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More than 700 Palestinians have been slaughtered in Gaza in this latest war of impunity waged by the Israeli state. Israel is attempting to undermine the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah – the two Islamist Palestinian organisations – that could have seen a national unity government emerge. Israel wants to keep the Palestinian territories divided in order to prevent even the possibility of a united struggle against Israeli oppression. The Israeli regime has cynically used the murder of three Israeli teenagers as the pretext for the collective punishment of Gaza to disguise their real agenda.
The overwhelming majority of Palestinian casualties are civilians, including children, the sick and elderly. Civilians are being killed not only in streets but in their homes, shelters and hospitals. One air strike wiped out an entire family of 17 people during an attack of Al Aqsa hospital in the town of Deir el-Balah. That the invasion of Gaza is taking place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan makes it all the more deplorable as an act of cowardice and cruelty.
The Palestinians have no army, navy or air force compared to the Israeli military, funded by the US to the tune of R50 billion a year. The Israeli regime has justified the killing of civilians and children by claiming that Palestinian militants are using them as human shields. However, the one-sided nature of the war is also shown by the low number of fatalities on the Israeli side. The deadliest day for Israel was on the first day of their ground invasion of Gaza which resulted in the deaths of 13 Israeli soldiers. Despite an increase in rockets launched against Israeli towns and cities, Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system has intercepted most rockets. The IDF is also destroying the tunnels through which many of the arms and ammunitions, but also crucial food and medical supplies, are smuggled into Palestine in defiance of the Israeli imposed blockade.
Even before this latest assault, Palestinians were being denied the right to their own state, dispossessed of their land and homes – which are being demolished to clear the way for Jewish settlements – subjected to oppressive Israeli rule and military occupation with humiliating check-points, regular assassinations and the detention of over five thousand Palestinians in Israeli jails.
The Palestinians have no alternative but to struggle and resist this repression, including through armed resistance. But indiscriminate rocket attacks that can kill Israeli civilians are counter-productive and give the Israeli regime the pretext to claim that they are acting to defend Israeli citizens from the ‘terrorists’ of Gaza. Moreover, such acts, led by individuals and groups not under democratic control, substitute themselves for the Palestinian masses and reduce their role to that of spectators in their own struggle.
We have no illusions in any US brokered peace deal or in any role for the United Nations. UN resolutions against Israel have been consistently vetoed by the US and other major western powers.
Freedom can only be won by the collective struggle of the Palestinian masses, through their own mass democratic organisations. This possibility was demonstrated in the first ‘intifada’ (uprising) of 1987 that forced the Israeli regime to concede to the Oslo peace process as US imperialism tried to stabilise the situation for their own geo-political reasons. Again in early 2008, a mass offensive by Gazans succeeded in breaking the Israeli siege, forcing open the Rafah crossing point into Egypt for a period of eleven days.
These are both clear demonstrations of the effectiveness of mass action and what could be achieved. Such methods must be used to fight land seizures, the separation wall isolating the Palestinian territories, as well as to organise grass roots defence committees to place arms under democratic control. In this way, the Palestinian masses will reveal their organised power as the masses of Tunisia and Egypt did in the overthrow of the hated dictatorships in those countries.
Such methods will also show the way-forward to the Israeli working class who have no fundamental class interest in the continued oppression of Palestine and are themselves exploited and suffering from a regime of capitalist austerity. The Arab Spring gave rise to the ‘tent city’ movement in Israel against housing shortages and the social injustices of Israeli capitalism which saw the mass occupation of public spaces and demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of Israelis in 2011.This would echo the way the black working class of South Africa in the 1980s was able to break sections of the white working and middle classes from the apartheid regime through the formation of an independent, mass and a socialist trade union movement. It was the formation of Cosatu in 1985 that was decisive in the demise of the apartheid regime.
The Workers and Socialist Party is calling on organised labour and all those who oppose the Israeli state’s war on Gaza to join in an international movement of solidarity with the 1.8 million people in Gaza. WASP calls on trade unions and the working class movement to take the lead in building a mass campaign of solidarity with the people of Palestine to isolate the Israeli regime.
