Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture: BLOOMBERG/NADINE HUTTON
Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture: BLOOMBERG/NADINE HUTTON

SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has bemoaned the onslaught on the trade union movement, saying the working class is under attack in SA.

Vavi, who was speaking at the national elective conference of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), called for unions to be independent from employers and political parties, and be accountable only to their members.

Amcu, the largest trade union in SA’s platinum industry, rose to prominence for leading the strike that led to the Marikana massacre in August 2012. Thirty-four protesting Lonmin mineworkers were gunned down by police. Ten people, including police officers, had been killed in the preceding week.

Giving his message of support at the conference in Boksburg, Vavi took issue with the Labour Relations Amendment Act, which came into effect on January 1.

The legislation calls for a secret ballot to be conducted before trade union members embark on strike, and unions were given six months to amend their constitutions to include that clause.

Vavi was unhappy at what he described as the capitalist system for “giving instructions to unions to amend their constitutions to suit what they want and not what workers want”.

“The capitalist system that is led by the ANC is telling us, the workers, how we should run our affairs as the trade unions and that we should amend our constitutions to make it even more difficult to go on a strike in the future,” he said.

“Now before we go on a strike we have to put up ballot boxes in each mine as if we are the IEC [Electoral Commission of SA]. If you don’t comply with that, they say they will deregister us and our strikes won’t be protected.”

Referring to a strike action as a tool for unions, the former Cosatu general secretary accused employers of “taking away our teeth”, which he described as the “very last weapon in our hands”.

It was a matter of time before trade unions were turned into associations that organised get-togethers and braais on Fridays, and were not about fighting for workers’ rights.

“If you don’t realise that workers need each other more than any other time in the history of this country, in unity and not in competition with one another, then they [employers] are going to laugh at us, one by one, as we disappear.”

The trade union movement could not afford to be a “sweetheart of the bosses at the moment”, he said.

“Unions must be fighting in the streets … we must demand that no worker in this country must earn below R12,500. The first 100 CEOs in the JSE earn R17m and they turn around and say workers must earn R20 an hour.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za