For Workers’ Control of SAA. Restructure in the Interests of SAA Workers & Passengers NOT Moody’s

Sack the board! End outsourcing!

The Marxist Workers Party stands in full solidarity with SAA workers!!

The SAA management and the Ramaphosa government are determined to defeat the SAA strike. From her comments at the SAA board’s press briefing on 19 November it is clear that Thandeka Mgoduso, SAA’s acting chair, along with the rest of the board, view their own workers with contempt and the workers’ unions with outright hostility. We agree with Numsa and SACCA – this board must go!

SACCA member on SAA Technical Picket Line

But this simply poses a new problem – who will replace the board? With what mandate will they sit on the board? And who will give it to them? Dudu Myeni chaired the SAA board with a mandate from Zuma: loot money for him and his Gupta associates. Mgoduso has been implicated in tender irregularities already! But she also sits with a mandate from Ramaphosa: cut costs at SAA through “re-structuring” in preparation for privatisation, i.e. by freezing wages and cutting jobs. Mgoduso and the SAA board represent the advanced troops in what is the opening battle of a full-scale war to be waged on public sector and SOE workers by Ramaphosa and the ANC government. They need to defeat the SAA workers to set the tone for the coming struggle.

Under the presidency of Ramaphosa, the current board, whilst refusing the modest wage demands of SAA workers, have created a nice trough for their own snouts. In July 2018, R16 million was spent hiring new executives. Recently resigned CEO, Vuyani Jarana, flew in, and then flew out, pocketing a R6.7 million annual salary. Presumably the new acting CEO is on a similar package. The board is even helping others to make a profit from sacking workers. Deutsch Bank was paid R25 million in consultation fees on how to restructure SAA’s debt. [1]

But even if Mgoduso and the entire board are forced to resign, they will be replaced by a new board with exactly the same mandate from Ramaphosa. Wage rises will still be resisted; jobs will still be at risk. Workers’ issues would remain completely unresolved. The trade union movement needs to demand something different: workers control and management of SAA. This is the only way that the airline can genuinely be run in the interests of workers and passengers. This strike is the wielding of a veto by SAA workers over the decisions of the board. Why not deepen and extend that level of oversight to all aspects of the management of SAA?

The board should be composed of elected representatives of SAA workers, their trade unions and passenger groups. On this basis board members could be instantly recallable if they are not performing. There would be no need for the ludicrous salaries currently being paid. Elected board members could serve on the same principle as full time shop stewards – paid their normal salary and released from their day-job for the duration of their term, with any necessary expenses openly and transparently covered. Any specialists that need to be employed by the board would be strictly under its management.

Nationalisations

The demand for the insourcing of security, cleaning, IT, ground-handling and logistics is hugely important. Outsourcing never benefits anyone other than the parasites running the outsourced companies. The various consultants and contractors, who are no better than vultures, must be kicked out. But this should only be the start.

Workers Protest – Grounded Planes Visible in the Background

Mango and SA Express should be fully reintegrated with SAA. The government is absolutely wrong that privatisation has any place in the solution of SA’s economic problems (see SA’s Economic Crisis). The economy needs more integration, economies of scale and planning… not less! For example, Sasol, which was privatised in 2000, should be re-nationalised, and provide fuel to SAA at cost. Nationalisation of the banks – Standard Bank, FNB, Absa and Nedbank – is also crucial for resolving the SOE debt crisis and the wider economic crisis too. This would allow for low interest (or no interest) loans to the SOEs, the reduction of interest on existing loans, or cancelling debt entirely.

Such a programme could see the restructuring of SAA in the interests of workers, passengers and the working and middle class more generally.

Right to Strike

In the press conference, Mgoduso indicated that the board will take Numsa and SACCA to the Labour Court for breeching picketing rules and “introducing additional demands” into the strike. They mean the issue of job losses… which they only announced after wage talks dead-locked!

The board’s application to the Labour Court will make use of the amendments to the Labour Relations Act introduced last year in anticipation of the major class conflicts the economic crisis poses. If the board and the government start using the courts against the SAA strike, it will be a clear signal that in the coming battles, the right to strike is under attack, just as much as wages, benefits and jobs. The trade union movement has to be prepared to defy these unjust laws through organised mass disobedience. The demand for their repeal and the introduction of a trade union freedom bill needs to be raised.

Fear of de-registration will haunt many union officials when they read this. But the new rules on secret strike ballots, compulsory arbitration, tighter picketing rules etc. were designed to put the maximum pressure on the trade union bureaucracy to police working class struggle. We cannot dance to that tune. The threat of de-registration, cost awards, etc. can be overcome with creative legal tactics as long as there is a will to do so.

Workers Party

The government and all the parties sitting in parliament are fully signed-up to the ‘necessity’ for austerity in the public sector. They will be willing agents of imperialism’s watchdog Moody’s. On their watch, if big business and their junior partners in politically connected elite BEE vehicles think they can make money from SOEs they will be sold – privatised. Those SOEs that can’t easily be sold off will remain the milking cows of politically connected tenderpreneurs via outsourcing, whilst subsidising big business.

A mass movement needs to be built against job losses, austerity and privatisation. A united front of the trade union movement is necessary – of the kind that exists at SAA in the co-operation of the Numsa and SACCA leaderships and the unity of the workers in struggle on the ground. Such a united front could prepare the ground for the unity of public and private sector workers (who are also facing wide-scale retrenchments) in a general strike, especially following the February 2020 budget which will indicate how the government axe will be wielded, and force the government to back down.

Any mass movement will need to tackle the question of working class political representation – a workers party. A trade union challenges management’s control of the workplace on a daily basis, as the SAA workers are currently doing. The workers movement cannot leave the bosses’ political control of society unchallenged – workers need to build their own party.

Both the Saftu trade union federation and the Working Class Summit which Saftu convened in July 2018 (bringing together dozens of working class organisations) have both taken positions in favour of creating a workers party. A workers party which unites the class’s struggles in the workplaces, the communities and in the schools, colleges and universities will be an indispensable weapon against the effects of the capitalist crisis, allowing the workers movement to open a second front against the class enemy.

To begin building the political unity of the working class, a workers party will need to be organised on a federal basis in its initial stage – allowing unions, community structures, youth campaigns and the existing working class political groups and parties to affiliate.


[1]SAA is paying millions for ‘consultant’ executives to do 6 months work”, BusinessTech (26 July 2018)