Hassle-FREE Online Campaigns On Sweech
Over the past 10 years 50 percent of jobs in the clothing industry have been destroyed. We have argued that this massive job destruction, and ensuing poverty, were the result of the policies pursued by the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu), some employers and the minister of labour.
Sactwu, which has reportedly lost many of its members’ pensions, is not amused by our argument that it bears some responsibility also for losing workers’ jobs.
Sactwu’s preferred responses (most recently, by Simon Eppel, in Business Report, March 13) are well-worn and familiar. First, they try to discredit us by association. In the union’s conspiratorial spin, we are part of a “cabal of conservatives” whose mission is to destroy the unions and impoverish workers.
Second, the union argues that job destruction is warranted in order to protect workers from abuse, because the factories in question are sweatshops.
Neither of the union’s central claims stands up to scrutiny. We have never advocated the lowering of wages nor have we defended the mistreatment of workers. We have written at length about the injustices of poverty and inequality, and have advocated radical welfare reform, asset redistribution and workers’ co-operatives.
We are strong defenders of workers’ democratic rights to push for higher wages for themselves and to be treated with dignity, and we are resolute that minimum employment conditions should be enforced. There is no dispute between Sactwu and us over these issues.
The issue here is not working conditions. Jobs are not being destroyed because of the enforcement of legislation on conditions (and if Sactwu has proof of abuses, it should take this up through appropriate channels).
Nor is the desirability of higher wages the issue. Jobs are not being destroyed because workers in the affected factories say that they won’t work there unless their wages are raised.
Jobs are being destroyed because Sactwu, some businesses and the minister of labour have decided that they should make the decision for the workers in the affected factories. The issue here is the level of the minimum wage, and more precisely who gets to set it, and taking what into account.
We are opposed to procedures whereby union officials, business organisations or the minister of labour impose sustained high real increases in minimum wages in places like Newcastle without the informed consent of the workers who stand to lose their jobs – and all of their wages – if or when their factories close.
Trade unions are so fixated on “decent” wages that they lose sight of the fact that a large minority are unemployed.
Nothing would reduce poverty in South Africa as effectively as a dramatic expansion of employment, even at low wages. It might be a surprise to Cape Town-based union officials like Mr Eppel to find that non-metro workers often prefer to be employed than unemployed, even if the wage is lower than the wage that Mr Eppel considers “decent”.
The decision about wages in places like Newcastle should not be taken by the mostly metro-based union and employers.
Nicoli Nattrass and Jeremy Seekings are professors at UCT. Their research, Sactwu’s responses and their rejoinders are available on: www.cssr.uct.ac.za.