This campaign we believe should take as its starting point, support for the demands of the Palestinian masses to:
- End the onslaught and blockade of Gaza and Palestine
- Withdraw the Israeli military from Palestinian territories
- End the check-points, demolish the separation walls
- Evacuate all Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories
- For national self-determination for the Palestinian people
- For a socialist confederation of the Middle East
To this end the solidarity movement in South Africa must:
- Escalate anti-war and pro-Palestinian demonstrations
- Trade union led boycott of South African companies that trade with Israeli companies in the occupied territories, Israeli arms companies, or benefit from the repression of the Palestinian masses
- Boycott Israeli goods from occupied territories and companies that benefit from the repression of the Palestinian masses; appeal for international coordination between South African, Palestinian and Israeli trade unions and labour federations to co-ordinate and control such actions
- Demand termination of diplomatic relations with Israeli regime and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador; for international working class solidarity; no confidence in the imperialist and capitalist governments, including the South African government
Download in leaflet form here.
The Democratic Socialist Movement has written a reply to Gwede Mantashe, ANC general secretary, who continues to attack the Workers & Socialist Party, our affiliates and their predecessors.
Gwede Mantashe, general secretary of the ANC, in a new opinion piece published in the Mail & Guardian (18 July 2014), attacks the Workers & Socialist Party (WASP), the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), one of the founders of WASP, and Liv Shange, a leader in both organisations, yet again. Mantashe fears the DSM and WASP because we demonstrate the clearest understanding of the processes under way in society that point to the inevitable break between the working class majority of South Africa and the ANC. Mantashe loathes DSM because of all the forces on the left, we drew the conclusion earliest, and have since articulated it most clearly, that the working class must set about the task of building its own party – a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme. Mantashe loathes DSM because we have acted upon that conclusion in the founding of WASP, attempting to draw together the forces that could lay the foundations of such a party. And in co-founding WASP, we have helped accelerate the process further by influencing the debates now taking place in Numsa and concentrating the minds of the founders of the Economic Freedom Fighters to take the plunge, demonstrating the rotten-ripeness of an idea whose time has come.
But going further back in time, the spectre of the Marxist Workers Tendency (MWT), a forerunner of the DSM, continues to haunt Mantashe. He refers in his comment piece to “entryism” as exemplifying the “dishonest” methods of past ANC “backstabbers”, methods he accuses WASP of today. This is clearly a reference to the MWT, which from the 1970s through to 1996, operated within the ANC to champion the interests of the working class by arguing for socialism within the liberation struggle. We joined the ANC because the working class looked towards it as the leader of the struggle against the racist apartheid segregation system. However, the perspective of the MWT was always that the working classes’ loyalty to the ANC could only ever be a temporary phenomenon given the cross-class nature of the ANC and the liberation struggle itself. We warned that the ANC leadership would betray the working classes’ socialist aspirations unless the ANC was transformed and the leadership placed decisively in the hands of the working class upon the basis of a real commitment to socialism. Unless that happened, a parting of the ways was inevitable.
With the adoption of GEAR in 1996, the prospect of the ANC becoming a vehicle for the working class to create a socialist society was dealt a death blow. Reorganising ourselves as the DSM, we withdrew from the ANC and began arguing for the creation of a workers’ party and supporting all initiatives that tended in that direction. Almost alone on the left, the DSM championed that idea. The methods of struggle of the mineworkers in 2012 and their reaction to Marikana was a stunning confirmation of DSM’s perspective. It became clear that the birth of a workers’ party was now firmly on the agenda amongst the advanced sections of the working class – with the mineworkers at the forefront. WASP was founded to help act as a midwife to such a mass party.
Mantashe was well aware of the existence of the MWT at the time and one of those prominent in witch-hunts against our members when inside the ANC. It is surely not lost on Mantashe that our perspective has been borne out. The history of the ANC in government, where the interests of the working class have consistently been subordinated to the interests of the capitalist class, is conclusive proof.
