Crisis of metro coalitions exposes flawed EFF tactics
by Mametlwe Sebei, WASP Executive Committee
Starting in Nelson Mandela Bay, a domino effect is now threatening the collapse of the DA-led coalition governments in Tshwane and Johannesburg too. The public spats between the DA, EFF and UDM along with the latest threat by the DA mayor in Tshwane to withdraw from the coalition, shows that parties are failing to manage their differences in spite of the high stakes. The instability of these coalitions is a crushing confirmation of our critique of the utopia of the ‘pragmatism’ of the EFF leadership, whose decision to vote for DA mayors to oust the ANC was praised by many including some on the left. (Utopia literally means ‘no-place’ – i.e. a dream world.)
In May 2016, before the local government elections even took place, we warned the EFF that “to [make] any kind of ‘deal’ with the capitalist parties…[will] mean the EFF taking political responsibility for capitalism and the attacks on the working class this requires.”
Coalitions shattered by workers struggles
At the bottom of the crisis is the underlying conflict between the social forces on which these parties rests. Neo-liberal cuts to public spending and massive job losses unleashed by DA administrations in Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane is the underlying cause of frustration of the ‘black’ opposition parties which lifted the DA to power in these metros.
Thousands of EPWP and outsourced workers employed through short-term contracts and private service providers, which the DA administration fired in Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane are the very layers of the working class which, unfortunately owing to poor level of trade union organisation, political consciousness, and the absence of a mass workers party, constitute the electoral basis of the EFF and UDM. In that sense, the DA is calling on them to commit political suicide.
That the EFF and UDM are suddenly having their ‘Road to Damascus’ moment and finally resisting the DA’s ‘white arrogance’, however, has absolutely nothing to do with principles and loyalty to these workers, who they gladly sold out when they voted for budgets entailing cuts in jobs and basic services to their communities. Many workers, like those in Ace Parking, Jozi@work and private security services in Johannesburg and Tshwane respectively, have already lost their jobs and their families are starving.
Not only did the EFF councillors and leadership actively support DA administrations when they dismissed these workers, exploiting a genuine public anger at the corruption of the ANC associated with the outsourcing contracts under which these workers were employed, some of them even tried to profit from the misfortunes of these workers by lining-up their own private companies to tender for contracts lost by ANC-aligned tenderpreneurs. The brutal disappointment of these ambitions to loot and plunder by the stubborn determination of the DA to carry out neo-liberal budget cuts is the main factor behind the conflicts in the Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane Metros.
The other factor is the resistance of the workers. The struggles of the security workers in Tshwane, which the EFF initially thought they could easily ride out, has caused confusion in their ranks. Under the banner of #OutsourcingMustFall and with the support of WASP, these workers have been relentless in campaigning to save their jobs. The campaigning has partly been directed at the EFF. The workers challenged EFF councillors and picketed EFF offices demanding that they openly declare whose jobs are more important for them. They dared to ask whether it is the job of the DA Mayor Msimang and his anti-working class mayoral committee, which serves at the pleasure of EFF and has determined to resolve the budget crisis in Tshwane at the expense of the workers and their poor communities; or their jobs, the jobs of thousands of workers, many of whom voted EFF to fight for their insourcing and better wages as per their manifesto?
This campaign has certainly caused questioning amongst rank-and-file EFF members and thrown their leadership into confusion, expressed by their politically senseless boycotts of council meetings in DA-led metros, which resembles a criminal who shies away from the scene of his crimes more than any well thought-out political tactic. This stupidity would be laughable if it were not so treacherous and tragic for the masses of the people who invested their hopes in the EFF to actively oppose further cuts in EPWP jobs and public services to the poor of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay.
‘Utopia’ of EFF’s pragmatism
The pseudo-radical ranting of the EFF about the ‘white arrogance’ and ‘white supremacism’ of the DA in their latest press statement is a desperate attempt to dress their vacillations in the language of their political principles of anti-white racism and anti-imperialism, which they abandoned the moment they entered into coalition with a party deeply entrenched in white racism and neo-liberal capitalism. That they lack the courage of their convictions to call it by its true name, a coalition with a white-dominated, neo-liberal DA, changed absolutely nothing. Whereas a repeated rhetorical denial of the nature of their relationship with the DA may have served to throw dust in the eyes of those desperate to believe that this was not the betrayal it appeared, it revealed the opportunism of the EFF and confirmed the class suspicions and political instinct of the most conscious organised workers, working class communities and youth who correctly stayed out of this party.
This political disaster for EFF demonstrates that it wasn’t us, the Marxists who warned in advance of the disaster unfolding today, that were ‘unrealistic’ as many accused us. No, it was the ‘opportunistic pragmatism’ of the EFF leadership which imagined that political collaboration between parties resting on class forces that are in intensifying conflict is possible and they will be able to get concessions or reforms to pacify their unemployed and working poor supporters from a party unapologetically committed to resolving the economic crises of capitalism in the interests of the profit-driven elite. In this period of deep capitalist crises, bourgeois parties have no choice but to carry out cuts against the working class and the poor. It was, and is, hopelessly utopian of EFF to imagine that they can manage capitalism in this period other than through austerity measures and anti-working class attacks of the sort that the DA is faithfully carrying out.
The current uncertainty of the future of the NMB administration following the EFF’s boycotts is the latest indication of the desperation of the EFF to keep coalitions alive. But they have always retreated at the decisive moment. For example, in Johannesburg they threatened to pull out of coalition talks if the DA did not change its anti-working class mayoral candidate, Herman Mashaba. They backed-down. They threatened to collapse the coalitions after Helen Zille’s pro-colonial Tweets. They backed down again. All of this shows that the EFF leadership has its eyes on a bigger picture – the 2019 elections. They are placing the EFF at the disposal of capital whose strategists are preparing for the likelihood that the ANC will not be able to govern alone. The local coalitions are dress-rehearsals for the EFF to form part of a national pro-capitalist coalition in the future.
Working class needs its own party
Contrary to all the self-consoling commentaries about coalitions being a sign of a maturing democracy, such governments are unstable and everywhere manifest a political crisis of bourgeois rule when faced with serious economic crisis and mass resistance. Coalition governments represent weakness and the failure of the bourgeois to whip the masses into line and reconcile them to their austerity and neo-liberal attacks on working conditions, jobs and living standards.
This ‘crisis of coalitions’, barely one year since they were formed, underlines the need for a mass workers party, with a clear socialist programme that can put forward a genuine alternative to the crisis of capitalism, prepared to organise workers and give a determined lead in struggle.