Budget fails to boost labour needs
Budget 2016 has come and gone – and has done little or nothing to assuage the anger felt in many sections of the embattled trade union movement.
If anything, it has given impetus to those unions to convene a “workers’ summit” to seek new directions both for the labour movement and the country.
But even within the governing ANC-led alliance, there are signs that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s attempt to straddle the demands of both the ratings agencies and the labour movement did not silence disgruntlement.
Although VAT was not raised, the increase in social grants fell short of the official rate of inflation, meaning that the buying power of the poorest in society will be further reduced.
Last Friday, there were two pre-budget gatherings that gave a foretaste of ongoing tensions on the labour front.
In the first place, the SA Communist Party leadership, headed by general secretary Blade Nzimande, staged a “bilateral meeting” with their Cosatu counterparts, headed by president Sdumo Dlamini.
The other meeting was of the steering committee for a workers’ summit, convened by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa).
The bilateral meeting “identified the emergence of a parasitic bourgeoisie that seeks to entrench itself within key sectors of the state”, but at the same time pledged electoral support for the ANC.
However, the bilateral meeting also made it clear that the prime reason for this support was to ensure that the “neoliberal centre-right DA and the dangerous, demagogic EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] are roundly defeated”.
And while the bilateral meeting criticised the “failure to provide affordable housing and accommodation, public transport and public healthcare”, this was linked to “a dysfunctional financial sector”.
But it was also made clear that protests would continue about current tax law reform legislation and its effect on provident funds, along with the demand for a comprehensive social security system.
In this, the bilateral meeting and the other Friday meeting shared common ground, although with daggers drawn. Numsa, expelled from Cosatu and now the largest union in the land, is committed to launching a new labour federation by May Day. And Friday’s workers’ summit meeting brought together representatives from 34 trade unions, who now form a steering committee for the summit.
More than three years ago, Numsa, as part of Cosatu, was one of the driving forces behind the demand made in the National Economic Development and Labour Council for government to produce a comprehensive social security policy. An interdepartmental ministerial task team was supposed to have been established to report on this. The unions are still waiting.
It is this that lies behind the demand that the legislation allowing for the harmonisation of provident funds with pension funds be scrapped. Government has responded by delaying implementation for two years, apparently pleasing no one.
And so the tension – and the battles – is set to continue at a time when government, with Gordhan to the fore, is promising stability and industrial peace while pursuing fundamentally the same policies of the past.
And those policies, encompassed in the National Development Plan, remain anathema to most of the labour movement.