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Cleaning out super-exploitation

category southern africa | workplace struggles | opinion / analysis author Wednesday September 14, 2011 15:25author by James Pendlebury - Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Frontauthor email zacf at zabalaza dot net Report this post to the editors

Cleaning workers throughout South Africa have been on strike since Monday 8 August. They are demanding a living wage of R4 200 per month, as well as a 13th cheque and shorter hours.

Picket outside Wits, 09.09.2011
Picket outside Wits, 09.09.2011

Cleaning out super-exploitation

By James Pendlebury, ZACF

How can the most harshly exploited workers fight back against the bosses? Cleaning workers throughout South Africa have been on strike since Monday 8 August. They are demanding a living wage of R4 200 per month, as well as a 13th cheque and shorter hours.

Many of these workers are now paid R2 000 per month or even less, and work under the harshest conditions. The vast majority are black, and a great many are women; their supervisors are often racist and sexist bullies of the worst kind. They are frequently compelled to use dangerous chemicals, without even the protection of gloves; these chemicals can make them sick, and some have died as a result. In last month’s talks, employers initially offered a 6% wage increase, subsequently raised to 8%. This means just another R160 to workers who are getting paid R2 000. On top of this, cleaners have often had difficulty joining unions to protect them. A big problem is that many are outsourced. They work in private companies, government offices, hospitals, universities – anywhere that needs cleaning. But the institutions where they work are frequently not their direct employers: rather, the institution hires a cleaning company such as Supercare or Impact, which employs workers at miserable wages.

A typical story is that of the cleaners at Wits University. Before 2000, Wits employed its cleaners directly at a wage of about R2 000 per month. In 2000, Wits outsourced cleaning, gardening, catering and other support services. It retrenched 613 workers; those cleaners who were re-employed by Supercare received a monthly wage of R1 000 (with inflation-linked wage increases, this had risen to about R2 000 by 2011). These workers also lost many benefits, including free tuition at Wits for their children. Wits management outsourced its workers to reduce its wage bill – and to weaken their organisation. The workers were transferred to four different outsourcing companies, and the number of firms has grown. Instead of bargaining together for their wages with one employer, they were broken up to fight four different companies. Nehawu, the main union that had represented the workers at Wits, was completely defeated in the fight against retrenchments, lost most of its members on campus, and has never recovered. Companies like Supercare constantly threaten any workers who join unions or try to organise, and try to ban meetings at the workplace. By dividing workers and preventing organisation, they keep workers frightened and keep wages low. Similarly to labour brokers, that is why these companies exist in the first place. Nonetheless, the cleaning workers have succeeded in organising a national strike, and have held out for more than two weeks so far, sticking to their demands. Yet even so, the strike in many ways reflects the division and weakness of the workers. This was shown when the SA Transport and Allied Workers’ Union accepted management’s 8% offer on 28 August, completely betraying the demands of workers, and leaving the other seven unions seriously weakened. With more unions selling out, even those that remain have been compelled to call off the strike from Monday 12 September – not to accept the bosses’ offer, but to ask the state to settle the matter. On past experience, it is quite likely that the state will favour the bosses, now that the workers’ greatest weapon of the strike has failed. Why do such betrayals and defeats happen; why do they happen so often?

Unfortunately, most unions today are controlled not by their members but by highly paid bureaucrats who spend more time talking to the bosses than hearing from ordinary workers. All too often, they try to end strikes and make peace with the enemy; they are prepared to accept smaller offers from the bosses in order to stop the strike quickly. Involving more bureaucrats increases the danger.

Another source of weakness and disunity is the fact that the cleaners are striking alone – and here, too, outsourcing is a great weapon for the bosses. A strong union is a union that brings together all the workers in each workplace, each company, each industry, so that when the cleaners strike, they are joined by the drivers and the machinists and the clerical workers. This would hit the bosses that much harder. But here, not only are the cleaners striking alone, but thanks to outsourcing they are not even striking against the same bosses!

And on top of that, the bosses have brought in their favourite weapon: scab labour. It’s hard to tell where the scabs are coming from, but they are easy to find for jobs like cleaning. All the bosses need to do is head for the townships, find some unemployed people on the street, offer them a couple of days’ work. Class consciousness in South Africa today is not strong; many people do not realise how far scab labour weakens the working class.

The one thing that can prevent the employment of scabs is for striking workers to stay on the premises. Solid and permanent picket lines outside are almost as good, but sit-down strikes are even better. If strikers are always ready to toyi-toyi when scabs appear, who is going to scab? Such actions would be illegal – but the law is there for the bosses, not the workers. This, too, is a problem with union bureaucrats: they live by negotiating and “reasoning” with the bosses, so they don’t want to break the bosses’ laws. If the workers controlled their own unions, and knew who their enemies were, they need have no such scruples.

