get organised to develop and articulate a political voice, so that they can fight for their own interests as young workers.
For this reason during 2003 – 2009 we developed our DIGGZ Youth Leadership and Media Development Programme, which aims to develop young activists in the use of media and organising themselves. The content of this was similar to that covered by our other media training programmes, but it focused on issues faced by young people, and on the ongoing development and support of young workers. During 2009 our Board decided that the project should focus more directly on young workers.
Since then we partnered with and provided support to Cosatu in the Western Cape to develop its young workers’ forum. We’ve also supported the Communication Workers Union (CWU) in Johannesburg and Cape Town in organising call centre workers at several large companies.
This organising drive culminated in a Call Centre Workers’ Summit that we hosted in Cape Town during 26 – 27 July 2013. Since then, despite adopting a clear programme of action, it has been an uphill battle organising these workers due to the high staff turnover, management victimisation, our limited resources and weaknesses of the union.
Our Labour Community Advice, Media and Education Centres in Khayelitsha and Alexandra provide the call centre workers with an organising base and also host young workers’ forums from time to time.
The position of women, particularly in working class communities, in South Africa is deeply disturbing. There are very high levels of gender-based violence, which includes the phenomenon of “corrective rape” of lesbians. The past few years have seen horrific attacks on women and an inadequate response from the police, the National Prosecuting Authority and politicians. Women are also under-represented and marginalised in the workplace.
We have worked tirelessly with women’s organisations to improve the capacity of women activists. This includes, for example, our work with Sikhula Sonke, a women-run farmworkers’ union that supports some of the most marginalised women in the country.
We have also run a high-profile campaign for justice for Pinky Mosiane, a female mineworker who was raped and murdered while at work. The South African Police failed to properly investigate the crime, and we see this as symptomatic of systemic failure to address violence against women. Hence the campaign uses the tragedy of Pinky Mosiane to symbolically draw attention to and mobilise around the oppressive conditions of female mineworkers and the situation of black working class women in South Africa. Women in the South African labour movement need a voice so they can challenge the intersectional, systemic oppression they face.
By training women in the use of the media, and putting women’s voices on air, we hope to challenge the dynamics that keep women in such a subordinate and abusive position in our society.