now browsing by month
This article appeared as the editorial of Izwi Labasebenzi in Issue No. 2 of 2017.
Cover image: the image of the worker holding a placard with the slogan “we would rather stick with ‘corruption’ that feeds our kids, than ‘change’ that starves them” appeared on a march in Tshwane on 26 January organised by various ANC organisations. We do not agree that the only options that working class people face are to accept corruption or face job losses, as we explain below. But the message underlines the huge vacuum that exists with no party genuinely representing the interests of workers.
A dress rehearsal for propping up capitalism
In 2016 the EFF assisted the DA to power in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB). In recent weeks they have threatened to collapse the same DA-led minority administrations. This has raised important questions about the tactics needed for using elected positions in the capitalist state to push forward the interests of workers, the poor and youth.
The working class needs its own party. But it could not be ‘like all the others’ – asking for a vote once every five years and then simply leaving everything to councillors and MPs in between. A party genuinely representing the interests of the working class and poor majority would first and foremost be a party of struggle – organising and mobilising workers, the poor and the youth to campaign for permanent jobs, living wages, decent service delivery and free education.
The role of workers’ MPs and councillors would be to support struggle. Elected positions would be used to expose the capitalist parties and politicians; to reveal how undemocratic today’s ‘bourgeois’ (i.e. capitalist) democracy is; and, to “speak to the windows” – to the masses outside, popularising the ideas of socialism and the methods of struggle.
Is the EFF the kind of party that the working class needs? Unfortunately, we would have to say no. We believe that the recent experience, especially in Tshwane, has given hard evidence that the EFF is not fundamentally different to the other capitalist parties.
Some might ask: then why talk about them? That is determined by the EFF leadership. It is they who insist that the EFF is a radical alternative. Further, within the new Saftu trade union federation EFF supporters are positioning themselves against the idea of a new workers party on the basis that “we have the EFF”. It is therefore our duty to examine this claim.
The DA-led City of Tshwane is terminating contracts with outsourced security companies. As a result up to 3,000 workers will lose their jobs. But workers have organised to fight. Many are EFF members and expected the EFF councillors to come to their defence. So it came as a shock to find out that the EFF supported the DA’s plan! This is not an isolated episode. The Jozi@Work and Ace Parking workers in Johannesburg also faced job losses at the hands of the DA, with the EFF remaining quiet.
At a mass meeting in June senior EFF leaders and councillors pleaded with workers to agree that new tenders should be issued. The only ‘strategy’ they offered workers was to go and apply for jobs with the new companies! But workers were clear that they wanted to be insourced. EFF leaders were forced to abandon their speeches, shouted-down by a furious crowd. We believe that the EFF leadership hopes to benefit from the new security tenders. But we stand to be corrected. We would welcome a statement from the EFF clarifying that they are opposed to outsourcing in principle and that none of their councillors or leaders will benefit from this super-exploitation of workers.
The EFF was nevertheless forced to place itself at the head of the security workers campaign but at each step they have acted to divert attention from the inaction of the EFF councillors. When WASP members pointed out that the EFF holds the balance of power in Tshwane, and should use that to save jobs, we have been accused of “playing politics”. We asked the simple question: is the DA mayor’s job more important than the jobs of 3,000 workers? The EFF believes so.
Workers understood that the EFF had the power to force the hand of the DA. At WASP’s suggestion it was agreed to draft a council motion guaranteeing the workers’ jobs. It would only take two councillors to force the council to debate it. We argued that surely the EFF would sponsor the motion. Then it would be for the DA and ANC to vote it down. However, we suspected that the ANC would support the motion in order to frustrate the DA. This was a danger for the EFF leadership – that the motion might succeed!
Confirming our suspicions, WASP members were then removed from the security workers’ WhatsApp group and the committee meeting venue changed. To our knowledge the motion was thrown in the bin to protect the EFF councillors and their business aspirations.
