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For a socialist mass workers party
On Saturday 30 April a workers summit is taking place in Johannesburg to discuss how to take forward the creation of a new trade union federation. Some 3,000 worker delegates are expected to attend. The idea of the summit has been in the air for much of the past year as it became clear that the metalworkers’ union NUMSA would lose its battle to remain within the ANC-aligned Cosatu federation after being expelled for their 2013 decision not to support the ANC in the 2014 national elections. It has been agreed that WASP can send two delegates to observe.
The step that will be taken towards a new trade union federation at today’s Workers Summit is potentially historic. WASP salutes the initiative. It is the logical politically necessary step after the organised working class was trapped in the political prison of the Tripartite Alliance for more than twenty years. The fundamental mistake of the Tripartite Alliance was not the alliance itself, but the subordination of the political and class independence of the working class to the interests of the pro-capitalist ANC. The SACP reinforced this ideologically by arguing that socialism was not on the immediate agenda, but only the “National Democratic Revolution”
It was not accidental that the ANC rejected Cosatu’s claim that it was an Alliance of independent and equal partners. In practice this meant that Cosatu was impotent to effectively oppose the ANC’s pro-capitalist policies, like Gear and its subsequent reincarnations like the NDP, labour-broking, e-tolls, and the relentless increase in the prices of basic commodities such as food. An alliance between a pro-capitalist ruling party, and a trade union federation could only ever be a class collaborationist trap for the working class.
Only socialism protects our independence
The new federation will succeed only if it decisively breaks with this class-collaboration. We agree fully that the new federation should be politically independent but it cannot be apolitical (i.e. non-political). The only way to guarantee independence is to ensure that the programme of the new federation has SOCIALISM at its core – in other words a commitment to struggle for the NATIONALISATION of the banks, the mines, the commercial farms, big factories and big businesses under DEMOCRATIC WORKERS CONTROL.
Accepting the logic of capitalism means accepting attacks on workers and ending up back in bed with the bosses. So far, this has been the problem in the steel and mining industries. With no alternative, unions have accepted thousands of job cuts. A socialist programme answers the bosses’ claims that they cannot “afford” wage rises and have to shut down “unprofitable” industries.
Further, the struggle for socialism is TODAY’S struggle! We cannot listen to more pseudo-revolutionary arguments about a “National Democratic Revolution” that tells workers they can eat… but only TOMORROW. It was this wrong idea that turned Cosatu into the ANC’s labour desk.
No to corruption! No to self-enrichment!
Everyone agrees the new federation must be democratic. But we must also create a completely new culture of transparency and accountability in the federation and all of its affiliates. Full-time trade union leaders should receive the wage of a SKILLED-WORKER and their expenses should be PUBLISHED for inspection by members. Shop stewards must be BANNED from receiving employer “gifts” (bribes!). Our leaders must not be so high above us that they can no longer see us.
Build through militant struggle
It is correct for the new federation to aim to organise the unorganised. But we must show those millions of low-paid and super-exploited workers that the new federation is relevant. The #OutsourcingMustFall campaign initiated by WASP has set a small but important example. In Tshwane, Bloemfontein, Cape Town and elsewhere, thousands of low-paid unorganised cleaners, securities, caterers and gardeners are now unionised after struggling and winning pay rises of over 100%. Unionisation was built through MILITANT STRUGGLE and CLEAR LEADERSHIP. The new federation must take the same bold approach.
We need a workers party
Independence of the new federation is crucial. But independence from what? We can only mean from PRO-CAPITALIST ORGANISATIONS, especially PRO-CAPITALIST POLITICAL PARTIES. All the parties in parliament today support the continuation of capitalism in one form or another. This is a bosses’ ‘democracy’… in reality a bosses’ dictatorship!
It will be a mistake if the new federation understands ‘independence’ to mean letting the bosses’ dictatorship continue. Cosatu was the spinal column of the army that defeated apartheid but surrendered its independence in the Alliance. For the working class to take its place once again at the head of the class struggle, we need to build a PRO-WORKING CLASS POLITICAL PARTY to challenge the bosses’ parties for POLITICAL POWER. We need a SOCIALIST MASS WORKERS PARTY. The new federation must agree that the creation of such a party is one of its goals which will link the organised working class with the struggles of the communities and the youth and students.
If you support this programme for the new federation we encourage you to JOIN the Workers & Socialist Party and fight with us to take forward the struggles of the working class.
by Weizmann Hamilton
This article appears in the current issue of Izwi Labasebenzi.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa’s, (Numsa) December 2013 Special National Congress was historic. In announcing that it would not campaign for the ANC in the 2014 general elections, denouncing the SA Communist Party and withholding its Cosatu subscription, Numsa took the first political step on to the other side of the historic fault line created by the Marikana massacre. It meant the end of Cosatu’s historical role as the political centre of the working class, the demise of the Tripartite Alliance and cleared the way for a political alternative for the working class. The “Numsa moment” had arrived.
The SNC adopted resolutions committing Numsa to building a United Front (UF), Movement for Socialism (MfS) and a workers party to be launched in time for the 2016 local government elections. Three years later, unfortunately, none of these have been built. It is now legitimate to ask the question: has the “Numsa moment” passed?
Well before the SNC, WASP contributed towards the debates in Numsa, supporting its efforts to have Cosatu reclaim its political and class independence. But we pointed out that Cosatu’s degeneration had developed to the point that reclaiming its original traditions of solidarity, workers control and socialism would require a new federation. We argued that the main strategic task was the creation of a mass workers party on a socialist programme to unify the working class within and across the three main theatres of struggle – in the service delivery protests, in the struggles of tertiary education students and in the workplace.
We supported the proposed role of the United Front as the unifier of community and workplace struggles and that of the Movement for Socialism to unite all the left formations seeing in this the assembling of the forces for a mass workers party.
