IN the past months we have witnessed workers intensifying strikes and protests in demand of living wages, although at times using blunt tactics, misdirected at fellow workers or public representatives.
Workers are fed up with super exploitation while owners take home trillions of profit.
Surely workers’ demands are justifiable in that it is irrational that in the first hour of work they produce their wage and all related costs, and the rest of eight hours or more they are producing wealth for the employer. Workers are realising that their conditions of living are forever deteriorating with a meagre increase yearly quickly nullified by above inflation increase in basic amenities such as food, clothing, shelter, health, education, transport and electricity.
With the cost of living ever on the rise, this is compounded by the capitalist crisis not only in the United States or Europe, but everywhere in the world, worse in South Africa owing to the historical reality that Europe remains the largest trading partner of South Africa or put otherwise, Europe remain the largest exploiter of our raw endowments for building its riches. Therefore when it’s in recession, European buying power is weakened, meaning work and production is adversely affected, so the chain goes on in hurting our economy and growth prospects.
This hardship is juxtaposed with ever-greedy employers and shareholders, who continue to report trillions of profit and live big while those who work the means of production live in squalor. Employers are trying every trick in the book to fragment the working force, employers are weakening unions if they cannot wish them away, criminals masquerading as new unions are therefore prone to violence and killings in coercing workers in their desperate bid to lay their hands on the lucrative business called workers subscriptions. This sows suspicion among workers that it’s actually their union that is enslaving them rather than being loyal to workers’ demands.
A genuine demand does not become or cease to be genuine because the employer or CCMA has permitted the strike. The genuine demands and protest against living conditions, super exploitation, safety and pathetic wages do not become so because there is permission to strike or not.
Reference that these strikes are illegal, wherein they are unprotected strikes is not an honest mistake but an attempt to coerce society into developing a particular attitude towards workers.
Because an illegal act is a criminal act that must be proven in a competent authority with required jurisdiction, when workers are demanding a living wage whether such strike is protected or unprotected they cannot be equated to criminals.
The unity of workers is a precondition for any struggle to be won.
Stratification of workers in groups and the belief that workers can bargain with the employer on their own is weakening the collective labour power of workers.
It may have worked in Marikana because of material conditions, but such a victory will be short-lived if workers are not organised as a solid force. Whether we like or not, collective bargaining will never be the same again.
Violence and intimidation may have been an important mobilising influence in Marikana and any blood of worker spilt because of the demand against the employer is self-defeating.
The power of persuasion can never be replaced by criminality and killings.
Encouraging workers to undertake unprotected strikes is not only reckless but bordering on downright reactionary. When unemployment is so high it cannot be afforded that jobs of workers be put at such risk.
We witnessed all sorts of pseudo unions and demagogues, speaking rhetoric and anointing themselves as true representatives of workers and inciting workers to ditch their union.
This must never be seen as attached to NUM, but must be understood for what it is, as part of an onslaught against organised labour (Cosatu) in order for employers to do as they wish with workers.
We must ponder whether we have an undeclared minimum wage of R12500 and what stops workers in another mines demanding the same. Why not in freight, why not in auto, why not manufacturing, so it goes on and on.
For workers to bring about any decisive change, unity is sacrosanct and any treat to this unity must be ruthlessly defeated.
Mawethu Rune, national deputy chairman, Young Communist League