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The Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) salutes the decision by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) to join the strike in the platinum industry by taking its members in the Amplats smelters at Rustenburg out of work. This is a welcome act of solidarity with the mineworkers of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) who are in their second week of strike action in demand of a basic wage of R12 500.
The struggle for a living wage is one that needs to unite not only all workers in the mining industry, but workers across the economy as well as the unemployed, youth and students. A victory for one must be a victory for all! WASP has therefore encouraged NUMSA members and other mineworkers, including WASP members in the Limpopo mines, to come out in solidarity with the R12 500 demand.
WASP calls for all striking workers, regardless of trade union affiliation, to jointly form workers’ committees as forums in which rank-and-file workers can chart the way forward for their struggle and give guidance to the trade union leaderships.
WASP, with its affiliate the National Transport Movement (NTM – the 50 000-strong break-away from Cosatu-affiliated transport union SATAWU) in the lead, also calls for the formation of a Socialist Trade Union Network, with the aim to constitute a forum for comradely discussion and the forging of unity amongst workers on national level.
The Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) will this Saturday, February 1, campaign in Tshwane to get students, workers, street traders, youth and other community members to register to vote in the 2014 general elections.
WASP campaigners will also rally community support for the student strike against financial exclusions, which is currently in motion at the Tshwane University of Technology among other campuses across the country, as well as for the mineworkers’ strike for a living wage of R12 500.
Part of tomorrow’s activities will also be the circulation of a petition calling for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma following the police massacre at Marikana, further police killings in Mothutlung, Roodeport, and now Relela village in Limpopo, as well as his government’s failure to fulfil any of its promises to the poor and to workers.
WASP campaigners will assemble at Sammy Marks Square, Tshwane, at 11h00 on Saturday February 1 and fan out across the city.
Those who wish to join in can call WASP organiser Elmond Magedi on 076 317 6955.
The decisions adopted at Numsa’s Special National Congress (SNC) in December have positioned Numsa to be at the heart of working class struggle in the next period. If acted upon boldly, this stand is potentially epoch defining in the life and struggles of the working class of South Africa. The decision to break political ties with the ANC and the SACP sailed through the congress without a murmur of protest. This decision alone would justify the SNC going down as one of the most significant in the history of the labour movement. But the adoption of radical decisions did not stop with that. Now Numsa embarks on a process of debate and discussion about how to implement these decisions.
This will be a crucial period for Numsa and indeed the working class as a whole. The position of the SA economy continues to deteriorate. The rand is in ‘free fall’ and the resulting food and fuel price increases will be felt hard. The capitalist class will try and bolster their position by squeezing the living standards of the masses, including through mass retrenchments. The mining sector is in turmoil again and the mineworkers, the backbone of the working class, face an uphill struggle against the bosses and the inadequacies of their own so-called leaders. The 2014 elections loom with the ANC poised to implement the neo-liberal National Development Plan.
What Numsa does in the coming weeks and months can help shape events. If Numsa continues to grasp the nettle as tightly as they have done this far, this will mean helping shape events in favour of the working class. There is an opportunity to turn the tide in the class war that has seen our enemy – the capitalist class – advance steadily for twenty years. But to do that we need to achieve clarity on the tactics and strategy necessary.
Responding to the crisis in Cosatu
We fully support the analysis Numsa has made of the crisis in Cosatu and the strategy they have adopted in response. Numsa recognises that the key consequence of the crisis in Cosatu is the “complete state of paralysis” that means “Cosatu is no longer a campaigning federation”. Fundamentally, the crisis in Cosatu is being driven by the pro-ANC Cosatu leaders’ slavish support for the ANC and their anti-working class policies. This support is bringing the Cosatu leadership into collision with the membership. We therefore applaud Numsa’s clear call for “Cosatu to break from the Alliance” and Numsa’s undertaking to wage a struggle to win the entire federation to this position and restore it as a “militant, independent and unified” movement. Numsa has recognised that if this fails it will likely fall to them to “begin the process of forming a new federation”.
The pro-ANC Cosatu leaders’ frustration of Numsa’s call for a Cosatu special congress, amounts to a denial of the right of the membership to decide on matters as critical as the fate not just of the general secretary whom they voted into office, but of the entire leadership of the federation. In what amounts to a palace coup, the present leadership is keeping itself in office without the consent of the membership. It is therefore entirely justified for Numsa to withhold the R800 000 monthly affiliation fee from the federation until the congress is convened. It is possible that the pro-ANC leaders will use this as a pretext to suspend or even expel Numsa from the federation. If this takes place, the responsibility for the break-up of Cosatu will lie squarely with the ANC and their stooges in the federation’s leadership. They will be cautious however, as the exit of Numsa would represent the near climax of Cosatu’s death throes.
Numsa’s posing of the political tasks
Millions will be looking toward the upcoming elections as an opportunity to deal the ANC a body-blow. But unfortunately, a sufficiently clear position on 2014 did not emerge from the SNC. However, WASP is confident that in the course of the discussions and debates that are now taking place, Numsa members will recognise the urgency of taking a clear stand and act to use the elections to advance the interests of Numsa members and the working class in general. Two resolutions were adopted at the SNC that deal with the question of 2014 and Numsa’s approach. But one resolution does not entirely fit with the other.
On the one hand, one resolution outlined a clear way forward in stating that “for the struggle for socialism, the working class needs a political organisation committed in theory and practice to socialism”. Based on this view, the commission resolution was clear that in rejecting the Alliance “the time for looking for an alternative has arrived” and that Numsa must “be alert to gains that may present possibilities of either the new united front [see below], or any other progressive coalition or party committed to socialism, standing for elections in future. The Numsa constitutional structures must continuously assess these developments and possibilities.” This resolution, in other words, leaves open the possibility that Numsa may yet express support for a particular party in the 2014 elections.
