It is a truism of history that people who are, or believe themselves to be, oppressed, often rise up when their circumstances are changing for the better.
So, it is no surprise to realise that, as Workers’ Day passed by, South Africa may well be looking at a “winter of discontent” of strikes.
Organised labour is in a state of flux it has not experienced since 1994.
At that time, workers’ rights were some of the highest priorities of the ANC-led government … a nod to the fact that the union movement played a major role in causing the downfall of apartheid.
Today, the ANC’s once-powerful Tripartite Alliance – one dominated by workerist organisations like the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the SA Communist Party – has been seriously weakened by the departure of many worker unions and their members to the new SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) led by Zwelinzima Vavi.
Cosatu still has more members than Saftu, but has been outmanouevered by the newcomer when it comes to the pressing worker issues of the day.
Saftu has led the campaign against the new minimum wage, arguing that R20 an hour is too little.
It has also been protesting proposed changes in labour legislation which could, it says, roll back many worker gains of the past 20 years.
Ironically, it is the government of former unionist Cyril Ramaphosa which has been behind the business-friendly labour law amendments.
The government stance on labour will be welcomed by business, which has long said that our regulated labour market is an impediment to making money and creating jobs.
Under Ramaphosa there is a new optimism, which has spread to the economy, so the prospects of job creation are, at last, real.
Also, the reality about unionised workers is: At least they have jobs…