Workers ‘still in shacks’ after World Cup

by Jun 17, 2010All Articles

by Terry Bell      June 11, 2010

The World Cup has done no favours for the labour movement or for South African workers. While euphoria exists about about the opening game this afternoon and support for Bafana Bafana seems almost universal, the excitement is tinged with cynicism and anger.

The “beautiful game” and the national team get a solid thumbs up, while Fifa boss Sepp Blatter and his “Fifa family” get an equally emphatic thumbs down. They are widely condemned as a “money-making mafia” who have ridden roughshod over constitutional provisions covering everything from freedom of movement and expression to freedom of trade.

Guarantees that Fifa demanded – and was given – ensure the maximisation of Fifa income while absolving the world body from any responsibility as a result of the use of stadiums and their operation during the World Cup. Fifa also zealously prosecutes any perceived infringement of its trademarks or claimed rights and several legal cases are still under way in Germany as a result of the 2006 World Cup.

Established hawkers near the new stadiums are already complaining. “And jobs that have been created have been temporary and informal,” says SA Commercial Catering and Allied Workers’ Union spokesman Mike Abrahams.

Abrahams also accuses employers of using the tournament period as an excuse to try to push through harsh conditions in annual negotiations.

Eskom unions, currently in dispute with the electricity utility over pay and housing allowances, are in full agreement. They remain deadlocked and meet today in a last-ditch attempt to reach a settlement.

“We wanted to meet earlier, but it seems management is using the World Cup to try to make us settle; if we strike, it will affect homes, fan parks and traffic, but not the stadiums, where they have emergency generators. The public would be put against us,” says National Union of Mineworkers media officer Lesiba Seshoka.

However, he warns: “We cannot postpone hunger for our children.” With the lowest paid Eskom workers earning as little as R3 000 a month, there is anger that management has refused to budge from a 5.5 percent pay increase offer and has yet to deal with the housing allowance issue.

The three unions involved are demanding wage increases of 18 percent and indications are that they will not settle for less than a double digit increase and a housing allowance agreement. Frustration has already boiled over at the Kusile power station in Witbank, where the 3 000 workers downed tools last week.

They were ordered back by means of a court interdict, and when they returned on Monday management presented them with formal letters of warning. As a result, they again walked out – and the matter is still not resolved.

Tension also escalated following Eskom’s statement that the utility made a profit of R7.1 billion on the back of its near 25 percent tariff increase. “That’s not profit, that is money stolen from the poor,” says Seshoka.

He puts it in the same category as the reported R25bn in tax-free income that Fifa is said to have already taken offshore. Among the guarantees given to Fifa was the fact that the “family” would be able to freely move money and that all customs duties and taxes would be waived.

This has led to demands from Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini that Fifa “plough back” some of this income into development projects in South Africa.

Several unionists have pointed out that the R25bn already pocketed by the world body could have provided jobs at R3 000 a month for 10 years for nearly 70 000 workers. “It’s daylight robbery in the name of sport and development,” says National Council of Trade Unions general secretary Manene Samela, who is currently attending an International Labour Organisation conference in Geneva.

As he sees it, resources necessary for domestic social and economic upliftment are “being taken away in front of our eyes”. He fumes: “This world soccer leadership chases only money.”

What particularly irked Samela and many other trade unionists this week was the statement by the Home Affairs Department that Fifa had demanded – and got – 3 500 work permits for members of the “Fifa family”. While a core group of Fifa officials from Zurich is known to handle some essential internal work, the number hardly extends to four figures.

Andrew Jennings, the journalist and author who has exposed the seamy side of Fifa over the past decade, explains: “They’re the various officials along for a jolly – a paid-for holiday.”

Interviewed from his home in Cumbria, England, he points out that Fifa president Sepp Blatter has for years kept football officials around the world on side by means of these “jollies” that include daily allowances of $200 (R1 550) upwards. Bribes are part and parcel of the Fifa story.

In one court case in 2008 in Zug, Switzerland, a judge revealed that Fifa’s now-failed marketing and promotions arm, ISL, had paid nearly R700m in bribes between 1991 and 1999.

But allegations – and examples – of bribery and corruption within Fifa continue to be published and, on at least two occasions, have been upheld by courts in Switzerland and the US.

“They are mafiosos, crooks,” says a National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) shop steward, who expressed anger that Blatter had been presented with the OR Tambo award. “It brought the Tambo name into disrepute; Blatter should have got an RO – rip off – award,” he adds.

In fact, this latest award is the second South African honour given to Blatter: he already has the Good Hope medal that he lists among his 45 international honours. Significantly, in the current list, he omits the “Humane Order of African Redemption” presented to him in 1999 by the murderous Liberian warlord, Charles Taylor.

“It’s very scary,” says Seshoka. “Big clubs of the rich make billions while many of our members still live in shacks; and when the soccer games are over, the rich will be richer and our members will still be in shacks.

“That’s what is here – and we feel it.”

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