We were conscious of the fact that the Numsa leadership had received their “socialist” education in the SACP’s Stalinist school for the falsification of Marxism. But to have stood aside from these developments and criticise from the sidelines would have been the height of sectarianism. It would have meant turning our backs not only on the workers in Numsa, but the millions of workers outside both it and Cosatu looking for direction towards their political and class emancipation from the political prison of the Tripartite Alliance.
As Marx pointed out, we have to look to the lines of struggle calculated to move decisive sectors of the class into action – into movement against the established powers of the system (state, the bourgeoisie and their agents including the labour lieutenants inside the workers’ movement). Every genuine democrat and socialist had a duty to contribute towards the efforts to ensure the SNC fulfilled its political potential and this historic opportunity was seized.
Whilst criticising the Numsa leadership, we participated in efforts to bring the UF and MfS to life, linking up with unions that had broken from Cosatu to support the initiative for a new socialist trade union federation. We called upon Numsa to take its rightful place in WASP and to occupy a position within it that corresponds to its size and political weight within the working class – a call, in other words for Numsa to take over WASP even if that meant that we would be a minority within it.
Despite the leadership’s prejudices against Trotskyism, WASP was warmly welcomed by Numsa workers and shop stewards, recognised as a “friend of Numsa” and was the only party given speaking rights at the SNC 2014 elections commission. We warned that it was a mistake for Numsa to delay the workers party’s launch to 2016. This was to demand that history should march not to its own rhythm but to Numsa’s drumbeat. The 2014 elections demanded that a workers party be launched immediately. Cosatu’s 2012 shop steward political survey showed overwhelming support – 67% – for a workers party even before Marikana.
Failure to launch immediately would mean the loss of an historic opportunity. Numsa could not turn the hands of the clock of history. Should Numsa block the historic process from flowing through it, history would find another conduit. The SNC 2014 elections commission unanimously supported our proposal that the SNC should advise workers to vote for a party whose programme conformed to their criteria to evaluate new political formations. Although WASP met these criteria – it is working class, democratic, socialist with a track record of struggle – Numsa limited itself to ruling out Agang and the EFF, remaining silent on WASP. Unfortunately the commission’s recommendation that the proposal be referred to plenary was overruled, the chairperson arguing that it would amount to calling for a vote for WASP.
WASP retained its orientation to Numsa after the 2014 elections. But the leadership stood in the path of the implementation of the SNC resolutions on the UF, MfS and the workers party. The leadership opposed the UF adopting socialism as its ideology, made it clear that it was not to consider itself a political party and encouraged it strongly to adopt the Freedom Charter as its programme. At the same time the UF leadership was allowed to fall into the hands of a largely ideologically demoralised middle class leadership hostile to socialism, far removed from the working class and unable to connect with service delivery protests or link them to the organised labour movement.
We warned that the imposition of the Freedom Charter would be divisive, arguing that the best way to overcome the divisions between the pro- and anti-Freedom Charter positions would be to acknowledge, as Numsa had done, that it was not a socialist programme but to extract from it those elements compatible with transitional socialist demands, like nationalisation, free education, housing and health and a 40-hour working week thus converting it into a Socialist Freedom Charter.
In all the provinces UF structures voted overwhelmingly for socialism. Faced with the loss of ideological control, the leadership repeatedly postponed the launch of the UF until it led to demoralisation. It is of the greatest significance that very few Numsa members and shop stewards bothered to attend UF meetings throughout, ignoring all appeals by the leadership. There are no UF structures on the ground today. All that is left of it is the National Coordinating Committee – a head without a body. The UF has been left to wither on the vine of malign neglect.
The MfS conference, when eventually called, resolved to establish a steering committee to work out a roadmap towards the launch of a workers party. WASP’s proposal that such a party should be a mass workers party on a socialist programme and should contest the elections, with the election of all representatives subject to the right of recall and an income limited to that of the average wage of a skilled worker, was agreed unanimously. The Numsa leadership simply ignored the resolution and failed to convene the steering committee. They unilaterally established a MfS Media Committee which started producing an online journal with the Stalinist ideological line supported by the Numsa leadership. This was done without any consultation with the Left formations that had participated in the MfS conference.
The leadership has ensured that the resolution on a workers party does not escape from the central committee where, starved of the oxygen of open democratic debate within the membership and with left forces in the MfS, it is trapped in a sterile, meaningless disagreement over whether it should be a “mass” or “vanguard” party. The dominant Stalinist faction in the Numsa leadership is instead campaigning for the outlandish idea that the workers party will be built by 100 hand-picked shop stewards – the “Red One Hundred” who will be schooled in “Marxism” through “cadre” schools from where they will presumably emerge with certificates to present themselves to the working class as leaders of a party that workers have had no role in creating. To invite the Chinese Communist Party – a one party totalitarian dictatorship committed to the restoration of capitalism – and Samir Amin who argued that socialism is off the agenda for a thousand and possibly two thousand years – demonstrates a light mindedness on something as important as theory.
The formation of new trade union federation is an objective necessity precipitated by Numsa’s expulsion. But we are concerned that the ideological confusion and political methods of the Numsa leadership will handicap the new federation’s potential.
The Numsa mountain has roared… and produced a mouse. The sum total of the SNC resolution is a UF head without a body; the MfS replaced by a media committee that meets every Monday morning to read the bourgeois press to identify issues to write articles on… for the bourgeois press; the workers party to be formed from the top by the “Red Hundred” graduates of a school of dubious Marxism who will initiate the formation of a workers party from the top; and the “Numsa nine” reduced to two.
The Numsa leadership’s approach to the SNC resolutions has its origins in their ideological commitment to the Stalinist ideas of the SACP which have fatally contaminated all three SNC initiatives. Their stubborn adherence to the notion that the National Democratic Revolution is the shortest road to socialism is merely the reincarnation of the discredited two-stage theory that has resulted in catastrophic defeats for the workers revolution internationally in China, 1925-27, in splitting the working class in Germany clearing the path to power of Hitler and the horrors of the Second World War, the defeat of the Spanish Revolution of 1936-39, the genocidal decimation of the Indonesian Communist party in 1965 with the slaughter of over one million communists and trade unionists, the triumph of Pinochet in Chile 1973 and last but not least the betrayal of the working class in SA over the past 22 years.
