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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. 

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.

NUMSA condemns Eskom in Bloemfontein for exposing workers to unsafe working conditions

By Phakamile Hlubi-Majola - NUMSA, February 12, 2018

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) condemns the management of Eskom in Bloemfontein for exposing workers to unsafe working conditions. On Friday our members picketed outside Eskom’s Customer Network Centre (CNC) to hand over a memorandum of demands. One of the key demands is the immediate re-instatement of a female senior store worker to the Eskom Centre. The store worker is anemic and contracted aluminum poisoning whilst working at Eskom’s (CNC). Her doctors have advised that she should not be working at the CNC because the aluminum is making her sick. As a result she was temporarily placed at the Eskom Centre and her condition improved. But the management team have ignored this advice from her doctor. They have refused to pay her salary for January and are victimizing her through a disciplinary process. They insist she must return to the CNC or she will be dismissed.

We condemn this blatant disregard for a workers health and safety. We must remind Eskom that last year another one of their employees, Thembisile Yende was killed at the workplace. She too had been exposed to an unsafe working environment. When she complained to her seniors at the plant about her conditions, they ignored her. She was strangled to death and her body was found locked in her office at the Substation where she worked. Her colleague David Ngwenya, has been arrested and charged for her murder.

It seems Eskom is not interested in ensuring that workers are protected and their safety is guaranteed. The victimization of this worker must cease immediately! Furthermore we demand that she be re-instated to the Eskom Centre where she was working. Our memorandum of demands also details a list of grievances which our members have against the firm.

NUMSA repeats the call for Sibanye to shut down for the sake of worker safety

By Phakamile Hlubi-Majola - NUMSA, February 8, 2018

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is deeply saddened by news that two workers have died at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Kloof operation in Gauteng. According to the mining house a ‘fall of ground’ incident which the company claims may have been the result of a seismic incident caused the accident. The accident occurred at Sibanye’s Ikamva 4 Shaft‚ Kloof Operations in Glenharvie in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

This is the second incident affecting workers safety this month at Sibanye mine. Last week‚ more than 950 employees were left stranded underground at one of its mines in the Free State when a severe storm resulted in electricity supply being cut, trapping the workers underground. To date Sibanye has not properly explained why its generators failed to kick in. This delay meant that the miners were trapped underground for more than12 hours while attempts were made to rescue them.

It is important to note that these deaths are happening as the global elites in the mining industry are gathered at the Mining Indaba in Cape Town, to discuss more ways to exploit workers and pillage the country of its natural resources. The death toll in the South African mining industry remains shockingly high, with at least 81 people killed in 2017 alone. It is a reflection of the industry’s attitude towards the life of an African worker. They continue to shamelessly pursue profits before the well-being of workers. But the Department of Mineral Resources has allowed mining companies to act with impunity when it comes to mining safety.

NUMSA sends its deepest condolences to the families of the workers who lost their lives in this horrific incident. Last week we called for a shut-down of operations at Sibanye in the Free State until workers safety could be guaranteed, but we were ignored by the DMR. We repeat the call that Sibanye-Stillwater should not be allowed to operate until the safety of workers can be guaranteed. We demand a full and detailed investigation into the cause of the accident. It seems evident to us that Sibanye is not taking enough care to guarantee the safety of workers underground.

En La Lucha No Hay Fronteras (In the Struggle There Are No Borders)

By Kathia Ramirez - US Food Sovereignty Alliance, January 11, 2018

Fifth in the South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange Article Series

In October of 2017, I had the opportunity to travel with 7 other comrades on an Agroecology Exchange to South Africa. This Exchange was a continuation of a process that had initiated in 2015 which was the same year that I was introduced to the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. Although there was much traveling, it was an amazing experience to see and learn from farmers, farmworkers, activists, and people in the community who are struggling due to the current food system.

During the trip, I had the opportunity to interpret for another delegate and feel the dynamic of how language is not a barrier to being able to relate across seas. The experience interpreting allowed me to relate and connect both with people in South Africa as well as to the stories that were shared with me from my same culture since I share a similar background to the delegate I was interpreting for. During our visit to Limpopo, members of the Mopani Farmers Association put together a cultural event just for us and once again, I felt the connection through dance and music despite our different backgrounds. It brought so much to mind for me: from appreciating the work that I am doing to learning more about my own culture from which at some point I have felt very disconnected.