In the development of WASP, important historical knots have been retied that will further haunt Mantashe. The decision of Moses Mayekiso to join WASP unites another important strand from the liberation struggle that was always sceptical of the ANC’s support for the working class. Playing a pivotal role in the foundation of Cosatu, it was Mayekiso who moved a motion at Cosatu’s 1993 congress on behalf of Numsa as its then general secretary, calling for the creation of a workers’ party to contest the first free elections. The motion was lost, but an important reference point was laid down. Twenty years later the working class is examining anew, and with serious intent, the idea that they need their own party with Numsa once again at the forefront.
Mantashe is obsessed with WASP because he feels the ground shifting beneath the ANC and it recalls in his mind that the eclipse of the ANC has long been foretold by the MWT and Mayekiso and the left of the early labour movement. And what are these shifting sands? In the 2014 elections the ANC’s vote continued to slide with the numbers not voting far outweighing the number who voted ANC; the biggest trade union in the country until Marikana – the NUM – has been reduced to a rump in the mining heartlands precisely because of its support for the ANC’s pro-capitalist policies; the inheritor of the mantle of largest trade union, Numsa, resolved not to campaign for the ANC in the 2014 elections and is openly discussing the formation of a new workers’ party; Cosatu is in crisis fundamentally over what attitude to take toward the ANC with a split likely sooner or later; the reduction of the ANC in the 2014 elections to just 36% in the metros and urban areas, to which the rural municipalities and small towns will rapidly catch-up, indicates the advanced stage of the break between the ANC and the working class and middle class; and the post-election publishing of an opinion poll showing that one third of South African adults think a “workers’ or labour party will assist with current problems facing SA”.
All this taken together is a stunning confirmation of the analysis put forward by WASP and the DSM and the MWT before that. Mantashe fears us and obsesses over us because he can see that we have been right all along.
Mantashe finds ‘new’ angle to attack from
In his new opinion piece, Mantashe retracts his claim that WASP, and Liv Shange, WASP’s deputy general secretary were behind the five month platinum strike. Of course WASP never claimed to be leading the 2014 platinum strike or to have any special influence on its course. This was always Mantashe’s invention and as we have consistently pointed out an insult to the intelligence of the mineworkers. Mantashe now says that his “reference to foreign nationals disguising their attempts to hijack the strike under the cloak of solidarity was not about [Shange]”. This directly contradicts Zizi Kodwa, ANC spokesperson, who in clarifying Mantashe’s comments about “white foreign nationals” said Mantashe was “only” speaking about Shange. (Shange, a resident of SA for over ten years is originally from Sweden.)
Accusing WASP of “dishonesty”, Mantashe goes on to claim that we hoped “to use AMCU to create WASP” and that this is at “the core of the feud between the leaderships of the AMCU and the WASP”. These comments are all calculated to drive a wedge between WASP and the mineworkers. Indeed, Mantashe’s comments do not repeat any of his previous criticisms of the AMCU leadership, choosing to appear as their defenders in this instance all the better to attack WASP.
As is to be anticipated, there is a struggle over the real history of the mining industry, especially of the period from Marikana to early 2013. The ANC, the AMCU leadership, even the EFF in their new book The Coming Revolution, have all re-told the story of that period to suit their own sectarian interests. Mantashe is hoping to add a new voice to this chorus in his latest claims. Even Rehad Desai of the Democratic Left Front, in his film about the Marikana massacre, erases the role of DSM from the history of that period. Our account of this period is already a matter of public record, but we will nevertheless repeat some basic points here.
DSM and WASP’s first loyalty has always been to the mineworkers, regardless of their union affiliation. Our unwavering support for the platinum strike and the mineworkers’ demand for a living wage of R12 500 testifies to that. The DSM played a key role in the mining industry immediately after Marikana, linking up the independent strike committees that had sprung-up immediately before the massacre as mineworkers expelled the treacherous NUM officials from the shafts. The strike committees linked-up first on a Rustenburg wide level and later on a national level. WASP was founded in December 2012 by the DSM and six of these strike committees. In early March 2013 the National Strike Committee, representing mineworkers in the North West, Limpopo and Gauteng, endorsed the launching of WASP as their party, which took place two weeks later, with delegations of mineworkers from across the country in attendance.
