We – 350 shop-stewards, organisers, office bearers and staff of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa have concluded a highly successful National Bargaining Conference in Boksburg, which took place on 22-24 April 2016, under the theme: “End the Economy for the 1%, Secure our Jobs on a Living Wage!”
The conference has been a brilliant demonstration in practice of the ‘ear to the ground’ campaign, to make sure that the union is democratically controlled by, and answerable to, the whole membership. To prepare for the conference, the union had already gone down to the grass roots to listen to the workers at Regional Policy Workshops and decide through a democratic process what our negotiators should be demanding.
As President Andrew Chirwa said in his opening address: “It is our hope that at the end of this Conference all Numsa delegates will be empowered to lead the struggle to win better wages, safer work places, and greater respect for the value of workers in the production process and, armed with this power, will act fearlessly in defending the bargaining mandates from our members and constitutional structures.”
It will be the most important bargaining process for decades, as workers face unprecedented attacks on their standard of living and job security. As Comrade Chirwa said: “These are hard times for the working class not just in this country, but in the whole world. Globally, capitalism is in a mess. It is in a deep, protracted impossible-to-solve crisis. The capitalists of the whole world have failed to find the solution to the problems their system is facing.”
Jobs, especially in the manufacturing sectors, are becoming more and more precarious, as retrenchments are announced almost daily; whole workplaces and even entire industries are in danger of disappearing and throwing thousands more on to the streets. As well as retrenchments, our members are suffering short-time working and we are being forced to negotiate training layoff schemes.
And the chances of retrenched workers finding another job are next to zero given the shocking rate of unemployment – 33.8% in the fourth quarter of 2015, by the more realistic expanded rate which includes those who have stopped even looking for work. The economy is growing very slowly – just 1.3% last year. That means that there are not 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. In 3 months, from November 2015 to January 2016, the price of their basic food basket increased by 9%. The year-on-year increase for Jan 2015 to Jan 2016 was 14.6%. Some of the biggest increases have come in some of the most basic foods:
The year-on-year inflation rate for electricity and water was 12.6% year-on-year in February up from 11.6% in January; this will get even higher when municipalities raise electricity tariffs after the National Energy Regulator of SA let Eskom raise electricity tariffs by 9.4%. School fees, telephone bills, train fares and petrol/paraffin rose on average, again year-on-year, by 11.5% in February compared to 8.8% recorded in January. School fees have been rising at nearly double the overall inflation rate.
Nearly all the biggest price increases are on items on which workers and the poor spend a higher percentage of their incomes than the wealthy. It means that in real terms all those on fixed incomes are substantially poorer than a year ago.
This is making workers angry and that is why we are going to demand real increases and not just amounts that reduce the drop in income they have already suffered.
On the other side, employers and their friends in government, the media and universities appeal to the workers for ‘moderation’. They will fight tooth and nail to oppose our wage demands, however reasonable they may be, while not even blinking at the need for restraint at their end of the wage scale, in which the list was topped t by Alan Clark of SAB-Miller who took home R152 million in 2015.
Inequality is rising across the world:
These rich bosses will tell us that the wages we demand will drive up unemployment and hence poverty. They call for belt-tightening and below-inflation increases so as not to scare away investors and lead to ratings agencies downgrading the country to junk status. But as the report by the General Secretary showed so comprehensively, tightening our belts does not make the economy grow. On the contrary, paying workers more makes the economy grow, because they spend more on goods and services which stimulates more production and more jobs.
They only want us to give them even more profits. They know how insecure our jobs are, but they don’t know, and even care, about those who we, as employed workers, have to support with our meagre wages – in extended families and the unemployed in our communities. Tomorrow some of us will be among the unemployed and we will be calling on the support of the employed. That is why wage-led growth must include immediate implementation of a living minimum wage.
Contrary to all the rhetoric about workers being unproductive, labour productivity has increased substantially over the recent period. For about 25 years – from 1970 to 1994 – labour productivity increased by less than 1% a year. 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.
