Cosatu draws a line in the sand in its stand against government

At the core of its fight with the government is the failure to deal with corruption and the public service wage increase dispute.

FILE: Cosatu is organising national mass protests for next week. Picture Kaylynn Palm/EWN

JOHANNESBURG – As Cosatu prepares for its national mass protests next week, the labour federation has thrown down the gauntlet at the current administration, saying it’s time for it to lead the fight against the looming collapse of the economy and push back against greed and the mismanagement of the country.

The section 77 strike – planned for next Wednesday – comes on the heels of revelations of grand-scale corruption during the procurement of COVID-19 resources.

The section contained in the Labour Relations Act gives workers the right to take part in lawful protest action to promote or defend socio-economic interest.

Cosatu – which has been angry with President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Cabinet for some time now – will finally get an opportunity to express its frustrations through pickets, marches and other forms of nationwide protest next week.

While the organisation has listed several issues which have led to the strike, at the core of its fight with the government is the failure to deal with corruption and the public service wage increase dispute.

Cosatu is in an alliance with the ANC and has used its political muscle to negotiate with the state – something which is now a thing of the past following Treasury’s decision not to allocate funds towards workers’ salary increases in the public service.

That’s where the majority of the federation’s members are employed.

In a strongly worded statement issued on Monday, the organisation draws the line in the sand, saying that if its affiliates failed to take a stand and defend the interests of their members, this would represent the worst form of cowardice that they would all live to regret.

Read the full statement below:

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is continuing to intensify its national mobilisation efforts in the build-up to the upcoming socio-economic national strike set to take place on the 07th of October 2020, the Global Day for Decent Work. The Federation is issuing a call to all workers and South Africans to join the strike next week. South Africa is teetering on the brink of collapse and it is about time we all stand up and demand urgent action from policymakers and decision-makers.

Frontline workers have performed heroically since the outbreak of coronavirus. The inadequacy of the country’s economic system left workers; especially frontline workers exposed to the elements during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Many of them contracted this deadly virus because of a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and the systemic failure of the public transport system.

The failure of the public transport system was a reminder that most citizens do not have access to reliable, affordable, and integrated public transport system. This public transport failure reflects the failures of our overall economic system.

Our public transport system is unsafe and many workers contracted the virus from the fully packed taxis. The failure of the government to properly regulate and support the public transport system.

It is impossible to fix the serious economic challenges without dealing with the major problems such as transport in the country which is the lifeblood of the economy. In our view, this is crucial for enhancing local economic development and eliminating the apartheid spatial challenges.

Most citizens, especially those in rural areas, cannot access social services such as health because of lack of transport. The current transport system does not support other areas of social development.

The blatant undermining of collective bargaining that is currently unfolding in the public service is a test for the trade union movement in the country. This represents the blatant attempt to erode hard-won workers’ rights and reverse these gains of democracy. Frontline workers are being forced to fight a deadly virus while also defending their rights that are being violated, including the non-implementation of Resolution 1 of 2018.

Since the onset of the current capitalist crisis, the ruling elites have imposed extreme sacrifices upon the workers. They will succeed if as workers, we show weakness or if we pursue a class-collaborationist line.

It is clear that the government expects our members to make sacrifices for an economic crisis that has been compounded by the looting and mismanagement in government, SOEs, and municipalities.

The biggest huddle in fixing South Africa’s myriad of problems is the inefficiency of the state and the scourge of corruption. The proposed privatisation of SAA symbolises this inefficiency and corruption. We have a corporate welfare state that continues to take resources from the poor to support corporations without any conditions.

Corruption in the private sector has seen price gouging in many sectors of the economy like retail and pharmaceutical sectors, therefore, compounding existing inequality and poverty.

According to government figures corruption costs the SA Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at least R27 billion annually, depriving the country of possible 76 000 jobs that would otherwise have been created.

Annually, nearly R80 billion is taken out of the country illegally putting South Africa as one of the countries with high illicit financial movements. The South African economy has paid a huge price for transfer pricing and other forms of illegal capital flight by multinational companies.

The COVID-19 UIF TERS Fund has been looted by many employers who have failed to pay the money to the relevant workers, leaving many families struggling to put food on the table.

The PPE corruption tender allegations have shown the depth of the problem and more than 250 workers have lost their lives in the health sector as a result of inadequate provision of protective equipment.

Year after year, the Auditor General is reporting rising levels of corruption, fraud, and fruitless expenditures in government, and more alarmingly is the growing numbers of strategic SOEs that are ravaged by mismanagement and that are now cash-strapped or bankrupt.

We know that in both economic boom and crisis, it is the bosses that benefit and the workers suffer. Therefore, without struggle, it would be the elite 1% that continues to benefit while the poor majority suffocates from the government-imposed austerity measures.

This is the time for the trade union movement to take the lead in the fight against this looming collapse and push back against greed and mismanagement of the country. Our failure to take a stand and defend the interests of our members in the face of looting and mismanagement of the country would represent the worse form of cowardice that we would live to regret.

We expect all COSATU affiliates to be distinguished by their capacity to fight for their members and the working class as a whole. The trade union movement needs to prove and show that it is morally and temperamentally fit to lead this fight. This is the time for acts of sustained mass civil disobedience because the elites no longer have a counter-argument. Nobody is buying their neoliberal mantra which has never made any economic sense.

For us as workers, it starts with the expropriation of the surplus-value, we view this as the root cause of corruption i.e. paying workers for less than what they produced. Corruption/dishonesty is an inherent and fundamental value system of the capitalist system in general. Any development model that exploits and does not involve people is corrupt. We believe as workers that economic development should include human rights, community rights and also address issues of equity and fairness.

In South Africa, we have Alliance capitalism, where big companies collude and act like cartels, but they are only charged 10% of their profits. The 10% turnover which constitutes the maximum penalty that can be imposed by the Competition Tribunal is inadequate to act as a deterrent and many companies have high profits and they can pass these penalties to customers through high service fees and interest rates.

Cartels in this country have stolen billions of rands from businesses, taxpayers, and ultimately from consumers. Cartels have distorted economic markets and have served to slow innovation — after all, companies charging abnormal prices have little incentive to spend money on research and development. Their Anticompetitive agreements have harmed consumers and destroyed our economy.

A World Bank study on competition in SA noted, for instance, that in the case of four cartels in maize, wheat, poultry, and pharmaceuticals – products which make up 15.6% of the consumption basket of the poorest 10% – conservative estimates indicate that around 200,000 people stood to be lifted above the poverty line by tackling cartel overcharges.

We demand decisive action against the deteriorating socio-economic situation in the country. The Amendment of the Competition Act was meant to allow directors and managers of businesses to be held criminally liable for their company’s collusive behaviour but so far no one has been sent to prison.

The Auditor General’s office has been empowered to act against officials and employees who waste taxpayer’s money, as well as those who are aware that money is being stolen but fail to act against culprits. We demand more action by the AG’s office to hold the criminals accountable.

The Federation also demands that families of politicians should be barred from doing business with the state of politicians who insist on their families doing business with the government should step down from their political positions.

As Nedlac partners, we have obtained a legal opinion that supports this move and we call on the South African Cabinet to endorse it and implement it. The fight against corruption calls on all of us to be united, principled, determined, and bold. This is a fight we cannot afford to lose.

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