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DA’s ‘total onslaught’ on minimum wage undermines worker rights

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Striking municipal workers picket in Johannesburg for better wages on the second day of nationwide industrial action. The SA Municipal Workers’ Union wanted a 15 percent wage increase or R2,500, whichever was greater, and a R5,000 monthly minimum wage. Last week DA shadow minister of employment and labour Michael Bagraim told journalist Ashraf Garda that there should not be a minimum wage, the writer says. Picture: Werner Beukes / SAPA / Taken July 28, 2009

By Alex Mashilo

Given our painful history of racial segregation and patriarchy, anchored in the system of capitalist exploitation, class-conscious workers will not vote for any party whose leadership composition reflects the continuation of the legacy of colonial oppression and its apartheid elaboration.

A party of this nature is easily identifiable by its top leadership composition, which predominantly or entirely comprises white leaders, in stark contrast to national population demographics.

According to Statistics South Africa’s census 2022 report, South Africa’s population is 81.4 percent black African, followed by the coloured population at 8.2 percent. In total, black people, including Indian/Asian, make up over 92 percent of South Africa’s population.

Women make up 51.5 percent. In the same vein, class-conscious workers will not vote for any party that does not strive to give expression to at least 50 percent of women on its lists of public representatives.

Throughout this context, class serves as a crucially embedded factor. In our society, the working class, including employed, self-employed and unemployed workers, is the overwhelming majority.

The capitalist class, who appropriate, own and control the wealth of society as their “private property”, with capital as its ultimate manifestation, constitutes a tiny minority on a headcount basis. Their composition is predominantly white as a result of the history of racial oppression and its apartheid elaboration.

This occurred against the background of the capitalist system forcefully imposed by colonialists from Europe, including through expropriation, war and the slave trade.

Under the system, the wages that go to workers are less than the value their labour creates in the production process. The capitalists appropriate the balance after, in the ultimate analysis, wages and other production costs have been paid.

In this context, capitalist system parties like the DA pursue a politics opposed to working-class struggle and workers’ hard-won gains.

In the wider political struggle, which includes electoral politics, class-conscious workers will not support any anti-labour party. They will not vote for any party that prioritises minority class, race and gender interests over the interests of the working class and the people at large.

According to its manifesto, the “DA believes in building a capable state which recognises that its role is to create the conditions for private enterprise to flourish”.

In the ultimate analysis, especially in terms of ownership by “private enterprise”, reference is to no other than the class minority of capitalists. The interests of the people at large, whose majority is the working class, are not a top priority.

They are subordinate to the state serving the interests of the minority as its priority, with the false promise that the majority stands to benefit from a trickle-down of opportunities they need to participate in the economy.

The DA says it will introduce a certificate for the youth to break out of national minimum wage coverage and sectoral collective bargaining agreements, which include negotiated minimum wage rates and annual wage increases.

It also says it will end the extension of sectoral collective bargaining agreements. This anti-labour attitude is already bad enough for the vulnerable workers, who face merciless capitalist exploitation and unfair labour practices under peanut wages.

In the east of Johannesburg, for example, one of the vulnerable workers, Katlego, worked for less than R3,500 at a South African-based multinational retail store. This could not pay for rent in any part of the area and help her meet her needs and those of her child.

What cushioned her situation was that she lived with a family that did not demand rent payment from her. But still, every last week of the month, she struggled with transport money. At some point, she decided to take a long-distance walk to work, but this exposed her to other problems.

The anti-national minimum wage opposition leaders live in luxury compared to the over six million workers like Katlego, who were paid less than R3,500 a month before the national minimum wage was introduced and increased.

Some of the anti-labour leaders are MPs and so-called shadow ministers. They enjoy lucrative perks they have not rejected in favour of receiving pay less than, and living conditions below, the national minimum wage level. Some of them are still wallowing in inheritance from past generations, dating back to the colonial and apartheid era.

As if its attack on the hard-won labour achievements was not enough, the DA announced a total onslaught on the national minimum wage last week. A media follow-up on Workers’ Day sought clarity.

Asked what’s the DA’s position regarding the national minimum wage in the context of Workers’ Day, its shadow minister of employment and labour Michael Bagraim told Ashraf Garda on SAfm’s The National Pulse: “The minimum wage itself shouldn’t be there… .” He went on: “We don’t believe the minimum wage should be introduced at all … It should actually be scrapped.”

This remark was obviously outdated, prompting Garda to remind him: “Let’s get it right … At this point in time, a minimum wage exists in terms of law.” But Bagraim had also stated that he practices as a labour lawyer, mostly representing employers, not labour. The anti-minimum wage stance makes him an anti-labour shadow minister.

During the interview, Garda specifically asked the DA’s shadow minister of employment and labour which country in the world, in a similar position to ours, dropped the minimum wage and thereafter increased employment, decreased unemployment and made everybody happy.

His answer was, “the whole of southern Africa”. He mentioned Nigeria and Botswana. Afterwards, he mentioned Zimbabwe as an exception.

However, in self-contradiction, he asserted, “We don’t need to talk about Zimbabwe … in fact everyone is here, looking for jobs here”.

The DA’s Bagraim appeared to have relied on an incorrect map that placed Nigeria in southern Africa. Needless to say, his answer to the question as specifically posed, was fundamentally false.

As things stand, the ANC is the best political party contesting elections. It has legislated workers’ hard-won rights and achievements, starting with the Constitution, and should be the choice for the majority voting class – the working class.

Alex Mashilo is the SA Communist Party spokesperson