But the EFF was willing to threaten the collapse of all three DA-led minority administrations over the sacking of NMB UDM deputy mayor Bobani. In response to this, EFF councillors boycotted council meetings paralysing the DA administrations. They said this was to teach the DA how to work with small parties. But this was posturing and not part of a serious strategy to bring down these anti-working class administrations. The EFF were in their seats for the September council meetings without any explanation of why they were again able to work with the DA.
In Mogale City, Julius Malema himself publicly threatened disciplinary action against EFF councillors who voted with the ANC to pass a budget. It was not the content of the budget that was the problem it was that the councillors gave support to the ANC.
The EFF’s tactics are focused entirely on squabbles with other capitalist parties over who is to profit from control of the capitalist state. They have no vision for how to use their councillors to advance the struggles of the working class. On the contrary the EFF appears to be using its local government positions as a dress rehearsal for the role they hope to play nationally after the 2019 elections. There is a strong possibility that the ANC may not be able to win enough votes to govern on its own, forcing it to look for coalition partners. The EFF’s actions in Tshwane, Joburg and NMB show that their leadership has no problem with bending principles to fit opportunist objectives. If the EFF is prepared to prop up neo-liberal administrations in the metros why would they not be prepared to play the same role in a pro-capitalist coalition at a national level where the spoils of office are much greater?
The need for a socialist mass workers party with accountable and recallable pubic representatives, earning no more than the average wage of a skilled worker, has not been answered by the EFF.
by Shaun Arendse, Tshwane WASP
On 17 January the ‘public violence’ charges against Austin Mofyoa were dropped and the state’s case against him dismissed. This is an important victory against the attempts to criminalise protest in general and to suppress the struggle against outsourcing in particular.
Austin is an #OutsourcingMustFall activist, branch secretary of the GIWUSA union’s Pretoria branch and a member of WASP’s National Committee.
On 4 February 2016 he was arrested outside of the main campus of Tshwane University of Technology. Outsourced cleaners, security guards, caterers and landscape workers were in the third week of a strike. They were fighting to be insourced and for their poverty-level pay of R2-3,000 per month to be raised to R10,000. The strike was of course ‘illegal’, or ‘unprotected’. This is because it is virtually impossible to organise a protected strike of outsourced workers. Undermining and weakening the position of organised labour is a key reason that the bosses and their politicians – parties like the ANC and the DA – support outsourcing. But workers were determined to fight to end their super-exploitation and Austin was prepared, side-by-side with all the members of WASP’s Tshwane branch, to support them. This was part of a Tshwane-wide strike across the higher education sector organised under the banner of #OutsourcingMustFall.
Austin was identified as a ‘leader’ by management and the police early on. His name appeared on an injunction taken out by TUT management. The day of his arrest the police targeted him directly in an attempt to ‘behead’ the strike. This suppression came on top of management threatening workers with mass dismissal for protesting, and even an organised attack on the picket line orchestrated by the ANC’s SASCO student organisation and the ANC-linked Nehawu union. That must have involved the TUT management. Workers suffered serious injuries in the attack but it was Austin who was later arrested for ‘public violence’!
Over the next 23 months Austin appeared in Atteridgeville magistrates court a shocking 20 times. Every time the case was postponed due to technicalities. This was an attempt to demoralise and wear-down Austin, and to limit his ability to fight for workers by keeping the threat of prison or a huge fine over his head as a deterrent.
Showing the complete hypocrisy of the criminal-‘justice’ system, throughout this time not a single boss or company has been prosecuted by the state and taken to court for their failure to ban labour broking (of which outsourcing is one of its forms). This is despite the law changing at the start of 2015 to say that after three months employment, temporary workers must be made permanent. In the strike of 2016 the workers were just demanding that the bosses implement the law.
But with vital assistance from a Lawyers for Human Rights legal team, the judge finally ruled that the state “had no case”. However this final ruling does not excuse how for nearly two years the legal system was used as a weapon for the suppression of the workers movement and the struggle against outsourcing.