“We are the slaves,” the President told the conference, “without their buying our labour we are as good as dead. This is why we fight unemployment! Capitalism is a system that enslaves others for their labour in order to enrich a tiny minority. For the world working class, it matters little whether capitalists are happy or not: we are its slaves – they own our labour, and therefore, they own us. To survive, we need their wages.
“Now, when their system, which is always a crisis for the working class, is not working well, they hire fewer workers, pay low wages, become more brutal in the work place, and generally do not care about the safety of workers as they struggle to squeeze as much profits as possible from the workers.”
Numsa will never accept that workers must pay for an economic crisis that is none of their making, but a structural crisis of a global monopoly capitalist system. We will not compromise our members. The employers in our sectors must make real offers to settle.
The conference was clear where the real blame must be laid for this economic catastrophe. It is not only a reflection of the global crisis, but a direct result of the neo-liberal agenda of the ANC / SACP government, which has created our own, self-inflicted crisis.
Guided by the neo-liberal National Development Plan, this government failed to transform the economy. South Africa is still dependent on export of unprocessed minerals, at a time when their price on the world market is crashing. For example coal has dropped from nearly $140 a ton in 2011 to under $60 a ton this year. They removed exchange controls and allowed companies to list overseas which facilitated the export of profits instead of their re-investment in South Africa.
They hollowed out the state, allowing companies to make profit out of basic services, and stimulating corruption. Through the Reserve Bank, they imposed high interest rates, which they had to do because they removed exchange controls. This prevented economic growth, which we have seen in our appalling GDP figures.
They forced Eskom to operate on commercial lines, instead of seeing cheap electricity as a way of promoting industrialization. An ordinary person is paying 336% more today than in 2007 – if you paid R100 in 2007, you will be paying R436 today.
22 years after 1994, the ANC/SACP/COSATU government is more afraid of credit rating agencies than the millions of black and African workers who put them in government. It has become what we in Numsa always feared it would become if it did not radically implement the Freedom Charter – a very corrupt and bankrupt political formation and government.
The capitalist system is worsened by the crises of corruption and the consequent collapse of leadership credibility, epitomised by the president of the country being found guilty of violating the country’s constitution.
We were the first 3 years ago, in our 2013 SNC resolutions, to warn of the rot in the ANC. We resolved that “The SNC calls on President Jacob Zuma to resign with immediate effect because of his administration’s pursuit of neo-liberal policies such as the NDP, e-tolls, labour brokers, youth wage subsidy; and the track record of his administration which is steeped in corruption, patronage and nepotism” We were very clear that Zuma had failed the test for the reasons we had supported him in the first place.
We, therefore, take great exception to any suggestion that NUMSA and its current leadership are “standing outside” the mass demands and campaigns for Zuma to go. We have a standing resolution for Zuma to go, and we stand by that resolution.
We have been vindicated by the consistent position we have taken. We have always made clear that if you do not nationalize the commanding heights of the economy, you are bound to fail. And when you fail, you will be bound to continue and intensify the exploitation and oppression of the black working class.
The same Special National Congress resolved to do everything possible to rescue Cosatu as a militant, independent federation. But we ended up being expelled, for consistently challenging the neoliberal agenda and the massive destruction of jobs and Cosatu has been turned into a tame apologist for the ANC government and its cronies.
That is why on 30 April we shall be at the Workers Summit, at which we shall campaign to consolidate the unity of the working class in militant action on the economic and political crisis and move quickly towards the launch of a new independent, militant, worker-controlled trade union federation.
We are in the midst of a national emergency and we demand that government does what is necessary to build our economy rather than the profits of their friends:
We are therefore placing three issues starkly on the agenda:
The main specific bargaining demands which the conference agreed to put forward in different sectors are:
Collective Bargaining presents a major opportunity for the union to grow. As we win gains for our members, other workers see the real benefit of the union. It gives us a big opportunity to grow the union in both our traditional sectors and the news area where we are now committed to recruit deliver quality service. We must not lose this opportunity. For workers it is a life-and-death issue. Organise or starve!
Patrick Craven, Acting National Spokesperson, 061 636 6057