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by Newton Masuku & Tinovimbanashe Gwenyaya
Featured in our latest uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication #2
The economy continues to plunge deeper into crisis as it enters yet another recession. For the second time since Ramaphosa’s ascendancy, the economy contracted for two consecutive quarters in the last half of 2019. Major companies like Glencore, Samancor and Telkom have announced that thousands of workers will be retrenched this year while state owned enterprises (SOEs) are reeling from relentless looting and plundering. SAA, Denel, Eskom, Prasa, Transnet and many others are all in a critical state.
Heavily indebted, plagued by maladministration and outright corruption, South Africa’s SOEs are unable to provide even their most basic services effectively. The national power utility, Eskom, is drowning in debt to the tune of R454 billion, while Denel, the state’s armament manufacturer, is owing R2.7 billion. Similarly, the national carrier, SAA, entered into business rescue late last year following a long battle with R12.7 billion owed, despite numerous bailouts by the state. In each of these SOEs, the ordinary workers, who had absolutely nothing to do with their crises, are set to shoulder its burden – job losses are looming! SAA is scheduled to retrench 4600 workers. Eskom is wielding an axe, set to chop and render redundant many workers. The top management at the power utility are trying all sorts of maneuvers to circumvent union resistance. To rid the power utility of “excess workforce”, the top management at Eskom are proposing “voluntary retrenchment packages to non-core employees”. As if that was not enough, Denel, according to its management, is closing its Aeronautics division in an attempt to return the arms manufacturer to profitability – leaving thousands of workers out to dry.
The spokespersons of the bosses in the mainstream media place the blame for the dire state of SOEs squarely on the shoulders of the Zuma administration – the so-called nine wasted years. Some go so far as to argue that the crisis ravaging SOEs provides ample evidence that only the private sector can efficiently run these entities, and so call for their privatization.
While it is true that rampant corruption and unrepentant looting contributed immensely to the near collapse of these entities, this is not the whole story. What is often not talked about in these celebratory claims of the efficiency of the private sector, is that these SOEs are, in the main, brought to their knees by the selfsame private sector!
Through the inflation of prices of the commodities sold to SOEs; incentive schemes offered by the state in an attempt to woo investment; and exorbitant consultant fees, the parastatals have been left reeling and bleeding cash. In 2013, for instance, Fin24 revealed that Eskom lost R10.7 billion supplying Hillside, the biggest of BHP Billiton’s aluminium smelters. Through a deal concluded in 1992, BHP Billiton pays only a fraction of what an ordinary consumer pays for electricity. In 2018 major consultancy firms like Mckinsey, Bain & Company and KPMG had to pay back R1 billion to the state following the controversies around the services they provided to the SOEs. Between 2017 and 2018, Transnet, Denel, the SABC, SAA, and Eskom spent a combined R3 billion for consulting and outsourcing of services. Even the former Treasury Chief Director for Governance, Compliance and Monitoring, Solly Tshitangano, admitted that there exists a great deal of “unnecessary outsourcing in SOEs, and a lot of it at inflated prices”.
This all means that the public is in fact subsidizing private corporations. SOEs, in their current configuration, are piggy banks for profiteering by these privately owned industries, corporations and consultancy firms. The working class should not bear the brunt of the failure of SOEs under capitalist rule. We must fight back to stop the era of loadshedding, failing public transport services, and now mass retrenchments and the Corona Crisis. In a united campaign of workers, communities and the youth, we must embark on a programme of rolling mass action to fight for genuine nationalisation of SOEs under the democratic control of the working class and in the interest of all of society.
WASP calls for:
- the SOEs to immediately be placed under the direct democratic control and management of Recovery and Reconstruction Councils made up of their workers as well as communities that are impacted by their activities. These councils would bring in accountable expertise as needed and, removing the profit motive, would develop a turnaround strategy to reorientate the SOEs to serve the interests of our communities and not ANC fat cats and multinational consulting firms.