Ultimately, the state is controlled by the ruling class and used to defend their interests. From time to time they are forced to pass pro-worker laws, not because they want to, but to give them a way to manage the class struggle that their exploitative system provokes. However, they will always find a way to frustrate workers on ‘the legal route’ if their vital interests are at stake.
Management does the same. They will enter agreements with workers when they have no choice – i.e. being forced to in a strike. But will tear-up any agreement as soon as they get the opportunity. This is what ended-up happening at TUT. Shortly after Austin’s arrest the strike achieved victory and an insourcing agreement was signed. This was not least because workers remained united and showed the police that they would not be scared by arrests and intimidation. Dismissals were reversed and workers went back to work. But as soon as TUT management felt strong enough, they started to back-track. Despite the agreement, management is refusing to insource the catering and security workers and has issued new tenders in recent months.
Workers can only rely on their own strength by building fighting and democratic trade unions to win victories, and crucially, to defend their gains. The struggle against outsourcing continues.
CWI supporter Mohamed Diaeldin Mohamed Satti, 21, known as “Hamudi”, is among the protesters who have been arrested by the Sudanese State last week, as part of the brutal response of Al Bashir’s regime to the ensuing wave of protests against skyrocketing prices and austerity. Hamudi’s arrest took place last Wednesday afternoon, as he participated in a peaceful march in central Khartoum.
Reportedly more than 400 political activists and protesters are currently detained in the country, including nine members of the political bureau of the Sudanese Communist Party, leading members of the National Umma Party, and long-standing female activist Ilham Malik Salman Ahmed. This hysterical campaign of mass arrests has extended to include Sudanese and foreign journalists who were reporting about the protests, and highlights the regime’s fear that any form of even mild criticism of its policies could be the spark that lit the fuse of a mass revolt.
According to protesters who have been released, the security services are forcing the detainees to sign a document pledging to stop engaging in any demonstrations or political activities in the future. Those who have refused to sign, like Hamudi, have been kept inside. The prisoners are refused visits by their families, have had their heads shaved off and are being physically mistreated.
The CWI demands the immediate release of Mohamed Satti “Hamudi” along with all the other political prisoners. We call on all our supporters internationally to protest to the Sudanese authorities, embassies and consulates around the world to that effect. We call on all who can to express their solidarity with Hamudi and the other detainees by sending photos and messages of support to email@example.com.
by Lebohang Phanyeko, Johannesburg WASP
Workers employed by the Jozi@Work scheme are employed across Joburg to pick up refuse and litter. Many have been on contract since the beginning of the scheme introduced by ANC mayor Parks Tau. It is supposedly a ‘job creation’ scheme but in reality it is a programme for the super-exploitation of labour by parasitic outsourcing companies.
The new DA administration continued with Jozi@Work, but new mayor Herman Mashaba’s objective is to terminate the program citing corruption by the previous administration. But corruption is not the fault of ordinary workers.
It is clear that Mashaba’s and the DA’s election promise that they will create more jobs in the city is back in the cold fridge! Workers’ contracts are administered by multi-million Rand outsourcing BEE company “Waste Group” which manages Jozi@Work on behalf of the municipality’s Piki-Tup. But instead of creating real jobs they ‘recycle’ jobs. They don’t even call workers ‘workers’ but ‘beneficiaries’ as an excuse for denying them their rights and in reality retrenching them. They ‘recycle’ jobs by bringing in new ‘beneficiaries’, claiming they are “giving others an opportunity”. No doubt they are paid per ‘work opportunity’ created rather than the total number employed!
These workers have organised under the banner of #OutsourcingMustFall to fight back and for those that have lost their jobs when they are ‘recycled’ to be reinstated. Workers are demanding that Waste Group is kicked out and workers employed full-time by Piki-Tip. To support these demands workers occupied Piki-Tup’s Joburg offices on 11 January. Discussions are still underway with Piki-Tup management to find solution – but as a result of the occupation, fresh talks have been promised for next week.
by Bongani Mazibuko, Soshanguve WASP
Residents of Soshanguve in block AA protested on 10 January against continuous water shortages due to the old infrastructure of pipes that burst regularly, street lights that are not working, potholes and damaged tar roads due to lack of storm water channels and no prospect of employment in the community projects which are only given to people connected to ANC and DA.