But the other resolution, whilst advancing the historic call to break from the ANC and SACP also said Numsa would not support “any other political party in 2014”. We believe that the views of the former resolution are far more in keeping with the overall approach Numsa has taken to this question than the latter. However, the specific decisions adopted in that resolution do not fully answer the general understanding of the tasks facing the working class indicated in the quotes above. The resolution calls on Numsa to “establish a new United Front that will coordinate struggles in the workplaces and in communities” and that “side by side with the establishment of a new United Front, Numsa will explore the establishment of a Movement for Socialism as the working class needs a political organisation committed in its policies and actions to the establishment of a socialist South Africa”.
It is clear that the comrades are grappling with the key question confronting the working class: on what basis can the class be united and its fighting capacity maximised in order to advance its collective interests in the struggle for a socialist society?
A ‘United Front’ and a ‘Movement for Socialism’?
The fracturing of the organised labour movement as a result of the crisis in Cosatu is a process that has been underway for many years. This is reflected in splits from nearly all Cosatu affiliates and the rise of a new generation of non-Cosatu unions. This fragmentation has led to destructive competition between rival trade union bureaucracies with the interests of the workers taking second place. The rivalry between NUM and AMCU in the mining industry is the most high profile example of this. The explosion from 2009 of service delivery protests has been an important escalation of the class struggle but communities have remained isolated from one another without a clear national leadership or united strategy to win decent and accessible basic services. Amongst the youth and the students dozens of organisations vie for dominance and much of the energy of the youth is dissipated. The explosion of ‘single issue’ campaigns and other civil society groups is also a reflection of the absence of a clear strategic centre.
It is clear that Numsa intends the United Front to be the umbrella under which all these struggles and organisations should unite. We have raised the call for an Assembly for Working Class Unity. But whatever the name, it is clear that Numsa and WASP are aiming for the same thing: the unity of the struggles of the working class.
Up to now WASP has approached the question from a slightly different angle to that suggested by the United Front. Given the specific conditions of different sections of the class, which require different ‘types’ of organisation and methods of struggle, we have identified three main ‘theatres’: workplaces, communities and the institutions of education.
We have proposed the launching of a Socialist Trade Union Network to unite workers’ organisations whether they are trade unions, trade union structures, independent workers’ organisations such as the strike committees used by the mineworkers and farmworkers, or groups of unorganised workers. The Network would be open to participation regardless of union, federation or political affiliation. The Network would not attempt to duplicate the traditional functions of a trade union but would be a centre for the unity of workers’ struggles, nothing more. That unity would be based on struggle and mutual support. WASP invites Numsa to co-launch STUN alongside WASP, the National Transport Movement and others.
We also call on Numsa to support initiatives such as the Socialist Youth Movement – WASP’s autonomous youth wing – which is aiming to unite the struggles in the institutions of education and simultaneously reach out to the unemployed youth in the townships and elsewhere.
We are at the early stage of discussions with forces that could form the basis for a new civic movement that could set about the task of uniting the service delivery protests of the communities.
It is not entirely clear what the difference between the United Front and the Movement for Socialism will be. At the very least there appears to be a significant overlap between them. The central task of socialists in workplace and community struggles must be the linking of the immediate day-to-day demands of the working class to the wider struggle for a socialist society. Socialism is the generalised expression of working class interests and as such is the very basis for unity. The common struggle for a socialist society can subsume the narrower sectional interests of different layers of the working class inevitable within the framework of capitalism. Socialism is the fully conscious expression of the instinct amongst the working class that “an injury to one is an injury to all”. Thus a Movement for Socialism is appropriate to unite the struggles of the workers, communities and youth on the political plane in the common struggle for a socialist society.
But it is not clear what forces the United Front would bring together that would be different from those that would coalesce under the banner of the Movement for Socialism. It seems that the most important benefit of a Movement for Socialism is that it lays down a clear ideological marker and at the same time sets up the strategic objective of the emergence of a mass workers party on a socialist programme. We would therefore suggest that Numsa subsumes the United Front into the Movement for Socialism and works with WASP to create out of these forces a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme.
Movements and parties
The SNC decided that “Numsa will conduct a thoroughgoing discussion on previous attempts to build socialism as well as current experiments to build socialism. [Numsa] will commission an international study on the historical formation of working class parties, including exploring different types of parties – from mass workers parties to vanguard parties”. We will of course play a full part in this process. However, at the outset, there are some preliminary remarks we would like to make.
There has been a great deal of confusion over the past twenty-five years – dating to the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and the capitalist triumphalism that followed – that has attempted to discredit the idea of parties, whether so-called mass workers parties or vanguard parties. In their place has been substituted more amorphous talk of ‘movements’. This had an objective basis in the betrayals of the working class by the mass social democratic and communist parties in Europe over decades and the liberation movements that turned into capitalist governments in the neo-colonial world. But this in turn was rooted in the specific conjuncture of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the economic upswing of the 1990s and early 2000s, the consequent capitulation of the workers leaders, and the resulting widespread (and we would add temporary) quiescence of the working class in the face of capitalist propaganda to the idea that there is ‘no alternative’ to capitalism. The compromises of the ANC at Codesa can be situated against the objective situation prevailing internationally in the 1990s. Fortunately, due to the specific features of the struggle against apartheid and the nature of the class compromise reached the dimming of a socialist consciousness was not as pronounced in South Africa as it was elsewhere especially in the advanced capitalist countries.
