Po­lit­i­cal will still in the dust­bins

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Back to ba­sics. Or­gan­ise the un­or­gan­ised. These are the cur­rent mantras of much of the labour move­ment and they were brought into sharp fo­cus this week.

In the first place there was yet another rise in the un­em­ploy­ment fig­ures.

And then there was the first se­ri­ous cold snap of win­ter bring­ing sub­zero tem­per­a­tures to the Highveld and what were said to be the worst storms to strike the West­ern Cape in 30 years.

Hard­est hit were the home­less, along with the work­ing poor and the le­gions of un­em­ployed who lack ad­e­quate shel­ter.

Suf­fer­ing too were work­ers re­cently evicted — and of­ten con­tro­ver­sially — from per­haps ad­e­quate shel­ter.

In al­most all cases, or­gan­ised labour was ab­sent.

Among the work­ing poor who were also badly af­fected by the weather this week were those men and women I re­gard as the hard­est work­ing and most poorly paid of en­tre­pre­neur­ial labour­ers: the scrap col­lec­tors.

They are not unionised be­cause no union has yet shown any in­ter­est in them and they are fre­quently ha­rassed by au­thor­i­ties.

It is they who, of­ten with old, pur­loined su­per­mar­ket trol­leys, scav­enge through the bins and bags of mid­dle class sub­ur­bia, sav­ing from clut­tered land­fills that which can be re­cy­cled.

But it is not only the unions that pay them no heed. Lo­cal gov­ern­ment, too, shows lit­tle or no in­ter­est in this small army that pro­vides tons of re­us­able waste to pri­vate com­pa­nies.

It is an in­valu­able and un­ap­pre­ci­ated ser­vice that – in the Brazil­ian city of Cu­ritiba – was used as a cru­cial part of a lo­cal gov­ern­ment-driven “green rev­o­lu­tion” that also cre­ated jobs.

Here the unions could — and should — have a role to play.

Cu­ritiba is now re­garded, although it still has its prob­lems, as the most in­no­va­tive — and green­est — city on earth.

The scrap col­lec­tors were or­gan­ised, pro­vided with large trol­leys and paid what the scrap was worth. To­day, 70% of waste gen­er­ated in that city is re­cy­cled, with more jobs and up­skilling pro­vided.

In South Africa, ha­rassed and of­ten abused scrap col­lec­tors have no help and are paid a pit­tance. Although rates vary slightly, pri­vate com­pa­nies such as those in Cape Town, pay R2 for a kilo of mixed plas­tic.

Tin cans — “We step on them to make them flat,” says lo­cal col­lec­tor Im­raan Barker — fetch 30c per kilo­gram, card­board R1, plas­tic wa­ter bot­tles R2.50.

Im­raan and his brother, Gahlil, start out be­fore day­break, with two trol­leys, and cover 15km or more be­fore de­liv­er­ing their bulging bags of house­hold de­tri­tus, late in the af­ter­noons.

On Mon­day this week, the broth­ers earned just R100 for a day’s labour.

This week they were un­aware of the weather fore­casts, but in bad weather they are also un­able to work and to earn.

Much the same ap­plied to the scrap col­lec­tors of Cu­ritiba be­fore the “cash for trash” (in the form of bus to­kens to be resold) was in­tro­duced in 1989.

The peo­ple be­hind this Brazil­ian ex­am­ple ad­mit that all that was re­quired can be summed up in two words: po­lit­i­cal will.

By get­ting back to ba­sics — or­gan­is­ing and ag­i­tat­ing for the good of work­ers — or­gan­ised labour could en­sure that po­lit­i­cal will is forth­com­ing.

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