To argue that socialism will come later is to raise the question as to which class will be in power in the meantime under the so-called “national democratic” regime. A revolution that sets itself the task of establishing “national democracy” before workers democracy and socialism can have the practical result only of the preservation of the dictatorship of the capitalist class – a regime that would differ from its predecessor only in name. Far from such a “national democratic revolution” constituting the “shortest road to socialism”, it will become a gigantic fortress from the walls of which the cannons of the same national democratic regime will be trained on the working class.
What in essence would be the difference between a NDR regime and the one of the past twenty two years? For all their strident denunciation of the SACP, the Numsa leadership is charging it with failing to vigorously implement a bankrupt programme. The Numsa leadership’s real aim is a “Herstigte” SACP – the true defenders of the Stalinist faith.
From bankrupt ideas flow false methods. In keeping with Stalinist traditions the leadership has ensured that it maintains an iron grip on the formations that the SNC resolutions envisaged to ensure that no ideas that question theirs is tolerated.
As the ANC implodes, the need for a mass workers party has become even more urgent. It has the potential for providing a home for hundreds of thousands of workers and may have been delayed by Numsa’s abdication of its historic responsibility, but it remains firmly on the agenda. WASP will continue to contribute towards its establishment.
Build a socialist mass workers party for a government of the working class
This article will appear as the editorial in the forthcoming issue of Izwi Labasebenzi.
The 31 March 2016 Constitutional Court Nkandla corruption scandal judgment has plunged the ANC government into its deepest crisis since 1994. The Concourt’s emphatic, and in the words of one commentator, even defiant affirmation of the Constitution’s supremacy, has given the tensions within the ruling economic and political elite their sharpest edge so far. The consensus that the survival of the negotiated settlement signed at Codesa depends has begun to break down. The establishment, their echoes in the media and upper reaches of society have called upon us to see our “beloved” constitution as a defence against anarchy.
Stripped of all its constitutional plumage, the negotiated settlement was an agreement, in the cutting sarcasm of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s words, between the elite of the oppressor and the elite of the oppressed. Under apartheid, class relations – the exploitation of the black working class by the white capitalist class – was under the political management of the white minority regime. Under the post-apartheid dispensation, this responsibility was transferred to a black majority government and given legitimacy by the “most progressive” constitution in the world.
The post-apartheid dispensation held out different, and in the final analysis mutually exclusive and unrealisable promises for different classes. The aspirant black capitalist class whose interests the ANC represents, expected by now to be at least as wealthy as their white capitalist counterparts. More than two decades after the end of apartheid, despite the spectacular enrichment of a handful of black capitalists, the summits of the economy remain firmly in the iron grip of the predominantly white capitalist class.
This new dispensation was reliant upon the ANC being able simultaneously to fulfil the historical aspirations of the black capitalist class to be assimilated into and to occupy at the summits of the economy a place corresponding to the racial balance of forces within society – and simultaneously to fulfil the expectations of the black working class for an end to poverty, exploitation and oppression. Neither of these has been realised.
The Zuma faction is but the latest manifestation of the growing impatience and frustration of a section of the black political elite with the slow pace of “transformation”. The hostility of this faction towards not only the constitution, but the institutional architecture to enforce it – the public protector, the judiciary etc. – derives from the severe constraints they impose on the realisation of their ambitions. The aspirant black capitalist class has arrived on the scene of history too late to realise its own aspirations let alone those of the black working class. Fearing the working class could not be mobilised to substitute exploitation by white capitalists with black ones, they are unable to dislodge white capital from its commanding position in the economy. All that is left is to loot.
In the final analysis, what is unfolding is not so much a constitutional as a political crisis as Concourt Judge Cameron correctly argues. All the classes are restive. The aspirant black capitalist class is split between constitutional democrats who are prepared to wait-in-line for their turn to rise to the summits of the economy in collaboration with “white monopoly capital” and a Zuma faction impatient that after more than twenty years they are still essentially waiters at its dining table. On the other hand the working class is seething with discontent over their continued enslavement.
The Constitution we are being urged to worship is the foundation of the post-apartheid social order aimed at preserving the capitalist dictatorship. The entire constitutional order was designed to emasculate universal franchise – to give us the right to vote without the power to change anything fundamental, particularly in the ownership of the commanding heights of the economy.
The conduct of this corrupt and arrogant new ANC elite is demonstrating more and more to the masses the irreconcilable antagonism between their class aspirations and those of the elite to whom they gave political power. The constitutional confrontation is merely an indirect expression of the rising tensions between the classes as the economic crisis accelerates the polarisation between them. A new period of political instability has opened up to add to the social convulsions that the economic crisis has begun to detonate.
Mobilise for a workers government and socialism
For the working class to mobilise to defend the Constitution is therefore to mobilise in defence of capitalism. The constitutional democrats would be unable to eradicate the scourges of poverty, unemployment, inequality or corruption. As the Panama papers confirm, corruption is the life blood of capitalism worldwide. The crimes of the Zuma faction are morally indistinguishable from that of the capitalist ruling class in SA whose self righteous denunciation of corruption is soaked in hypocrisy. The amount that Zuma has stolen is small beer compared to the pillaging by big business. The billions smuggled out of the county in illicit capital flows amounted in 2012 to 27% of the country’s GDP. The capitalist auditing firm, Price Waterhouse Coopers described the SA economic corporate elite as the most corrupt in the world. The real fear of the ruling class is not so much Zuma’s self-enrichment and corruption. It is the fact that his faction’s insolence and sense of entitlement to loot the state could goad an enraged working class into rising up not only against the ANC government but against capitalism.
