From 18 to 22 December 2017, the Gauteng Community Health Care Forum (the Forum) Office Bearers held a strategic planning meeting, to reflect on the year 2017 and plan for 2018. For the Forum 2016 was a year filled with mass mobilisations, campaigns and direct action. In 2017 the Forum focused on building a solid organisational base in clinics across the five regions in Gauteng. At the end of 2017, the Forum was organised in more than 100 clinics and had about 1700 members.
At its 54th National Conference held in December 2017, the ANC elected Cyril Ramaphosa as its president. The Office Bearers had a lengthy discussion on what a Cyril Ramaphosa presidency means for Community Health Care Workers (CHWs) in their struggle to be recognised as permanent workers by the Department of Health. The meeting also discussed the implications of his presidency for the working class in South Africa. From the discussions it became clear that a Ramaphosa presidency will reinforce the politics of neoliberalism and austerity, and this will be a set back for fight against the struggle of CHWs and the working class. The feeling was that Ramaphosa will maintain the slave wages that CHWs earn and he may reverse all the gains that CHWs have won through long struggles. CHWs and the working class have a fight coming their way.
Cyril Ramaphosa has already shown his intentions with the new amendments of the Labour Relations Act (LRA), the minimum Wage bill (MWB) and to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA). These amendments seek to take away the right to strike for workers and keep workers earning poverty wages. The Forum also expects attempts to reverse free education and to stop the implementation of the National Health Initiative to intensify now that Ramaphosa is president. There were fears that the government may become more repressive in order to contain working class resistance.
Out of this discussion the Office Bearers of the Forum agreed on five strategic objectives of the Forum in 2018. Firstly, the Forum’s plan is to organise in over 200 clinics by the end of 2018. The aim is to bring much needed unity amongst CHWs and strengthen the campaign for recognition. The meeting recognised that without strong organisation it will not be possible to defend and advance CHW struggles.
Secondly, intensifying the struggle for permanent employment has always been central to the Forum. The Office Bearers decided that it will be important for the Forum to build the momentum of the anti-Smartpurse campaign to make sure that the labour broker that has brought so much grief to CHW in Gauteng is removed. One aspect of this struggle is ensure that the on-going arbitration in the Bargaining Council takes place and is victorious. The objective of the Forum is to launch a national campaign for CHWs to be permanent workers, and for a national minimum wage for CHWs.
Thirdly, building a strong National Network of CHWs has become a more immediate and important objective. CHWs are weakly organised in many provinces and the meeting recognised the importance of campaigns and struggles in building strong organisation. Closer working relations will be built with CHW formations in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West provinces in particular. In its commitment to build a strong national network around a national campaign, the Forum decided to call a national meeting of CHWs early in 2018 to work on a national campaign.
Fourthly, after a review of the structures of the Forum, the Office Bearers noted that the Forum has to open more doors for its members to participate in the organisation. This objective is to make sure that the Forum remains grounded at the base and does not create a top down organisation where its members are unable to participate in the organisational life of the Forum. This objective was linked to a fifth objective – the need to raise the political consciousness of the leadership and members of the Forum. The meeting agreed that without a heightened political consciousness it will be impossible for the Forum members to contribute to important struggles that will face the working class in 2018 and beyond.
For the Forum 2018 is the year to make sure that CHWs win their struggle against the Department, strengthen the unity of CHWs and improve the living conditions of the working class and the poor.