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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 2, No. 22, 5 November 2003

In this Issue:

 

Red Alert

Strengthen the Alliance to confront the Reality of Imperialist Globalisation

By Blade Nzimande, General Secretary, South African Communist Party

As the SACP we heartily welcome the President's letter in ‘ANC Today’ of last Friday, 31 October 2003. It is an intervention we wish could have been made a few years earlier, since it would have set the ANC and the Alliance on a much firmer path towards a convergence on understanding both the global and the domestic political economy. It could have helped much earlier towards a strategic convergence on understanding the reality and implications of the current global realities for our country, the national democratic revolution, the African continent and the South as a whole.

As we said in response to the President's speech (www.progressive-governance.net) to the Progressive Governance Conference held in London in mid-July, this 31 October piece needs to be studied closely and debated by the entire movement (SACP response was on the 30 July 2003 edition of Umsebenzi Online - www.sacp.org.sa/umsebensi/online/2003/uol02). It is a piece that dare not be overlooked, particularly by all those still firmly committed to a national democratic revolution with a working class bias, and to the strengthening our alliance as the only basis for advancing the national democratic revolution.

Coming from the 22nd Congress of the Socialist International, our President had some of the following very important observations to make:

"The critically important task to end the poverty and underdevelopment in which millions of African are trapped, inside and outside our country, cannot be accomplished by the market. If we were to follow the prescriptions of neo-liberal market ideology, we would abandon the masses of our people to permanent poverty and underdevelopment. This would be a betrayal of everything for which the masses of our people have engaged in struggle for nine decades, under the leadership of the ANC"

This is precisely the point that the SACP, and indeed the ANC itself, has been making over the last few decades. When we reiterated this point over the last few years, some within our own ranks castigated us as the "ultra-left"! We were castigated as such because we dared point out that neo-liberalism, as an ideological expression of imperialism and capitalism in the current global phase, was one of the biggest enemies of progress for developing countries and an obstacle to the creation of a better life for all.

When we pointed out that we need to "roll back and transform" the market, we were told that this is the modern expression of ultra-leftism, and an abandonment, in the case of the SACP, of the struggle for socialism. Indeed, the SACP agrees that "the task to end poverty and underdevelopment... cannot be accomplished by the market”. Yes, but struggling against this reality is limited without embarking on a struggle for socialism. But that is not our intention here. Of course for us as the SACP we cannot challenge the market without challenging its foundation - capitalism! If the market cannot address the condition of the African continent and its peoples, as we, by the way, said in our very first edition of the African Communist way back in 1959, then the only alternative is the struggle for socialism. We still firmly believe in this. But one does not have to be a socialist to understand that the capitalist market is no solution to the problems facing humanity today, particularly the mass of the exploited people of Africa and the South. The President himself does indeed point out that the very consolidation and deepening of the NDR, (not socialism!) directly mean that, in his own words, "We cannot allow ourselves to be prisoners of what the Socialist International called 'the neo-liberal market ideology”.

By the way, what is neo liberal market ideology? It is an ideology that seeks to justify and mask the global plunder of the world's resources by the rich nations and their multinational corporations at the expense of the poor countries. It is an ideology that seeks to justify capitalist expansion into new areas of capital accumulation through outsourcing, privatisation, liberalisation and particularly further capitalist inroads into a whole range of sites previously controlled by the state as legitimate sites for private capital accumulation. It is the modern expression of capitalist ideology to mask class exploitation and project it as an inevitable trajectory of the history of humankind. It is an ideology of imperialism in the era of globalised capitalism.

