We will no longer tolerate poverty wages

Cosatu’s 11th National Congress Declaration made it very clear: “Workers, whether in far flung rural areas, or urban slums, say that they are no longer prepared to tolerate poverty wages:

Mineworkers, who produce our wealth in the belly of the earth, are earning a tiny fraction of the surplus they produce.

Farmworkers, who produce our food, work in near-slave conditions.
Retail and commercial workers, many of them casualised women without basic benefits, barely make enough to pay for their transport.
Security workers who protect us, and transport workers who take us to work, work unbelievably long hours for a pittance.

Our nurses, teachers and police are not being fairly paid for the valuable services they provide.

The majority of these workers, together with workers in the clothing factories, the foundries, and countless plants around the country, work long hours and face dangerous conditions for poverty wages. Over half of South Africa`s workers work for less than R3 000 a month!”

This is the environment that informed Marikana and the strike by farmworkers. They send one clear message: black and African workers across all sectors, including all Numsa-organised sectors, are no longer prepared to tolerate super-exploitation, where their sweat and toil is rewarded by starvation wages, where exploitation is the order of the day. The bosses must accept that workers in this country deserve a living wage.

The context of our collective bargaining
This year we are bargaining in many of our sectors. So we must look at where we stand as we prepare for that bargaining to take place. Karl Marx said: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by them, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.”

The global picture
We must not be afraid to look clearly at our situation because we don’t like what we see. As we enter our collective bargaining process in 2013 we are faced with the huge challenge of the deep, global crisis of capitalism that has worsened. Here are some facts which give a picture of the situation:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said the world economy will grow more slowly than it had thought (0.2 percentage points this year and 0.3 points next year).

The economy of the Euro area as a whole will shrink by 0.4% this year and only grow by 0.2% next year.

The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) which gives an indication of demand in the economy, is now negative in advanced economies and what the IMF calls “emerging markets”. Germany, the strong economy of the Eurozone, has seen its index fall from 49.2 to 48.1 (anything below 50 indicates that demand is shrinking).

The purchasing power of the working class globally has been slashed
Some assessments indicate that “we are facing years of austerity, sluggish growth and recessions”.

It is extremely important to be honest with you, our members, about the state of capitalism, both in our country and in the world as a whole. The global recession has been deep and is having disastrous effects on wages and basic conditions. The jobs of workers globally are under threat.

The global auto industry
The global crisis is directly affecting Numsa’s industries. One example is the worldwide auto industry, on which 50-million people depend for their jobs:
In September 2012 there was a drop in new car registrations of 10.8% globally compared with the year before.

There is excess global capacity of 33% – about 10 million cars.
Thousands of workers globally are expected to lose their jobs.
In South Africa we know that some companies, such as VWSA, have drastically reduced their production days. This can only spell disaster for the components industry that supplies car assemblers in our country.

The manufacturing sector is getting smaller. There is a shift into insecure services, especially finance, retail, security and so-called “knowledge production” tertiary sectors.

There is also a global shift in economic power, including manufacturing, financial and trading power, from the US and Europe to China and Asia:
China is a low-cost producer. It uses lean production processes to increase production. These processes attack the working conditions of workers. They also reduce the buying power of workers.
This challenges the ability of economies like South Africa to compete.

Capitalism has no answer
Global capitalism has no solution. Neo-liberalism has failed, and the dominance of finance capital continues to devastate governments and the world population. Increasingly there is a military approach to “solving” the crisis: the US and Europe, in particular, want to use the energy/finance/military industrial complex as a means to boost failing economies. There are increasing attacks on human rights and liberties through US imperialism’s use of drone attacks and the use of torture.

Political context
Our government participates in all the key international platforms and institutions (Davos WTO, G20, IMF, World Bank). They share them with other governments and captains of industries who are directly responsible for shifting production from one country to another for purposes of greed. Our government has not raised a finger against these practices.

We know that some of these governments are in alliance with the bosses to smash trade unions. We face the crisis that our own government simply refuses to ban labour brokers. They are introducing the youth wage subsidy by force. They are privatising roads; blaming workers for the mess in education; adopting in broad daylight a National Development Plan (NDP) that represents the very interests of business, not workers, for a period of 30 years .

The man who led and championed all this, Mr Trevor Manuel, didn’t even see the need to stand for position in the ANC. We must not forget that for the past 18 years he has been responsible for the failed macro-economic framework called Gear. He produces this NDP as a place to hide the very same Gear – it is Gear which remains at the heart of the NDP. Mr Manuel can resign. He has done his job. He has indeed delivered to capital for the next 30 years (inde lendlela).

Labour brokers
The roots of super-exploitation can be traced to slavery. That is why we metalworkers cannot understand our own ANC Government’s reluctance to ban the dehumanising practice of labour broking. We find it particularly hard to understand in the light of the ANC’s good revolutionary track-record, with the Freedom Charter at its centre.

This is the same Freedom Charter that says very clearly: “Child labour, compound labour, the tot system and contract labour shall be abolished.” The ANC is the organisation that has represented the aspirations of the majority of the people of our country, in particular, the working class. The ANC it qualified to be a moral leader of society partly because of the battles waged by the working class under its leadership.

We continue to have faith and believe in the South African working class, as it is the very working class of our country that has been subjected to the worst forms of abuse and exploitation. Yet the humanity of that working class remains intact.

It is the ANC that has always understood that workers’ right are human rights. Yet today the current leadership of the ANC supports the interests of the dominant class over the interests of workers and the poor. This is the same dominant class which exploits the working class.

This can only be a wake-up call to all who are serious about fundamental change. Marx warned us about this when he said: “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness”. The state in a capitalist mode of production is nothing but an organ of oppression in the interests of the ruling class that exploits the working class.

We must fight to make both the government and business understand that workers’ rights are human rights. All over the world, labour broking is regarded as precarious work. To continue to allow labour broking is a human rights violation. It is real human trafficking. Casualisation, temporary work, privatisation of roads in the form of e-tolls – these must all go.