At Wits, there have been some steps in the right direction. This year, the Wits Workers’ Solidarity Committee has united workers from many outsourcing companies with a small group of Wits students, academics and support staff. The committee has already won one victory: it has forced the resignation of Ian Armitage, a racist Wits manager tasked with dealing with outsource workers, and known for insulting them as “k*****s”. This has raised the fighting spirit of the workers as it has never been since 2000. And now the committee is campaigning against scabs, calling for their removal from campus. Wits management has been compelled to acknowledge the right of students to speak to scabs and try to persuade them to stop what they are doing. Students have taken action to make a mess on campus, making things harder for the scabs. But this is still too little. How much more could be done if all working-class students joined this campaign? How much more if striking workers were on campus all the time?

This strike is in danger: from many divisions among workers, from union bureaucrats, from scabs. The strike might have been won if workers held firm, if they extended their actions and sought ways to enter the workplaces, if they watched their “leaders” closely to prevent more sellout deals. But how much further could workers go? The Wits Solidarity Committee aims to force the university to end outsourcing and re-employ workers directly. This will end one major division, and open the way to end others.

All workers and students at Wits – all workers in any workplace – should be united into one big union, facing the bosses as a single great force. Such a union should be controlled not by its bosses but by its members, held together by our common needs and common power as the working class. And One Big Union can bring together all workplaces, all sectors, can reach even beyond the workplace, can bring together employed and unemployed to put an end to scabbing. Such a union, strengthened by an anarchist understanding of the workers’ cause and the workers’ power, can, in the end, be our weapon to smash the oppressor, to remove the bosses, to put an end to exploitation once and for all.

NO TO SCAB LABOUR!
FORWARD TO ONE BIG UNION!
DOWN WITH WAGE SLAVERY!

Related Link: http://www.zabalaza.net

Picket outside Wits, 09.09.2011
Picket outside Wits, 09.09.2011

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On Sectarianism

Southern Africa | Workplace struggles | en

Mon 01 Sep, 21:44

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textStatement by the Anti-Government-in-Exile of Wits University 16:49 Thu 08 Sep by Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, James Pendlebury, Komnas Poriazis 0 comments

Beginning on Sunday 28 August, Wits students have been littering parts of campus in solidarity with the cleaners’ strike. Cleaners throughout South Africa are demanding a living wage of R4 200 per month: this compares with less than R2 000 paid to cleaners at Wits, who are employed by outsourcing companies such as Supercare. The strike has been undermined, at Wits and elsewhere, by the presence of scab labour; Wits management and the outsourcing companies are striving for “business as usual”. This undermines the entire purpose of the strike, which is to compel exploiter-managers to meet workers’ demands by withdrawing their labour, by preventing the job from getting done – by making sure the campus is not clean.

textSupport S. African public sector strike 19:56 Wed 20 Jun by Melbourne Anarchist Commounist Group 0 comments

A Melbourne Anarchist Commounist Group Statement in support of South African public sector strike

textOAE – Greece supports the strikers in S.Africa 20:54 Wed 13 Jun by OAE-Greece 0 comments

The Federation of Anarchists of Greece (OAE) is calling for a further action in terms of unity and organisation.

textZACF Statement of Support for Public Sector Strike 18:53 Wed 13 Jun by Jonathan 7 comments

The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (southern Africa) supports the public sector strikers, not just in their demand for a wage increase of 12%, which has now been reduced to 10%, but also in their struggle to improve the standard of all public sector services.

textAnti-Privatisation Forum May Day Rally 19:29 Tue 01 May by Dale McKinley 0 comments

The APF will be hosting a May Day Workers Rally in the community of Residensia (Sebokeng – Vaal Triangle) at Tshepo Themba School at 10h00 tomorrow in support of all the working class struggles in the country.

textConditions for Workers in South Africa 17:44 Tue 31 May by Phillip Nyalungu 0 comments

t is common amongst bosses to prefer workers coming from countries that are torn by civil wars or famine. This is because they do away with any responsibilities to cover for workers' health if exposed to health risk scenarios while working. Because these people are not citizens, the country's labour laws do not count for them. That way the bosses don't have to worry about precautionary equipment and measures expected by governmental labour standards

imageAlternative Needed to Nationalisation and Privatisation Feb 28 by Tina Sizovuka and Lucien van der Walt 1 comments

