On 05 May 2020, the global working class, left activists and scholars celebrated the birthday of a philosopher, revolutionary, economist and politician. As we honoured the life and work of Karl Marx (1818-1883) through left engagements and reflection on the current state of affairs, our vision of a united working-class movement post festum the COVID 19 crisis was synthesised by PRASA’s (Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa) vindictive actions against all passenger rail workers.
SATAWU (South African Transport and Allied Workers Union) is appalled by management’s unfortunate announcement to commence a consultative process with unions in relation to workers opting for voluntary severance packages (VSP). It is equally disappointing that the question at hand was not raised in our bilateral meetings on 27 April and 01 May 2020. Parties engaged at length on numerous challenges affecting PRASA. These included operational challenges, cash flow problems, non-payment of Transnet Retirement Fund, PRASA Provident Fund and Transport Fund etc. PRASA tabled the following proposals as measures to rescue the business: non-payment of allowances to all employees that are within the bargaining unit, reduction of salaries for employees within the bargaining unit by 40% and stopping overtime in all regions. Nowhere during these discussions did parties engage in the question of voluntary severance packages.
On 21 April 2020, the President of the Republic of South Africa presented a COVID 19 package aimed at addressing the social, productive and economic devastation caused by the Coronavirus and subsequent lockdown. In his diagnosis, it was acknowledged that the loss of income for business and individuals alike aggravated poverty and hunger. Furthermore, proposing that these social and economic woes could best be addressed through the protection of livelihoods, the need to stave off hunger and destitution and steering the economy towards a recovery path.
The President emphasised the need to stimulate supply and demand through “…a substantial infrastructure build programme, the speedy implementation of economic reforms, the transformation of our economy and embarking on all other steps that will ignite inclusive economic growth.” Notwithstanding that a budget of R500 billion rand was put in place in order to fulfil these objectives. Likewise, it was said that an additional R100 billion was set aside to protect and create jobs.
PRASA like SAA (South African Airways) has opted to use the Coronavirus as a scapegoat to accelerate poverty, unemployment and inequalities. These actions expose the deep-rooted contradictions within the South African state. It is our assumption that as SOE’s (State Owned Enterprises), these entities will be the first to protect the livelihoods of the working class. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s vision of a new economy founded on new social compacts is providing to be a dream come true at never-never land.
PRASA under the leadership of the appointed administrator (Mr Bongisizwe Mpondo) continuous to display destructive symptoms similar to those of a collapsed global neoliberal social and economic order. It is evident that the “…structural reforms required to reduce the cost of doing business…” as proposed by the President and executed by PRASA and other SOEs are centred on cutting labour costs. SATAWU cannot align itself to a vision set to promote huger, destitution and helplessness.
The overhaul of SOEs including PRASA should focus on addressing managerial weaknesses, skills shortage, operational impediments and corruption etc. SATAWU expected that PRASA under the leadership of Mr Mpondo would accelerate the process of bringing all corrupt managers to book, introduce systems that will promote organisational efficiency and effectiveness, incorporate Autopax under PRASA and introduce plans that will not only modernise the passenger rail sector but achieve an integrated public transport system.
Offering workers voluntary severance packages will not address the issue of cable theft, vandalism, lack of infrastructure and building commuter confidence. In short, the proposal by PRASA “…has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new…conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.” As collaborators of capital, the services of business rescue practitioners and administrators are not compatible with the character and value system of SOEs. We should not be shocked by the paradigm shift taken by Mr Mpondo. Rather than tempering with employee livelihoods, it is critical that PRASA develop a turnaround strategy aimed at addressing real challenges as opposed to attacking the value-creating substance-human labour-power.
We will be raising these issues in our planned meeting with Mr Mpondo on 08 May 2020. Failure to revise his position will leave us no option but to halt all productive activities. During situations like this, we are reminded that “…The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” We will oppose any move that seeks to compromise the future of our members despite the glaring failure of PRASA’s Executive Management. It is important to evoke the spirit of Marx and Engels in order to remind Mr Mpondo and PRASA Executives that “…not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons-the modern working class-the proletarians.”
Issue by: Comrade Jack Mazibuko (SATAWU General Secretary): (082) 660-4793
: Comrade Anele Kiet (SATAWU Deputy General Secretary): (073) 684-1912
: Comrade Lubabalo Tinzi (SATAWU Passenger Rail Coordinator): (082) 473-2626