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A just transition from climate change and unemployment – a trade union perspective

By Joseph Mathunjwa - Daily Mavrick, November 7, 2017

The global economy is facing numerous structural challenges. With the looming fourth economic revolution characterised by even more technological development and mechanisation, the future of productive labour is bleak. Most unskilled and semi-skilled workers are likely to lose their jobs. Even some skilled workers are not spared from this emerging catastrophe, as numerous job categories – such as brick-layers – are increasingly becoming redundant.

This points to the urgent need for planning, for conscious investment in job-rich, growth opportunities that enable economies to build productive capacity in labour intensive sectors. One way of achieving this is to strengthen wage led growth, which, in turn, stimulates aggregate demand through enlarged household incomes. Without a dramatic increase in the wages of mine workers, farm workers and all employed people in our country, we will never be able to deal with South Africa’s most urgent problems: inequality, mass unemployment and poverty.

Since unemployment is the greatest determinant of poverty and income inequality, we can expect these, too, to worsen. Already, in 2015, 30.4-million people, that is, 55.5% of the population live on less than R441 per month, or less than R15 per day. The fact that 10% of South Africa’s population earn around 60% of all income, points to South Africa’s widening inequality. Even more alarming is that the richest 10% of the population own at least 90–95% of all assets. 

With these terrible statistics in mind, it becomes redundant to repeat what we have been saying as a trade union for a long time, namely, SA urgently requires the redistribution of wealth.

When the millions of working people in our country can afford what the few take for granted – a television set, a washing machine, dining room table, etc – we create the conditions for developing the economies of scale that can sustain local industries from the intense competition coming from a globalised economy. In this way, we will be able to make in-roads into the almost 10 million people who are out of work, out of income and out of dignity.

The importance of the climate jobs work the Alternative Information & Development Centre (AIDC) has been leading is that it identifies where the jobs can be created. As AIDC’s latest research – One Million Climate Jobs – Moving South Africa forward on a low-carbon, wage-led and sustainable path – makes clear, there are potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs in championing low carbon development, as the complimentary strategy to a wage-led development path.

The AIDC’s solidarity with AMCU (the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) is greatly appreciated. It is a solidarity based on a shared approach and conviction of the urgent need to confront the numerous challenges facing our economy, the people whose needs the economy is supposed to meet and the sustainability of human life on a planet heating to unsustainable levels.

However, AMCU is a trade union representing mine workers and construction workers. These workers are embedded in the very industrial processes that are at the centre of contributing to global warming and other environmental problems. It is inescapable that, if we are going to move decisively to a low carbon less polluting economy, it is going to be at the cost of coal mining, coal fired energy plants, coal to liquid gas, etc. Unless jobs are offered to our members in clean industries, they would never voluntarily agree to the shutting down of mining and energy industries. It would be like asking them to commit suicide.

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on

By Marienna Pope-Weidemann - Red Pepper, October 13, 2017

The fatal police shooting of 37 striking workers at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in August 2012 was the worst recorded instance of police violence in post-apartheid South Africa. Five years on, there have been no prosecutions and no real improvements – no compensation for the families living in grief and dire poverty.

There has also been no apology, although staggeringly Lonmin has created a commercial out of the incident. But as always with the Marikana story, the most important characters were left out.

A few weeks after the massacre there was another death in the community. Amidst a brutal crackdown Paulina Masuhlo, a powerful community leader, died after being shot by police. Paulina’s death helped galvanise the birth of Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana.

As well as demanding criminal prosecution for the killings and compensation for the families, Sikhala Sonke also carries forward the demands those workers died for: a living wage and dignified conditions.

Should Unions Strike for a Just Transition?

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, October 10, 2017

After more than a decade of tenacious union lobbying of government negotiators, the words “a just transition of the workforce” was written into the preamble of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

But now what? Encouraged by Paris, unions around the world have committed fresh energy towards giving Just Transition some practical significance, otherwise it will remain little more than a moral appeal for fairness in a corporate-dominated world economy where both morality and fairness are increasingly scarce.