In the African Communist two years ago (www.sacp.org.za/ac/ac156, 1st quarter 2001) we characterised globalisation as imperialism. From this perspective we argued that ours is both a national and a global struggle that requires that we join forces with all the progressive forces opposed to neo-liberalism and to struggle for a developmental path in favour of the workers and the poor. Back then we made a call for a coalition of progressive forces to fight against neo-liberalism. The President however calls for a similar struggle in pointing out that:

“Thus the call of the Socialist International to all progressive forces to oppose neo-liberal market ideology is, for us in South Africa and Africa, not a matter merely of ideology. It is a practical and rational response to what we have to do to achieve the goals of the national democratic revolution, the objectives being pursued by the AU directly and through NEPAD. We have a responsibility to engage all progressive forces in our country, in the Africa and the rest of the world to come together in the global coalition for the Socialist International called. This coalition must confront 'the unacceptable cost' of globalisation of which the Socialist International spoke, resulting in the 'widening of the gap between rich and poor countries, and between rich people and poor, people in countries of both the North and the South”.

Indeed one might raise issues around what the Socialist International means by 'unacceptable cost of globalisation' and the extent of its preparedness to fundamentally challenge the capitalist foundations of this 'unacceptable cost', given the International's own history of vacillation, abandonment of working class interests and indecisiveness at crucial moments in the history of revolutionary struggles to overthrow capitalism in the 20th century. Again, it is not our aim to go into this here. The point we want to make is that imperialist globalisation cannot be challenged other than through a coalition of progressive forces globally, a point underlined by the President. The President himself further underlines this by saying, "We cannot but be part of the global coalition that must work to create the global society in which the people will govern the process of globalisation".

There are a number of very important challenges arising out of the President's piece, that we dare not fail to properly grasp. Firstly, the President's call to "engage all progressive forces in our country, in Africa and rest of the world" in order to defeat neo-liberalism and its market ideology, means, in our circumstances, the need to strengthen the Tripartite Alliance. It means avoiding taking the Alliance for granted, or gambling with its unity willy-nilly, as some within our ranks are opportunistically tempted to do nowadays. The foundation for our effective participation in any global front of progressive forces against neo-liberalism is the unity of the Tripartite Alliance and all progressive forces within our 'nation-state'. This also means the translation of our strategic convergence into common policy positions. Coincidentally, the forthcoming 2004 elections, the ANC election manifesto and its implementation post elections, provide yet another opportunity to deepen Alliance unity - an opportunity we dare not squander!

Secondly, the President's letter also opens an opportunity to properly analyse and grasp the nature of liberal ideology, its current expression, its insidious influence, and to openly engage with the extent to which it has influenced or impacted on some of our own government policies, on our own formations and some of our own cadres.

Thirdly, the President correctly says, "Poor as we might be, and precisely because we are poor we have a duty to contribute to the elaboration of the 'global governance concept... opposing the neo-liberal market ideology, the neo-conservative agenda, and the unilateralist approach". This essentially means that as part of this struggle we need to also expose and struggle against the very janus-faced policies of many of the social democratic parties affiliated to the Socialist International, which promote the very same neo-liberal policies in government beneath the very grand declarations of fighting for democracy, socio-economic justice and poverty eradication. This means a struggle for the defence of the public sector and the building of popular power as a basis upon which to globalise solidarity and struggle against capitalist globalisation.

In all this, the message is clear that we must build independent working class power as the only guarantor for creating a better life for all, to defeat neo-liberalism and take forward the struggle for socialism.

Socialism is the future, build it now!


The Current Dispute At Shoprite/Checkers  

By Mduduzi Mbongwe, SACCAWU Deputy General Secretary

The Shoprite Group of Companies is Africa’s largest food retailer, having grown from just 8 stores in 1979, to more than six hundred outlets in fifteen African countries currently. It comprises of the following entities:

SHOPRITE CHECKERS SUPERMARKETS GROUP, which is made up of Shoprite Supermarkets, Checkers Supermarkets, Freshmark (a fruit and vegetables procurement division with 9 fresh produce distribution centres), OK Furniture outlets, Checkers Hypermarkets, House and Home stores, USave stores, Rainbow Finance, Hungry Lions fast foods outlets and a Property Division