The issues were reported to Tshwane municipality. They came to inspect on Monday for three minutes and left saying they were coming back with tools to fix the problems. They never returned. On Tuesday they were called and never came. By Wednesday the community had had enough with struggling to get something as basic as water. They decided to go on to the streets since the councillor of the ANC was failing to provide leadership.
Members of the community are tired of been taken for a ride by an ANC councillor who fails to attend to community grievances in block AA only creating ‘forums’ which the community know nothing about but claim they’re ‘representatives’ of our section in the councillors office! We didn’t see these people over the past four days when we had no water. Where were those self-imposed representatives or the councillor?
As soon as tyres and stones were used to barricade the four way stop at blocks AA,BB and DD the police and metro came. We spoke with them and they assured us they will call the municipality water service department to fix the water. The community entered negotiations with the police from Pretoria North and reached a consensus that the councillor needed to come. When he was reached on the phone he promised to send his representative within 10 minutes because he was in a meeting to address our issues – the streets lights, damaged tar roads with potholes and for the unemployed to be considered for the posts in the community projects that are happening in our section.
Instead of this, whilst the community was sitting waiting for the councillor’s representative, chatting amongst themselves, the police walked over to us with their guns loaded. They told us to disperse. While we were leaving they opened fire with rubber bullets. Three community members were shot in the back, one community leader was shot four times – in the right leg, back shoulder, left arm and leg – and one bystander from the community shot in chest upper left next to the heart.
After leaving the community without water for days, failing to address all the other issues, this is how residents are treated! The water is now restored and the councillor has agreed to a meeting on 15 January. Would this have happened if we had not protested?
Click here for WASP’s service delivery programme of action
Download this statement as a printable PDF here.
Executive Committee statement
The Workers and Socialist Party welcomes metalworkers’ union NUMSA’s 2018 New Year statement on a workers party. The call to help build such a party could not have been more timely. It comes against the background of a conference that has split the ANC down the middle. This was arguably the ANC’s most convincing demonstration of its incapacity to provide leadership to society. The factional civil war that broke out in every province in the run up to its 54th national conference is far from over following the stalemate at ‘Naswreck’. The ANC is being torn apart by factions holding on to each other only because the alternative will almost certainly mean the end of the ANC as a governing party in the 2019 elections.
It is not certain for how much longer the ANC – in reality at least two rival gangs locked in a blood-feud within one organisational shell – can remain a single entity. Ramaphosa’s repeated post-conference promises to make “unity” the ANC’s 2018 theme is a desperate attempt to overcome the paralysis inherent in the factional stalemate that brought the ANC to the edge of collapse.
If both factions eventually agree that Zuma must go, it will only be because an ANC headed by him faces the likelihood of defeat in 2019. The prospect of losing their grip on the levers of state power for self-enrichment outweighs the Zuma faction’s loyalty to their factional figurehead. With the end of his term as president of the country to follow on the defeat of his preferred candidate at the conference, Zuma is now a lame duck. The Zuma faction needs him to go now for the same reason that they needed him in power – to loot. Despite this, it is by no means guaranteed that the pro-Zuma faction will agree. They would be inclined to demand immunity from prosecution; something it would be virtually impossible for Ramaphosa to grant without damaging his own “anti-corruption” credentials.
The ANC must go with Zuma
The outcome of the ANC conference must be interpreted as a public admission that it has forfeited the right to govern the country. It is demanding to be removed. It is time the working class took its rightful place at the head of society.
The leadership of the working class has until now not been as conscientious in responding to the rapidly changing political situation as the strategists of capital have been. Whilst the strategists of capital have been feverishly at work to preserve political control of their system there has been far too much dithering on our side.
