Street brawls or social democracy: DA march populist misuse of unemployment crisis — violence at Cosatu counter-protest irresponsible #DAmarch


The real story here is an intellectual and ideological assault on the labour movement. Whether it’s the DA and their march, [labour] consultants and people producing spurious surveys, or the chamber of commerce and industry demanding that labour laws be changed, there really is an assault on the idea of trade unionism in the country. Steven Friedman

The DA has a right to march to Cosatu House or anywhere else on any issue. Cosatu has the right to organise a counter-demonstration to any march on their premises. As Steven Friedman points out the purpose of the DA march today was a political  assault on the trade union movement and worker’s rights.  This assault must be resisted by all democrats.

Violence used in demonstrations (as well as the deeply intolerant language of most political leaders) is unacceptable in a country already wracked by race, class and gender inequality; high-levels of inter-personal violence; crime and hate-crimes. Attacks on DA marchers by members of Cosatu or those who joined the counter-march was wrong and must be condemned.  Failure by the SAPS  in keeping Cosatu and the DA apart was criminally negligent. The actions by a minority of Cosatu marchers diminished the standing of the federation.

As a friend said, Cosatu’s counter-demonstration was an elephant dealing with a mosquito by stamping on it instead of snorting. Cosatu conceded the moral high-ground to the DA.  The federation’s power and the moral force of its leaders particularly Zwelinzima Vavi has protected our society and politics from an uncontrolled slide to corrupt authoritarianism and courageously addressed the ANC government’s betrayals of democracy and social transformation.  Cosatu’s support for the Treatment Action Campaign’s struggle against  HIV denialism was indispensable in ensuring that more than 1.5 million people living with HIV have access to medicine and in helping to prevent countless infections.  Most progressive organisations and people look to Cosatu to help rebuild our social and economic fabric.

The unseemly street-brawl with the DA has deflected attention from the real question: why was the DA marching on Cosatu offices and how can the labour movement build a moral consensus to promote employment and social equality?

Zille and Malema: Populist misuse of unemployment

Premier Helen Zille and DA’s populist appeal to the unemployed is dangerous and hardly different to Malema’s misuse of economic misery to advance his narrow, racist and looting economic agenda of the ANC’s business-wing. The DA policy agenda supports so-called “clean” big business in its efforts to increase profits at the expense of the rights of working people and their families. Cosatu stands against both these conservative and reactionary forces for social progress.

The DA youth wage subsidy policy is wrong because it will lead to the state subsidising big business while older workers will lose their jobs.  Government (including the DA in the Western Cape) must insist that big business create youth apprenticeships at their costs, or, legislate to see it done.  Companies such as Netcare, MTN, Anglo-American, BP, Standard Bank and others must reinvest their excessive profits through creating apprenticeships for young people with a clear line of progressing to permanent employment. This will also reduce economic inequality.

Government must similarly create community service for out-of-school youth and graduates. This could come at the fraction of what we misspend on police. Cosatu also has a duty to ask all its affiliates with business investments to contribute financially to the expansion of the social sector through co-operatives and measures such as legal advice centres for small businesses. However, the problem of unemployment is much bigger and requires radical rethinking and action.

Obstacles to economic growth

There are several obstacles to employment growth which people do not usually consider: global corporate lawlessness; a national skills shortage worsened by the education crisis; the regulatory and financials burden on small businesses; and, the lack of regional economic integration.

First, since the ascent of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s corporations have been able to exploit their power over governments, workers, consumers and the environment because of deregulation and the free movement of capital and goods.  The World Trade Organisation destroyed any notion that governments, the International Labour Organation, trade unions or even some big business had power to ensure fair trade, fair labour and sustainable environemental practices.

Phenomenal global economic growth based on increased global trade; deregulation of business practices; cheap labour; improved technology; and especially, the rise of India, China, Brazil, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and others increased inequality. Most importantly, it increased the profits and power of corporations without creating a democratic legal framework and mechanisms for their regulation.  The crisis of the global financial system is an expression of this corporate profiteering, power and lawlessness.

Resisting corporate lawlessness

Globally our governments, political parties and trade unions have failed to offer joint resistance to corporations and to promote solidarity among workers, consumers, farmers and small business. Instead, we have promoted national protectionism that has failed workers. Creating employment and promoting economic growth must address global corporate lawlessness.  Trade unions are best positioned to create a moral consensus in communities ensuring that governments, political parties, progressive and small business enterprises in every part of the world take seriously demands for fair trade, labour conditions and wages, a sustainable environment and consumer protection. Cosatu is best-placed to help build such a global movement.

The national skills crisis

The national skills crisis require an emergency interim solution. As our country haemmoraghes  doctors, nurses, actuaries, accountants, managers, scientists including computer scientists and almost one million skilled, professional jobs are unfilled, almost everyone ignores a potential solution because of the climate of xenophobia.  Effective and aggressive use of immigrant skills, for instance, as science & maths teachers, pharmacists, doctors, accountants, managers would be a boost to growth through significant multiplier effects in the economy.  There is an interim solution especially with the European economic crisis and the willingness of skilled workers from Asia to migrate. Failure to aggressively pursue and welcoming the skills of immigrants  is wrong — what is the DA and Cosatu position on this? This is only a temporary solution. What about solving the skills and employment crisis nationally?

Equal, quality education for all can and must solve the skills crisis but this will take time and struggle.

Supporting small businesses

Small businesses are plagued with the inability to get trading licences, safety licences, open bank accounts, register with SARS and get access to loans at reasonable interest rates.  This is a far bigger obstacle to employment creation than the Labour Relations Act. I wish Cosatu and its affiliates would set up small business support advice offices to assist young township entrepreneurs  and thereby increasing its membership. If the labour movement can invest in big business why can it not create membership for young entrepreneurs and provide support services for them.

We are African

Similarly, our common failure to realise that we are African, our reluctance to open our borders and to co-operate in serious joint public and private investment in Mozambique, Angola, DRC and other SADC countries limits economic growth in South Africa and the region; it undermines employment growth and working conditions. For instance, we do not have the same contract, property, labour, consumer, competition, tax, insurance and other laws in the SADC region. We fail to co-operate economically. For instance, South Africa opts for a go it alone Nuclear Deal (that will dwarf the Arms Deal in corruption) with very dubious economic benefits. Common investment into gas, wind, hydro-electric and solar power based on the SADC region’s natural and economic resources would create significant economic growth and employment.

Street brawls or social-democracy

So, this march and clash between the DA and Cosatu is a warning to us of a clash between classes in South Africa. A clash that will not be very different to the German crisis after World War I; a crisis that saw big business use the unemployed and impoverished middle-classes against the working-class through Nazism. We can avert this crisis with a forward-looking 21st century labour movement prepared to break with the corrupt business-wing of the ANC and that creates an economic vision for the country and continent based on social-democratic values. We can do this without street-brawls. Cosatu can provide the vision, programme, leadership and power to create a moral consensus for real freedom.

by Zackie Achmat

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