OK FRANCHISE DIVISION which procures and distributes stock to Sentra convenience stores, 8 ‘till Late outlets, OK Mini-mart convenience stores, OK Foods Supermarkets, Mega Save wholesale stores, Value stores, OK Grocer stores and some 43 Buying Partners

The Company recorded a turnover of R24, 8 billion for the period ending 30 June 2003, an improvement of well over R1 billion compared to the turnover of R22.11 billion for the period ending 30 June 2002. It employs about fifty thousand workers within the Republic of South Africa and like most retailers employed the majority of them on a casual basis until the introduction of the Wholesale and Wholesale and Retail Sectoral Determination Act, which replaced casuals with variable time employees. This piece of legislation came about as a result of concerted efforts by SACCAWU to address the shocking conditions that casuals are exposed to. It is common cause that casual workers are the most vulnerable and exploited component of the working people, particularly in the retail sector and it is not uncommon to see some of these workers taking home far less that R100.00 a week.

THE RETAIL SECTORAL DETERMINATION ACT

The Wholesale and Retail Sectoral Determination Act number 9 (the Determination), a determination which regulates minimum wages and conditions of employment within the Retail and Wholesale sector, was gazzetted on the 19th of December 2002 and came into effect on the 1st of February this year. Whilst the Determination has a number of shortcomings, we hailed its introduction as one step in the right direction as it effectively abolish casual labour and replaces same with variable time employment and further introduced the concept of proportional benefits for this category of workers. In terms of the Determination, these workers have an option to choose a higher premium or proportional benefits. Unlike its predecessor, the Wage Determination 478, the Wholesale and Retail Sectoral Determination falls short of stipulating the ratio of full time to part time workers within companies but, significantly, it covers all workers within the Republic including workers in the former TBVC states. The Determination also increased minimum wages which had remained stagnant since 1997.

SACCAWU felt that the implementation process must be negotiated in all Companies where we are organized. This was aimed at safeguarding the interests of workers, given the history of some employers within the sector and the tendency to vary down wages and conditions where they are already above the minimums imposed by the law. Shoprite Checkers requested the Union’s support for a delay in implementing the determination citing an excuse that it will take them time to adapt their admin systems. They undertook to back date benefits due to workers, resulting from the implementation of the Determination, to the 1st of February. The Union supported them on the basis of negotiations ensuing prior to implementation.

The parties have been engaged in dialogue since March this year and throughout this process the Company did not enter into meaningful negotiations with us. They later requested us to prove that we represent casual employees through signed stop order forms, which we were able to do. They continued further excuses to avoid meaningful engagement and in fact went on to compel workers to sign draconian contracts of employment, pretending that such contracts was informed by their quest to comply with the Determination. What Shoprite Checkers did was in fact replacing old and better contracts with these new and unacceptable contracts. The majority of variable time workers signed such contracts as they were threatened that same is the prerequisite for them to be scheduled for work.

Such draconian contracts included the following clauses amongst others,

  1. Compulsory HIV tests,
  2. Reduction of years of service,
  3. Reduction of the hourly rate of pay,
  4. Credit checks,
  5. Normal rate for Sunday work,
  6. Purchasing of Uniforms and name badges from the Company
  7. Compulsory membership of the Company’s Retirement Fund.

This unilateralism provoked workers to an extent that some members embarked upon unprotected strikes as a direct result of this arrogance. The Union was eventually compelled to declare a dispute in view of the Company’s intransigence on the provisions within the proposed contracts. The dispute was referred to the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), where it remained unresolved and the CCMA accordingly issued a certificate confirming that the dispute was not resolved and that the parties to the dispute may embark upon protected industrial action to pursue the matter.

In a further attempt to resolve the matter amicably, the Union sought the opinion of Anne-Marie van Zyl, an Executive Manager for Employment Standards within the Department of Labour. Her written comments were forwarded to us on the 29th of July and such comments consistent with our argument and confirmed it as correct. Her letter is attached hereto.