Throughout the second half of 2012 and the first months of 2013, a situation of effective dual power existed in the mines. The independent strike committees continued to have the overwhelming confidence and loyalty of the mineworkers as AMCU began taking very cautious steps to recruit outside of their small pockets of members in Rustenburg and the Gauteng gold fields. Recognising the need for a registered trade union, DSM encouraged mineworkers to join AMCU. However we warned that this must not be at the expense of the mineworkers’ newly won independence and that the strike committees should be maintained whilst AMCU’s democratic credentials were tested out. But the AMCU leadership saw the existence of the strike committees as a threat and worked to close them down and simultaneously remove the influence of DSM. This process played out over many months.
This is the origin of the differences between WASP and the AMCU leadership. Our criticism of the AMCU leadership sharpened when it was clear that they would not honour the democratic decisions of the strike committees and support WASP or even the idea of a workers’ party. In fact, the AMCU leadership has done everything possible to block WASP from the mining areas by spreading lies and expelling our members and former strike committee leaders from the union. If there is a “feud” it is waged by the AMCU leadership against WASP. The AMCU leadership has taken refuge behind their so-called ‘apolitical’ position, supposedly in the interests of mineworker ‘unity’, to justify their betrayal of the clear position taken by the mineworkers on the question of a new party. And maybe this explains, why on this occasion, Mantashe is willing to mute his criticisms of AMCU and imply common cause with its leadership against WASP’s “dishonest” methods.
Whilst all of this was a set-back for WASP in the short-term and a complication on the road to a new workers’ party, the mineworkers’ remain at the forefront of the struggles of the working class and the rising tide of working class struggle and the political conclusions that will inevitably flow from that – the need for a workers’ party on a socialist programme.
Last week the Workers & Socialist Party issued a statement replying to the bosses’ accusation, repeated continuously in the media as a fact, that the metalworkers’ strike and the platinum strike before it are ruining the South African economy. To its credit, Business Report, the bosses’ financial daily newspaper, carried our statement in full as an opinion piece by WASP’s President, Moses Mayekiso. (Mayekiso is also a former general secretary of NUMSA, the union leading the present metalworkers strike.)
Firstly, this confirms the credibility of our claim that the media’s economic ‘experts’ are simply spokespersons for the bosses’ economic interests – what WASP had to say in defence of the metalworkers and the working classes’ right to strike was so novel it was newsworthy in its own right. But of course the editors of Business Report had to preface the printing of our statement with an editorial dripping with class hatred. Our statement so angered the editors that they broke from their editorial norm which is to print opinion pieces “usually…without comment”. Our defence of the metalworkers was described as “tedious claptrap”, a “superficial analysis”, combined with “outright lies” which has “taken the ranting of empty vessels to a new low with [WASP’s] latest outpouring of left-wing dogma”.
Business Report invited its readers to “make up their own minds”. WASP has waited patiently for any sort of comment from Business Report’s readers but we have heard nothing; we have waited for Business Report’s editors to reply to our arguments rather than just insult us, but again, we have heard nothing. It seems no one can defend the claims of the economic ‘experts’.
Instead the same economic ‘experts’ continue to make their claims. For example, on 15 July, the media gave front page coverage to Pahli Lehohla, Statistician General, who repeats the claim that strikes are having an “adverse” effect on the economy. Lehohla then says that 188 000 manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2006 and seems to blame workers and worker militancy for this. WASP has already answered the lie that strikes lead to job losses. But we will repeat it again. On the one hand, if a strike wins workers a pay rise, the bosses will often try and undermine that legitimate gain by making retrenchments to take back with one hand what they have been forced to concede with the other. This is borne out by the report that 48 000 jobs have been lost in mining since mineworkers began struggling for – and winning – significant pay rises from mid-2012 onwards.