This Bulletin features an article by TUED coordinator Sean Sweeney on the recent commitment made by unions in South Africa to strike for a “just transition.” However, the goal of the threatened strike is to halt the plan of the national utility (Eskom) to close 5 coal-fired power stations, a move that threatens 40,000 jobs.  Titled “When Stopping Coal Plant Closures Makes Environmental Sense” the article, which first appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of New Labor Forum, urges environmentalists not to support the closures, but to join with unions in opposing Eskom’s proposed actions.  Supporting the closures, argues Sweeney is “a poisoned chalice,”  that “will separate the environmental movement from the unions with whom it should be allied. And whatever environmental gains the 5 closures might produce at the margins in terms of avoided emissions and pollution levels will be more than offset by the impact of ‘jobs versus environment’ political fragmentation. This is why the Eskom closures should be opposed, but opposed in a way that might lay the political foundations for a more fundamental energy transition.”

Since the article was written, Eskom’s war with the private renewable energy companies has continued, with the utility pushing back against high-cost of power purchase agreements for wind and solar power. TUED union NUMSA and also the new South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) have called for a socially owned renewables sector in order to allow for a just energy transition from the present coal-dominated power system to one that can take advantage of South Africa’s abundant supplies of wind and sunshine.

‘I closed my eyes and waited for the bullet’

By Thumeka Magwangqana and Primrose Sonti - Open Democracy, August 16, 2017

Five years ago today, 34 mine workers were shot dead in South Africa during a bitter dispute with British firm Lonmin. Today their community is taking their demands for accountability to the firm’s HQ.

In August 2012, mine workers at British company Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine in South Africa went on strike to demand the living wage. In the week leading up to 16 August, the workers tried to access the managers’ offices but they were pushed back by security. This was where the battle began.

Pushed back from the managers’ offices, the mine workers decided to go to the koppie, a small mountain near Lonmin’s mine, outside the company’s premises. They were there for a few days waiting for management to reply to their demands, and the rest of us in the community were not allowed to go near them. Every day when the men came down from that mountain, we asked them to tell us what was going on. Ten people were killed between 12 – 14 August, including two police officers.

We watched what was happening on TV constantly and in the afternoon of 15 August, we saw a crowd of people. Horses and police officers were growing in number on the koppie and, as women and leaders of the community, we were very upset. We were waiting for good news, for the management to make good decisions.

Early in the morning of 16 August, we saw the barbed wire encircling the koppie and we knew that people there were going to die. We collected the women of the community and, as leaders, we said that we should go straight to Lonmin management and tell them that if they didn’t want to give the mine workers the extra money, then it was better that we take them home because the situation had become so bad.

We collected the women and when we met near the mountain, we were too late. We heard the bullets, and then the ambulances.

Thirty-four mine workers were shot dead.

We couldn’t get there afterwards, there was a large crowd and we were told not go there, that it was very hectic. We turned back and didn’t sleep that night. Early in the morning, we went to see the police at the koppie and were fighting with them, trying everything. Then we cried.

We went to the police stations and hospitals to look for the missing. We were looking for a guy that was staying in the yard of one of our houses. He didn’t come back and we weren’t sure if he died or was in hospital or jail.

Patrick Bond: Climate justice movements need to hit Trump where it hurts most

By Ethemcan Turhan and Cem İskender Aydın - Entitle Blog, July 7, 2017

ecology.iww.org web editor's disclaimer: The IWW does not pursue the strategy of capturing state power, through elections, or other means, but instead advocates rendering state power irrelevant through the organizing by workers, by industry, at the point of production. Nevertheless, the following proposal does include other goals upon which many IWW members would agree and advocate:

Political economist and climate justice expert Patrick Bond comments on the prospects for a progressive anti-capitalist agenda in the face of increasing alt-right populism, xenophobia, climate denialism and economic-political exceptionalism. 