In the interim, the Company saw it fit to pay its CEO an annual salary of R5.2 million, a bonus of R3 million and a further R95 000 for the so-called other benefits. Workers were angered by this state of affairs and openly declared that they are tired of being treated like dirt, being paid slave wages, made to accept down varying of the already appalling wages and conditions of employment without any job security. It is on that basis that they resolved to confront the Company head-on and unleash their collective anger and strength. Indeed, they have the support of countless organisaions and ordinary citizens.

SACCAWU DEMANDS

Workers entered into a protected strike and vowed to fight to the bitter end for the achievement of their reasonable demands and never to back down until the following demands have been met by the Company:

  1. The immediate re-instatement of the old hourly rate of pay for variable time employees,
  2. Recognition of the correct length of service for all categories of workers,
  3. A guaranteed minimum of 40 hours of work per week for former flexi-timers,
  4. A guaranteed minimum of 27 hours of work per week for other variable time employees,
  5. The right to belong to a Retirement Fund of workers’ choice (including the right to belong to the SACCAWU National Provident Fund),
  6. Scrapping of all oppressive clauses, including compulsory HIV tests, from the contracts of employment,
  7. That the Company should stop Unilateralism and practise Cordial Industrial Relations.

As it may be observed, demands (c) and (d) above differ in terms of minimum hours demanded and this is informed by the fact that Flexi-Time workers were specifically covered by the Flexi-timer Agreement entered into between the Union and the Company. The Company has since terminated the said agreement unilaterally.

The demands are primarily motivated by the need for equity and fairness at the workplace and are also consistent with the Employment Equity Act and the Supreme Law of the Land, the Constitution of the Republic.

THE STRIKE

After the Union had served Shoprite Checkers with a forty eight (48) hours notice of strike, the Company responded by issuing a notice of proposed lock-out. At the same time, the Company issued a communiqué to workers in an attempt to talk and coerce them out of the pending strike, threatening that Shoprite Checkers cannot guarantee work for those who join the strike.

This did not break to spirit of workers, who were actually mobilized by the same sheer arrogance in this age and era of sound industrial relations. Shoprite did not have a choice but to propose that the parties meet to define strike rules, which was done through the CCMA.

Surprisingly, the Company only realized that they blundered in agreeing to the rules in their form and content once the strike commenced. The Union was immediately flooded with letters from all over the Company claiming that our members were not complying and we saw this, from the onset, as a build-up towards a potential opting out from the agreement on the rules. We also flooded the Company with reports of their managers and/or non-striking workers intimidating and harassing striking workers.

Seeing that the above did not work, the Company sought relief from the Courts of Law claiming that members were interfering with the customers. We are not only disappointed but also feel betrayed by this contemptuous treatment that such process took place whilst the parties were locked in a meeting trying to find a solution and the Company did not even have the courtesy to inform us. Some ill-informed Judges granted them some interim orders restraining workers from picketing within 100 metres in some areas and 50 metres in others. This was some kind of open invitation for police brutality and indiscriminate arrests of our members. Since the first order was granted in the KZN Region, we challenged same and workers recorded yet another victory as the order, insofar as it relates to the distance to be kept by picketers, was discharged / reversed and members went back to the 5 metres. On closer scrutiny of the orders, it emerged that such orders are in fact full of contradictions and also incomplete. For example,

  1. the order makes reference to stores but the names of such stores are not mentioned
  2. the order restrains members to a distance of 100 metres in one part and 50 metres in another
  3. the same order then orders picketers to comply with the Picket Rules Agreement, which states that picketers must not picket within 5 metres

We have already instructed our Attorneys to challenge and ask the Court to set this fraudulent order aside and are also assessing the implication of the above observations on the arrests and any other event sparked by the said orders. We also condemn those members of the South African Police Services who have used brute force to enforce this fraudulent and illegitimate order as well as some landlords hosting Shoprite Checkers in their Malls and/or Shopping Centres, for coming to the defence of Shoprite by pretending that picketers cause some imagined disorder in such places. We are planning to bring these injustices to the attention of the relevant ministries for their urgent attention.

