NEW YEAR STATEMENT 2017
As 2017 opens, the Workers and Socialist Party continues to stand in solidarity with the struggles of the working class, poor communities and the youth and students. We will not offer any false words and empty promises like the capitalist politicians in their new year statements. For the working class, 2017 will be a ‘prosperous year’ only if we are united, organised and prepared to struggle.
President Zuma has promised that “collaboration between business, labour and government” will continue in 2017. This will not give workers any optimism! The last “collaboration” resulted in the agreement of 2016’s insulting poverty-level R3,500 minimum wage. Many workers, who scandalously earn less than R3,500 will of course welcome an increase no matter how small. But we warn workers that they will have to organize and fight for even this low wage to be implemented.
The legislation improving the rights of outsourced, contract and labour broker workers sat on the shelf for nearly a year without the bosses moving a finger. It was only when WASP initiated the #OutsourcingMustFall movement that their exploitative system began to be seriously challenged. In 2017, we are committed to continuing and escalating the #OutsourcingMustFall struggle but also expanding it to a campaign fighting for a living wage for all low-paid workers.
The struggle for free education will continue in 2017. To take that struggle forward, the Socialist Youth Movement has been active throughout the holiday period organising a #FeesMustFall conference for the new year. Building a united free education movement remains top of the agenda for the students. But also, the new generation is drawing important and far-reaching political conclusions about the dead-end of capitalism in general. The unity between the students and the working class must continue to be strengthened in 2017.
The wealth is there for decent wages, full employment, quality service delivery and free education. The world’s richest 500 capitalists increased their wealth in the course of 2016 by an additional $237 billion. This handful of people now has combined wealth of $4.4 trillion. Despite the stagnant economy here, 2016 produced a new richest man in Shoprite chairman Christo Wiese. He is ‘worth’ $7 billion (around R100 billion). This news will enrage the Shoprite distribution centre workers who have been fighting for over two years to end Shoprite’s labour broking regime and improve poverty wages. Wiese’s wealth is built on their super-exploitation.
World and South African capitalism remain in crisis. The election of the reactionary Donald Trump to the United States presidency will add to the instability across the globe. Here in South Africa, we can expect another year of intensifying political crises in the run up to ANC’s December conference. Zuma will most likely be replaced as ANC leader, either by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, part of Zuma’s inner circle, or Cyril Ramaphosa, the billionaire ‘butcher of Marikana’. Whoever wins, the gulf between the ANC and the working class and poor masses will only widen, deepening the crisis of the ANC in the run up to the 2019 elections.
We will enter 2017 with the vacuum on the political plane and in the workplaces unfilled. Important steps will likely be taken towards creating a new trade union federation in 2017. Its success will depend on it being prepared to give a lead to the working class by organising mass struggles on wages, labour broking and job creation and putting forward a bold socialist alternative to the poverty, inequality and unemployment of capitalism. Millions refused to vote for any of the political parties on offer in last year’s local government elections. The need for a socialist mass workers party remains as urgent as ever to unite the struggles of workers, communities, and the youth struggling for free education. WASP will continue to do all it can to help bring such a party into being.
It is possible that the metalworkers’ union Numsa will take an initiative to launch a workers party in 2017. It is still unclear exactly what its character will be or if it will adopt an approach that attracts broad groups of workers and youth. Our relationship to any new initiative will be decided once the Numsa leadership unveils the details. As has always been the case, we will welcome any genuine step forward. But whatever happens, the need for WASP will remain. We have always been clear that a mass workers party is an important step in the re-organisation of the working class, allowing ideas, campaigns and tactics to be debated and tested. But it is still only a step. Ultimately, to replace capitalism with socialism a mass revolutionary party with a clear Marxist programme is needed. WASP builds itself as an embryo of such a future party.
In his new year’s address, Zuma pledged to celebrate two centenaries (100 year anniversaries) in 2017 – the birth of Oliver Tambo and the sinking of the SS Mendi. The Mendi was a ship carrying over 800 black soldiers to the European battle fields of World War I to be slaughtered alongside millions more working class people in the interests of the imperialist powers. This is certainly worthy of commemoration.
But there is a far more important anniversary to celebrate in 2017 – one hundred years since the 1917 Russian Revolution led by Lenin, Trotsky and the revolutionary Bolshevik Party. We continue to regard this as the greatest event in human history so far. The working class, the flower of which was organised in the Bolsheviks and armed with a Marxist programme, overthrew capitalism and created a regime of workers’ democracy and socialist economic planning capable of raising the living standards of the masses. Throughout 2017 WASP will be celebrating this anniversary, not least of all to defend it against those, like Zuma, who wish to ignore it, but also against those who wish to distort its legacy. But the best way to honour the heroism of the Russian working class is to follow in their footsteps.
In 2017 we call on the working class to work alongside us to build strong foundations for a new socialist trade union federation by building the #OutsourcingMustFall and living wage campaigns and to continue supporting the Socialist Youth Movement and other student activists to build the #FeesMustFall campaign. In 2017 we will work with community activists and aim to take an initiative for the creation of a country-wide socialist civic federation to lead a mass struggle for decent quality service delivery. But we also call on all working class fighters, community and student activists to join WASP and help us lay the basis for a future mass revolutionary party of the working class able to lead the socialist transformation of society.