Internationally this situation has allowed petty bourgeois and middle class confusion to come to the fore for a whole period. In South Africa NGO and academic led organisations reflect this. All too often the clear and unequivocal conception of a working class party committed to the revolutionary struggle for a socialist society was shown the back door. In its place was substituted the eclecticism of ‘movements’ where a thousand contradictory and mutually exclusive ideological flowers can bloom. This befits the heterogeneous social position of this layer and their tendency to vacillate between support for the capitalist class and the working class. This layer is frustrated with capitalism and wishes to act, but by virtue of the very fact that it neither produces society’s wealth nor owns or controls it are incapable of playing a decisive role in society and incapable of providing the leadership to the working class that they imagine they should. With no decisive social weight they simultaneously engage in ritual denunciations of capitalism but fear the consequences of directly posing the question of political power, always falling back on some utopian project to prettify capitalism. If the question of political power is not confronted head on, a movement can only ever have tactics, but no strategy; it can only reform capitalism, never overthrow it.
Excellent as the name “Movement for Socialism” is, because it makes the ideological content clear, it is not clearly a call for a mass workers party on a socialist programme. This is a significant limitation. There is undoubtedly a role for a general and all-embracing ‘Movement’ for Socialism. But unless it is built for the purposes of crystalizing the forces for a mass workers party with a clear socialist programme that directly poses the question of political power, the movement will ultimately dissipate and lapse into confusion.
The role of ‘the vanguard’
We fully support the necessity of a vanguard party to lead the working class in a socialist revolution. By vanguard we understand the organisation of those with a clear understanding of the necessity of a socialist society as the fundamental answer to the struggles of the working class and the tasks that will be necessary to realise such a society. Although we prefer to use the term ‘revolutionary party’ due to the damage the concept ‘vanguard’ has undergone in the course of the twentieth century as a result its association with the crimes of Stalinism. That said, we must caution about becoming hung-up on labels. It is the content that is decisive.
We do not believe there is an unbreachable wall between the idea of a mass workers’ party and a vanguard party. In fact, to separate the two into self-contained boxes is to try and introduce a static schema when a dynamic living interaction is the reality. A leader of the Russian Revolution explained that a revolutionary vanguard should be thought of as a piston-box that channels and directs the energy of the masses. The masses are the steam. But he cautioned that whilst without the piston-box the steam would dissipate, what in fact drives the process is not the piston or the box but the steam.
The construction of a revolutionary vanguard cannot be carried out in isolation from the struggles of the working class. Rather, it is out of the struggles of the workers that a vanguard will distil itself on the basis of experience. Whilst such a vanguard must organise itself within the broad mass, it must not separate itself from the masses. We believe that at this stage of the working classes’ development, where it has neither a mass workers’ party nor a clear vanguard, the task is best formulated in the following way: for a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme with an organised revolutionary leadership at its core.
A mass workers’ party with a revolutionary leadership at its core is the only vehicle for the conquest and consolidation of state power. The quagmire that the ‘Arab Spring’ is mired in resoundingly confirms this. The masses in North Africa and the Middle East rose up against the dictatorships with a burning desire to end their rule but without a clear idea of what should replace them. In these circumstances the strategic task of a mass workers party on a socialist programme with a revolutionary leadership at its core would be to set out the vision of a socialist society and the strategy and tactics necessary to achieve it. It is only through the conquest of state power that the economic levers of society can be seized and placed under the democratic control of the working class through the construction of a workers’ state as the foundation for building a socialist society. The working class must reclaim this long established ideological conquest of Marxism. The working class of South Africa with its firm support for socialism does not need to take an ideological detour.
The rhythm of the struggle
WASP takes its marching pace from the terrain of the objective situation and the drumbeat of the class struggle. It is from this that we determine our orientation and tactics. A truism of Marxism is that it is not the task of revolutionaries to make revolutions but to prepare for them. At the SNC, Numsa announced plans for a series of rolling Section 77 socio-economic actions. Such actions could be used to prepare the ground for political general strikes in the future. We wholeheartedly support this bold initiative. We are confident that Numsa is doing everything it can to build a broad alliance to bolster its own significant social weight and ensure successful mass mobilisations.
But we must raise a note of caution. At the SNC, some speakers gave the impression that one of the motivations behind the planned Section 77 actions was to act as a catalyst in the birth of a new political movement or organisation. We fully support Numsa testing the mood by giving a lead in these actions and attempting to galvanize support against the ANC’s neo-liberal policies. But a detailed schema for the class struggle cannot be laid down in advance. It is one thing to seize the moment in an organic struggle as the founders of WASP did in the course of the mineworkers’ strikes of 2012, and another to try and lay down a schedule for the class struggle.
The general consensus seems to be that a new workers’ party will emerge out of the process Numsa has embarked upon. However, we must point out that this process is an objective one, driven by the pressures of the class struggle and the contradictions of capitalist society. It cannot be subsumed into Numsa’s internal timetable, whether the timetable for the Section 77 actions or the 2015 deadline for “work to explore the formation of a Movement for Socialism”.
We would argue that we are at a historical conjuncture where the case for a mass workers party on a socialist programme has decisively been made in the minds of significant sections of the working class. This understanding has developed incrementally over the past two decades of democracy. In this time the class character of the ANC has been revealed by its consistent adherence to capitalism and its determined drive to the right from the abandonment of the Freedom Charter to the adoption of Gear and now the NDP. This has been further and emphatically confirmed by the expunging of nationalisation from ANC economic policy, the adoption of the Youth Wage policy, the imposition of e-tolls and above all the Marikana massacre. Numsa’s decision to prepare for a mass workers party is based on conclusions that have been drawn by the overwhelming majority of organised workers in Cosatu.