On the other hand, jobs are ‘lost’ overseas either when the bosses themselves make the choice (it is not inevitable) to move production to lower-wage countries again in the pursuit of maximum profit or because of the bosses’ adherence (managed on their behalf by the ANC government) to the neo-liberal dogma that demands open markets, removal of trade barriers and the unfettered rule of competition. The result of this dogma for the working class internationally is a race to the bottom for wages and conditions. In the wake of the 2008 world financial crisis over one million jobs were lost without a single strike. Strikes do not cause this race to the bottom, they are an attempt to stop it. In January 2013, Amplats threatened 14 000 retrenchments in response to the fluctuating price of platinum. It was only strike action by the mineworkers that stopped those job losses! Left to themselves the mine bosses would have thrown another 14 000 workers on the scrap heap. WASP awaits a reply to this point from the economic ‘experts’.
Lehohla’s then goes on to say that output from the mining industry has declined 24.7% and that output from manufacturing has declined 4.4%, figures we’ve no reason to doubt. Strikes in these sectors have shut-down production so of course the statistics show a drop in output. As the Business Report editorial said, this is a matter of “numerical fact”. But this takes us to the crux of WASP’s argument that in a capitalist economy the workers and the bosses have different interests which are at odds with one another. So the mine bosses, and the capitalist class in general, lament the damage done to their investments through a 24.7% decline in mining output resulting from the closing of the mines for five months by the strike. But from month end, mineworkers will be at least R1 000 per month better off and receive hefty packages as the wage rise won by their strike is back-dated. What the bosses register as a loss, the working class registers as a gain.
Similarly, when Lehohla looks back at the “good times” of 2006 when the economy grew 7.5% he does not mentioned that in both mining and manufacturing wages were well below their present level which have increased since 2006 as a result of regular strike action. What the bosses register here as a gain with their “numerical facts” says nothing about increasing wages for workers. Nor does it say anything about the share of wealth going to the working class as a whole. It is quite possible to register economic growth at the same time as widening inequality and decreasing wages. In fact this is what has happened in the South African economy since the end of apartheid – in 1993 wages as a share of national income were 58%; in 2012 that has declined to under 52%. This is also the story of the world economy over the last thirty years. As NUMSA president, Andrew Chirwa, correctly said, “the working class is already in a permanent recession”.
All of this is why WASP calls on metalworkers to embrace the idea that their strike is ‘political’. This is the common thread running throughout the history of the trade union movement since before the birth of Cosatu. It is absolutely correct to raise the banning of labour broking and demand that the bosses refuse to implement the youth wage subsidy. Besides, everything that the bosses say about the strike and about the economy is ‘political’ in the sense that it speaks to the bosses’ interests. Workers must respond to the bosses by asserting their own interests expressed in the ideas of socialism and call for the nationalisation of the big manufacturing monopolies under democratic working class control, alongside other key industries, to lay the basis for expanded and sustainable industrial development.
The metalworkers strike, the lies heaped upon it in the media by the economic ‘experts’, and the confusion sown about what is really happening in the economy shows the urgent need for a mass political party of the working class. The bosses and their ‘experts’ would not be able to get away with their lies as easily if there were such a mass party that could answer them publicly in front of the working class. The publishing today of an opinion poll showing that one third of South African adults “definitely think” that a “a new political party, a workers’ or labour party, will assist with current problems facing SA” shows the rotten ripeness for this development and the desperation of the working class for an organisation that stands firmly and unequivocally on their side. It is no accident that the same poll shows 91% support for the idea (if the ‘definites’ and ‘maybes’ are combined) in the North West – home of the platinum miners and the scene of the Marikana massacre.
The political struggle and the industrial struggle cannot be separated. In the ideological battle that has inevitably accompanied the real class battles taking place, we can see how the creation of a mass workers’ party would compliment and advance the struggle in the workplace. The bosses know this which is why they decry with such outrage the ‘political’ nature of the metalworkers’ strike.
The Workers and Socialist Party was formed to begin the process of assembling the forces that could lay the foundation for such a mass party of the working class. This included standing in the 2014 elections to try and popularise the idea and raise the banner. WASP’s manifesto was written to provide the political basis for the unification of the struggles of the working class and to begin to assemble the forces that could lay the foundations for a workers’ party. We have always recognised that the creation of such a party would require the millions of organised workers’ in particular to embrace the idea and make it their own.