The orchestrated intervention of the capitalist class, the judiciary, the media and international capital in Zuptagate has as its primary aim the prevention of such a nightmare scenario. The task posed before the working class is therefore not just the removal of Zuma and the ANC government, but the overthrow of capitalism itself.
Bourgeois strategists, in preparation for the ANC failing to retain its electoral majority nationally, are attempting to put together an alternative coalition to defend their interests. The crisis has now reached the point where it is in the capitalists’ interest that an orderly split in the ANC should occur sooner rather than later.
This was the reason Agang was formed and a coup engineered in the DA coup to oust Helen Zille and install the black puppet, Musi Maimane. But the Agang venture ended ignominiously and the DA, with “born in apartheid SA stamped indelibly on it forehead”, remains nothing more than a black-led party of white privilege.
The strategists of capital have therefore carefully begun to cultivate the EFF to transform it from a reckless threat to the bourgeois political order into a respectable potential ally in its preservation. Its position on nationalisation and foreign investors has been significantly watered down and the bosses given advice on how to avoid strikes. The EFF statement on the Concourt judgment, which Lenin would have called “constitutional cretinism”, shows the EFF is also on its knees in front of a capitalist Constitution.
The transformation of the EFF into a conscious tool of the capitalist class is still a work in progress. It will be far easier to seduce Malema, comfortable in the company of the wealthy, than to fool the EFF rank-and-file indefinitely into thinking that after this turn to the right the road still leads to the promised land of economic freedom in their lifetime. The EFF rank-and-file will increasingly find itself having to fight to reclaim the EFF or become pawns in a strategy to save capitalism.
For a mass workers party to lead a workers government
We want Zuma out for entirely different reasons from the capitalists. The balance of power within the ANC at present is such that Zuma will be forced out of office more by external than internal forces. The factional struggle has produced a paralysis in the top structures as particularly the opposition to Zuma fears that an attempt to oust him now would as secretary general Gwede Mantashe put it, tear the ANC apart. Whatever route he is forced out by, it will deal a shattering blow to this pro-capitalist government.
In campaigning for Zuma to go, however, we must be clear: not a single one of Zuma’s potential successors nor any of the factions fighting to control the ANC will make one iota of a difference to the lives of the working class. All of them are equally committed to the preservation of capitalism and the continued enslavement of the working class. The problem is not Zuma or any of the warring factions. It is the ANC itself and the capitalist system it defends.
The working class itself is thus confronted with a huge challenge. For some time now, there has been a vacuum on the Left. The opportunity to fill it the Numsa leadership has so far spurned. The ‘Numsa moment’, to implement its 2013 Special National Congress resolutions to establish a United Front, a Movement for Socialism and a workers party, may have passed.
Yet, especially since the Marikana massacre it is clear that the basis for a mass workers party exists. As we embark on rolling mass action to force Zuma and the ANC government out, it will be necessary simultaneously to make renewed attempts to bring such a party into existence.
WASP fully supports the call for a rolling campaign of mass action including general strikes to bring down Zuma and the ANC government. But the question this poses is what will replace it? The only answer is a workers government committed to the eradication of capitalism headed by a mass workers party on a socialist programme.
There is an urgent need for the working class to come together to debate and discuss, but more crucially act, to fill the vacuum of working class political representation. One opportunity to do this us the upcoming May Day Workers Summit planned for the launching of a new trade union federation. WASP calls for the question of the formation of such a party to be placed on the agenda of that gathering. The Summit should develop an anti-capitalist programme, a socialist manifesto and rolling campaign of mass action in every corner of the country.
Such a party should demonstrate in action its capacity to unite the entire working class by taking up all the struggles such as #FeesMustFall and #OutsourcingMustFall and service delivery in all the main theatres of struggle in the workplace, in education and the townships and informal settlements, uniting them on programmes specific to each, with the workers party acting as the broad umbrella to unite them across all theatres.
Whilst developing a full-blown manifesto, the party should consider adopting the following programme to contest the local government elections:
- Nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under workers control and management
- Free Quality Education
- Free Quality Healthcare
- The election of all officials subject to the right of recall
- The election of all public representatives on the average wage of a skilled worker
A workers government would be confronted with resistance by big business and the Concourt to who they will appeal to oppose nationalisation. Such an intolerable obstruction to the democratic will of the people – in fact a constitutional coup d’etat – would raise the need for a new genuinely democratic constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. The Constitutional Assembly that drew up the current constitution consisted of handpicked delegates from all the capitalist parties, and so-called local and international constitutional and legal experts.
A workers government would have to appeal to the police, soldiers, correctional service, and all public servants to pledge their loyalty to the new democratic socialist order and to defend it against those forces bent on the maintenance of the present capitalist order. It would have to appeal to the working class internationally to oppose any attempt at imperialist sabotage.
This article will appear in the forthcoming issue of Izwi Labasebenzi.
by Shaun Arendse
The strike of outsourced cleaners, landscapers, security guards and caterers that began in Tshwane colleges and universities on 11 January under the banner of #OutsourcingMustFall opened a new round of campus protests. Developing into a rolling strike, major victories were won in Tshwane even as new strikes began at campuses in other cities. As important as fighting to end outsourcing were the terms on which it would be ended. The bold demand for a R10,000 per month minimum wage was central from the start. With workers’ setting their sights high wage rises of 100% and more have been won which will lift workers and their families out of poverty.
#OMF has the potential to become a reference point for the entire working class. Groups of workers from other sectors, including government departments, parastatals, banking and retail workers have organised themselves under the #OMF banner. Some, such as outsourced workers contracted to the City of Tshwane (COT), have taken strike action alongside the Tshwane college and university workers. The #OMF strikes have demonstrated the combativeness of the working class and their willingness to struggle when given a clear and bold lead.
