From campus protesters to labour organisers
Former #FeesMustFall student activists take on the fight for the ‘total liberation of black workers’.
Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto came alive on Workers’ Day as a delegation of 300 workers employed in and around Braamfontein gathered to launch the Workers Socialist Union of South Africa (Susaw).
Susaw, formed by former Wits University student leaders, launched its constitution and announced its national executive committee (NEC) that was elected by an interim structure. Ten additional members were co-opted into the NEC at the launch and are yet to be officially announced.
Wits 2018 SRC president, Orediretse Masebe*, the second deputy general secretary, told the gathering that “The idea for this union started from the South Point protest of 2018.” This, he told Wits Vuvuzela, was when 86 workers who were being outsourced by the Braamfontein residence were told that they were being retrenched with immediate effect. He was part of a group of student activists who staged a series of protest actions which and eventually won the permanent and secure employment of all 86 workers.
“We understood that workers issues are our issues as well,” said general secretary of the union, who was the transformation officer in the 2018 Wits SRC, Mmeli Gebashe. “Because of the relationship we formed with workers at Wits and around Braamfontein, they continue to refer to us with their labour related matters.”
Masebe told the delegation of workers that during the South Point protests, the private security guards that were hired to keep them out, eventually started confiding in them about their own issues with their employer. “This is where our passion for fighting for the labour rights of our parents was born,” he said.
According to Gebashe, formalising their relationship with workers gives them the capacity to organise representation and education for workers, with the view to protect their right to work in a cut-throat labour economy. He added that Morris Isaacson High School was the perfect location for the birth of an organisation that had its roots in student activism.
A former chairperson of the Black Consciousness Movement United, Thami Hukwe, set the tone for the day’s proceedings in his address, when he said the establishment of Susaw was “the response to the call for a total liberation of black workers”.
The delegation was given the opportunity to engage with the union’s interim constitution, give comments, contributions and ask questions. The constitution outlines the operations and reach of the union.
Susaw president Phumla Nondoda, who works at a South Point residence in Braamfontein, said that the protests of 2018 saved her job and that of many others, and Susaw is committed to making sure that it stays true to the demands of workers.
Bonginkosi Khanyile, also a former #FeesMustFall activist, attended the launch as a guest speaker, and told the workers that a workers’ union that considers the lived experiences of the worker is long overdue. “If you start sitting at the table with other leaders, and forget the mandate of workers’ rights, we will shun you,” he said and emphasised that the work of representing workers is not about personalities or power politics, because it affects the real lives of workers and their families.
* Related to the reporter
FEATURED IMAGE: A copy of the Susaw constitution. Photo: Morongoa Masebe
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