06/08/2010 Irvin Jim General Secretary of NUMSA during a media statement on the planned Auto Industry strike action held at their offices in JHB. (564) Photo: Leon Nicholas

The Free Market Foundation’s attack on collective bargaining is based on its devotion to the neoliberal capitalist perspective, writes Irvin Jim.

Johannesburg - It’s important for Numsa to put the record straight on the Free Market Foundation’s (FMF) attack on collective bargaining. Thankfully the FMF’s attack was thwarted by the Pretoria High Court’s decision to dismiss their application to amend the Labour Relations Act (LRA).

The FMF challenged section 32 of the LRA, which allows collective agreements reached in bargaining councils to be extended to employers in the same sector who are not party to the negotiations. The FMF wanted the wording of the act changed to say that the labour minister "may" extend agreements struck in councils, as opposed to "must", as is currently the case.

The FMF and its former chairperson under whose auspices the legal challenge was initiated - current DA-mayoral candidate for Johannesburg Herman Mashaba - as well as conservative employers from the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA) joined forces in this attempt to restrict collective bargaining.

They were fittingly defeated in the Pretoria High Court.

Numsa opposed the FMF’s attack on collective bargaining as a respondent. Other respondents included the Minister of Labour, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, 47 bargaining councils, Cosatu and the SA Clothing and Textile Workers Union.

Let's put the record straight.

By taking up this challenge to collective bargaining, the FMF and the Democratic Alliance (DA), via its mayoral candidate Mashaba, launched an attack on vulnerable workers all over the country, including in Gauteng. They would be foolish to believe that their attempts to continue the super exploitation of black workers have gone unnoticed by Gauteng’s workers.

These are the very same workers that Mashaba is wooing for his mayoral candidacy in Johannesburg.

A vote for Mashaba and the DA in Gauteng is a vote for the FMF, an anti-worker reactionary think tank in alliance with racist employers.

The FMF’s attack on collective bargaining is based on its devotion to the neoliberal capitalist perspective and is part of a broader campaign to defend the neoliberal orientation of the ANC government. The libertarian view promotes individualism and champions the ‘survival of the fittest’. This savage law of the jungle is in fact the common fate of more than 76% of South Africa’s black and African working class who have no union protection. The FMF seeks to defend and entrench this status quo.

In fact, the FMF’s campaign exposes a deep-seated racism rooted in the colonial mindset, which justifies subjecting black people and Africans in particular to working in sweatshop conditions at the bottom of the food chain where they are constantly denied a decent living wage – let alone any broader prospect of owning the economy.

Despite posturing otherwise, the FMF and their ilk find abundant excuses for continuing to defend the racist apartheid South African economy post 1994. The court challenge was one such constitutional resource at their disposal.

Numsa is in no doubt that the FMF seeks to completely dismantle collective bargaining. Meanwhile its offensive is focused on curtailing collective bargaining’s jurisdiction over workers. Its view is that sectorial bargaining and the extension of its products to non-participants, far from advancing the protection of vulnerable workers, is an impediment to the growth of small businesses resulting in less job creation and a higher rate of unemployment.

Leon Louw, executive director of the FMF, claims that settlements we reach in improving the benefits and conditions of workers militate against companies who can't afford wage increases.

This is simply not true.

Numsa acknowledges that if any company can’t afford what is agreed to in centralized collective bargaining, that company may be granted exemption as the law current allows for, but we feel strongly that the application for exemption must be accompanied by a full disclosure of the company’s financial records.

Louw, Mashaba and the DA reject the “disclosure” requirement, exposing the truth about them, which is that their allegiances lie with the greedy profit-maximising employers.

What the FMF really wants is for trade unions to agree upfront that new workers in the industry will be compensated at lower levels and receive fewer benefits in relation to existing workers - and that unions will only maintain and improve the conditions of the existing workforce. We reject this with the contempt it deserves because it will destroy the labour movement by sowing distrust between current and future generations of workers.

Earlier this year the SABC hosted a debate between myself and the FMF’s Louw on the state of the economy, poverty and inequality following Oxfam’s damning report on growing wealth concentration and economic inequality.

