Workers summit: how can we make the new federation a success?

  • For a socialist programme

  • For accountable and transparent leadership

  • For bold and militant struggle

  • 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.


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