Witch hunts happen when it is easier for people to blame an enemy for problems than to look at the real causes. Which is why the witch hunt against trade unions prevents us dealing with our challenges.
The Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Growth Plan is an interesting attempt to develop a pro-business policy in which the government will also address poverty: it reflects a desire to retain its support base while appealing to black voters. At times it retains the balance well, at times less so.
But one aspect of the document loses all balance - its sustained attack on the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). While the DA would be expected to criticise the African National Congress’s ally, the document goes further - it is an attack on trade unions and worker rights. While it tries to present this as an attempt to end anti-competitive behaviour by both business and labour, the suggested restraints on business are mild in comparison.
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The DA wants to remove restrictions on labour brokers. It also suggests a reasonable attempt to reform labour law - the oft-made suggestion that agreements between unions and employer associations not be extended to parties who did not negotiate them. But it goes on to brand unions and the workers who belong to them not as citizens to be engaged but problems to be solved. The DA wants job zones near airports and ports, which will enjoy "generous" exemptions from labour law. It would weaken laws that protect workers from unfair dismissal and roll back protections that force employers to show they have acted fairly when they fire workers.
Far more is at stake than the bad blood between Cosatu and the DA. The sections on labour law repeat the fashionable view among pro-business commentators - including "labour analysts" who dress up their partisanship as research - that the unions are our chief obstacle to growth and job creation. That is why it has been greeted joyously as a "plan to pulverise Cosatu". Which is a pity, for the claim that unions are our main economic problem lacks evidence.
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