The NUMSA Special National Congress (SNC) workers party resolution of 2013, for example, set the launch date to enable the workers party to stand in the 2016 local government elections. Saftu has yet to implement the resolution taken at its launch conference to discuss the workers party question.
Build Workers Party to unite working class struggles
But “agteros kom ook in die kraal” (the ox that lags last eventually also enters the kraal). This is why the NUMSA statement calling for the building of a workers party is of such crucial importance. Now that NUMSA has made this call it is the duty of all activists, leaders in the workplace, in education and communities, to take this as a signal to catch up with a rapidly developing political crisis.
Despite lagging behind politically, the working class has not been cowed into submission by the total onslaught on their living standards, wages and jobs. SA has amongst the highest rates of protest per head of population in the world. Although Zuma’s motives for announcing free education at the ANC’s December conference were factional, the fact is that it is a major concession wrung from the state by the courage and determination of students in the #FeesMustFall movement. The birth of Saftu in 2017 also represented an important step forward in the renovation of the organised working class movement.
The working class’ biggest weakness is the disunity of its forces both within each of the individual theatres of struggle – communities, educational institutions and the workplace – as well as across them. Of course the workers party cannot substitute itself for the unity that needs to be forged within each theatre of struggle. Efforts to unify each of them separately must continue. But a mass workers party will provide the priceless advantage of providing an overarching unity and act as a central organising centre.
The unification of the struggles of the working class within and across the #FeesMustFall movement, community struggles and the new federation must therefore be the first order of business for the workers party. It must be built as a party of action engaging in struggles to promote working class unity.
There can be no room for complacency for the #FeesMustFall movement. Already Zuma’s concession is a ‘hot potato’ for the ruling class. However, it will be very difficult for them to ‘cancel’ the announcement without provoking a new wave of protests. We can be sure that they will work tirelessly to water-down what “free education” means. Only determined struggles by the students, supported by workers and communities, can ensure that free education becomes a reality.
The capitalist media is busy whipping up a frenzy on the question of how free education will be paid for. Their propaganda claims the money can only come by cutting other government spending, for example by cutting social grants, house building, and service delivery, or by retrenching public sector workers. If this does not happen they ‘warn’ – in reality repeating the threats of the imperialist capitalist class and their ratings agencies – South Africa will spiral down to economic ruin. They did the same before the new minimum wage was announced, falsely claiming it will automatically lead to massive job losses.
To answer this propaganda it is necessary to be able to offer a clear alternative. If capitalism means free education and decent wages are impossible then the only alternative must be to break with capitalism and build a democratic socialist society – a society that is run by the working class in the interests of workers, the poor, the unemployed and the youth. By nationalising the banks, the mines, the commercial farms, the big factories and big businesses, and placing them under democratic working class control, the wealth can be made available to transform living standards. A democratic socialist plan of production to invest that wealth can ensure well-paid jobs, high quality homes, excellent service delivery and free education for all. Such measures are also the basis to answer the threats of the ratings agencies and the potential economic sabotage of the bosses that are guided by them.
But we must face up to the reality that the #FeesMustFall movement is not yet ideologically, programmatically and organisationally coherent. A national #FeesMustFall assembly is now an urgent necessity. The aim of such an assembly would be to place the #FeesMusFall movement on a countrywide organisational footing, uniting all universities, drawing in tertiary education institutions like TVET colleges as well as high schools. A united student movement would be able to engage the organised labour movement and communities as part of a process to build a mass workers party.
According to monitoring body, Municipal IQ, there is one service delivery protest ever second day. This figure is conservative as it excludes explicitly political protests such as the Vuyani demands for municipal boundary re-demarcation or for the removal of councillors. The fact that service delivery protests are around the same demands means that it should be possible to develop a common platform, a common programme of action and to establish a leadership structure to coordinate service delivery protests on a regional, provincial and national level. Out of this can emerge a mass socialist civic uniting struggles across the country.
