NUMSA statement on the proposed National Minimum Wage

The National Union of Metalworkers strongly condemns the government’s proposed R20 an hour, R3500 a month national minimum wage for workers.
First it is important to state upfront that the reason why the people of this country resolved to demand a national minimum wage in Kliptown in 1955 and to ban both contract labour and the tot system was because right from the 1910 union between British and Afrikaner capital the accumulation strategy of South African capitalism was based on super-exploitation of black and African labour.
Numsa is extremely disgusted not just by government and business but also by both Cosatu and Fedusa as open collaborators with this right-wing conservative agenda. In the recent past we have witnessed the leaders of both federations running around with Minister of Finance reassuring rating agencies, promising them heaven on earth and making commitments without being able to explain what brings the leadership of workers into such a relationship with rating agencies if not making commitments that are selling out workers.
We are particularly angered by the fact that these federations have been participating in meetings where they debated a national minimum wage between R 3700 and R4500. Quite frankly these figures say it all – that both government and business have not been serious and that’s why we reject the stance of these federations whose leaders now going back to workers with insulting proposals and then pretending to be shocked with the R3500 recommendation.
Numsa however wants to put the record straight both about Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC leadership. They consistently continue to attack workers’ hard-won gains and their interests and consistently defend the interests of the exploiting capitalist class:
1. Numsa is extremely disgusted by the mission of the ANC and Cyril Ramaphosa to legislate slavery wages, maintain super-exploitation of Black and African labour under the disguise of national minimum wage.
2. Cyril Ramaphosa is not just in a rush to legislate slavery wages for Black and African labour but to use this moment for him and his cronies to send a perfect message to the rating agencies that South Africa will continue to be an economy based on super-exploitation and that this should provide solid reasons why the country should be not be down-graded, in the interest of his own huge investments and the interest of white monopoly capital in the country.
3. Numsa is convinced that Cyril Ramaphosa is extremely dangerous, continually gunning for the blood of the working class and ready to evaporate the dream of a living national minimum wage. At the same time he is openly exploiting the fact that Cosatu has weak political leadership that destroyed, weakened and fragmented the federation. There is nothing to say about Fedusa; they are like four wheels of a moving car with the bosses and this bourgeois state.
4.Cyril Ramaphosa is in a terrible rush, in cahoots with Mrs Mildred Oliphant, to introduce a limitation on the right to strike, to take away from workers a right enshrined in the constitution but which they are willing to attack despite their disastrous record on workers’ rights, having allowed labour brokers, the blood suckers, to continue.
Yet they are not willing to revisit the property clause in the constitution that enables both white monopoly capital and the white population to own and control the land and the economy and keep the African majority at the bottom of the food chain – economically marginalised and dispossessed.
5.  Cyril Ramaphosa has consistently attacked working class interests, in particular to benefit the capitalist class. He was party to a negotiated settlement with white monopoly capital which left the economy owned and controlled by the very same capitalist class and he ensured that there was a property clause in the constitution so that South Africa’s white racist capitalist colonial ownership of the economy continued with a few black faces like his being co-opted as motive forces to ensure that the status quo remained.
6. What is extremely disturbing is that both he and the ANC government were directly involved and implicated in the massacre of the Marikana workers who demanded R12500, but he has the guts to announce R3500 which is no less than spitting on the graves of those workers who suffered exploitation until the oppressive cohorts of the capitalist state took their lives.
7.  Numsa is very clear that this process of coming up with a national minimum wage should also have delivered freedom, and brought an end to the racism that continues in the farms. That includes repealing the apartheid Trespass Act 6 of 1959, which is still practiced in the farms by those who expose their Broederbond racist mentality and old baaskap apartheid racist attitude by putting blacks in coffins alive.
8. The national minimum wage needed to be a tool in the hands of a government with a political will to increase the  wages of these vulnerable  exploited farm workers, and to uproot apartheid and colonial wages and their continuing legacy and addressing the apartheid wage gap in the rest of the South African economy for instance this government should have done proper detailed research, company-by-company, to reveal what is their total turnover in each sector of the economy, whether a multinational, a mine, a factory or a commercial farm.
Without that detailed information surely this government is not seriously introducing a national minimum wage when it doesn’t know that white workers earn upwards of R20000 while black workers are extremely exploited and that their super-exploitation wages of R3700-R4500 are now to be made a national minimum wage.
The union has always supported the principle of a national minimum wage and rejected employers’ arguments that they cannot pay workers any more, or that it will lead to even higher unemployment, as firms are forced to retrench workers they cannot afford to pay.
