The Malignant Nature of South African Trade Unionism

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) issued a statement on the 24th of May wherein they exemplified, in my view at least, why trade unionism in South Africa is malignant to its very core. This union – and, with a few rare exceptions, every...

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The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) issued a statement on the 24th of May wherein they exemplified, in my view at least, why trade unionism in South Africa is malignant to its very core.

This union – and, with a few rare exceptions, every other union in this country – is not concerned with the interests of its membership, like a club or association. No, SADTU is motivated by an ideology. Not an ideology of assistance or utility, but an ideology of envy, resentment, and hate; otherwise known as nationalist socialism.

They begin by saying the following:

“Since these DA statements are aimed at SADTU, please allow us, first, to register our objection to the consistently racist, patronising and condescending tone that all of the DA’s press releases adopt. It must be mentioned that the DA issues many press releases. Yesterday, there were no less than six.”

I have no love lost for the Democratic Alliance. So do not take my heavy criticism of SADTU in this article as a nod of support toward the DA; for they often share in this same ideology of envy, resentment, and hate. However, at least since the late 1980s, the DA and its predecessor (the DP), have not been racist in any reasonable construction of the concept. The social justice left enjoys toying with what ‘racist’ actually means, however, for us reasonable folk, ‘racist’ simply means dislike or differentiation based on race. None of the DA’s recent press releases contains anything of the sort. Where their press releases are ‘patronizing’, it usually makes sense.

To patronize someone only becomes a problem when, on the whole, the two individuals or organizations are relatively equal in stature with regard to the issue at hand. When a parent ‘talks down to’ a child, that is not ‘problematic’, and makes perfect sense. The Democratic Alliance, with all its faults, is by far the African National Congress’ (and SADTU’s) senior, when it comes to effective governance, transparency, and responsiveness. However, so is the IFP, the UDM, and – Lord forgive me – the EFF. Any of these organizations can treat the ANC and SADTU condescendingly and feel justified in doing so. None of these parties owe SADTU or any other structure associated with the governing party anything, and least of all, respect.

“We particularly dislike the way the DA uses the word “must” when they are addressing largely Black organisations. The days are gone when whites could tell any Black person what to do in that tone of voice, and be obeyed. We find this way of talking odious, whether it is done by Mr Davis or any other DA member.”

(Note how ‘whites’ is left uncapitalized while ‘Black’ is Capitalized. You’ll see this as a common occurrence when deconstructing leftist texts. Did someone say superiority complex?)

The age-old tactic of the social justice left: if you find yourself being criticized for whatever reason, label your opponent as a racist and disregard what they actually have to say. A political party, especially one which finds itself in government, like the DA, is perfectly entitled to use the word ‘must’ when addressing organs of state, such as trade unions, which exercise public functions.

Furthermore, SADTU is not ‘black’. The Group Area Acts of yesteryear introduced ‘institutional race’ for companies, and the Industrial Conciliation Acts introduced institutional race for trade unions. Both series of Acts were repealed along with a myriad of other Apartheid laws in the 1990s. Does it matter that the majority of members of SADTU are black? In a country where over 85% of the population is black, the membership of most associations will be largely black. Does that mean an individual who happens to be white may not direct any sort of criticism toward such associations? Obviously not. This is illogical reasoning which leads to the conclusion that if you have 50%+1 black membership in your institution, any criticism leveled against the institution is racist.

The worrying aspect of this trend is amplified when considering the fact that the new Hate Crimes Bill is set to make ‘racist speech’ criminally punishable. We don’t have enough room in our prisons for everyone the left would consider ‘racist’.

Finally, they SADTU once again repeats the fallacy that the DA is a ‘white’ party. I need not engage with this line of reasoning again given that it has been shown time and again that a substantial number of DA supporters are black, not even to mention that its Federal Leader is black.

 “Meanwhile, the DA continues on its racist agenda of seeing any Black person as inherently corrupt. Theirs is the same mentality as that of the judge who recently remarked that all Black men are rapists.”

This is quite amusing. The Democratic Party, the DA’s predecessor, routinely accused the white National Party and its associates of corruption. The mere fact that the individuals in question in this case happen to be black means nothing. SADTU’s essential meaning is clear in this regard: if you, as a potential public interest litigator, suspect a public functionary of corruption, make sure that functionary isn’t black! If he’s black, you’re a racist. But if he’s white, it’s fine – pursue the matter. There is no logic to this line of reasoning. Just ideology.

Also, Judge Jansen did not say ‘all black men are rapists’. I encourage SADTU to actually pay attention to current events in South Africa if they wish to use them as tools in their press statements. However, I have no intention of defending Jansen. If anyone in the world simply must be an individualist, it is a judicial officer. Jansen is not an individualist. The bench is no place for someone with collectivist tendencies.

“The DA reads, understands and applies the law only in terms of their racist, Neo-Liberal agenda, including the destruction of unions as agents in collective bargaining.”

The DA does not have a problem with unions. I have a problem with unions. Not the DA.

And I object strongly to SADTU saying the DA is ‘neo-liberal’. As a proud and passionate neo-liberal myself, this is highly offensive to me. The Democratic Alliance does not have a neo-liberal agenda because it constantly moves away from free and open exchange as the philosophy of the market, toward the ANC and EFF’s idea of central government planning. There was a brief period in its history where the DA was largely pro-market, but nowadays the Inkatha Freedom Party’s policy platform more closely reflects the noble neo-liberal agenda.

“[The department’s] silence confirms our long-held view that South Africa has an ANC-led Department of Education that is pursuing the education programme of the opposition party – the DA.”

This is quite interesting. Are there actually differences of opinion between the ANC and the DA on the country’s education program? I don’t think so, personally, given that I have not seen a substantive commitment from the DA to privatize public schooling, or at the very least, revoke departmental control of public schools. In minor areas of implementation the DA and the ANC might differ – like how much MECs for Education should get paid, or whether second graders should be taught to write the date in long or short form – but on the far more important philosophical level, the DA and the ANC are indistinguishable.

Trade unions in South Africa fancy themselves specialized political parties. I believe there is merit in the assertion that unions in South Africa are not ‘trade’ unions, but rather political unions which organize along professional lines. They thoroughly enjoy playing the game of politics. Their own members and South Africa’s unemployed continue to suffer in silence while the unions sit at the table of the political class. There is no use in the system of unionism we currently have in this country, as the unions are not fulfilling their market mandate – to act as a negotiator on behalf of employees to counterbalance the bargaining strength of employers. Instead, they want to use the force of the State to get their way, while at the very same time decrying employers who do exactly the same thing. Unionism in South Africa is hypocritical, ideological, and ultimately bad for the future of our economy.

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