We call on the NUMSA leadership to urgently accelerate their process towards the formation of a mass workers’ party. The conjuncture of determined strike action by the two most decisive sections of the working class – the mineworkers and the metalworkers – is the most opportune time to give birth to such a mass party. The unity forged in struggle, not just within these two groups of workers but between them, as demonstrated in the promise of metalworkers to turn their strike “into a Marikana”, gives a glimmer of the potential. All that is missing is for the call to be made and given their position within the organised working class that responsibility falls first to the NUMSA leadership.
Reaching out to the entire working class – and the mineworkers in particular – a conference should be convened immediately to begin a process that can rapidly lead to the formation of a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme. Out of the experience of struggle by the two most decisive sections of the working class such a party would be catapulted forward and the unity of the working class in the struggle for a socialist society where all would enjoy full employment, decent wages and high living standards would take a major advance.
The bosses, the capitalist politicians of the ANC and the DA, and the media are howling at metalworkers and denouncing them for going on strike. They want to blame metalworkers for the problems of the capitalist economy. The media is full of ‘experts’ who in reality are just spokespersons for capitalism. These ‘experts’ are all saying that the metalworkers strike will “cripple the economy” and bring ruin to South Africa.
Is this true? No! It is all nonsense and lies to try and turn people against the strike and against metalworkers and their unions. In reality it is the bosses who are sabotaging the economy.
To soften people up to hear these lies the strike is portrayed in the media as ‘violent’. The ‘experts’ like to talk about the ‘right to work’, by which they mean the right to scab and undermine the strike! The Democratic Alliance even wants to pass legislation saying that if a strike is “excessively” violent it will be declared unprotected which would allow the bosses to sack striking workers.
The DA’s proposal is a charter for the use of agents provocateurs by the bosses and the capitalist politicians. If such legislation passed, to end a strike, all they need to do is send in hired thugs to cause trouble so they can declare the strike unprotected and force workers back to the job with the threat of sacking. The ‘Democratic’ Alliance is only interested in the rights of the bosses.
Who creates the wealth of society?
But, where does any of the wealth in the economy come from? Fundamentally, it comes from the new value added by workers in the process of working – especially in industries like manufacturing. The ‘experts’ say that this strike will be so damaging because manufacturing accounts for 15% of the economy. That means that an entire 15% of economic output is generated by just 230 000 metalworkers in a country of 52 million!
Why do the ‘experts’ not thank and praise this enormous contribution of such a small number of workers to the total wealth of the country and the profits of the bosses? Metalworkers must be the most generous people in all the land to create 15% of the economy but receive such low wages! In reality, this just shows the super-exploitation of metalworkers by the bosses who are so greedy that they are fighting tooth and nail against a modest 12-15% pay rise!
What do they mean by ‘the economy’?
As part of the bosses fight against the workers, they try and confuse us with the economic ‘experts’. The ‘experts’ love to talk about ‘the economy’. But whenever they use this phrase, workers must hear an alarm bell! The ‘experts’ are not really talking about ‘the economy’ but rather the bosses’ interests within the economy. The bosses’ interests are not the same as the workers’ interests.
Manufacturing accounts for 15% of the economy. After the strike, even if metalworkers win their wage and other demands, manufacturing will still account for 15% of the economy. All that will change is that the share of that 15% going to manufacturing bosses’ as profits will be lower and the share going to metalworkers’ wages will be higher. The only reason that the manufacturing sector would shrink as a result of higher wages for metalworkers would be because of sabotage by the bosses. The bosses might decide to retrench workers or close factories so that they can restore their profits. In other words they would seek to undermine the gains of the strike. This would be the bosses’ doing, not a result of the strike.
Is the strike stopping the bosses from investing?
The usual response of the ‘experts’ is then to say that if the bosses have lower profits then they won’t be able to invest and create new jobs. Well, all we can say to this is, what are they waiting for? The share of national wealth going to wages has been steadily decreasing for years. SA businesses have R500 billion of cash stockpiled. They have more money than they know what to do with! That money could be invested today to create jobs. But for the capitalists it is more profitable to speculate with that money on the financial markets. And all they care about is profits.
