Fazila Farouk of the South African Civil Society Information Service (SACIS) interview Ighsaan Schroeder, coordinator of the Casual Workers Advice Office.
FAZILA FAROUK: Do you think COSATU’s call for a ban on labour broking is an appropriate response to meet the needs of workers, given the changing needs.
IGHSAAN SHROEDER: There are at least Three problems with the call for a ban on labour broking. We all support ending the practice of labour broking but the call for a ban is problematic for a number of reasons. The first one is that central to the ANC’s policy with regard to workers, their rights and the institutions through which they struggle for increased rights or access to their rights, is the question of labour flexibility.
This is stated in the Gear [Growth Employment and Redistribution] document and the Green Paper on Labour that came out in 1996. That is, labour flexibility, or the ability of the bosses to exploit workers more efficiently, is central to South Africa’s economic growth path.
Labour broking increased from 1995-96 when the ANC introduced new labour laws. Labour broking is one form of labour flexibility, and is central to the ANC’s labour market policy. The ANC is therefore, not going to ban it. You will need mass mobilisation and strong organisation to force the ANC to change that policy.
The second problem with COSATU’s call for a ban is that COSATU has made no effort to organise these workers. Calling for a ban is not enough. The answer lies in organising these workers.
The third problem is that if you simply ban these labour brokers, what happens to the workers who are already in the employ of these labour brokers? Should they just lose their jobs? Does it matter to COSATU that these workers might just lose their jobs? It’s a highly problematic response to just call for a ban. The central task is to organise these workers into organisations. The first struggle is to make these workers permanent. Secondly, we must struggle to changes the legislation and the institutions through which these workers can be protected.
To simply call for a ban reveals an hostility to the workers and not just to the practice. What lies beneath the call for a ban is an indifference to what will happen to those workers if the practice were to be banned.
FAZILA FAROUK: What about people who are not in formal employment. How do institutions like COSATU respond to the needs of workers in the informal sectors of the economy?
The answer is simple. They haven’t responded. I don’t think COSATU is interested in organising these “non-permanent” workers, whether they be in the formal economy (which a lot of them are), or the fruit sellers on the street corners. This is consistent with COSATU’s history. If you look at the difficult sectors like domestic, farm and construction work for example, COSATU has over time completely failed to organise these workers.
FAZILA FAROUK: What’s the way forward to ensure that all workers in South Africa, particularly those working on the lowest rungs of the economy get protection?
What has happened over the last 30 years is that the capitalist system has fundamentally reorganised the workplace. So, workers like these labour broker workers, casual workers, they don’t hop companies within an industry like the “permanents” workers tend to do. They hop whole industries. So they might work in the chemical industry for three to six months, or even a year. They might end up working in the metal industry for three months, and after that the labour broker sends them to the transport sector. If you’re a casual worker you hop industries all the time.
It’s clear that the industrial union model can’t work for these new kinds of workers. You cant use the industrial model given the growing number of casual workers, of labour broker workers. This is why the debate on the need for new forms of organisation. We need to find a form of organisation that takes into account the fact that these workers hop industries, and that for part of the year these workers may not even work.
The fundamental question here is:“Is the industrial model still appropriate for the industrial workers themselves?”My sense is that the industrial model is not even delivering to industrial workers, the permanent worker. The industrial unions don’t seem to be delivering to their members. I’m not surprised as this can’t be otherwise.
The industrial model organisations are about 100 years old and capitalism has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. It’s obvious that the forms of organisations and the institutions that characterise the preceding period of capitalist development when the industrial unions and bargaining councils emerged, have outlived their usefulness. They’ve become weapons in the hands of the employers, against the workers now. I would go so far as even to say that some of these industrial unions, including major COSATU affiliates, have become weapons in the hands of the employers.
FAZILA FAROUK: If the industrial model of trade unions is finished in your words, what does the future hold for an organisation like COSATU, for example?
IGHSAAN SHROEDER: I don’t want to be a a crystal ball gazer, but I think it’s a question of time before COSATU disappears. Ten years, fifteen years or maybe it will disappear sooner rather than later. Organisations like COSATU prevent workers from seeing the need to begin to forge new weapons and to find new instituitions through to which to mediate the struggle with the bosses on the factory floor on a daily basis.