The birth of Saftu represented an important step forward. The political degeneration of Cosatu has resulted in the absorption of its leadership into the capitalist political elite, exposed it to rampant corruption and resulted in it turning its back on the intensified exploitation of the working class through casualization, labour broking, contracting, etc. Saftu’s ambitious membership targets can be achieved should it pour its resources into organising this growing army of the precariat as #OutsourcingMustFall has demonstrated.
The birth of Saftu was necessitated not just by Cosatu’s incapacity to represent worker interest in the workplace. Its birth represents an attempt to restore the original political basis on which Cosatu was established. Cosatu came into being as far more than a trade union. It was founded on the understanding that the struggle in the workplace is inseparably bound up with the struggle on the political plane – that the struggle against exploitation by the bosses was inextricably linked to the struggle for national liberation. Cosatu’s political authority derived from the fact that it was the spinal column of the workers army that ultimately brought down the apartheid regime. For a whole period, Cosatu was a substitute for the workers party that the SACP and ANC prevented from developing.
Cosatu’s incarceration in the Tripartite Alliance led inevitably to betrayals also on the political plane. Obliged to defend the ANC despite its neo-liberal offensive on the working class, Cosatu has been reduced to no more than a corrupt political appendage of the capitalist ANC. From its greatest betrayal – that of the mineworkers in 2012 – followed logically Cosatu’s support today for the butcher of Marikana – Ramaphosa as ANC president.
But there has been no mass exodus from Cosatu into Saftu yet nor has it been flooded by the multi-millioned precariat – the 74% of workers not yet organised. The reason for this is that Saftu has yet to demonstrate that it is based on the original, militant, socialist political traditions of Cosatu – the Cosatu of 1985. Saftu’s policy that it is “independent but not apolitical” is based on the mistaken notion that workplace struggles and political contestation are unrelated and that abstention from politics will protect the new federation’s independence.
Cosatu’s error did not consist in principle in the fact that it was in an alliance with a political party. Its error was to enter an alliance with a capitalist party. Trade union independence is not guaranteed by not having alliances with political parties. Despite Fedusa and Nactu’s party-political “independence” they agreed, along with Cosatu, to the labour law amendments attacking the right to strike and to Ramaphosa’s minimum slave wage.
These missiles are being launched on behalf of the bosses through their main political agent – the ANC – from parliament. There was no independent working class voice to oppose them. Parliament is a site of class struggle. To abstain from party politics is to surrender the class struggle in advance, leaving the political terrain to the parties of the bosses. The working class majority is thus agreeing to submit itself to the dictatorship of the infinitesimally small capitalist minority.
Saftu can protect its independence only by placing itself in the forefront of building a workers party, ensuring it adopts a programme and political policy reflecting the interest of the working class and which it can thus earn the right to hold to account. Saftu must ensure that it implements with urgency its founding conference resolutions to finalise the debates on the workers party.
Both Cope and EFF were able to obtain more than a million votes in elections within 12 months of their birth. There is no reason why a mass workers party, especially one created through mass action, especially against the background of the deepest political crisis of the ANC, should not exceed those achievements.
Saftu must support NUMSA’s workers party call
If NUMSA’s delay on the workers party question has acted as a brake on the building of a party to enable the working class to enter the political arena independently, it is unfortunately not possible to say that Saftu has been an accelerator. Little has been done on the implementation of the launch congress resolutions to develop a programme with the appropriate structures to finalise the new federation’s position on the workers party.
But now that NUMSA has issued the call, we believe that Saftu must step up its internal processes. In Saftu’s New Year statement there is no reference at all to a workers party despite an emphatic and correct declaration that none of the ANC’s factions are capable of providing a way forward out of the impasse in society. In media interviews afterwards Saftu general secretary Vavi limited himself to saying that Saftu had not yet taken a position for or against a workers party.
We recognise that it would be undemocratic for Vavi to pronounce on the question without a mandate derived from a democratic debate amongst all affiliates. But there is nothing that prevented comrade Vavi from pointing out that the ANC’s conference has deepened the vacuum on the left, has underlined the fact that the ANC represents various wings of the capitalist party, has exhausted the political capital of its liberation credentials. Comrade Vavi could have declared that it was time for the working class to take its political destiny into its own hands and to publicly commit to ensuring that the launching conference resolutions are acted upon with urgency. Comrade Vavi could have and can still use his colossal authority to express himself in favour of a workers party in his personal capacity.