Why is it that the metalworkers’ strike, which started last week, is now the reason that the capitalists can’t invest? This argument is obviously nonsense. In reality the capitalists have been on an investment strike for years – business investment in South Africa in 2014 is 3% lower than it was in 2008! Is this the doing of metalworkers? No, all this time the bosses have been sabotaging the economy.
Will the strike make SA ‘uncompetitive’?
The ‘experts’ will then say that higher wages for South African metalworkers will make South Africa ‘uncompetitive’. They say that manufacturing will move to parts of the world where wages are lower. The ‘experts’ present this outcome as inevitable as the sun rising in the East. But this is a lie. Again, the bosses are threatening to sabotage any gains from the strike. What they are really saying is that they will close their businesses in South Africa and move them abroad in order to get higher profits for themselves rather than pay metalworkers a fair wage.
But the capitalists want it both ways. The ANC, supported by SA big business, has gone along with the dominant neo-liberal ideas of world capitalism that say trade barriers must be removed, services and the state sector privatised, markets opened and competition allowed to rule supreme. Globally this has been the strategy of the big capitalists of America and Europe to shift power and wealth away from the working class to themselves. When it suits them the SA bosses support this; when it doesn’t they blame the workers. For workers, neo-liberalism creates a race to the bottom in wages. For example, the factories moved to China because wages were lower are now moving to even lower wage countries in South-East Asia!
Socialism can answer the lies
These are all problems of the capitalist system. That is why workers must be armed with socialist ideas. The capitalists’ problems do not need to be our problems if we have a clear understanding of the socialist alternative. Workers must demand the opening of the books of South African companies that claim they cannot compete with foreign importers. Workers’ committees should then scrutinise their profits, senior pay levels, input costs, the wages they pay their workers and the prices they charge for their goods or services.
But even in those cases where companies can prove they can’t compete, workers should not support capitalist profits by asking the working class to pay high prices for goods and services or by holding down wages on the capitalist classes’ behalf. If companies genuinely cannot compete, in the first instance we will demand their nationalisation under workers’ control. This must be the principle demand of the trade union movement struggling to defend jobs from foreign competition.
But ultimately, a socialist society is needed to end the race to the bottom and give jobs and high living standards to all workers and their families. As well as being organised in trade unions workers need to be organised politically in parties like the Workers and Socialist Party to complement the struggle in the workplaces with the united struggle of the working class for a socialist society.
To download this statement as a pamphlet to print please click here.
- Forward to a 15% wage increase across the metal industries. End Labour broking.
- For an economy wide living minimum wage of R12 500 and decent jobs for all.
- Unite the working class in a campaign for a living wage including the preparation of a general strike.
- For the nationalisation under workers’ control and socialism.
- For a United Front and mass workers’ party on a socialist programme.
Coming just a week after the five month strike of over 70,000 platinum mineworkers, the NUMSA strike of over 220,000 workers in the metal industries that began on st July is part of the on-going revolt of the working class against the cheap labour system of South Africa. Workers are demanding a 15% pay rise across all companies in the sector. Marches of Numsa members in cities across South Africa on 1st July brought over one hundred thousand on to the streets showing the determination of Numsa members to struggle for victory.
The poverty wages, not just in the metal industries, but across the entire South African economy, in effect represents the neo-colonial slavery of the black working class that continues shamefully to be the mainstay of the South African capitalism. Labour-broking is a central part of the modern capitalist strategy to hold down the wages of the working class.
The outcry from the employers about the unaffordability of the workers’ wage demands are being echoed in the media has absolutely no merit or legitimacy. Bosses in the metal industries, as is the case across the entire economy, have enjoyed massive profits on the back of the workers meagre wages.