When we arrived in Citrusdal, Cape Town and were hosted by the Surplus People’s Project, we honored International Rural Women’s Day through participating in a Day of Action for Food Sovereignty, and an assembly for the International Day of Eradication of Poverty. As members and allies of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, we participated on the last day and had the opportunity to share about our experiences and also had the chance to be part of a panel discussion, where we had both Farmer and Farmworker delegates sharing their stories. Among those on the panel were member organizations from The Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign. It was amazing to see how even though we joined these organizations on the last day of their three-day meeting, we were easily able to engage because our struggles are very similar. We were also very welcomed to engage when we participated in a meeting with Urban Farmers in Cape Town, and again, we identified some of the same issues that are affecting us although we are from two different countries.

NUMSA condemns NERSA for granting Eskom a tariff increase

By Irvin Jim - NUMSA, December 18, 2017

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa condemns the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) for granting Eskom a 5.2% tariff increase. Last month NUMSA and the United Front participated in public consultations on Eskom’s request for a 19.9% price increase in the 2018/2019 financial year, where we rejected the request. Below are five reasons why NUMSA rejects any increase in the cost of electricity:

  1. NUMSA is dismayed by NERSA’s decision to grant Eskom an above inflation 5.2% price increase. By doing so the energy regulator is demonstrating it does not act in the interests of the working class majority and the public in general. Most companies big and small simply cannot afford it. The tariff hike is likely to result in plant closures which will lead to more job losses and stifle growth in the economy.
  2. For the working class, access to electricity, like water, is a human right and therefore we demand free electricity for the working class and the poor, and affordable electricity for industry. The working class majority and the poor cannot afford to pay and the state should not commodify this basic human necessity.
  3. Eskom is poorly led and its senior management team is drowning in scandals. The management team has shown that it cannot be trusted to clean up the power utility. The outcome of the disciplinary hearing of Matshela Koko, the suspended acting CEO shows proves this. Koko was disciplined for failing to declare a conflict of interest regarding his step-daughters ownership of shares in a company which was awarded more than a billion rand in contracts by an Eskom division which he led. He was cleared of all charges and the chairperson has reinstated him. This is despite the fact that the hearings have been discredited because of allegations of board interference, and threats of intimidation.
  4. Furthermore in a period of just two years Eskom has had three CEO’s. It’s CFO has been suspended under a cloud of corruption and mismanagement.  Clearly the participation of private companies such as KPMG, Mackenzie and Trillian in the looting of Eskom resources, and the undue influence of the Gupta family in allegations of state capture, is a clear indication that paying more for electricity means endorsing this blatant theft of our country’s resources.
  5. NERSA has demonstrated that it is completely oblivious to the suffering of the working class majority. StatsSA has confirmed that more than half the population lives in abject poverty; more than 36% of the working population is unemployed and the gap between the rich and poor is ever widening. To make matters worse the economy is in junk status and growth prospects are very low. The majority of the working class cannot afford to pay for electricity. Therefore an above inflation increase of 5.2% will compound all these problems and increase the chances of a violent explosion in the country.

NUMSA together with the United Front will be holding regular demonstrations and pickets across the country next year to highlight these issues. What we need is free, safe and accessible energy for the working class and the poor. We reject any price increase because it will put electricity out of economic reach of the majority of people in the country.

Farmworkers Resist and Organize: Connected Struggles for Farmworker Justice in South Africa and the US

By Edgar Franks - US Food Sovereignty Alliance, December 7, 2017

This past October I was part of the delegation sent by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance to South Africa. The delegation is part of a process to connect with groups throughout Africa with US-based Food Sovereignty groups to build an international analysis on the food system and to be in solidarity with one another.

During the 11 days our delegation was in South Africa, we were able to meet with many organizations throughout different regions, each with their unique struggles. Our delegation was small but represented many different sectors within the food system, including farmworkers, Black farmers, and immigrants; we all brought our own area or expertise to the trip and complimented each other well.

Even though every place we visited we learned a lot and were impacted by the amount of work and organizing that was happening, I want to share about the exchange that we had with the farmworkers in Robertson in the Western Cape.