So we are back to square one: Trump’s withdrawal from Paris Agreement in early June 2017 has raised – quite understandably – many eyebrows around the world. This anticipated, but not entirely expected, move by the Trump administration calls us to question not only the viability of the Paris Agreement in the medium/long-term or the feasibility of commitments from non-state actors bridging the ambition gap, but also the tactics and strategies of global climate justice movements in the face of increasing alt-right populism, xenophobia, climate denialism and economic-political exceptionalism.

So where do we go next? Or better said, what are the prospects for a progressive anti-capitalist political agenda in a world where even the lowest common denominator like the Paris Agreement can’t hold? Can techno-fixes and allegedly apolitical sustainability governance approaches save capitalism from itself in its new authoritarian, post-truth disguise?

We caught up with Patrick Bond, who is in the advisory board of the ISSC-funded Acknowl-EJ project (Academic-activist co-produced knowledge for environmental justice) during a project meeting in Beirut, Lebanon.

Patrick Bond is professor of political economy at the Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand. He was formerly associated with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he directed the Centre for Civil Society from 2004 to 2016. He held visiting positions in various institutions including Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Berkeley.

As a leading activist-academic figure, Bond is a familiar face in global climate justice circles. Some of his recent works include BRICS: An Anticapitalist Critique (edited with Ana Garcia, 2015, Haymarket Books), Elite Transition: From Apartheid to Neoliberalism in South Africa (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2014, Pluto Press), South Africa – The Present as History (with John Saul, 2014, Boydell & Brewer) and Politics of Climate Justice: Paralysis above, Movement below (2012, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press).

Energy Democracy and Just Transition Endorsed at Launch of South Africa’s New Trade Union Federation

By John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, May 1, 2017

At a historic launch event held outside Johannesburg on April 21-23, 2017, almost 1,400 voting delegates from two-dozen unions representing 700,000 workers convened to launch the new “South African Federation of Trade Unions” (SAFTU).

In addition to adopting the name, logo and colors — red, black and gold — delegates also endorsed a range of principles adopted at a preparatory “Workers’ Summit” convened by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) in April 2016, adopted a new constitution, and approved a report from the Steering Committee proposing a range of campaigning priorities for the next period.

In a recent article, then SAFTU convener Zwelinzima Vavi said:

We’ve got a mix of workers in the private sector, manufacturing, transport, mining and construction. And we’ve got unions in the public sector – the biggest ones are the South African Policing Union and the National Union of Public Servants and Allied Workers.[SAFTU] is independent but not apolitical. It is truly worker controlled and democratic and not ‘sloganising’ over the issues. SAFTU is truly fighting and militant.”

At a TUED strategy meeting in New York in early April, Karl Cloete, NUMSA’s Deputy General Secretary, told union representatives from 12 countries that while the new federation’s campaigning priorities will focus on the many grave and urgent challenges facing South Africa’s highly exploited workers and exceptionally vulnerable poor, SAFTU would also make energy democracy and just transition part of its core agenda.

Declaration of the Launching Congress of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU)

By staff - Trade Unions For Energy Democracy, April 23, 2017

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has been born. We have passed a milestone in the history of the South African trade union movement at this Launching Congress held in Boksburg from 21-23 April 2017.

700,000 workers represented by 1,384 voting delegates from 24 unions and other non-voting unions have taken the first decisive step to building a new, vibrant, independent, and democratic workers’ federation, leading the struggle against exploitation, mass unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption and taking up the struggle for the total emancipation of the working class from the chains of its capitalist oppressors.

Delegates formally adopted the name, logo and colours of red, black and gold. A constitution was adopted and a Report from the Steering Committee which  spelt out the way forward for the coming period, and endorsed the principles adopted by the Workers Summit on 30 April 2016.