The Workers and Socialist Party initiated #OMF. Our comrades have led the movement in Tshwane, Cape Town and Bloemfontein. This has led to us being slandered by the likes of Gideon Du Plessis of the Solidarity union accusing us of inciting “rioting” and having “hidden agendas”. These accusations are identical to those thrown at us in the past by the ANC showing the shared agenda of these two anti-working class organisations.
Origins of the struggle
As with all struggles, #OMF did not just fall from the sky. At root of course was workers’ enormous anger at outsourcing and labour broking which has become widespread under the ANC in both the public and private sectors. For years, bosses have boosted their own profits and those of ‘tenderpreneur’ parasites by forcing workers to live on poverty pay as low as R2,000 per month with no benefits. Outsourcing and labour broking have been an important part of the ANC leadership’s strategy to create a black elite as a social base for their rule, raising them up on the backs of the super-exploitation of the working class.
Over the past decade, the ANC-aligned Cosatu trade union federation was regularly forced to reflect the anger of workers by passing resolutions against the worst excesses of outsourcing and labour broking whilst doing nothing in practice to fight it. As a sop to the pro-ANC Cosatu leadership for their loyalty in the bruising Tripartite Alliance faction fight that led to the expulsion of the metalworkers’ union NUMSA, new legislation came into force in January 2015 improving the rights of outsourced and labour broker workers. The law required bosses to make workers permanent on the same pay and benefits as permanent staff after three months. It would therefore apply to all existing outsourced and labour broker workers by the start of April.
From the point of view of the ANC and Cosatu leaderships this law was always intended to be a ‘dead letter’. No further proof is required than the absence of any serious advertising campaign to make workers aware of their new rights or the lack of provision made for enforcement via a regime of workplace inspections. In the more than twelve months between the legislation coming into force and the start of the Tshwane #OMF strikes – four times longer than was now legal – no employers voluntarily made outsourced or labour broker workers permanent.
NGOs such as the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO) took up the issue early in 2015 correctly recognising the potential to mobilise hundreds of thousands of these marginalised and ruthlessly oppressed workers. WASP engaged them with a view to supporting their initiatives. CWAO organised workshops and committed to spreading news of the new legislation by word of mouth. But they rejected the idea raised with them by WASP members of mobilising workers into a national campaign for a well-organised, consciously planned and co-ordinated mass struggle. They preferred to leave organisation to ‘spontaneity’ and in the meantime chose to fight outsourcing via the courts.
But WASP rejected this approach which #OutsourcingMustFall has vindicated. If the infinitely superior resources of the organisations that gathered in CWAO’s Khanya College meetings had been mobilised, to say nothing of the wider trade union movement, these achievements could have been greatly surpassed.
It was on the campuses in the course of 2015 that outsourcing would finally start to be seriously challenged. The ‘October 6th movement’ initiated by students and academics at Wits University and the University of Johannesburg, in which WASP members participated (see previous issue of Izwi), included the demand for an end to outsourcing in a planned programme of protests addressing many issues of concern to students, academics and workers. Protests against outsourcing went ahead on a number of campuses on 6 October.
However, it was the outbreak in mid-October of the mighty #FeesMustFall (#FMF) movement that popularised the plight of outsourced campus workers country-wide by promoting the #EndOutsourcing slogan on social media. Mass protests culminated in a march on Union Buildings where the students’ defeated the proposed tuition fee hikes. This gave enormous confidence to workers.
Many of the campus-level agreements signed between students and university managements that ended the #FeesMustFall protests included agreements to end outsourcing in principle. However, as with the legislation mentioned above, in reality managements were kicking the issue into the long grass by assigning various ‘task teams’ to investigate the terms of insourcing. However, many higher and further education institutions did not even have these limited agreements.
The blow inflicted on the ANC government and the university managements by #FMF had thrown them on to the back foot. WASP and our youth wing, the Socialist Youth Movement (SYM), acted to seize the initiative and push the workers’ demands forward.
At the University of Free State, SYM assisted workers to organise and submit a memorandum to management. On 10 November they held a march which won the immediate concession from management to end outsourcing and raise wages by more than 100%. In Tshwane, WASP members began leafleting institutions and speaking to workers from the end of October. The overwhelming response led to the calling of a mass meeting in Burgers Park on 14 November. Several hundred workers responded from all six higher and further education institutions in Tshwane. It was from these regular mass meetings that the #OutsourcingMustFall name emerged. The next month was spent drawing every campus of these six institutions into the campaign. A similar campaign was embarked upon in Cape Town.
Even though the media focused on the campuses, #OMF never limited itself to the higher education sector. From the very first meetings in Tshwane outsourced COT and Department of Basic Education workers were involved.
Memorandums were submitted demanding an end to outsourcing and a R10,000 minimum wage. At first managements responded by either ignoring #OMF or referring workers to ANC-aligned unions such as NEHAWU. This was despite workers never having been members! But in the face of the determined strike action that began on 11 January managements began negotiating. Agreements were reached relatively quickly at the University of Pretoria, the University of South Africa and Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University with massive pay rises agreed.
Threat to status quo
The management at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), Tshwane South College and Tshwane North College proved harder to wear down. Especially at TUT, a game of dirty tricks, violence and intimidation played out over months as management encouraged the defeat of the strike. A similar situation developed at COT.
The reason for the stubbornness of the TUT, COT and college managements was their closer links to the ANC. These institutions are more closely woven into the legalised corruption of the ANC’s patronage system based on handing out labour broking and outsourcing tenders in return for political favours. The ANC-aligned Cosatu unions, such as NEHAWU and SAMWU, are the policemen of this system. Their role has been to ensure that a challenge from workers does not emerge. But #OMF threatened this entire system by taking place outside of the existing bargaining structure and its recognised amagundwane unions.