We are convinced that the Company resorted to such dirty tactics due to the impact of our current strike, although they want the world to believe that it’s business as usual in their stores. We are also convinced that the Company is trying to break the fighting spirit of our members in the course of this important strike. Unfortunately for them, this is also not working as members remain resolute.

After a marathon meeting of four days, resulting from the Company’s request, the parties still have not agreed on guaranteed minimum hours and reinstatement of the Flexi-Timer Agreement, retrospective payment of money lost by workers as a result of the reduction of the hourly rate of pay, payment for Sunday work as parties differ on the clause of the Determination to be applied for this purpose as well as the period for separate negotiations for working hours of Flexi-Timers and Part-Timers.

On the basis of the above, the strike continues as parties are meeting today to further pursue a possible settlement of the dispute.

 

The 1973 Durban Strikes: A Catalyst For The Advent Of Our Democracy  

Delivered by Willies Mchunu, SACP KwaZulu Natal Provincial Secretary, at the COSATU rally to commemorate the 1973 strikes, held at Lindelani in KwaMashu, Durban

The 1973 strikes, in Durban, by African workers will go down in history as one of the major developments in the development of the Trade Union Movement in South Africa. This is especially significant given the fact that these strikes were taking place within the Environment in which the African workers were subjected to miserable wages as well as untannable working conditions. Politically they were also deprived of the right to belong to Trade Unions and to participate in the country’s political life.

These strikes also took place during the time when the political struggle for political liberation and the end of apartheid oppression and exploitation was being waged. This existing situation was therefore bound to influence the direction, which the developing Trade Union Movement was going to take. When the wave of strikes developed, some left academics, white liberal unionists and some workers with SACTU union experience exploited the situation and harnessed the workers anger and strike movement by building the General Factory Workers Benefit Fund. The main aim of the fund was defined as being to assist worker’s with a funeral scheme with benefits, which could assist them during the time of death of the member and family members.

The final objective however, as it turned out later, was to assist workers to find a way of dealing with their workplace problems through organizing into unions. Within this environment was also formed the institute for Industrial Education, which started a process of educating workers on worker’s rights and other related aspects. This education included education on Trade Unionism and the laws that regulated it. Education was also provided on the History of Trade Unionism in South Africa and how it related to African workers. Importantly, the history of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) of 1919 and the history, struggles and traditions of the South Africa Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) of 1956 was provided. It was through this education that workers learnt that they were legally excluded from the right to belong to registered unions and therefore from the Bargaining process. They also however learnt that there was nothing in law that prevented them from forming and belonging to unregistered unions and bargaining directly with the employers at workplace level. All that this required was for them to know how to organize, know how to use their organization to struggle for a better life and then have courage, and determination to struggle.

Armed with this knowledge, courage and determination to correct the wrong perpetrated against them, these workers went back to their workplaces to start a process of organizing their fellow workers into the General factory workers benefit fund and ultimately into the union. The five unions that emerged form this arrangement were the Chemical Industrial Union, Furniture and Timber Workers Union, Metal and Allied Workers Union, National union of Textile Workers as well as Transport and General workers Union. The Furniture and Timber workers Union is the only one that did not develop further. The other four developed into fully-fledged trade unions that were to later make a mark in the organising of the workers in their respective sectors.

They were also to play a very important role in the political developments in the country. Viz.

  • They played a major role in further developing and entrenching the culture of Non racialism, in that they themselves embraced this policy from birth.
  • They also became a very important school for the workers in the building of disciplined and structured organization from workplace to national level as well as the method of accounting and the tactics of the struggle.
  • The four unions later coordinated themselves through the Trade Union Advisory and Coordinating Council (TUACC) which brought them together in some kind of a Federation. The concept of a Federation to unite sectorally organized workers was being given practical expression in this way.

