POPCRU May Day Message

Comrades and friends

  • Introduction

This year, we mark May Day in the midst of difficult circumstances.

The Covid-19 pandemic is still rampant across the world, and this is taking place at a time when our trade unions are hard at work attempting to break the impasse with the employer on the failure to implement the Public Sector Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC) Resolution 1 of 2018 to the latter, bringing about a foreign tendency in the collective bargaining regime.

It also takes place just a few months after the reduction of the public wage bill, which is definitely to result in the loss of value in public servants’ salaries amidst the rising price levels.

  • Background

May Day can be traced back to a strike that took place in Chicago, USA on the 1st of May 1886 when workers were demanding an eight-hour working day, as opposed to the fifteen-hour working day they were subjected to.

On this occasion, four unionists were killed and many others wounded in this protest, and angered by this, workers mobilised a massive protest demonstration in Haymarket Square on 4th May. 

Nearing the end of the evening, an agent provocateur threw a bomb that killed 7 police officers, and left 67 others injured. This resulted in city and state government officials rounding up eight demonstrators, trying them for murder, and sentencing them to death.

On 11th November 1887, four were executed, even though their prosecutors found no evidence that any had actually thrown the bomb.

For trade unionists everywhere, Haymarket became a symbol of injustice of capitalist society. This led to a decision of the founding congress of the Second Socialist International in 1889 to make the 1st of May 1890 a demonstration of the solidarity and power of the international working class movement.

May Day has been a celebration ever since, as workers across the world come together to celebrate their victories and demand better working conditions.

  • Covid-19 pandemic

It has been over a month since President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster, followed by a lockdown which brought about a pause to many forms of economic activity and travel.

As of last night, 30 April 2020, we have received reports of cases amounting to 5647 infections, with 103 deaths, and the infection figures seem to increase with the continuing screening and testing processes that are being undertaken throughout our country.

Although our country has made significant progress in swiftly taking necessary measures to limit the spread of the pandemic, there is still more to do. 

We have witnessed increasing figures in different areas, with our frontline workers within the criminal justice cluster and the health sector also falling victim, and this has demonstrated that besides the basic protective measures that have been made available for these workers, infections still persist in some areas, especially within our correctional centres and holding cells within police stations.

This calls for more training about the pandemic and respondent health measures, and the more stringent observation of the lockdown regulations from both communities and essential workers alike. 

The current lockdown has not been easy for anyone, restrictions have destructed normal life for everyone, and the economy is facing huge challenges, all of which have created considerable inconvenience.

On this day, we reiterate our gratitude to our brothers and sisters who have throughout this period been working as essential services-healthcare professionals, police officers, correctional officials, traffic officials and others who continue to ensure food supplies are available.

All of them have made sacrifices, and exceeded their call of duty.

We are confident in the actions government has taken thus far in attempts to suppress the pandemic’s spread, and encourage our communities to continuously work closely with law enforcement agencies in this winnable fight.

  • Impact on Jobs

The pandemic has also taken a toll on the global economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected it as the biggest decline in the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) since the great depression in the 1930s, and our economy is not immune to this reality.

While governments around the world are attempting to save their economies, ours has also committed half a trillion rand, which is currently being allocated to different areas in easing the current burden South Africans of all class divides are encountering

Though we welcome these social relief and economic support package measures, termed as pro-poor and pro-worker measures in the immediate, the reality is that a part of these borrowed funds are sourced from institutions that have, and continue imposing detrimental policy positions on our economies, and thereby usurping our sovereignty in determining our own future prospects. They continue to suck many countries in the global south out of chances at economic recovery and prosperity, and the IMF is one such particular culprit.

Things are the way they are because we do not have our own reserves to borrow from. Most of our resources have been looted. It is alleged that state capture has cost our country approximately a hundred billion rand thus far.

This situation we find ourselves in should be a reminder to us all that we need to be prudent and penny-wise, to build our reserves in time of peace instead of looting, so that in times like these, we have something extra to fall back on instead of being forced to run back to those who have evidently been strangle holding us.

It is now evident that beyond this pandemic, as a result of the many changes in the global economy, and because of our own bad liberal economic decisions in the past years, we can expect significant job losses, and this could potentially take the country’s already record unemployment rate as high as 50%.

The movement of goods and people will be lesser free, and countries will strive to rely lesser on imports for food and essential items. This will have implications for global trade and investment for us all.