In recognising this long prepared objective basis, it follows that depending on the further course of social and political developments, at the outbreak of every struggle and in indications of changing moods amongst the class or sections of the class, Numsa must be prepared to accelerate, amend or review decisions previously taken. This is the only way to seize opportunities to advance the interests of the working class and blaze a trail for the political independence of the working class. The 2014 elections are precisely such an opportunity to advance the interests of the working class. In breaking with the ANC, the working class is looking to Numsa for a lead in where to place their political allegiance.
The birth of WASP
The decision to found WASP was based on the recognition that the mineworkers had undergone a rapid education during the 2012 strikes and the experience of the Marikana massacre. The mineworkers were already one of the most class conscious sections of the working class as a result of the conditions on the mines. The betrayals of the NUM leadership and the ANC that culminated in the massacre revealed the brutal reality of capitalism and that the NUM leaders and the ANC were firmly in the enemy camp. The overwhelming support for the idea of a new workers’ party when it was raised at mass meetings was the natural extension of the mineworkers’ decision to take their fate into their own hands in the establishment of the independent strike committees that led their struggles after NUM’s betrayals. The founders of WASP, in recognising that what had been a latent possibility up until that point had changed into a definite possibility, struck whilst the iron was hot. Accordingly, WASP was founded in December 2012 by representatives of the Democratic Socialist Movement and six independent strike committees. Shortly after, WASP received the backing of the mineworkers’ national strike committee, which at its height represented over 150,000 mineworkers.
Eighteen months after the 2012 strikes ended, NUM has regrouped and consolidated its rump membership. AMCU has become the majority union in the key mining areas of the platinum belt and the Gauteng goldfields. However, its leadership has pursued a sectarian policy towards NUM members and treated the independent strike committees that led the 2012 strikes – and founded WASP – with suspicion. The AMCU leadership has actively sought their dissolution and co-option into AMCU’s own questionable internal structures. In recent weeks, several of the leaders of the strike committees who gave AMCU its mass membership have been witch-hunted by the leadership. As the accidental beneficiaries of the mass rejection of NUM – and with it the ANC – the AMCU leadership has imposed a so-called ‘apolitical’ policy. This is a step backwards and completely contradicts the mood expressed by the mass of mineworkers at the height of the 2012 struggles that they needed their own political party. Even as AMCU members embark on strike action in the platinum sector, who would seriously argue that against this complicated and fractured landscape that an initiative like the founding of WASP could be taken.
The situation in the mining industry today illustrates that in politics “timing is everything”. In revolutionary politics this is true one-hundred times over. In founding WASP the opportunity to establish a lasting reference point from the lessons of the most important workers’ struggle in a generation was seized.
The 2014 elections
Whilst elections are undoubtedly the lowest form of the class struggle, at this conjuncture, the 2014 elections are crucial and an arena of struggle that it would be dangerous to abstain from. Whilst the idea of the necessity of the political independence of the working class has made enormous strides – particularly amongst the mineworkers and Numsa members – not to concretely offer that alternative in these elections could introduce confusion and could see some of the advances of this ideological reconquest slip back. The class enemy – in the form of many different capitalist parties – will utilise any hesitation to draw sections of the working class to their banner. Whilst this would be temporary and would not halt the process towards the political independence of the working class it can introduce avoidable confusion and complications in the next period.
We do not believe it is a viable position for Numsa’s guidance to its members to be limited to recognizing the “constitutional right of its members to vote”. The danger of this position is that it could unintentionally strengthen the pro-capitalist parties Numsa has rejected in its abandonment of the ANC. Such is the hatred for the ANC amongst increasing sections of the working class, not least of all Numsa members themselves, that a mood to punish the ANC at the ballot box will almost certainly emerge. In the absence of Numsa endorsing a positive alternative, whilst millions would certainly abstain, the votes of workers will also undoubtedly go to the EFF and Agang/DA as the best way of punishing the ANC. And of course, in the system of proportional representation, abstention has no impact beyond maybe a shallow ‘moral victory’. The starting point for allocating the spoils of the election is the number of ballots cast, not the number eligible to cast a ballot. Therefore the allocation of seats reflects not the attitude of the voting population as a whole but only those who actually voted.
An abstention can in fact benefit the ANC – the very party that Numsa has withdrawn its support from. In 2004 for example, twelve million voters abstained, yet the ANC’s share of the vote gave them 69% of the seats in parliament. Similarly 12.4 million did not vote in 2009 yet the ANC fell just short of a two thirds majority. The ANC’s level of support amongst the eligible voting population declined from 38% to 34% between 2004 and 2009. In reality they were a minority government ruling with the support of barely a third of the eligible voting population. But the ANC was able to present itself as enjoying overwhelming support. This emboldened the leadership who lifted all restraints in adopting the right wing policies that led to the Marikana massacre and defined the Mangaung conference. The recent imposition of e-tolls is an example of a government acting in blatant defiance of the people.
Similarly, in the absence of a genuine socialist alternative, the partial economic reforms proposed by the EFF could misseducate a generation in where the real road to ‘economic freedom’ lies. The EFF has already retreated on its mine nationalisation policy and Malema’s unprincipled courting of the anti-working class and reactionary leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Buthelezi, shows the destructive path that the youth could be led down if left to the EFF’s leadership.
