The ANC's young lions are set to confront the government by joining Cosatu's national strike against labour brokers and the e-tolling system.
In what is likely to raise tensions between the ANC and its youth wing, the ANC Youth League threw its weight behind labour federation Congress of South African Trade Unions's (Cosatu) strike action on Wednesday to put pressure on the ANC-led government to abolish labour brokers and the e-tolling system.
Relations between the ANC and the league are at their lowest point ever since the ruling party instituted charges against league leaders for publicly articulating the league's conference resolutions, which the ANC said were not in keeping with its constitution. As a result, the ANC expelled its president Julius Malema and suspended league spokesperson Floyd Shivambu's ANC membership for three years.
Malema's expulsion triggered rebellion from the youth league's national executive committee and most of its provincial structures, which vowed to defy the ANC's national disciplinary committee's decision to remove Malema as league president.
While it was not clear whether Malema would join the strike action, his fellow top five leaders, including secretary general Sindiso Magaqa, were expected to join the strike, which Cosatu expected would attract over 100 000 people in Gauteng alone.
Cosatu's strike decision was seen more as a political show of strength ahead of the ANC's crucial elective conference in Mangaung in December, rather than a protest to highlight genuine worker issues.
While Cosatu played a crucial role in the election of President Jacob Zuma as ANC leader in 2007, the labour federation is increasingly becoming frustrated with the ANC's failure to implement Polokwane resolutions, which called for radical policy changes. Although Cosatu differs with the ANC on the policy direction, the federation has become much closer to the league over the past few months on policy issues, including the nationalisation of mines and other key sectors of the economy.
Cosatu supported the league's march from Johannesburg to Pretoria late last year in demand for economic freedom. The youth wing is also pushing for ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe to replace Zuma as president and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula to replace Gwede Mantashe as secretary general.
While the ANC and government are pushing for the amendment of labour laws, in order to ensure stricter regulation to address the problem of labour broking and prohibit certain abusive practices, Cosatu and the youth league are calling for the total ban of labour broking in the country.
"The ANC Youth League would like to emphasise the point that our call for the banning of labour brokers does not amount to some quasi-regulations, which might end up not being overseen by anyone, therefore leaving space for continued brutal exploitation of workers," Shivambu said.
"Labour brokering does not fit anywhere in the kind of society we as youth want to live in, and we call upon public representatives to illegalise labour brokering in South Africa and safeguard the future of many young people who are brutally exploited in various factory floors without rights. We will stop nowhere in fighting for the illegalisation of labour brokering in South Africa because it does not in any way fit to the kind of society we are going to live in," he said.
Shivambu added the youth league was disappointed that the ANC government and Parliament had been indecisive on the question of banning labour brokers, despite a public commitment to ban labour brokers. Cosatu has claimed that the ANC was reluctant to ban labour brokers because some of its senior leaders were financially benefiting as shareholders in some of the labour brokering companies.
National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa general secretary Irvin Jim said the strike was about the future of South Africa in which the dignity and labour rights of workers were respected.
"It is about saying no to exploitation and greed that has engulfed our society where particular notorious groups of employers and individuals have completely lost morality. They have no sense of sharing except to brutally exploit workers. They are supported by an elitist group of capitalists and neo liberal orthodox economists who have failed to provide answers for the triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality, which is threatening to blow this country up," said Jim.
"Our triple crisis has been created by a unique racist brand of capitalism. Labour brokering in South Africa is part and parcel of our form of capitalism, which maintains conditions of modern slavery inherent in the labour brokering system. Labour brokering is human trafficking," he said.
But ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu questioned the motive behind Cosatu strike action against labour brokers and e-tolling.
"Whilst we acknowledge protest as a right, the ANC is of the view that the concerns raised by Cosatu on the negative impact of tolling of roads on people who earn less is over-exaggerated, especially after government intervention on the matter. We believe that the intervention announced, by the Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan during the budget speech this year, [in] the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Programme will go a long way to alleviate financial pressure on the poor and the working class of our country," said Mthembu.
During his budget speech, Gordhan announced a special appropriation of R5.8-billion for the 2011/12 expenditure.
"This will reduce the debt to be repaid through the toll system, and will make a steeper discount possible for regular road users, which includes the working force who use their cars including small and medium entrepreneurs. The capping of monthly toll fee payments to a maximum of R550, no matter how many trips a motorist undertakes on the toll route, is again a clear indication of the government intention to minimise the burden on the part of consumers. For all these reasons therefore, it is the ANC's absolute view that the protest action is unnecessary, but we nonetheless respect the right of those who want to protest," said Mthembu.
On the issue of labour brokers, Mthembu said the ANC was of view that there were relevant structures, such as the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), where organised labour—including Cosatu—has representation and influence where such issues could be discussed and resolved.
"As the ANC, we are hopeful and confident that through the Nedlac process a solution will be found on this matter of labour brokers".
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