Privatisation – the transfer of functions and industry to the private sector – is widely and correctly rejected on the left and in the working class. Privatisation leads only to higher prices, less and worse jobs, and worse services. Given this, some view nationalisation – the transfer of economic resources (e.g. mines, banks, and factories) to state ownership and control – as a rallying cry for a socialist alternative. This article argues that nationalisation has never removed capitalism, nor led to socialism, and it certainly does not have a demonstrable record of consistently improving wages, jobs, rights and safety. This article appeals to progressive working class forces to look instead to another way:collectivisation from below, where industry is placed under direct workers’ self-management, subject to worker-community participatory democratic planning and control to meet human needs and end oppression, in a universal human community.

imageReaping what you sow: reflections on the Western Cape farm workers strike Feb 09 by Shawn Hattingh 0 comments

The series of strikes and protests that recently took place in and around farms in South Africa’s Western Cape Province was fuelled by the deep-seated anger and frustration that workers feel. On a daily basis, farm workers face not only appalling wages, bad living conditions and precarious work, but also widespread racism, intimidation and humiliation. The extent of the oppressive conditions run deep and it is not uncommon for workers to even be beaten by farm-owners and managers for perceived ‘transgressions’. Indeed, life for workers in the rural areas has always been harsh, but over the last two decades it has in many ways gotten even worse and poverty has in many cases grown.

imageWhat the Marikana Massacre tells us Sep 04 by Shawn Hattingh 0 comments

While any human being with any sense of justice should be appalled by what happened at Marikana it would, however, be a mistake to view it as an isolated incident that emerged out of the blue.

imageBuild a Better Workers’ Movement: learning from South Africa’s 2010 mass strike Jul 11 by Lucien van der Walt and Ian Bekker 0 comments

The biggest single strike since the 1994 parliamentary transition in South Africa showed the unions’ power. It won some wage gains, but it threw away some precious opportunities. We need to celebrate the strike, while learning some lessons: • the need for more union democracy
• the need to use strikes to link workers and communities
• the need for working class autonomy
• the need to act outside and against the state
• the need to review our positions: against the Tripartite Alliance, for anarcho-syndicalism

imageThe 2010 Mass Strike in the State Sector, South Africa: Positive Achievements but Serious Problems Dec 26 by Lucien van der Walt 0 comments

The August-September 2010 mass strike in the South African state sector demonstrated remarkable working class unity across racial and ideological lines, as 1.3 million workers of all colours stopped work for four weeks despite severe economic recession. The strikers' determination reflected growing frustration with low wages and at the glaring political corruption and enrichment of the elite, plus the drive - by African, coloured and Indian workers specifically - to attain living conditions breaking decisively with the oppression and immiseration of the apartheid past. Yet the strikers' partial victory was tarnished by tactics that divided strikers from the larger working class - notably, hospital disruptions - and a failure to raise demands that linked union and community struggles against both neo-liberalism and the apartheid legacy. The top-down manner whereby the strike was ended makes workers cynical about their own unions, demonstrating the alarming bureaucratisation and centralisation that has arisen, in large part, due to union leaders being enmeshed in the African National Congress (the neo-liberal governing party) and state industrial relations machinery. Unions should re-orientate towards other working class movements, outside and against the state, to fight for a libertarian and socialist transformation, from below. The ideas of anarcho-syndicalism - raised at the 2009 COSATU Congress - provide a useful starting point.

more >>

textStatement by the Anti-Government-in-Exile of Wits University Sep 08 Anti-Government-in-Exile of Wits University 0 comments

Beginning on Sunday 28 August, Wits students have been littering parts of campus in solidarity with the cleaners’ strike. Cleaners throughout South Africa are demanding a living wage of R4 200 per month: this compares with less than R2 000 paid to cleaners at Wits, who are employed by outsourcing companies such as Supercare. The strike has been undermined, at Wits and elsewhere, by the presence of scab labour; Wits management and the outsourcing companies are striving for “business as usual”. This undermines the entire purpose of the strike, which is to compel exploiter-managers to meet workers’ demands by withdrawing their labour, by preventing the job from getting done – by making sure the campus is not clean.

textSupport S. African public sector strike Jun 20 0 comments

A Melbourne Anarchist Commounist Group Statement in support of South African public sector strike

textOAE – Greece supports the strikers in S.Africa Jun 13 Anarkismo 0 comments

The Federation of Anarchists of Greece (OAE) is calling for a further action in terms of unity and organisation.

textZACF Statement of Support for Public Sector Strike Jun 13 Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation 7 comments

The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (southern Africa) supports the public sector strikers, not just in their demand for a wage increase of 12%, which has now been reduced to 10%, but also in their struggle to improve the standard of all public sector services.

textAnti-Privatisation Forum May Day Rally May 01 Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) 0 comments

The APF will be hosting a May Day Workers Rally in the community of Residensia (Sebokeng – Vaal Triangle) at Tshepo Themba School at 10h00 tomorrow in support of all the working class struggles in the country.

more >>
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