We are building a fundamentally different type of workers’ organisation – independent of political parties and employers but not apolitical, democratic, worker-controlled, militant, socialist-orientated, internationalist, Pan Africanist from a Marxist perspective and inspired by the principles of Marxism-Leninism. 

Our historic mission is to rapidly build a united mass force of workers, which will transform their lives and pave the way for the transformation of society as a whole from one based on the greed of a rapacious capitalist elite to one run for the benefit of the working class and all the people of South Africa and the world.

But time is not on our side. Unless we urgently mobilize our forces to confront the quadruple challenge of unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption and revive the trade union movement, turn the tide and fight back against their appalling conditions of life, we shall slide into a new age of barbarism, and even worse exploitation of the working class and the poor. 

No jobs on a dead planet: Why South African unions should stop investing in fossil fuels and lobby for a just, planned transition to a green economy

By David Le Page - Fossil Free South Africa, February 2017

More jobs: Yes, the fossil fuel industry creates jobs, but it also creates climate change, air and water pollution, substantial corruption, wars, social instability, economic crises and fuel shortages, and destroys arable land — all of which destroy jobs and human wellbeing. A greener economy will create more, better, safer jobs. According to the International Labour Organisation (https://goo.gl/rSryng): “…most studies show that a transition to a low-carbon economy will lead to a net increase in employment”. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has argued for “a planned closure of coal power stations – along with both a jobs and energy plan for the country”, saying it will “create a more prosperous and diversified economy”. (https://goo.gl/k4da08). Renewable energy is now capable of powering developing economies, indeed the whole world, without all the terrible costs of fossil fuels.

Threatened investments: Investments in fossil fuels are losing value in many markets. Even if they do not embrace the moral arguments for divestment, unions still have a fiduciary duty to the members whose funds they manage to understand, manage, and where appropriate, divest, to avoid the multiplying threats to investments in the fossil fuel industry. According to BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager: “Investors can no longer ignore climate change. Some may question the science behind it, but all are faced with a swelling tide of climate-related regulations and technological disruption.”

Health and the right to life: Researchers at UCT’s Energy Research Centre estimate that 27,000 premature deaths across South Africa annually (7.4% of all deaths) are currently due to high levels of fine PM (microscopic particles), mostly from burning fossil fuels… and often in poorer communities. Even without climate change, we would still need to shut down the fossil fuel industry.

Human and worker rights: Climate change is a profound threat to Africa. Climate change is a human rights issue, already killing hundreds of thousands of African children every year through malnutrition and disease. Climate change threatens food security. It threatens economic growth and stability, and thereby threatens workers’ job and savings.

The fossil fuel industry is facing multiple, critical threats:

  • Renewable energy (especially wind & solar) is now the fastest growing energy industry in the world.
  • China is moving fast to phase out coal, and its coal use has already peaked.
  • By some predictions, electric cars will mostly replace petrol/diesel in 20 years’ time.
  • The 2015 Paris agreement on climate change saw most countries agree to phase out fossil fuels.
  • Even without these changes, in 50-100 years time at the most, all accessible fossil fuel reserves will be exhausted anyway.
  • Transition away from fossil fuels is inevitable, but a managed, just transition is preferable.

Solidarity and tradition: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” The global divestment movement is led by many people of colour and people of faith, constituencies which overlap strongly with the union movement. The union movement has a social and historical responsibility to stand up for social justice, human rights and good governance. The fossil fuel industry, on the other hand, is extremely corrupt, threatening good governance and worker’s rights as well as human health and the environment.

Crossing the Color Lines, Crossing the Continents: Comparing the Racial Politics of the IWW in South Africa and the United States, 1905–1925

By Lucien van der Walt and Peter Cole Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies' Vol. 12, No. 1, January 2011 (the citations are not included in this version)

In two of the planet’s most highly racialized countries, South Africa and the United States, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or “Wobblies”), were remarkable for their commitment to anti-racism. The broad anarchist tradition, including syndicalism, thus played an important role in struggles for national liberation and racial equality.