The threat that #OMF represented arose from the manner in which it was organised and led. This built on the previous experience of WASP’s forerunner, the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), in the Post Office workers struggles that defeated labour broking long before the labour law amendments and which was enriched on a far wider scale by the historic mineworkers’ strikes that followed the 2012 Marikana massacre. The strength of those strikes lay in the unity of workers which was built through the formation of strike committees independent of any trade union or political party. These committees, accountable to the mass of mineworkers whether they had union cards, party cards or none, were able to cut across the lines of division amongst the mineworkers that had been created by decades of class collaboration by the ANC-aligned union NUM.
Taking the same broad approach to building #OMF overcame the politically divided landscape on the campuses which were littered with different student organisations and unions. The role of independent workers’ committees marked out #OMF from #FMF and other student dominated campaigns against outsourcing. At the same time #OMF was clear that all those who supported the struggle against outsourcing were welcome to support the campaign. #OMF made efforts to reach out, especially to students, and bring all those forces genuine about supporting workers into the campaign with freedom to argue their ideas before the workers.
This method proved decisive in forging solidarity and an unbreakable unity among the workers. The sense of pride felt by workers in their power to lead struggle that came with such organisation meant, for example, that the divisive efforts of the EFF Student Command to turn #OMF into their own party ‘project’ failed dismally.
Tactics not fetishes
Many among the middle class academic left have made a fetish out of so-called ‘new’ forms of organisation. They often promote the idea of ‘grass roots movements’ that are ‘spontaneous’ as capable of replacing ‘traditional’ methods of organisation such as trade unions and political parties. WASP does not share this view. The middle class academic left fail to grasp that it is not the form of organisation first and foremost that explains betrayals of the working class but the lack of a programme that clearly calls for a break with capitalism. Upon the basis of their wrong analysis, the form of organisation in struggle becomes an end in itself.
But for WASP, organising the #OMF struggle and the mineworkers’ strikes of 2012 upon the basis of independent workers committees was a tactical necessity flowing from the stage of the class struggle. The tactic represents a step forward for the task faced by the working class in this period of creating new class independent organisations. In the future, with the progress of this task, campaigns such as #OMF would rightly be the ‘project’ of a new socialist trade union federation or new mass workers party. The #OMF campaign has provided the working class with an important example of how new mass working class organisations can be built through struggles that demonstrate in practice their relevance to workers.
Struggle will continue
Many workers who took part in the strike are continuing the struggle back in the workplace to ensure that agreements that have been won are honoured. Other workers have been forced to make tactical retreats in order to rebuild their strength and fight again another day. New groups of workers, like the outsourced Shoprite workers in Centurion or the campus workers in the Eastern Cape at Walter Sisulu University, have only just begun their campaign. The #OMF campaign will continue and in the course of it the process of building the working class’s confidence and independence will be strengthened and deepened.
Any and all groups of outsourced workers in any sector or any industry, members of existing unions or none, should contact us for guidance in organising an #OutsourcingMustFall campaign in your workplace.
by Liv Shange, CWI Sweden
Originally published in the February issue of Socialism Today.
The abrupt slowdown in the growth of the Chinese economy, along with economic crises in western imperialist countries, has put the brakes on the new scramble for Africa. Largely driven by raw material exports, the growth has been lopsided, fuelling inequality and class polarisation.
Over the past ten years or so, Africa hype has been a popular pastime among bourgeois economists and analysts. ‘The good news’ has been highlighted. Out with the old stereotypes of war, hunger and misery. In with fresh spin about the growing trade, economy, population, the reach of new technology and, not to be forgotten, the growing profits to be made off Africa’s vast mineral wealth – from oil, gold, platinum, copper and coltan (which provides minerals used in electronic goods), for example. Having imposed ‘structural adjustment programmes’ on African economies in the 1980s and 1990s, big business based in the US and Europe, joined by its Asian counterparts, was now free to exploit these riches.
With profitable investment opportunities a scarcity in the world as a whole, Africa became a dream destination for many capitalists, in particular those prepared to take a gamble for quick returns. Driven by China’s voracious appetite for raw materials, Africa was to be the new centre for world trade which, in turn, would not only lift its people out of poverty, but would pull the global economy out of its recessionary malaise. About a year ago, however, the new scramble for Africa hit the brakes abruptly following the dramatic slowdown in China’s economic growth. What remains of the good news now?
The theory behind the Africa craze is that growing economies and growing populations, in particular urban populations, will create a broad ‘middle class’ which will lift Africa into a virtuous circle of ever-increasing wealth. In 2011, the African Development Bank found that a third of Africa’s population belonged to the ‘middle class’, with incomes between $2 to $20 a day (albeit with the overwhelming majority of these between $2-4 a day). These were the people who could do more than just live hand-to-mouth. They could buy the commodities which the corporations of the old colonial powers so badly needed to sell. A broad ‘consumer class’ in Africa would answer big businesses’ chase for growth markets.
The good news also suited the ruling politicians. In South Africa, this ‘middle class’ grew by 250% between 2004 and 2012, according to the Unilever Institute. Just before the global financial crisis erupted in 2008 the buying power of the black middle class had surpassed that of its white counterpart. According to the self-serving definition used by the African National Congress (ANC) government, everyone with an income between R1,400 ($85) and R10,000 ($605) a month is ‘middle class’. In other words, it included the mineworkers of Marikana who fought for better wages to escape living in tin shacks without electricity, water and sanitation.
A more credible study undertaken by the Pew Institute in 2015 defined 6% of Africa’s population as middle-income earners. The study showed that the most acute poverty had been somewhat ameliorated in countries like Nigeria but, far from creating a consumer class, the category that grew the most was ‘low-income earners’. According to the United Nations’ (UN) latest major population forecast, today’s 1.2 billion people in Africa are expected to have boomed to four billion by 2100 – 39% of the projected total of just over eleven billion people on the planet. While the population is decreasing in most western countries, and China’s population growth looks set to flatten out, the UN estimates an average 2.55% population growth for Africa over the past five years. A majority of the continent’s people are children and youth.
