Battling to protect the many

2019-11-27 06:02

ARE they knaves or fools? It’s a legitimate question to ask of any group that pursues policies in the name of the greater good when those decisions consistently benefit only a small minority.

Within the labour movement, it’s a question that has been asked many times in recent years as government pursued economic policies that have proved disastrous. This, when opposition parties offer no real alternative, supporting fundamentally the same system that gives rise to crisis, cronyism, corruption and maladministration.

Now, with further lay-offs looming at Saldanha Steel and SA Airways, Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni is calling for R150 billion in public sector cost-cutting over the next three years. This, amid promises of billions in investments and future jobs, has brought the knaves/fools query very much to the fore.

The modern definition of a knave is “a tricky or deceitful person”, effectively unprincipled. A fool, on the other hand, is defined as a person lacking in judgment or prudence, in other words, someone who, without any realisation of the situation, simply makes decisions.

Of course, there are those who, blinded perhaps by bribery, flattery or even bullying, have become instruments of economic dogma; unthinking believers.

How else is it possible to explain the generalisation by Mboweni that a bloated public sector will have to suffer great pay and job cuts? Especially when, for example, the Health service is short of tens of thousands of nurses, and social services have outstanding vacancies?

These are only two areas of the public sector where there are shortages in facilities desperately needed by the majority in order to lead safe and decent lives. Yet the public sector is said to be bloated.

Trade unionists, by and large, would agree that there are areas in the public sector that are bloated, and often staffed by incompetent, overpaid political cronies. Just as there are examples of grotesque payments made to bosses in the private sector. But, as several unions noted this week, it is not they or the workers they represent, who created the economic mess we are in.

Their arguments were clearly underlined last week in a statement by Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. She announced that there is nothing amiss in the fact that the top executives of the virtually bankrupt SABC are paid R42,5 million a year.

She also justified the payment of R3,9 million, for nine months work, to SABC chief executive Madoda Mxakwe. This, she added, is “market related” and amounts to Mxakwe’s “total package”, presumably including perks such as an expense account, car allowance and medical aid, etc.. Perhaps the same justification applies to her own pay and to that of her 34 colleagues in one of the world’s most inflated administrations. They each receive a basic income of more than R2,4 million a year. And with that comes a range of expensive benefits, covering everything from free air fares to expense accounts, car allowances and even domestic service.

Ministers also get an upmarket free home in either Cape Town or Pretoria. And, because the administrative capital is in the north and the legislative in the south, they have to have a second home, along with two cars, at a cost of R1,68 million.

Running costs and insurance for the cars are covered, but the second upmarket home has to be rented and paid for at a market-related price. This is obviously a flexible term, since, according to government, this is based on a formula that means a minister pays little more than R2 000 a month. This in a country where a nurse, working at a hospital in Cape Town, has to pay R2 800 for a single room over a shop to enable her to walk to work.

Then there are 37 deputy ministers, each with an annual pay packet of little less than R2 million and the full range of perks. Similar calculations apply at different levels to the 90 members of the National Council of Provinces and the nine provincial legislatures.

None of this, along with the appointment of incompetent cronies, the apparent refusal to deal with corruption while encouraging the accumulation of obscene wealth by an elite minority, is the responsibility of workers or their unions. But as they fight against having to bear the brunt of a crisis brought about by the system and those who manage and profit from it, they will again be castigated as greedy.

Yet a look at the facts reveals that, for all their faults, the unions are battling to protect the many from the increasing predations of the few.

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