From the experience, these workers were to later unite with other organized workers in the Transvaal Province to form National Unions and ultimately further to form the Federation of South African Trade Unions in 1979 (FOSATU). At its formation, in Hammanskraal, the FOSATU Unions resolved to embark on a process of discussions with other trade unions, which had been developing through different processes to forge further unity that could lead to bigger and stronger unions and a bigger and stronger federation. This became a reality in 1985 when the negotiations amongst existing unions gave birth to the formation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). COSATU became the biggest Federation of workers of all races in South Africa. It also became the most militant and revolutionary organization of workers in South Africa.

At a political level, two important things have to be noted with the developments that were a sequel to the 1973 strikes and the formation of Unions. Firstly, the workplace struggles of the now unionized workers intensified. The helpless employers sought assistance from the government. The apartheid Government realized that it could not stop this unionization and politicization. It could only regulate it if it was to contain it all. It was against this backdrop that the Wiehahn Commission was appointed in 1979 to investigate possible ways of addressing the pertaining situation in the labour environment. This Commission was then to later recommend far reaching reforms in the labour relations’ legal framework. These recommendations led to the African workers winning the right to belong to registered Trade Unions and to bargaining on their own behalf for the first time ever in South Africa.

Secondly, the unionization of workers also became their political school. It is through this unionization and politicization that workers, united under COSATU, resolved from their early formation to work with progressive political organizations to end the oppression and exploitation in South Africa. To fulfill that political decision Cosatu then worked in very close alliance with the United Democratic Front (UDF) which had been formed in 1983. It supported all the campaigns of the UDF. The UDF also supported every campaign of Cosatu. The worker leaders of Cosatu and Affiliates served on the structures of the UDF and its formations. The two organizations struggling collectively successfully waged a campaign for inter alia the release of political prisoners and the return of exiles as well as for the end of apartheid and the formation of a Democratic State. They collectively embarked on marches and stayaways, as well as other forms of struggle in order to bring about the democracy that we have today. It is as a result of these struggles combined with those waged directly by the ANC, SACP and Umkhonto Wesizwe, with the assistance of International revolutionaries, that the Apartheid State was defeated.

In the process of struggle these two organizations suffered untold causalities in the hands of both the employers and state repression machinery. It is only their determination and resilience that sustained their organization and struggle for liberation. The relationship that was forged between the UDF and Cosatu was later transformed into the relationship between COSATU, ANC and the SACP. In this relationship the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), which had been part of this Alliance for a very long time, gave way to Cosatu. The relationship between the ANC and workers was seen as important because the ANC is the only political party whose objective is to unite all the South African people into a Nation. It is also the only Political Party that has deliberately adopted a policy of being biased in favour of the working class. The relationship with the SACP has always been and will always be necessary because it is the only political party that is a vanguard of the workers and represents, solely, their political aspirations.

It is in this context that the workers and the people at large have to hail the 1973 strikes as another very important catalyst for the advent of the democracy that all of us today enjoy. It is also this glorious history of the worker’s struggle together with the other revolutionary organizations that need to be celebrated on the occasion of celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the 1973 Durban Strikes. As we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of our democracy, in the Year 2004 we must remember the courageous workers who took to the streets for a better life in 1973. To honour their sacrifices and achievements, as workers, we must strengthen the only Political Party that we can talk to. The only Political Party that has a history of taking into account the interests of workers in the course of struggle and in governance.

Let us strengthen the ANC
Let us vote the ANC in 2004

 

The South African Communist Party calls on all South Africans to register as voters on 8-9 November. This is important to advance and consolidate the democratic gains since 1994 and to ensure that we accelerate further work to build a better life for all.

The SACP call on all its members to continue with their important elections work to mobilise people to register as voters.

 

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