Today is International Workers’ Day, but the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) says there is not much to celebrate.
“Twenty-eight years after the first democratic elections catapulted the ANC to power, the working class in South Africa continues to be dominated by white supremacy,” said union general secretary Irvin Jim.
Jim points out that nearly three decades after the reign of white supremacy in South Africa, the country’s black working class languishes in crippling poverty, in poorly developed townships and informal settlements across the country.
“Access to quality education and health care remains an unattainable dream for the masses,” Jim said.
Workers’ Day in South Africa
The State of Numsa
In December last year, the Central Committee of the union met to deliberate and debate the state of the nation, as well as burning issues affecting the working class and Numsa members in particular.
“The CC was an opportunity for the union to analyze and understand the terrain of struggle in which we operate and chart a way forward to address the challenges faced by workers and their families,” said Jim.
Numsa Chairman Comrade Andrew Chirwa opened the CC with a quote from Russian revolutionary and politician Vladimir Lenin”
“We are surrounded on all sides by enemies and are under their almost constant fire. We allied ourselves voluntarily, precisely for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not to retreat to the adjacent swamp, the inhabitants of which from the very beginning reproached us for splitting up into an exclusive group and choosing the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation.“
Numsa said the struggles facing the Russian working class 120 years ago are quite similar to what we are experiencing today.
“Today it can be said that the working class is surrounded on all sides by enemies and the attacks against it are relentless.”
Exploiting the new normal
The Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating to the global economy and to the lives of ordinary people.
The virus has killed an estimated five million people worldwide and more than a hundred thousand in South Africa, with the fifth wave on the horizon.
“The union has suffered many losses following the death of some of its members and leaders within the organization.
“At the same time, the shutdowns have prevented many industries from operating, leading to business bailouts, liquidations and, in some cases, closure,” Jim explained.
But some businesses managed to thrive under lockdown, but the gains were not seen at the worker level because employment conditions had changed.
“We found ourselves inundated with restructuring notices and layoffs as companies sought to boost profits by taking benefits away from workers and cutting their wages. The pandemic has normalized exploitation,” Jim said.
He referred to the 2020 engineering sector wage negotiations during which the standstill agreement was signed.
The agreement allowed the employers to maintain the same conditions and Numsa agreed not to demand a raise in the engineering sector for that year.
“We did this in response to the arrival of the covid-19 pandemic where the uncertainty created by the situation forced us to make sacrifices for the industry.
But the union would later accuse employers of making hay during the Covid-19 crisis.
Then, last year, Numsa challenged employers in the engineering sector, demanding salary improvements for staff.
“When they refused to make a meaningful offer, we went on a militant national strike – with the support of the members,” Jim explained.
The employers then agreed to a 6% increase over a three-year period.
“The agreement we signed with the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA) to settle the strike was groundbreaking as we secured a raise above inflation during a pandemic.”
Unemployment, inequalities, poverty, a threat for all
“Under the ruling ANC, we have become the most unequal society in the world,” Jim said.
This situation has been exacerbated by the high unemployment and unemployment rate, which currently stands at a staggering 46%.
“Some of them are college graduates, and by far the majority are young people and black women in particular,” Jim pointed out.
“The fact that nearly half the population is sitting at home instead of working is an indictment of this government for stubbornly sticking to failed macro-economic policies that do not stimulate growth. economy and therefore fail to create jobs.”
Numsa accuses South African companies of having over R1 trillion in cash reserves, but invests only a pittance in the South African economy.
In last year’s budget, the National Treasury announced that it would cut R50.3 billion from the health budget over three years.
“Benefits for public sector workers have been steadily eroded over the years in the name of ‘cutting the fat’ and reducing the so-called public sector payroll.”
However, politicians and parliamentarians remain immune to any cuts, thanks to endemic corruption and cronyism.
Zondo identifies Zuma as kingpin of state capture
The Zondo Commission of Inquiry found former President Zuma to be an enabler of state capture by enabling the looting of billions of dollars from state-owned companies through the Gupta family.
“President Ramaphosa was an integral part of the Jacob Zuma administration as his deputy,” Jim said.
Ramaphosa said his administration would usher in a ‘new dawn’ and root out corruption. But what we saw under his leadership was the continuation of the massive thefts, this time it was the looting of covid-19 funds.
ANC-led government destroys jobs
Numsa blamed job cuts in state-owned enterprises on a restructuring aimed at encouraging private sector participation.
“You only have to look at the SAA case to see how wasteful and destructive the whole process was. An amount of R10.5 billion has been allocated to capitalize the airline as part of the business rescue.
At the same time, over R200 million was spent, most of which was pocketed by practitioners, lawyers and consultants, while ordinary workers suffered for many months without any pay.
“By the end of the process, more than three thousand direct jobs had been lost, and SAA, which alone provided 40,000 jobs along the value chain before the company bailout, is no more than the ‘shadow of itself.’
Numsa pointed to Eskom as another example where the government’s renewable energy program with Independent Power Producers (IPPs) violates all principles of a just transition.
“Coal-fired power stations will be closed to make way for private renewable energy companies and CSIR has confirmed that at least one hundred thousand jobs will be lost as a result, in Mpumalanga province.
The government has not designed a social plan for this province to prevent this impending disaster,” Jim pointed out.
South Africans are paying more for electricity, a nation plagued by frequent load shedding because Eskom lacks capacity.
Frequent power cuts at the municipal level are commonplace due to an orgy of cable thefts and vandalism on the country’s electricity supply infrastructure.
“All of these factors have aggravated the suffering of workers and their families. The working class and the poor of this country have reached a breaking point.
“You don’t have to be a genius to know that such a situation is unsustainable and has created the perfect environment to cause the social unrest, riots and political instability we saw in July. last year,” Jim concluded.
Compiled by Narissa Subramoney
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