The failure to place Numsa’s weight firmly behind a party that closely corresponds to Numsa’s own socialist policies and that at this stage is most capable of taking the struggle of the working class and the cause of socialism forward, can have the unintended consequence of strengthening the parties of capitalism that currently dominate the political landscape. As the ANC continues to disintegrate it cannot be relied on by the capitalist class to defend their interests by itself in the future. The incorporation of Agang into the DA shows that a reconfiguration of the parties of capitalism is under way. There is therefore an urgent need to review the decision not to express a preference for a political party in the 2014 elections.
Numsa and 2014
At the SNC, Numsa delegates, in their endorsement of the Secretariat Report adopted a set of criteria that should be used to appraise any political party. These included (1) the class composition of the party, (2) the class politics represented by the party’s programme, (3) the party’s track record, (4) the extent to which the party has democratic structures. These criteria were used to explicitly reject supporting the new Economic Freedom Fighters and Agang SA. In rejecting the EFF, attention was drawn to their failure to call for nationalisation on the basis of workers’ control or clearly naming the alternative to capitalism as socialism. As a minimum, we believe that Numsa should issue the criteria described above, already adopted as policy at the SNC, as voting guidelines to its members and promote them in a high profile campaign.
Given the parties that are likely to contest the 2014 elections this in practice amounts to calling for a vote for WASP. We are not shy to say it and Numsa should not be shy about following through on the logic of the positions adopted at the SNC. Although WASP was not mentioned officially at the SNC, it is clear that WASP meets the criteria. WASP was born out of the struggles of the mineworkers. WASP stands for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under workers control and management as the basis for constructing a socialist society. In its short life, WASP has been central to the struggles of the mineworkers and led and engaged with all manner of struggles of other workers, communities and youth. WASP has a democratic and federal structure in order to lay the basis for the maximum unity of the working class. In the run-up to SNC WASP invited Numsa to “take its place in the leadership of WASP”. We repeat that call with growing urgency as the 2014 elections loom.
But WASP is not asking for something for mahala. We have said many times that WASP is a party of the working class not a party for the working class. Whilst we would welcome a call from Numsa for their members to vote for WASP this would not be sufficient. We appeal for the active participation of Numsa in the development of WASP. We believe Numsa should make WASP its home and take ownership of it. Numsa should stamp its imprint all over WASP. Our call is for Numsa to take its place in the leadership of WASP.
WASP and the road to a mass workers’ party
In abandoning the Alliance, one of the criticisms Numsa has raised is that the ANC is the only real “strategic centre”. Cosatu and the voice of the working class is subsumed within the Alliance to the benefit of the capitalist class. The inevitable outcome is the crisis we see playing out in Cosatu today. Unfortunately, the EFF has taken a similarly high-handed and undemocratic approach as Numsa itself has recognised. Whilst WASP is explicitly based on the working class, and is therefore not attempting to contain irreconcilable class interests as is the case in the Alliance, WASP believes that a democratic and inclusive organisational approach is necessary. WASP has been set up with a federal structure to ensure that no affiliated organisation is “subsumed” and their voice lost. The working class is going through a process of ideological clarification and there are many debates that need to be had. The task at this stage is to facilitate this process not rush to close it down. Upon the basis of agreement with a basic socialist programme, organisations and individuals can unite under the WASP umbrella. We believe this is the only way to begin uniting those forces that can lay the basis for a genuine mass workers party in the future.
This is not a permanent organising principle but rather reflects our belief that this is the only means by which the first steps toward building a mass workers party can be taken given the current fragmentation of our class. We remain open to a more ‘traditional’ party structure being adopted as WASP develops. We believe that the founding of WASP has played a role in accelerating the process toward the political independence of the working class and sharpened the lines of debate. But this process has not ended with the founding of WASP. On the contrary, Numsa’s stand has taken the process onto a higher plane. We are also open to WASP becoming a founding component of any new initiative for a mass workers party on a socialist programme in the future.
Reflecting our understanding of WASP’s role we are taking an inclusive approach to the drawing up of election lists for the 2014 elections and those candidates we hope to send into the National Assembly. WASP’s federal structure offers Numsa the opportunity to send its own candidates into the National Assembly under the WASP umbrella. Numsa could take its opposition to the NDP into the very body that will attempt to oversee its implementation. These would be known and identified as Numsa sponsored candidates, and if elected, as Numsa sponsored MPs. The only requirement would be adherence to the basic programme and principles of WASP, cooperation with other WASP representatives, participation in the leading bodies of WASP and a commitment to help build and develop the party. This includes the crucial requirement that all elected representatives of WASP are recallable by the party and will only take the average wage of a skilled worker with the remainder of the MPs salary going back into the party. This is the only way to guard against the corruption and co-option of workers representatives that the state institutions that facilitate the capitalist classes’ rule encourage.
Even a small group of MPs in the next parliament would be an important ancillary to the struggles that will be waged in the workplaces and the communities in the next period. Using the WASP umbrella to send workers’ representatives into parliament in 2014 does not preclude the widest possible consultation taking place now and after the elections. On the contrary, imagine how immeasurably the case for the Movement for Socialism would be strengthened by already having demonstrated the appetite amongst the working class for such a movement by having elected representatives even at this early stage. In pursuing such a twin tactic, Numsa would make an invaluable contribution to laying the foundation for a new mass workers party on a socialist programme.
The propaganda of the deed can speak louder than a thousand radical resolutions. At the SNC, Numsa adopted all the elements necessary to formulate a clear lead in 2014 and place itself at the heart of the process that will lead to a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme. The 2014 elections present us with an opportunity to accelerate that process. We call on Numsa to seize the moment.
The Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) here responds to some media reports which, whilst raising some of the key concerns over the situation in the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) that WASP together with members of workers- and AMCU shopsteward committees have raised, unfortunately also distorted the fundamental position we are putting forward, if not through quotations torn from their context, then through outright omissions.
The false impression created, for example in the Mail & Guardian Online, is that WASP is opposing the strike or AMCU itself. We want to restate categorically that we are emphatically supporting the strike action which began in the platinum industry today, Thursday, and also remain committed to the building of AMCU as a worker-controlled, democratic and fighting mass trade union for the workers in the mining industry.
What WASP has done is to raise concerns that as we enter this strike, the most burning issues which have undermined the credibility of the union and eroded its authority in the eyes of certain layers of the mineworkers in the recent period. Amongst others, these concern the defeat of the Amplats strike against retrenchments, the imposition of head office decisions on workers, the undermining of democratically elected shop stewards’ structures, the absence of regional structures, offices etc, the apparent protection of shop stewards implicated in corruption, the intimidatory climate that are not only not being addressed by the AMCU leadership, but arrogantly disregarded to the detriment of the strike and of AMCU Itself. The leadership of the union has not only failed to tackle these issues, but vilified, ostracised and brutally suppressed anyone trying to highlight them and their detriment to the cause of the looming strike, unity of the mineworkers and the future of AMCU. The shopstewards we hosted for Monday’s press briefing are amongst victims of this authoritarianism.
Some may question the timing of our public statements and open critique of Mr Mathunjwa and his dictatorial clique in AMCU, given that they are the foremost leadership of the impending strike against the bosses for the R12 500 living wage. Shouldn’t every socialist and working class fighter subordinate everything else to this – the most important battle in the unfolding class war concentrating the minds, efforts and forces of both the capitalist ruling class and the working classes today and line up behind the mineworkers and their leadership?
WASP’s answer to this question is an unequivocal yes and that is precisely what informs every position and effort on our part. If anyone is taking defeatist position and ‘shooting generals on his own side’ it is Mr Mathunjwa. His malicious public vilification, open incitement of mob violence and now alleged dismissal, without even the pretence of a kangaroo disciplinary inquiry this time, of the most militant, courageous and authoritative leaders of the mineworkers is nothing less than a decapitation of AMCU shop-stewards committees on the eve of this epic battle – a treacherous defeatist position and effective sabotage of the strike and of mineworkers.
WASP has found it imperative to raise alarm at this point precisely because of the threat to workers’ unity that is posed by the conduct of Mr Mathunjwa and the AMCU leadership. We have in other words gone public on the divisions within AMCU because of the threat they pose to the unity and victory of this very strike, and also to protect the worker leaders who have unfairly been labelled traitors by Mr Mathunjwa and who are now living under the threat of death.
The AMCU leadership’s failure to tackle the pertinent issues such as those workers who lost their jobs in spite of Mathunjwa’s promise, on calling off last year’s Amplats strike against mass retrenchments, that ‘no one will lose his job’, the contract workers who were compromised to ‘save permanent jobs’ and many others demonstrate the impotence of this leadership. This is the biggest threat to the unity of the mineworkers, which is indispensable for the victory in this strike and, indeed, for the sustainability of AMCU itself. Equally so, it is a problem of a lack of a clear strategy, and fighting plan to rally the broadest possible support, including those workers who currently do not feel they have a stake in the present list of demands or those feeling vulnerable as they are on temporary contracts, or parties to last year’s NUM settlement, and also mineworkers across the industry, and in other industries, the residents of poor mining communities, that can ensure victory in this battle. The humiliation of NUMSA president Andrew Chirwa at last Sunday’s AMCU rally in Rustenburg is a tragic example of this (NUMSA had been invited by the Amplats branch committee, with the consent of the AMCU national leadership, to offer its support for the strike, but once Chirwa was on stage and had been announced as a speaker, AMCU treasurer Jimmy Gama intervened to withdraw his right to speak). WASP appeals to NUMSA and other trade unions, fighting community and youth organisations to offer their support to the AMCU strike – a victory for one is a victory for all, especially on the critical question of a living wage.
Despite the concerns raised above, WASP has not changed its position to support the strike and the building of AMCU. WASP has absolute faith in the capacity of ordinary AMCU members and shopstewards to overcome these challenges during the course of the strike and to assert their rank- and-file power to ensure that the union is genuinely worker-controlled, that decisions on the strategic and tactical issues of this strike are taken democratically, that workers are united and their fighting capacity strengthened to smash poverty wages and the slavery of SA’s cheap labour system.
To this end, WASP calls for the election of representative strike/workers committees, regular mass meetings for open and democratic debates on the strategy to win R12 500 and to rally the entire working class behind the mineworkers’ cause.
Workers and Socialist Party will be campaigning particularly in communities of the North West and Carletonville, in the whole trade union movement and throughout the country to raise support for the strike and its demands.
For WASP’s previous statement on the strike and the threat of divisions within AMCU, please see https://workerssocialistparty.co.za/amcu-divisions-struggle-for-democratic-trade-unions/
But ordinary mineworkers must have full democratic control of all aspects of the strike.
On the eve of strike action in the platinum belt, there are genuine concerns amongst mineworkers about AMCU’s preparedness to fight for a R12 500 per month minimum wage. Despite this WASP supports the commencement of AMCU’s platinum wage strike on Thursday. However, we are supporting the call of the rank-and-file Rustenburg leadership for the immediate resurrection of the independent strike committees to lead that strike and place it firmly under the control of ordinary mineworkers.