Numsa Press Statement on the Numsa 14th of October 2015 Anti-Corruption March

By Irvin Jim - NUMSA, October 7, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s. The following event is unfolding as this goes to press:

A. The origins and foundations of South Africa’s unique corruption

There is concrete evidence, and also an admission by a key individual with a conscience, Ronnie Kasrils, about the extent of the sell-out deals the ANC made with capital during the 1990s, namely that the ANC would only get political power, without economic power, and that no radical measures would be embarked upon to restructure and to transform the South African economy.

We now know for certain that those deals sold the struggle for liberation in South African down the drain, and instead they ensured that post apartheid South Africa would be an extremely corrupt neoliberal capitalist state and society. South Africa is now in that space – an Olympic gold medal winning corrupt neoliberal capitalist system and society.

In place of the radical and full implementation of the Freedom Charter, the ANC abandoned both the philosophy and ideology of the liberation struggle – which were based on moving South Africa out of apartheid capitalism and all its evils including corruption and environmental destruction, into a society free of racism, colonialism, patriarchy and one of shared human values, social and economic justice and a transition to socialism.

Such a society was not capable of being created on the foundation of our inherited racist and patriarchal colonial capitalism.

Secretly and publicly, the ANC sold the dream for a racism free, equal and just society for a neoliberal capitalist society, complete with the corruption that comes with that package.

Apart from accepting International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank neoliberal capitalist dogma, and guaranteeing that land justice would never take place outside the capitalist markets, here are some of the deals the ANC struck with the devil, literally and figuratively, between 1990 and 1994:

  • The ANC accepted to repay $25 billion of inherited apartheid-era foreign debt (October 1993).
  • They gave the central bank formal independence in the interim and final constitutions (November 1993 and July 1996).
  • They borrowed $850 million from the IMF with tough conditions (December 1993)
  • They reappoint apartheid finance minister Derek Keys and SA Reserve Bank governor Chris Stals (May 1994).
  • They agreed that South Africa would join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (later renamed World Trade Organisation) on disadvantageous terms (August 1994).
  • They agreed to lower the main corporate tax rate from 48% to 29% and maintain countless privileges enjoyed by wealthy white people and corporations (1994-99)
  • They agreed to privatise peripheral parts of the state (January 1995).
  • They agreed to relax exchange controls (the ‘finrand’) and raise interest rates (March 1995).
  • They granted permission to South Africa’s biggest companies to move their financial headquarters to London (1999).
  • Finally, of course, they adopt a neoliberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) policy (June 1996).

The adoption of the GEAR policy (June 1996) effectively buried any hope of sustaining any liberation ethos and cultures, as South Africa was now fully confirmed as a neoliberal capitalist state and society replete with all the cutthroat competition, capitalist greed and pathological craving for accumulation of wealth by all means necessary including all and extreme forms of corruption.

All that we have said above is in the public domain. Why are our own state regulators, academics and journalists not blowing the whistle? Why must it take the FBI to tell us the details of the $10 million bribe that Thabo Mbeki and Danny Jordaan made to Sepp Blatter’s cronies, and the $6 million (R80 million) that Chancellor House made from the corrupt Hitachi deal to build Medupi’s boilers?

In effect an elite has agreed to use its control of the state to allow the white racist colonial capitalist foundation of South Africa to remain intact, in the process, allowing white dominated and foreign corporations to continue with their economic activities unchanged. It has done this in exchange for a share of the spoils. We know some of them are direct beneficiaries. They are businessmen and women during the night and politicians during the day. And of course their families are crony capitalists night and day. Today, the ANC itself acknowledges this fact – just read their 2015 NGC documents.

There is no difference between the ANC and the network of public officials and private individuals who agree to corruptly allocate tenders in exchange for a share of the spoils. This behaviour is a logical and necessary corrupt character structure of the society that neoliberal capitalism thrives on.

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