Mobilise to build the workers party
We believe that the formation of detachments of workers, youth and community activists should be formed as soon as possible to set up pre-party structures in every province. These steps must be seen as preparation for the launch of the party through an assembly for working class unity as soon as possible. There is little more than a year left before the 2019 general elections. Concrete preparations for the assembling of the forces for the workers party and its launch must proceed with urgency.
If Saftu links their planned Section 77 socio-economic strike – what they have called “the mother of all strikes” – to preparations for a new party, appealing to communities and students to participate in both, we believe there would be tremendous enthusiasm.
Clarity needed on character of the party
It is in this context that WASP believes clarity is needed on parts of NUMSA’s statement. Ever since the idea of a mass workers party first made its appearance in NUMSA, a debate has been raging over whether the workers party should be a “vanguard” or a “mass” party – a debate we have always argued, falsely counterposes one to the other. Since the internal NUMSA debates have not been opened to Saftu or the wider working class, it is not clear what the outcome of that debate has been. What appears to have happened is that the issue has been resolved by a forced marriage between the two concepts. The statement speaks of the need to build a “mass vanguard party led by professional revolutionaries”.
We do not believe this has overcome the original problem created by the contradiction the leadership appeared to believe existed between two concepts: “mass” and “vanguard”. From having regarded them as mutually exclusive, the leadership appears to have settled on the idea that they are compatible after all. Unfortunately the lumping together of the two concepts as in a marriage where partners agree to bear each other’s surnames, does not resolve the question of the party’s organisational character, its internal regime, its relationship with the broader working class and, above all its programme.
Does this mean for example that the graduates of NUMSA’s political school for the “red one hundred” shop stewards have been pre-selected to constitute the general staff of “professional revolutionaries” of the party? Have party structures already been established? If so what is the nature of these structures? How, when and by whom were they established? To whom are they accountable?
We are concerned that to call upon workers just to join without having had the opportunity to participate in the debate about the most appropriate structures and without the right to elect the leaders is not the correct approach. It sends the unintended message that the NUMSA leadership does not have confidence in workers democracy or in engaging with activists in the wider working class on these critical issues. It creates the unfortunate impression that the leadership trusts only their own judgements and understanding of theory, organisational methods, strategies and tactics.
It opens up the NUMSA leadership to the accusation that instead of allowing the party to come into being through the organised activity of ordinary workers and youth, it is imposing a pre-frabricated party structure complete with a pre-installed party leadership of “professional revolutionaries.” It would reinforce fears that even if the leadership has broken with the SACP as a party political formation, it continues to adhere to the organisational culture of the SACP. The SACP is notorious for arrogating to itself the title of “vanguard of the working class” as its only authentic voice without the consent or participation of the working class itself in the building of the party.
The party NUMSA is championing will, in our view, even as a mass force, draw in the best, most developed and experienced activists – the “vanguard” as in the guiding layers of the class, of a party that itself will be the organisational “vanguard” of the tens of millions that it has the potential to draw behind it.
What are the tasks facing a workers party?
Truth is concrete as Lenin never tired of reminding us. What are the tasks that concretely face the working class in SA today? The Tripartite Alliance is in political ruins, shattered, in the final analysis by the conflict of the irreconcilable class interests between the capitalist ANC and the socialist Cosatu it housed. This conflict reached its historical breaking point during the Marikana massacre as represented by the capitalist ANC on the one hand, and the organised workers on the other. But Marikana itself did not spring out of clear blue sky. It was the culmination of subterranean processes of class differentiation and conflict that placed a limited life-span on this post-apartheid class collaborationist arrangement. It was based on a division of labour in which Cosatu’s role was to subordinate the interests of the workers to those of the capitalist ANC elite.