WASP has consistently argued that winning R12 500 will require drawing in every section of the mineworkers through a programme of rolling mass action. In the first instance this means pursuing a strategy to win over the remaining NUM membership. It will also require mobilising the mining communities and youth in all mining areas in support of the strike. This will require linking the mining communities’ demands around service delivery to the mineworkers’ wage demands. The mineworkers will need to call for the formation of support groups across the country in all workplaces and working class communities and call for the working class as a whole to come to their aid in national demonstrations, solidarity strikes and ultimately a general strike to force the mine bosses to concede. Linking up with Numsa and their planned Section 77 mass actions will be crucial in the aftermath of Numsa’s SNC. To our knowledge the AMCU leadership has done none of this. However from the platform of the strike, the mineworkers can rapidly make up the ground that the AMCU leadership has abandoned and broaden their action and adopt a strategy that will maximise the chances of victory.
Unfortunately, the AMCU leadership has taken a sectarian approach to sections of the mineworkers not under their banner. This includes the condemnation of the NUM led strike in the gold sector in September and the call by the AMCU leadership for AMCU members not to support this strike. In contrast WASP called on AMCU to throw its weight behind the strike to expose and undermine the treacherous NUM leadership and win mineworkers away from them at the same time as maximising the pressure on the gold mining bosses for the best possible wage deal for all mineworkers regardless of union affiliation. At the mass meeting yesterday, Numsa president Andrew Chirwa was invited by a local AMCU branch, with the expressed consent of the national AMCU leadership, to address the meeting on the basis of Numsa’s recent special national congress where Numsa extended the hand of friendship and solidarity to all mineworkers. The AMCU leadership intervened to prevent him speaking despite Chirwa being present on the platform.
On 20 January, the Workers and Socialist Party hosted a press conference to give a platform to rank-and-file AMCU leaders from Rustenburg voicing the concerns of key organisers and AMCU members at Impala, Amplats and Lonmin. We gave these workers’ leaders a platform to respond to the accusations levelled against them by AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa, without a right to reply, at a mass meeting of mineworkers in the Rustenburg platinum belt on Sunday 19 January. At the mass meeting, Mathunjwa named eight rank-and-file AMCU leaders he accuses of seeking to ‘destroy’ AMCU, ‘having tea with Zuma’ and taking money from government, demanding and taking bribes, starting a new union and bearing responsibility for the defeat of the Amplats strike against retrenchments early last year. One of the workers named by Mathunjwa was immediately assaulted by a group of workers prompting the police to intervene.
There is no credibility to the accusations Mathunjwa has hurled at these workers’ leaders. The real reason for the witch-hunt is that these comrades have been at the forefront of calling for the democratisation of AMCU and the accountability of its leadership, including Mathunjwa. This has been interpreted by Mathunjwa and his inner circle as a threat to their power and position within AMCU. Amongst the complaints is the AMCU leadership’s failure to organise even basic democratic structures in Rustenburg that would give workers a genuine voice within their own union. WASP has been drawing attention to these problems for several months. This includes the failure to set up a regional office with elected regional office bearers. The democratic structures that do exist – shop stewards committees and branches – are frequently side-lined on the issues that are most fundamental to the labour movement: the calling and control of industrial action especially strike action.
On the surface, the mass meetings called by the AMCU leadership, at which votes are taken, can seem democratic. But in reality these meetings amount to a ‘rule by referendum’ passed down from the top for approval rather than a genuine democratic discussion and debate where elected and accountable workers’ representatives pass mandates up to the leadership.
The eight named by Mathunjwa are amongst those mineworkers who led the independent strike committees that coordinated the strikes in the wake of the Marikana massacre in the latter half of 2012. AMCU in fact owes its entire position in the platinum belt to these comrades amongst others. They took workers into AMCU expecting and demanding an entirely different regime to the one they abandoned in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) along which the majority of the mineworkers in the platinum belt in the face of sustained betrayals, not least of all Marikana itself. Such is Mathunjwa’s ingratitude for their role and his suspicion of the workers’ independent initiative and their desire to control their own destinies through genuine democratic trade unions that he is prepared to incite workers to attack these comrades who have always heroically defended the interests of the mineworkers and the working class in general. Any responsibility for new divisions amongst the mineworkers lies squarely with Mathunjwa and his clique.
There are rumours that a new union has been founded in the mining industry out of the differences in AMCU described above. If this is the case, then it is a confirmation of the erosion of support for the AMCU leadership in the short space of time they have ‘led’ in the platinum belt. Those workers’ leaders at the WASP hosted press conference remain AMCU members and are not part of this initiative. But they did not lift AMCU out of obscurity only to capitulate to Mathunjwa’s clique. Out of the strike these comrades and WASP will demand the democratisation of AMCU and its reorganisation as a democratic and worker-led trade union.
The R12 500 demand was first raised by the independent strike committees in the course of the 2012 struggle. The R12 500 wage demand is entirely justified and entirely possible despite the mine bosses protests of its unaffordability. It is also a winnable demand but only on the basis of careful preparation by the mineworkers and the working class as a whole. The platinum bosses have prepared for a long strike, stockpiling platinum for the world market. The share prices of the three main platinum producers actually increased on news of the strike! This is a vote of confidence by the vulture capitalists in the platinum bosses. The strike at Northam Platinum in Limpopo, conducted under the banner of NUM, continued for 77 days before securing a wage rise of 7.5% – 9.5% (according to our latest reports at the time of writing). This is well below the amount necessary to realise the R12 500 demand and shows the determination of the mine bosses to resist the legitimate wage demands of the mineworkers.