Despite the challenges brought about by this pandemic, the crisis we find ourselves in also arises out to the contradictions rooted in the very foundations of the capitalist system, which has come to surface once again.

In Marx’s theory of historical materialism, one of the central tenets of the theory is that there can be a contradiction between a society’s system of economic organisation and its capacity to develop its productive potential.

Indeed it is precisely such a contradiction between the relations of production and the forces of production which necessitates, through some mechanism or the other, a transformation of our current economic system.

  • Our current challenges

It was in June 2018 when the then-Public Service and Administration Minister Ayanda Dlodlo said a three-year wage deal reached with public sector unions was an “amicable agreement” that put South Africa first and prioritised service delivery.

“We recognise and appreciate the commitment shown by labour unions throughout the negotiations process, and we commit ourselves to fully implement the agreement,” said Dlodlo.

We now find ourselves having to take various actions after government reneged on the final year of that agreement by not paying public servants a wage increase in 2020/21.

According to this 2018 agreement, public workers in levels one to seven would receive increases this year matched to the consumer price index (CPI) plus 1%, levels eight to 10 would get CPI plus 0.5% and levels 11 and 12 would receive CPI linked increases. CPI is sitting around 4.4%, meaning the government would have to pay between 4.4% and 5.5% increases.

Those increases were due to be paid on 1 April this year, but the government told the PSCBC  it wants to freeze wages for the year in an effort to slash expenditure and reduce debt, in line with Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s budget speech.

This reneging of government on the full implementation of the wage agreement constitutes a frontal attack on workers and their hard-won gains, and we maintain that any intention to disregard collective bargaining is a declaration of war on workers’ rights, while it is also an attempt to undermine bargaining processes.

We will never allow for workers to be punished for an economic crisis not of their own making, and are continually taking this matter forth. It is a direct attack on collective bargaining, and can never be acceptable.

Lastly, the cutting of the public wage bill and offers for early retirement will only serve to reinforce inequality and unemployment, reduce public-service levels even further and, as a result, undermine the legitimacy of the very government that is responsible for these implementations.

Working together with other public service unions, we will do everything within our powers to resolve and win this impasse.

  • Community-Police relations

Over the past weeks of the lockdown, we have seen many reports by the IPID indicating numerous allegations of brutality.

With these concerning reports, we must reiterate that ours is a civil rights union, and therefore the civil rights of both workers and the communities we serve remain sacrosanct.

POPCRU is against any form of brutality, be it against the police or communities.

We need to be at the forefront of promoting policing as a service and changing the foregone mind-set of seeing police men and women as enemies within our communities. 

This challenging period in our country should provide a much needed, working relationship between our police and communities in forging improved alliances in the fight against all forms of social ills in the future. Without the support of communities, our work will remain difficult, and equally, without communities’ involvement in policing matters, the levels of criminality within our society will remain a permanent feature.

We salute the overwhelming majority of our members who continue to serve the people of South Africa with dignity, and encourage our citizens to take more interest in cooperating and collaborating with our men and women in blue.

In these challenging times, and as we commemorate May Day, let us not lose sight of our continued struggles for the intensification of the National Health Insurance (NHI) campaign for quality, accessible and affordable healthcare for all.

Build safer workplaces and communities through ending violence against women and children

Fight corruption and ensuring more resources for workers incomes, community development and service delivery

Build a skilled worker for the skills revolution and engaging the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a developmental tool for workers and society

Urge the President as the AU Chairperson to drive an African agenda in making sure peace prevails, and the Africa Free Trade Agreement to have a social clause that will ensure that the decent work agenda is defended and trade union rights are respected. 

The road to recovery will be hard. We should not be under any illusion that all will be well beyond the different lockdown stages.

We need to remind ourselves that we are not a people who will shrink from struggle. It took us blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are. In our fight for liberation, at moments of crisis, the previous generations showed their perseverance and determination. They decided to give it their all to secure a future for themselves and their children because they braved the odds and prevailed.

Covid-19, together with inequality, unemployment and poverty, are our generation’s challenge. These are tough enemies, invisible, but formidable.

It is now our turn to prove that we are worthy of our forbearers, and up to the challenge before us.

We are confident that together, we will prove more than equal to the task.

Forward to a united, pandemic-free South Africa!

Issued by POPCRU on 01/05/2020

For more information contact Richard Mamabolo on 066 135 4349