PALAPYE: Former general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Zwelinzima Vavi, has condemned the ‘No alternative’ phrase often used by African governments.
Speaking during the ongoing Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU) elective congress, Vavi said African people elect governments with huge majorities, but once in power, the leaders always say there is no alternative.
He said public workers have to recognise the uncomfortable fact that the absence of an alternative has helped the capitalist class to ideologically dominate the debate about the future of the continent.
“The slogan that ‘There is No Alternative’ to neo-liberalism has infected all of our countries and we must bear some of the responsibility for allowing this to happen. Many of our governments now fall back on this reactionary dictum to force the workers’ movement to accept poorer working conditions. Increasingly, governments and the bosses speak the same language,” he said.
Vavi told the BOPEU delegates that government leaders play golf with private sector bosses and are lobbied to embrace neo-liberal approaches to development.
He said public workers are not just facing privatisation of key government functions, but also massive outsourcing which inevitably translates to an assault on their own hard won gains and move away from the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.
“The rush to outsource and privatise is motivated by what can only be described as a form of primitive accumulation by the ruling elites, as they seek to become a parasitic middle class in a typical predatory state,” said Vavi.
He therefore encouraged BOPEU delegates to understand such developments, and that often, the promises that were made by the governments to the people are abandoned, and instead of policies that help to lift the people out of poverty and unemployment, people are replaced with arguments for austerity.
“They deliberately undermine democratically elected government and make it dependent on their patronage. All of this takes place behind the scenes and away from public scrutiny; this is how big businesses exert their influence and it is bad news for our democratic system,” Vavi explained.
He said: “Public sector workers all over the world are seeing their work burdens increase as they are forced to do jobs that used to be carried out by more than two people. In this big rush to right size and build lean and mean, governments are often following advise of the World Bank and the IMF; essential services to our people are cut at exactly the time when they need them most.”
Vavi said the most important thing is to develop an alternative that unites the working class wherever they are and that there IS need for independent, militant and democratically worker-controlled unions, internationally. He said public sectors could not hide behind a label of being apolitical. “Whether we like it or not, we are involved in politics. If politics is about the distribution of power and resources, we have to be part of the equation not in terms of this or that party politics, but the governance of our societies. We represent workers, and we must therefore engage organisationally and politically to ensure that the needs of workers are properly addressed,” said Vavi.