Health Systems

TAC responds to developments at COSATU

On Saturday March 28 and Sunday March 29 the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) National Council (NC) met in Bloemfontein in the Free State. On Sunday afternoon the council received the news of a press statement released by Zwelinzima Vavi in which he explains why he will not be attending a Cosatu Central Executive Committee meeting on Monday 31 March and Tuesday 1 April. On Monday evening we received the news that Mr Vavi had been expelled from Cosatu.

The TAC is deeply dismayed by these further divisions in the trade union movement in South Africa.

In the early and mid 2000s a much more united Cosatu provided crucial support to the TAC and its allies in the struggle for antiretroviral treatment in South Africa. The Cosatu of the time responded much more effectively to the serious social justice issues facing our country, and particularly the working class.

Today the trade union movement in South Africa appears to be more interested in factional politics than in the day-to-day struggles of workers and working class people. With notable exceptions, like DENOSA in relation to the Eastern Cape health crisis, most unions are silent on the struggles facing TAC members and their communities.

–          In the Free State 117 community healthcare workers are on trial for taking part in a peaceful night vigil to protest their unfair dismissal and the collapse of the Free State healthcare system. It is concerning that unions have not taken up the struggle of these workers.

–          In the Eastern Cape, the Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga our public healthcare system is severely dysfunctional. This directly affects workers, their families, and the working class. We are concerned that unions have not been more involved in fighting the collapse of these provincial healthcare systems.

–          Despite legislation introduced in 1956 gold mining companies in South Africa has consistently failed to protect the health of their workers. Even today, air quality standards in South African mines are lower than in countries like Canada or Australia. We do not accept that the health of people working in South Africa is worth less than that of workers in those other countries. TAC and Sonke Gender Justice is leading the mobilisation of affected communities around the class action lawsuit of Nkala and others v Harmony and others in which the gold mining industry is being held accountable for miners contracting silicosis and/or TB. In a hearing scheduled for April 14 and 15 in the South Gauteng High Court TAC and Sonke are applying to be admitted as friend of the court. It is concerning that unions have not been more actively getting behind this case and not more actively advocating for better safety standards in mines.

–          We are concerned that trade unions have not more aggressively responded to the serious problems in our education system. These problems are directly impacting on the families of workers and the working class. While TAC’s focus is not on education, we cannot ignore education as a key social determinant of health. We are also painfully aware of the problem of unwanted pregnancy and high HIV rates in schools and the failure of unions to address these problems with any conviction.

The trade union movement in South Africa is clearly at a low point, but this does not have to remain the case indefinitely. While it will require great effort and significant time, we believe that unity and a commitment to social justice in the trade union movement can be rebuilt. This rebuilding work is crucial to the future health of our democracy and we urge all progressive and committed comrades to remain committed to this struggle – even though the current outlook may be bleak.

–          We call on all trade unions to recommit to social justice, human rights, the interests of the working class, and the communities in which workers live their lives and to back these commitments up with action.

–          We call on all workers to scrutinise the actions of the unions to which they belong and to ask whether their unions are truly struggling for the interests of the working class.

–          We call on all unions to put factional politics aside and to join TAC and Sonke in a march on April 14 to the South Gauteng High Court where we will demand justice for all the thousands of workers who have contracted TB and/or silicosis while working in the gold mines.

For media comment please contact Anele Yawa, TAC General Secretary on 079 328 1215