by Shawn Hattingh (ZACF)
The economic crisis in South Africa has seen inequalities, and the forced misery of the working class, grow. While the rich and politicians have continued to flaunt their ill-gotten wealth, workers and the poor have been forced to suffer. It is in this context that the majority of the leaders of the largest trade unions have, unfortunately, elected to once again place their faith in a social dialogue and partnerships with big business and the state . So while the state and bosses have been on the offensive against workers and the poor, union officials have been appealing to them to save jobs during the crisis. Not surprisingly, this strategy has largely failed. While union leaders and technocrats have been debating about the policies that should or should not be taken to overcome the crisis, bosses and the state have retrenched over 1 million workers in a bid to increase profits . It is, therefore, sheer folly for union leaders to believe that the state and bosses are interested in compromise – without being forced into it. As seen by their actions, the elite are only interested in maintaining their power, wealth and lifestyles by making the workers and the poor pay for the crisis. For the elite, social dialogue is simply a tool to tie the unions up and limit their real strength – direct action by members. In fact, even before the crisis, social dialogue had been a disaster for the unions contributing towards their bureaucratisation and having abysmal results in terms of them trying to influence the state away from its pro-rich macro-economic policies .