Tightening workers’ belts does not make the economy grow, whereas paying workers more promotes growth, because they spend more on goods and services which stimulates more production and more jobs.
Numsa has however insisted that the minimum wage must be a living wage, set at a level that lifts workers out of poverty and narrows the widening wealth gap, in this the world’s most unequal society.
Cyril Ramaphosa’s proposed R3500 does neither of these things. It is a poverty minimum wage which will deny workers the right to a decent life and South Africa will remain grossly unequal.
The sudden support for a national minimum wage by government and business is motivated less by sympathy for the plight of the poor workers than for a move to placate ratings agencies by trying to create the false impression that there is now a national consensus between government, business and labour to patch up the widening cracks in a monopoly capitalist system which is in a deep, protracted crisis, to which they have failed to find a solution.
It is an attempt to establish a phoney ‘consensus’ to disguise the fundamental conflict of interest between capital and labour’. But Numsa, South Africa’s biggest union, has been excluded from any of the ‘tripartite’ negotiations in Nedlac and will not be part of any such ‘consensus’ or be bound by any of the ideas that come out of it, on the national minimum wage, strike ballots or compulsory arbitration.
The capitalists now want the workers pay the price for their crisis, in which unemployment, poverty and inequality are all rising. 65% of South Africa’s wealth is owned by 10% of the population, 80% of whom are white. The payment of R100 million to Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson in 2015 puts the R3500 into perspective!
Black economic empowerment has failed to bring the black majority into the economic mainstream, and instead created a small class of unproductive but wealthy black crony capitalists.
Jobs, especially in manufacturing, are becoming more and more precarious. Retrenchments are announced almost daily; whole workplaces and even entire industries are in danger of disappearing and throwing thousands more on to the streets. Meanwhile workers are suffering short-time working and being forced to negotiate training layoff schemes.
And the chances of retrenched workers finding another job are next to zero. Statistics SA’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey put the unemployment rate at 26.6% in the 2nd quarter of 2016 while the expanded rate, which includes those who are able to work but have given up looking , was at 36.4%.
The economy is growing at a snail’s pace – now at just 0.5% a year. That means that there are nowhere near enough jobs for all those coming from school and tertiary institutions, still less for older retrenched workers.
The living standards of those who can hang on to a job are plummeting.  The Stats SA Consumer Price Index in March revealed that South Africans paid an average of 9.8% more for average household buys this year (2016) than they did in 2015 and that vegetables and fruit were both 18,7% more expensive in March 2016 than they were in March 2015. In real terms all those on fixed incomes are substantially poorer than a year ago.
Yet employers and their friends in government appeal to the workers for ‘moderation’, despite the fact that, contrary to all the capitalists’ rhetoric about workers being unproductive, labour productivity has increased substantially. Between 1994 and 2012 it increased by more than 3% a year, rising by as much as 7% between 1994 and 2012!
But this increased productivity did not help workers, whose share of the national income (GDP) went down at the very same time workers were being more productive. Workers’ share of value produced has been steadily declining over the last 20 years, and this R3500 won’t have any effect on that.
The bosses know how insecure jobs are, but they don’t know, or care, about the people who employed workers have to support with their meagre wages – in extended families and the unemployed in our communities.  And some of today’s employees will tomorrow be among the unemployed and calling on the support of the employed.
A national wage policy should be based on the Freedom Charter’s call for: “A forty-hour working week, a national minimum wage, paid annual leave and sick leave for all workers and maternity leave on full pay for all working mothers”. It also specifically said that “miners, domestic workers, farm workers and civil servants shall have the same rights as all others who work” yet this government proposal outrageously proposes exemptions from even the miserable level of R3500 for employers of domestic and farm workers.
History teaches the working class one fundamental lesson: that they will always be victims of the ruling classes unless they learn to see the class interests behind all their phrases, proclamations and political processes and link the fight for a living wage to the struggle for freedom from colonial and white monopoly capitalism and for the socialist transformation of society.
Numsa regard this R3500 national minimum wage as insulting, and the limitation on the right to strike as nothing else but a declaration of war against workers and the poor which must be responded to by rolling mass action. Numsa’s national congress on 12-16 December 2016 in Cape Town will be a platform for Numsa members to plot a fight-back strategy against this fake national minimum wage and demand a living wage. We shall defend the right to strike and we say no to any form of limitation on the right of workers to strike and shall go back to stay-aways and boycotts to defend the right of workers to strike as enshrined in the constitution.
Irvin Jim, Numsa General Secretary: 073 157 6384