Public Forum: SAFTU- The New hope of the Working Class
Globally and in South Africa, the capitalist system is becoming more and more unstable. Over the last period, the responses of the ruling classes in many parts of the world to this growing crisis has been a turn to authoritarianism. This has been done to hold onto power and to increase their control over wealth. Factions within ruling classes, in countries such as South Africa, are also engaged in a battle over shrinking opportunities to accumulate wealth. Competition between factions within ruling classes is, therefore, also intensifying. This too is feeding into an intensification of imperialist rivalries. The consequences are that over the last few months the threat of large scale war globally, as part of a show down between imperialist powers, has become an awful possibility.
The only force capable of changing this situation is the working class locally and internationally. Yet to do so, struggles need to come together, new forms appropriate to combating a rampant and growing authoritarian form of neoliberalism are needed; and such struggles need to be infused with a revolutionary progressive politics. While struggles are taking place in different parts of the world, none as yet have come to hold these three ingredients on a large scale.
One of the many irritating things about the dominant United States corporate media is the way it repeatedly discovers anew things that are not remotely novel. Take its recent discovery that Donald Trump isn’t really the swamp-draining populist working class champion he pretended to be on the campaign trail.
The evidence for this “news” is solid enough. His cabinet and top advisor circle has been chock full of ruling class swamp creatures like former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn (top economic adviser), longtime top Goldman Sachs partner and top executive Steve Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury), and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce). Trump has surrounded himself with super-opulent and planetarily invested financial gatekeepers – the very club he criticized Hillary Clinton for representing.
On 28 February, 2017, 58 workers who make baked goods for Pick ‘n Pay embarked on a protected strike, demanding to be made permanent Pick ‘n Pay workers, wages of R10 000 per month and an end to victimisation by the company. Although the strike is connected to one of the country’s biggest retail giants, barely anyone in the public has even heard about it. This, the striking workers argue, is largely because they have been rendered invisible by Pick ‘n Pay’s cynical use of a chain of third-party employers called Assist Bakeries.
On the first day of the strike the management brought in scab labourers and gained a court interdict to prevent the strikers from picketing anywhere within view of the factory premises. Production continued, and life continued almost as if they did not exist. But as the strike continues on, this group of workers are fighting to be seen and heard.
The story that the striking workers tell is one that looks to expose the questionable labour practices of Pick ‘n Pay — a company with a squeaky-clean public image. Workers claim that Pick ‘n Pay uses supposedly independent companies as a front to carry out its dirty work. But this also appears to be a story belonging to millions of other precarious workers in South Africa that have been rendered invisible, expendable and left without access to basic rights due to the growth of different forms of third-party employment. These are workers who have been ignored by the trade union movement and left to organise themselves.
The poor buy less with their grants each year, this is made worse through illegal deductions and who benefits from this will speak volumes.
Over the last few weeks it has come to light that South Africa's Social Security Agency (SASSA) has no idea how it will pay 17 million social (welfare) grants to around 11 million South Africans on April 1. This has understandably caused some concern, with the media, civil society organisations and trade unions accusing the department and the minister, Bathabile Dlamini, of deliberately endangering the welfare of the poorest South Africans. Social grants are direct cash transfers provided to South African citizens who meet specific criteria.
The vast majority of grants are child grants, which in 2016 amounted to R350 per child per month. Social grants are one of the few redistributive policies pursued by the state in the post-apartheid period, and they had a marked impact on chronic poverty rates and, research suggests, led to improvements in child health and school attendance.