Personally, I was able to connect to the farmworker struggle in the Western Cape, as there was a familiarity with the way issues and conditions were discussed. The analysis that was shared resonated with me profoundly considering that farmworkers here in the United States are also going through the same exploitation.

At Community to Community in Washington, we try to recognize that the struggle for farmworker justice is not limited to the workplace. Farmworkers’ lives are complex and have many intersections which is why we know that in order to achieve our goals – especially when it comes to transforming the food system – that we must go beyond just fighting for union contracts. Food Sovereignty for farmworkers also means being recognized as humans who are capable of leading ourselves. That is why we also organize for immigrant rights, climate justice, women’s rights, and food sovereignty.

NUMSA and United Front Joint Memorandum on the Eskom tariff increase

By Irvin Jim, Trevor Ngwane, and Lindiwe Malindi - NUMSA, December 1, 2017

The National Union of Metal Workers (NUMSA) and the UNITED FRONT (UF) are extremely dismayed by the opportunistic call made by the Eskom board and its management to increase the electricity tariff by 19.9%. We view this demand by Eskom as nothing more than a gross abuse of power, and an attempt by the State Owned Entity (SOE) to hold the entire country and the economy hostage. This is being done by an entity which has been moving from one scandal to another with absolutely no leadership. In fact, it is extremely shocking that in a period of just two years, Eskom has changed CEO’s three times, and its CFO, Anoj Singh, has been suspended under a cloud of corruption and mismanagement allegations. But the same company and its board have the audacity to make an outrageous demand for a 19.9% tariff increase. They have no regard for the catastrophic implications which will trigger a national crisis of plant closures of small, medium and large companies; as well as causing retrenchments in all big companies. It will in fact destroy all opportunities to stimulate real economic growth and jobs.

Socio-Economic Situation

NUMSA and the UF are of the view that the economy has been in a technical recession for several months which means the working class of this country are facing a job-loss blood bath across all sectors. Currently more than 36% of the working population is unemployed, and the numbers are increasing. More than 30.4 million of the population lives in abject poverty; the average worker supports at least 5 dependents on his/her meagre income, and at least 26 million South Africans go to bed hungry. Any change in the price of electricity will compound all these problems and increase the chances of a violent explosion in the country.

It is against this backdrop that NUMSA and the United Front reject Eskom’s outrageous demand for a 19.9% tariff increase. The Eskom board are clearly completely deaf and blind to the suffering of the working class because they decided to make this proposal in spite of the fact that there is glaring evidence that the working class majority simply cannot afford an increase in the electricity rate. The United Front and NUMSA have decided to hold this demonstration to express our anger with Eskom for wanting to increase the suffering of the working class, by requesting a tariff increase.

NUMSA’s Submission to NERSA on Eskom’s Application for a tariff increase

By Irvin Jim - NUMSA, November 15, 2017

NUMSA is a manufacturing union and since 2009, the union has witnessed the deep global crisis of capitalism in the manufacturing sector. NUMSA has witnessed hemorrhaging of jobs, plant closures retrenchments the downward variation of conditions and benefits of workers and the casualization of labour. At the centre of this crisis, especially in small, medium-sized companies has been the uncompetitive Eskom electricity tariffs.

The history of job losses can be traced to wrong the ANC government neo-liberal policies such as liberalization of trade, removal of exchange controls, continuous and the maintenance of high interest rates by the Reserve Bank. This situation was worsened the day government made the decision to move Eskom away from its core mandate which was to supply cheap electricity to the economy in order to grow the economy, to electrify communities and to create jobs. This mandate was replaced by a backward government and NERSA with the decision to prioritize their balance sheet, which was nothing more than to chase profits.

NUMSA has consistently called for the nationalization of all commanding heights of the economy and all our minerals. In the case of Eskom, we have consistently made a call that government must nationalize the strategic coal mines that must supply the national grid with cheap quality coal, so that we can escape the continuous exorbitant prices of primary coal, and deliver a competitive electricity tariff. If one were to look at the exorbitant primary coal tariff increases from 2007 to 2016, they are indeed shocking and appear to be a money-making scheme which is not in line with the original mandate of Eskom.

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.

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