Guest Column

Saftu bursts onto the scene while Cosatu slides into obscurity

2017-05-04 08:00

Zwelinzima Vavi

May Day 2017 will go down as one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the South African workers. The abandonment of the Cosatu rally in Mangaung without a word of a speech being uttered was a humiliating fiasco for the leaders of both Cosatu and the ANC.

Despite the ‘deployment’ of ANC members in red T-shirts to support President Zuma, so great was the anger of workers shouting ‘Zuma must go!’ and giving the referees’ substitute signal, that the leadership was forced to scuttle away without giving any speeches.

Meanwhile members of the new SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), were marching in their thousands in Durban. Never can there have been such a big shift in a country's political landscape in a single day - a day when Cosatu died and Saftu came to life. How appropriate that at the front of the Saftu May Day rally in Durban was a ‘coffin’ bearing the names of Cosatu and its president Sdumo Dlamini!

This drama has completely vindicated the decision by Saftu to offer workers an alternative to Cosatu, which has long been in terminal decline and has now surely reached the end of the road. 

This is the inevitable consequence of the COSATU leaders’ abandonment of the interests of the working-class and their subjugation to the dictates of the ruling ANC and the government, which in turn have pushed through anti-worker policies in the interests of big business. 

This is the reason for the expulsion of its biggest affiliate Numsa and the dismissal of its general secretary. It was a fundamental political rift between the Cosatu collaborators and those who insisted that the federation must end this capitulation to the interests of a capitalist class, the same ruling class which captured the state in the days of colonialism and apartheid, and was allowed to continue and increase its dominance of the through the Codesa agreement of 1994 and the Constitution of 1996.

This is why, after 23 years of ‘freedom’, workers remain slaves of the same white monopoly capitalist class which had ruled before. This is the root cause the huge levels of unemployment, poverty and hunger, the highest level of inequality in the world and the scourge of corruption. It is why the provision of basic public services is so unequal, with top-class services in education, healthcare and transport for those who can afford to pay, with abysmal level of service delivery for the poor, overwhelmingly black, majority.

Capital’s power was further consolidated with the adoption of GEAR and the National Development Plan, which sold out workers' interests to global and South African capital, and the neo-liberal, austerity policed by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the credit ratings agencies, all of which were enthusiastically enforced by government, with successive finance ministers always the main driving force. 

All these problems have been exacerbated by the ongoing racism by employers who still think they live in the days of apartheid, and by the corruption by political and business leaders in both the private and public sectors, which robs people of the money desperately needed to improve these services. This looting of public resources involves not just the president and the Gupta family but a capitalist system which is in inherently corrupt, based on the theft of the surplus value created by the sweat of workers’ labour.

This betrayal of the workers and the poor became even clearer when Cosatu leaders, along with those of Fedusa and Nactu signed an agreement to an insulting, poverty minimum wage of R3 500 a month, and their willingness to agree to legal measures to sabotage workers hard-fought-for and constitutional right to strike. They have failed abysmally to end labour brokers or e-tolling.

Today’s events show that there has never been a greater need for a new, independent, and democratic workers-controlled movement. The once mighty Cosatu has become an appendage of the ruling ANC and is embroiled in its bitter factional fights.

Its leadership have shown their utter inability to represent even their own members, let alone the millions of workers who are unorganised or members of unions which do nothing for them. That is why Saftu is prioritising the most marginalised and lowest paid workers but also the unemployed and small traders. 

We must revive the hopes of the working class, build a mighty, mass movement and mobilise workers and poor communities at work and on the streets to assert their power and start the fight-back.

Equally however we need to fight for a fundamental change in policy. This is complicated by the fact that many of the historic demands of the liberation movement, based on the Freedom Charter - fundamental economic transformation, restoration of land to the people and nationalisation of white monopoly capitalism - have suddenly been hijacked by the corrupt faction of the ANC leadership as a weapon against the other faction which is more closely aligned with big business.

These looters of public resources are however using these demands as empty slogans, with no coherent explanation of how they will be implemented and why they have not started implementing them after 23 years in power. They, just as much as their factional rivals, have instead pursued diametrically opposite strategies.

Saftu will move swiftly to tackle these challenges, because if we do not urgently confront the quadruple challenge of unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption; if workers cannot turn the tide and fight back against their appalling conditions of life, we shall slide into a new age of barbarism in which workers and the poor will, as always, suffer most.

- Zwelinzima Vavi is the General Secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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