To some enthusiasts, this on its own shows that Africa stands on the threshold of a new, prosperous era. Africa’s turn at the demographic transition has arrived – from a society with high birth and death rates, and high poverty levels, to one with greater wealth where people live longer and also, in time, have fewer children. Demographers first observed this transition in Europe, then in North and South America. Now, some say, it is near completion in Asia and just about to begin in Africa.
For those who depend on selling commodities at ever-increasing rates, the Africa craze would grow along with the population forecasts. For socialists, who prepare for the decisive struggles of the future, the world’s shifting population balance is interesting for entirely different reasons. Economic growth and increased wealth do not automatically follow from population growth. Which direction developments in Africa will take will be determined by the outcomes of the class struggle in the decades ahead. Capitalism today is no force that will lift all boats but will expand in Africa through the pillage of human and natural resources.
The big carrot dangling in front of China, the US and the European imperialists in their new scramble for Africa consists of the continent’s enormous natural resources. The China-driven commodities boom meant that countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Angola could earn vast sums from the export of oil. Zambia’s copper, South Africa’s platinum and gold, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) coltan and many more minerals, were churned out of the ground at record speed. During the ten years up to 2011, the exports from Africa south of the Sahara more than quadrupled, reaching $457 billion. Nearly 90% of the export revenues came from the sale of basically unrefined raw materials.
Nigeria is instructive as to the contradictory nature of the African growth miracle: an economy which is among the world’s largest exporters of oil yet imports around 80% of its own fuel needs. Ethiopia has “the highest rate of GDP growth in the world”, but 90% of its people live in what the UN defines as ‘multi-dimensional poverty’. Right now, 15 million of them risk starvation as the country is suffering drought.
With the breakneck speed of growth of the Chinese economy subsiding, at the same time as the oil price has fallen by more than half over the past 18 months, the effects on the raw materials exporters of Africa are dramatic. According to the World Bank, the combined GDP growth of Africa south of the Sahara reached only 3.7% in 2015. That is the lowest level since 2008. In 2014 it came to 4.6%. The World Bank also notes that the structural imbalances in the African economy remain. The flood of growth absorbed vast riches out of Africa. As the tide is now going out it leaves behind more devastation than prosperity.
Angola in 2013 funded 70% of its government budget directly through oil exports. In 2015, this was down to 37%, even as the state’s budget was cut by 26%. Alongside the austerity, shortages of basic foods such as rice and flour are appearing and unemployment is rising. Likewise in Zambia, the fall in the price of copper to the lowest level in six years spells crisis. In the DRC, mining companies are shutting down or mothballing mines, such as the huge Katanga mine. In South Africa, hundreds of thousands of jobs in the mining, metal and manufacturing industries are threatened. Yet another boom has passed the workers and poor of Africa by.
China’s trade with Africa is said to have grown by 30% annually over the past decade. By 2009, China had overtaken the US as Africa’s largest trading partner. Even though China’s imports of African raw materials have decreased dramatically, Chinese corporations maintain certain investments on the continent, for example in mining, oil and gas extraction, the construction of dams, roads, power stations and hospitals. Such projects serve multiple purposes for the Chinese capitalists and the regime.
On the one hand, infrastructure is needed to enable the effective extraction of Africa’s resources. On the other hand, such investments, particularly in construction, offer an outlet for investment when the home ground is losing speed. The projects are largely financed through Chinese loans, which have been seen as guaranteed by the Chinese central bank. Large infrastructure projects are often China’s contribution in trade agreements with African states.
Contrary to what is often claimed by African regimes, the ties with China do not offer the great majority any ‘progressive’ advantages. They are of the same extractive and exploitative nature as when the financier is European or American. Rather, Chinese employers have made a name for themselves as the worst taskmasters. Also, the manufactured goods that are imported from China often hit local production hard, as in the case of steel, or even wiped it out, as with textiles in some countries.
The US Federal Reserve’s December interest rate hike was anxiously anticipated by ‘emerging markets’, not least in Africa. The worry is that, with the dollar increasing in value, capital could be led away from these countries. Africa’s enormous trade deficit is financed largely through credits and speculation denominated in US dollars. This could see dollar-dependent economies starved of capital, and governments could fail to pay their bills. This is far off for most, but some governments, such as Angola’s, are already forced to engage in some serious juggling to keep up with their debts. Higher interest rates could also be devastating for the African states which are already struggling to maintain their dollar debts.
As export incomes have plummeted, several African governments have taken large loans. Credit ratings agency Fitch expects the combined sovereign debt of the countries south of the Sahara to have risen by 38% since 2013. A record number of government bonds were issued in 2014. Much of the new borrowing is simply to service the interest on old loans. The Angolan currency, the kwanza, fell 30% against the dollar last year. Ghana and Zambia have been forced to appeal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance. The much-celebrated debt cancellations of 2005 are in many cases close to being undone. For example, Ghana’s debt stands at 73% of GDP, not far from the 86% before its debt ‘amnesty’. Part of the deal was that any subsequent loans would be handled entirely by ‘the market’.
The financial advisers nevertheless assure their clients that the sound fundamentals for investing in Africa remain intact, with enticing medium-term prospects for the patient capitalist. While the new scramble for Africa has hit a setback, big business and its governments are set to expand in Africa, in the longer term. Capitalist expansion, however, does not mechanically equal social development and increasing wealth. What is interesting is that, although the boom in raw materials exports has not led to any take-off of industrialisation in Africa, it has sharpened class contradictions.
More and more people now live in cities – their share is expected to reach 56% by 2050. Large-scale land grabs by big business also leave growing numbers of subsistence farmers with no other recourse than to struggle. And the continuing Chinese interest in exploiting Africa could mean a certain establishment of industry. In other words, the working class could be strengthened in number and social weight.