For example, in 2010, earnings in the manufacturing industry reached R332 billion, with gross profits of R134,6 billion. Major steel monopolies like ArcellorMittal increased its earnings to $8 billion and their profits by 23% in 2013. Even in comparison to workers in these same monopolies in other countries, South African workers are being paid poverty, slave wages. More often than not, workers in Europe earn ten times what workers are being paid here. Numsa must show the lead in struggle to dismantle this system of black working class slavery in the engineering sector as the mineworkers have done in the platinum mining industry.
In an act of class arrogance and aggression, engineering sector bosses, through their major organisation, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEISFSA), have declared a lock-out, in other words a strike by the employers and a declaration of war on both striking and non-striking workers. What this lock-out signifies is not just the old colonial class outlook and contempt of the bosses for the black working class, but also the qualitative changes in class relations that have taken place since the Marikana massacre in 2012.
That event widened the class polarisation in society and hardened the political attitudes of both the capitalist class and the working class. The 2012 mineworkers uprising, before and after Marikana, upset the balance of forces established in 1994 when the ANC compromised with the apartheid regime by agreeing to maintain the capitalist economic foundations that the racist apartheid segregation system had rested upon in exchange for universal suffrage and political power. The participation of Cosatu – the two million member trade union federation – in the Tripartite Alliance with the ANC and South African Communist Party largely tamed the trade union movement, and turned the majority of the Cosatu leadership into lapdogs of the bosses, disciplining the heavy battalions of the working class on their behalf.
The newly found confidence of the workers in their organised power has inspired capitalist fury, as expressed in the venom of class hatred spewed by their spokespersons in the media. The capitalist class are resolved to crush the new working class militancy. The platinum workers strike made the stubborn resistance of the mine bosses brutally apparent including the resort to brutal police measures to ruthlessly break that strike. Just as it is obvious in the aggression of the engineering bosses and resolute support that government pledged to make sure the strike does not succeed.
Nationalisation under democratic workers control
If the bosses in the metal industries cannot afford the workers’ modest wage demands – a demand that still falls far below a living minimum wage – this only shows the bankruptcy of the capitalist system and the need to replace it. As part of the strike, Numsa must raise the demand for the nationalisation of all the big monopolies in the metal industry and all metal companies failing to meet the legitimate demands of the workers as part of their commitment to struggle for the public ownership the commanding heights of the economy, to make possible the democratic planning and management of the economy in the interests of the working class and poor people.
Cosatu and United Front: Call a General Strike
The hardening attitude of the metal bosses right from the onset demonstrates their preparedness to try and settle scores with the metalworkers on behalf of the entire ruling class in a manner that the mine bosses tried and dismally failed to do in the platinum sector strike. But Numsa and the working class as a whole must respond with equal determination. The idea of a united struggle of the entire working class for a living minimum wage across the entire economy has been raised by the struggles of the mineworkers. The call for a general strike by Cosatu, in line with their congress resolutions committing the federation to struggle for a living minimum wage would receive enormous support and be capable of winning a decisive victory.
The right-wing pro-ANC leadership of Cosatu cannot of course be trusted so Numsa must make a direct appeal to the rank-and-file of Cosatu unions. Numsa’s new United Front could call a national conference to serve as the basis for uniting workers, communities and youth, in struggle for an economy wide living wage of R12,500. Such a demand could cut across all the sectoral divisions in the working class. Such a campaign should also link a living minimum wage to demands for service delivery, unemployment benefits, decent jobs and free education for all.
With the solid support of the communities, the youth and many workers outside its ranks that Numsa already enjoys, the union should immediately call for the creation of solidarity groups and strike support committees to embark on a programme of rolling mass actions targeting big steel monopolies, SEIFSA, MEIBC, government departments and co-ordinate a series of regular flying pickets to specific workplaces which should be used to counter the strike breaking activity of the bosses and the scabs.
A new workers party
The metalworkers’ strike is an excellent opportunity for the Numsa leadership to popularise the idea for a new workers’ party amongst their membership and the working class in general. This could be done by contrasting the pro-boss stand of pro-capitalist parties like the ANC and the DA which will be an inevitable feature of this strike to the role that a workers’ party, committed to socialism, could play in supporting the strike, linking to other sections of the working class and taking the militancy on the industrial plane on to the political plane.