Disagreeing with the rigorously researched findings of the Oxfam study, Louw was arrogant enough to suggest that the quality of black lives in South Africa has improved because he’s seen many blacks frequenting shebeens on the occasions that he ventures into townships.

Such careless analysis is not only regressive and racist; it is also dangerous given that it emanates from a man with such influence in the media.

Numsa has resolved to challenge the FMF and in so doing fight the renewed neoliberal offensive of the DA and NEASA as well as all conservatives, including the ANC, who champion the super exploitation of black labour, the basis of the South African economy and society.

Numsa is not surprised by the similarities between the ANC and the DA’s economic policies. The “negotiated settlement” guarantees this.

Numsa has always recognised the DA as the political axis of the ruling white monopoly capitalist class. Together with the ANC, they adopted GEAR and the NDP, both flagship neoliberal macroeconomic policy frameworks.

As things stand, the DA resists fundamental economic transformation whilst the ANC is incapable of implementing the Freedom Charter, which importantly states, “The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.”

When the ANC had some emancipatory vision, it reinforced the core values of the Freedom Charter in its watershed 1969 Morogoro Conference. The ANC emerged a stronger force after this historic conference due to its adoption of important principles not just for political freedom, but also for economic emancipation.

Envisaging a South Africa free of racist apartheid and colonialism, the Morogoro Conference stated: “We do not underestimate the complexities, which will face a people’s government during the transformation period, nor the enormity of the problems of meeting the economic needs of the mass of the oppressed people. But one thing is certain - in our land this cannot be effectively tackled unless the basic wealth and the basic resources are at the disposal of the people as a whole and are not manipulated by sections or individuals be they White or Black.”

The Morogoro Conference was clear that liberation would be meaningless without the wealth of the land being returned to the people of the land. Indeed, the statement emerging from the conference argued, “To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy…”

These principles have all but been abandoned by the ANC, who, together with representatives of white monopoly capital and imperialism presided over the crafting of a constitution that has effectively barred nationalisation without compensation. This goes against the interests of the working class.

The land question in particular, as evidenced by the recent Ntokozo Qwabe tipping saga, is one that today’s young black South Africans feel greatly angered by because they see how material deprivation acts against black advancement in our society. White South Africans still own 87% of this country’s land.

At the same time, black South Africans have neoliberal policies, such as the NDP, shoved down our throats against our welfare. These policies act against black advancement whilst favouring the financially fit white population. Only the fittest thrive under this policy regime. Thus, the ANC, DA and all those who endorse the NDP support a plan that maintains a racially entrenched status quo.

To right these wrongs, Numsa calls for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy to bring it under worker control and management. This is the only measure that will give black South Africans equal access to an economy that remains in white hands.

Indeed there is much work to be done to roll back the neoliberal programmes of our government and the gains it has produced for white monopoly capital.

Specific measures include nationalising the Reserve Bank; nationalising the strategic minerals sector; dealing decisively with South African companies that were allowed to list offshore, promoting local manufacturing with incentives for small companies; encouraging local procurement; and introducing a national minimum wage linked to a living wage (even the IMF prescribes increasing the minimum wage).

Finally, it would be imperative to tax the rich, whilst cutting the interest rate to bring some relief to a black population mired in debt.

Of course, for Numsa, the full implementation of the Freedom Charter is an important objective. We believe it is essential for South Africa to go back to the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) to build the capacity of the state. This would eschew the need for the corrupt tender-inspired public-private partnerships that are a hallmark of current social development and delivery programmes. For example, there is absolutely no reason why the state should not be employing workers directly, for example, to build roads and houses, and pay them a living wage.

The South African working class, both black and white, must take full responsibility for our common future, we must ensure that we build an economy and society which guarantees “from each according to his ability to each according to his need”.

This is the only way to forge new power relations where the majority, who are the working class, can succeed. It offers the only hope to build a genuine non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society.

Numsa recognises that economic emancipation for the black South African working class remains the primary struggle because the forces that selfishly plunder our resources, the main beneficiaries of the status quo, will not voluntarily give up their privileged positions.

This is why capitalists capture government to exploit workers and maximise their profits.

It is precisely in this context that “Marikana” took place.

* Irvin Jim is general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.