Since 1990, the number of people who live in ‘extreme poverty’ has grown by over 100 million in Africa, according to a study presented by the World Bank last October – a smaller share of a larger population (43% today compared to 56% then). It is remarkable, however, that no decisive improvements have been made in the last decade when things have supposedly been going so well. The World Bank predicts that an ever-increasing share of the world’s poorest will be concentrated in Africa in the future.
Good news includes a sharp fall in infant mortality south of the Sahara: from 142 to 99 per 1,000 new-borns since 2010. The struggle for women’s liberation has an important role to play, with increased levels of education for girls and increasing access to contraception. The World Bank also notes that the adult literacy level has grown by 4% and average life expectancy by six years. Other indicators of social development which are often celebrated include the decreasing incidence of fatal diseases such as malaria. Here, the introduction of simple means – impregnated mosquito nets – are said to explain the fall in new reported cases in Africa by 40% since the year 2000. Today, on average 192 new cases are reported for every 1,000 people.
Read differently, about a fifth of Africa’s population can still count on being struck by this debilitating illness, despite the simple means that could make it history, if only the resources for them were in the hands of those with an interest to do so. The bad news is that the conclusion of the World Bank’s survey over a comprehensive set of progress factors is that the levels of improvement are now generally losing momentum. Much of the progress has no relation to the recent economic growth, but can rather be attributed to the legacy of bygone reforms.
Progress driven by struggle
Unlike the impression you may get from the recent converts to the Africa hype, the continent did not just tumble into the world of ‘emerging’ markets from nowhere. Boosted by the strong growth in the global economy during the post-second world war boom, several liberated African countries in the 1960s and 1970s carried out ambitious reform programmes in education, healthcare, agriculture and industry.
The Stalinist bloc supported regimes such as Ethiopia, Angola and Mozambique, while the imperialist powers backed up market-friendly dictatorships like apartheid South Africa and Zaire (now the DRC). A few states were able to balance between the two cold war blocs. During this period, dramatic improvements in literacy and public health were achieved, despite ongoing wars and starvation catastrophes. But during the 1980s and 1990s, the debt crisis, followed by the aftermath of the collapse of the Stalinist Soviet Union, meant that these limited gains were largely laid to ruins.
The IMF and the World Bank imposed structural adjustment programmes – mass privatisation and austerity, deregulation – and other market adaptation programmes. Everything, from education to clean water, would now become commodities subject to competition. The industry that had been established to combat colonial inheritances, such as dependence on raw materials exports and huge trade deficits, began to disappear. These have not recovered despite the recent boom. Between 1980 and 2013, the contribution of manufacturing to the combined GDP of Africa shrank from 12% to 11% (while growing by 16% in Asia).
Africa today has the lowest manufacturing share of economic growth among all ‘emerging markets’ – thrown back firmly into its old role as the evergreen source of raw materials. Thus, thanks to the devastation wrought by the ‘reforms’ – wielded, in reality, by the forces of counter-revolution – the multinational corporations were given a second opportunity at primitive accumulation. A hundred years after the first scramble for Africa, a second edition once again allowed established and aspiring imperialists to effectively loot the continent. Capitalism was able to revive by sucking the lifeblood out of Africa.
The inherent contradictions of capitalism have ensured that the last quarter of a century of economic growth in Africa has not benefitted the majority of Africans. The World Bank study confirms the ‘resource curse’ that has long been observed in Africa: the richer a country is in minerals, oil, etc, the poorer the majority of its people. The study found that in resource-rich countries, on average, life expectancy was four-and-a-half years shorter, while malnutrition and illiteracy were higher.
Clearly, what ‘human development’ progress has been made during Africa’s ‘rise’ has been achieved despite of, and not thanks to, the capitalist expansion on the continent. Where developments have leapt forward, innovation has been pushed from below and later taken up by big business to increase its influence. For instance, the spread of mobile phones and linked services such as cell-phone banking is a global development which was initiated in Africa, jumping over several stages in banking which other parts of the world have been through. The innovativeness and creativity of the workers and poor of Africa is a strong force which, under capitalism, is overwhelmingly consumed by the struggle for mere survival.
Socialists cannot be content that now, ‘only’ one in ten African new-borns die before they turn one year, or that 40% of those who live longer are malnourished. There is no reason to tolerate these crimes against humanity at all – hunger, the lack of clean water, or death from curable and manageable diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV. In a socialist world, these could be done away with rapidly. With all the decisive resources of society – the mines, banks, manufacturing, agricultural and pharmaceutical industries – owned in common, those involved in production and those in need of the products could plan democratically how to end exploitation, degradation, division and oppression. We could urgently set about the reconstruction of society in line with the needs of humans and nature.
The pillage and looting of Africa, through slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism, has been a key condition for the very existence of the capitalist system. The capitalism which has in recent years dug itself deeper down into African soil is one characterised by decay: ever more frequently recurring crises, widening inequality, and prospects for permanent misery for the working class everywhere. The structural adjustment programmes which were first tested in Africa and Latin America are now imposed closer to the heartland of imperialism, for example, in Ireland and Greece. But where capitalism sinks its roots, it also digs its own grave.
Africa’s alleged ‘rise’ left behind mass discontent and protests which are brewing in a number of countries: Angola, Burundi, Burkina Faso, South Africa and Nigeria. The 2014 revolution in Burkina Faso will be followed by more in the stormy period which has opened up. Without buying into the bourgeois ‘Africa rising’ mythology, an Africa that weighs heavier in the world is good news for socialists. The youthful population, the fall in extreme, debilitating poverty, and the slight improvements seen in social indicators like literacy and maternal deaths, are important factors. Taken together with the powerful traditions of struggle that are the heritage of Africa’s workers, poor people and youth, they pose the question whether Africa’s explosively combined and uneven development could be grounds for the beginning of the permanent revolution the world as a whole so desperately needs. Perhaps it will be the weakest link breaking, making Africa the cradle of the rebirth of humankind?