The Workers and Socialist Party was formed out of the industry-wide strike wave that followed the Marikana massacre in August 2012, by several independent mineworkers’ strike committees together with the Democratic Socialist Movement, an organisation which played a leading role in coordinating and guiding the strikes. We have consistently and determinedly argued for the unity of the mineworkers and rejected the use of violence, the sectarianism of the AMCU leadership and the treachery of the NUM leadership. This championing of all mineworkers, rather than just the section organised under AMCU’s banner, has led AMCU leaders to slander us. One example is the regularly used lie that WASP (and the Democratic Socialist Movement) are enemies of the mineworkers and want them to return to NUM for the reason that some of our members wear red t-shirts. The same colour as t-shirts that NUM wears!
The R12 500 will be a central demand in WASP’s 2014 election campaign and WASP invites the independent workers’ committees to nominate candidates to stand for election under the WASP umbrella and take the mineworkers demands on wages and other issues into the National Assembly as an ancillary to the struggles that will be waged in the coming days, weeks and months.
Viva the mineworkers, viva!
For a more detailed analysis of the situation in the mines, AMCU and the history of the strike committees read “After Marikana: the way forward for the mineworkers” written by the Democratic Socialist Movement and endorsed by WASP.
This statement was originally posted under the title “AMCU divisions: struggle for democratic trade unions”. The title and the order of the paragraphs has been changed to make WASP’s support for the mineworkers’ strikes even clearer than in the original in light of sections of the media’s poor reporting of our position.
The Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) condemns the police brutality which has claimed another life in the Brits communities of Mothutlung and Damonsville. Sello Seema is the latest in the series of victims to die as a result of this vicious state repression. Two others have been killed since the beginning of the protest. One is wounded and in hospital. 14 people are in police custody. These communities have since last week been protesting against the lack of water, corruption and poor delivery of essential public services in general. The Mothutlung-three, just as the many others which have died at the hands of the police when protesting for service delivery, for better wages, for jobs and education, are the victims of the government’s increasingly authoritarian approach to enforcing the capitalist order in a time of escalating attacks on working class people’s living and working conditions.
WASP calls on all townships and villages of Brits to join the Mothutlung residents in organising a day of united action to demand clean water for all, to protest the police murders, to demand justice for the dead, compensation for their families and arrest of those responsible for their deaths. for decent services and against police brutality. Workers should support the struggle and make this a true local general strike.
We also call on Brits residents to escalate this necessary response to the police killings by issuing a call for a day of joint national action to all communities fighting for delivery of services, trade unions and students.
The cruel police savagery and violent state repression of working class protests in communities, workplaces and campuses reflect the increasingly desperate position of the ANC-ruled capitalist state which has become so highly discredited it can no longer keep the restless masses of the working class people in cage of mere lies and false promises. In impotent despair at the absence of any credible prospects of recovery in the worsening economic outlook or the health of the state fiscus, which rule out its capacity to meet even the most modest demands of working class and poor people, government has become convinced that nothing less than an iron fist can quell the growing reawakening of mass movements.
Looking ahead, we can expect that the ANC, as it is confronted with the worst election results since 1994 and a working class that is increasingly breaking the political bonds that tied it to its tripartite alliance with Cosatu and SACP – the historical process that erupted first in the mines and is now accelerated by the NUMSA split and the search for class independence and a political alternative – will escalate violent repression to prop up is politically discredited, corrupt and inept pro-capitalist government.
Working and poor people of this country have no other choice but to organise, unite and struggle against poor delivery of essential public services like water, sanitation and electricity, for decent jobs and free education for all.
We are calling for an independent community- and trade union-led enquiry into the killings as there is really nothing ‘independent’ about the Independent Complaints Directorate which has consistently failed to expose and lead investigation for a successful prosecution of the ‘official offenders’ against the poor. Andries Tatane case in Ficksburg is a well-known example of this failure.
The Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) condemns the murder of Tshwane street trader Foster Jan Rivombo by a Tshwane Metro Police officer on Wednesday. This is yet another attack in the war which the government is waging against poor working class people. From Tshwane to Johannesburg, the poor are punished for trying to make a living by selling on the streets when there are no jobs. From Marikana to de Doorns, workers are attacked for organising for living wages. It is high time that working class people across the country unite to put an end to the brutality. WASP is engaging with hawker organisations in Tshwane and elsewhere to organise a united response to this outrage.
Rivombo was shot at point blank range by Metro Police officer on Wednesday after he refused to hand over his stock of bananas and apples. The police officer is still on duty. Four hawkers, meanwhile are appearing in court today after they were arrested when demanding that an ambulance be called (the police only called an ambulance after three hours, having taken Rivombo into a bakkie immediately after shooting him).
The murder took place during the City of Tshwane’s supposed ‘Operation I Can’ which has been in effect since 2012. While the City claims the operation makes the city cleaner and reduces crime, for the hawkers who try to make an honest living in the context of mass unemployment it means being the victims of state-sanctioned corruption, crime and murder.
– WASP demands that the police officer who was witnessed murdering Rivombo is arrested immediately, says Elmond Magedi, WASP Tshwane organiser.
– We also demand the immediate release of the four hawkers who were arrested at the time of the shooting.
– WASP calls for an end to Operation I Can, for the police to immediately stop its assaults, harassment and extortion of bribes.
– We call on Tshwane hawkers to unite with hawkers across Gauteng and SA, who are facing the same oppression, and will be engaging the hawker organisations we are close to organise joint protests, says Liv Shange, WASP spokesperson.
The Workers and Socialist Party has recently played a leading role in the street traders’ struggle against the City of Johannesburg’s mass forced removal of hawkers which led to a victory in the Constitutional Court on December 5.