As early as 1998, that is before the end of the ANC’s very first term, the Cosatu survey on shop steward’s political attitudes found that 30% favoured the formation of a workers party to stand against the ANC in the 1994 elections. At that stage the “vanguard” of the working class was in fact organised as Cosatu. It had developed a growing understanding that the ANC represented different antagonistic class interests from the working class. By 2012 this substantial minority had grown to an overwhelming majority of 67%. NUMSA’s SNC resolutions were therefore entirely in step with the views of the majority of the “vanguard’.
There is no shortage of combativity in the working class as the service delivery protests, student protests and workplace struggles tell us on a daily basis. What is absent is a unifying centre of struggle, an engine to compress the energies of the entire working class. Prior to Cosatu’s political demise, it played that role unifying workplace and community struggles. The adoption of the SNC resolutions were a reflection of the conclusion not just of NUMSA workers but of the working class as a whole. The ANC’s crisis has merely underscored this fact.
We look forward to getting answers to these critical questions. But we will participate enthusiastically in building the party all the same and raise these issues with comrades from both inside NUMSA and in the broader working class movement. We are confident the NUMSA leadership will encourage the establishment of forums to tap into the energies of all comrades committed to the building of such a party. In the meantime we wish to contribute towards the discussions our concept of the type of party that is needed.
What type of party do we need?
We believe that including a federal component in the structure of a new party will be very important. This would allow existing working class formations – community structures, trade unions, workers’ committees, youth groups, political formations etc. – to work together without the fear of being swallowed up and losing their political identity. The detail of exactly how this would work in practice can be debated. But what it must allow is space for fraternal democratic debate about which ideas can take the working class forward; by being united under one umbrella these ideas can then be tested in practice in the struggle – we can abandon what does not work and adopt what does.
The workers party programme
The NUMSA leadership has proposed that the workers party programme be based on the Freedom Charter. The FC has a number of progressive clauses. These include nationalisation of the banks, mines, mills and farms as well as the call for a 35 hour week amongst others. But as the leadership has itself acknowledged, the FC is not a socialist programme. Even the nationalisation clauses do not have the necessary qualification NUMSA SNC conference documents criticised the EFF for – workers control.
As a document written to accommodate the variety of class forces present – capitalists, petty bourgeois intellectuals, lawyers, doctors, tradesmen, workers – urban and rural, including trade unionists – the document attempted to be all things to all people. It makes reference neither to capitalism nor socialism. It is in that sense a reformist document that sows the illusion that the really existing capitalism that formed the foundation for apartheid, could be cleansed of its racial features and refashioned into a system capable of accommodating the interests of all classes. The experience of the entire post-apartheid period has demonstrated that this is utopian.
To maximise the prospects of unity WASP proposes that the workers party be based on the following minimum programme:
- Nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy – the banks, the mines, the commercial farms, big factories and big businesses – under workers control and management organised according to a democratic plan of production
- Free quality de-colonised education for all; free healthcare; high quality service delivery
- Quality housing for millions of shack dwellers and, low interest loans and rates control for home owners in working class communities
- R10,000 per month minimum wage for all full-time workers and an end to outsourcing and labour broking
- Elected workers party representatives to receive no more than the wage of a skilled worker, accountable to, and immediately re-callable by, democratic party structures
As the ANC’s crisis plays itself out in the run-up to the 2019 elections, the class struggle will not be suspended. On the contrary it is set to intensify. As soon as the February national budget, there could be a renewed offensive to solve the crisis of capitalism at the expense of the working class. The labour law amendments restricting the right to strike, to limit their duration etc. are intended to disarm the working class in advance. On all fronts of the class war – education, communities and the workplace – the working class will have to mobilise. The workers party can come into being as a force uniting these struggles into an unstoppable tsunami to sweep aside the ANC government in 2019. We must use the electoral challenge as a platform to organise to the abolition of the capitalist system itself to prepare the way for a socialist South Africa, a socialist Africa and a socialist world.