May Day a matter of aluta continua

2011-04-30 12:56

Today, workers across world are celebrating their victories, remembering their fallen heroes and recommitting themselves to the fight for a better life. It is a day to remind the world that nothing is produced, nothing moves and nothing is traded without the labour of workers.

May Day’s history goes back to 1886, when workers took to the streets of Chicago to demand eight-hour workdays. A fight broke out between locked-out unionists and scab workers hired to replace them.

The police moved in with clubs and guns to restore order, leaving four unionists dead and many wounded.What a tragic coincidence that here in South Africa, 125 years later, workers will be remembering another protester, Andries Tatane, who was also killed by police with clubs and guns during a service-delivery protest in Ficksburg.

For trade unionists everywhere, the events of 1886 became a symbol of capitalism’s injustice.

The Second International in 1889 voted to make May 1 1890 a demonstration of the solidarity and power of the international working-class movement. Ever since, we have been celebrating May Day.Workers here fought for years for May Day to be recognised.

In 1986, the five-month-old Cosatu staged one of SA’s largest stayaways to demand it be a paid public holiday. In 1987, PW Botha conceded.

Today it is one of the 12 public holidays we celebrate in our thriving democracy.

As we approach the local government elections on May 18, Cosatu is sparing no effort to ensure that we return the ANC with bigger majorities across the country.

We need to remind ourselves that under ANC governments at every level, the lives of thousands of South Africans have improved.

We have every reason to celebrate these achievements, but the workers’ struggle did not end on April 27 1994.

Workers still need to mobilise on May Day and beyond to confront the many challenges we still face, especially our horrific levels of joblessness, poverty and inequality.

Unemployment is higher here, 36.6%, than in any comparable country, which includes those who have given up looking for work.Creating jobs, eradicating poverty and reducing inequality has to be the top priority for government, business and labour.

We totally agree with government’s aim to move away from an overdependence on exporting raw materials to an economy based more on manufacturing; and for creating five million new, sustainable jobs by 2020.

We welcome the trade and industry department’s industrial policy action plan and the economic development department’s New Growth Path.

We have serious concerns, however, about the achievability of the NGP’s longer-term targets, especially the contradiction between its ambitious developmental goals and government’s conservative macroeconomic policies, which have constituted the main reason for the unemployment crisis in the first place.

Another massive challenge is the casualisation of labour.

Adcorp Holdings’ monthly employment index for March this year revealed that since January 2000;

traditional, permanent employment declined by 20.9% while temporary, contract and other forms of “atypical” employment increased by 64.1%.

This means 1.9?million relatively secure and reasonably paid jobs have been replaced by 2.4 million casual jobs with low pay, few – if any – benefits and no job security.

Rather than sit down and negotiate in bargaining councils, employers want to impose “market” wage rates, effectively blackmailing workers with the argument that if you don’t want to work for what we are offering, there are thousands of others out there desperate for a job at any price.

Cosatu will keep demanding measures to stop casualisation, ban labour brokers and enforce existing laws more effectively.Another huge challenge is inequality, now greater than anywhere else in the world and still growing.

On average, the poorest 10% of earners get R1?275 a month (0.57% of total earnings), while the top 10% get R111?733 (49.2%).

While a small, mainly white elite can pay for world-class education and healthcare, the poor majority have no access to either.

That is why we support the Equal Education Campaign, and will press for a national health insurance scheme to bring the quality of public healthcare up to the same, if not better, standard as in the private sector.

Nearly two million families still live in shacks and most new, low-income houses are still being built far away from workplaces.

This while our public transport system is so inefficient and unsafe that workers waste hours getting to and from their work.

While the rich have time to play golf and take overseas holidays, workers are confined to factories and toiling the earth with virtually no time even to read and build their consciousness.

The former bantustans are like concentration camps of working-class poverty and misery.

Fuelling the anger of our poor communities is the growing evidence that a small minority of South Africans are not only growing incredibly rich, but are doing so through corrupt deals or misusing public funds.

We congratulate our comrades in the SA Municipal Workers Union for exposing corruption in Pikitup, and other trade unions who have exposed similar abuses in SAA and the SABC.

The only way to save our revolution is to investigate every report of corruption and deal harshly with all those found guilty.

As always on May Day, we must respect and remember our fellow workers around the world, both those who are being persecuted and those fighting back.

» Vavi is secretary-general of Cosatu

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