- An end to outsourced sub-contracts and backroom BEE deals – they are not in the interest of the black majority but benefit a few politically connected tender-preneurs and lead to the worst exploitation of workers in precarious employment
- An end to state-subsidised electricity to energy-intensive users. Trade unions and other working class organisations must struggle for the nationalisation of the banks, mines, manufacturing industries and mega farms under democratic control of the working class. In this way, we can plan our economy for the social good, including the production and distribution of our energy resources, in the most sustainable and equitable way, including urgent measures to address the climate crisis.
By Carmia Schoeman
Featured in our latest uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication
Initially a commemoration of the decisive strike action taken by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, one of the largest unions in USA history, the formal institution of International Working Women’s Day (IWWD) was championed at the 1910 Second International Congress by German socialist, Clara Zetkin.
The initial intent of the day was clear: a day of coordinated international action by working class women to challenge the capitalist system founded on oppression.
Marching in a coordinated effort under IWWD’s banner against food shortages, the Tsarist regime and war, 90 000 working women initiated the 1917 Russian Revolution in Petrograd (now St Petersburg).
In a cruel twist of irony, women of today are encouraged to celebrate the 4% of female CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies, or perhaps the slightly more attainable, 24% representation in parliaments across the world. The obvious co-opting of the socialist working women’s struggle by the exploitative elite was exemplified in its rebranding as International Women’s Day.
Concerns of working class women, such as the increased cost of childcare, decreasing job security, racism, and attacks on bodily autonomy have been appropriated as insincere talking points to fuel the populist rhetoric of the ruling elite. The ANC Women’s League will make big scenes at rape trials and Gender Based Violence protests, whilst at the same time protecting powerful men accused of rape like Jacob Zuma and looking the other way when services that help victims of GBV are gutted.
Our international initiative, ROSA, is organising to reclaim International Women’s Day as a day of struggle and revolution. This year, ROSA organised and took part alongside millions worldwide on 8 March. The working class is starting to draw the conclusion that bourgeois feminists will not bring liberation for all oppressed by gender, sexuality, race, and class.
Click the banner below to find out more about ROSA 👇
WASP EC Statement
At the time of writing, the recorded spread of the Coronavirus spans 157 countries, with 62 known cases in South Africa, figures sure to be outdated by the time this is read. Within its few months of existence, this virus has begun to lay bare every fundamental failure of capitalism.
The spread of the novel Coronavirus (or SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes (COVID-19) has rapidly become a pandemic – a globally spread epidemic. There are still uncertainties about how best to contain and control the spread of corona.
What is clear is that the virus spreads rapidly and that it can and will kill. With mortality estimates for now ranging between 0,7-3,4%, and estimations that 30-70% of populations will be infected, inadequate health care systems risk being overwhelmed, as evident from China to Italy.
Capitalism, its blind chase for profits and its neoliberal austerity are behind the failure to contain and respond to the Coronavirus.
For weeks, Chinese authorities suppressed and covered up, allowing the virus a head start in the interest of “stability” and profits-as-usual for big business. Its global spread has exposed the deadly impact of decades of austerity, deregulation and privatisation of health care in combination with precarious livelihoods.
South Africa is set to be extraordinarily hard-hit. With over 20% of the population aged 15-49 HIV-positive, one of the world’s highest TB infection rates, and widespread malnutrition, it’s fair to assume that the portion of those infected who will need critical care will be higher than in many other countries – which our class-divided, two-tier, understaffed health care system is not fit for.
Both rural and urban areas provide disastrously conducive conditions for the spread of the virus. On top of the unaddressed Apartheid legacy of “bantustan” devastation and massive inequality, ANC’s rule has meant decades of underfunding and mismanagement of water supply, infrastructure, housing, health care, and education. Climate change and the predatory mining industry mean destruction of water resources and rural livelihoods.
The results include mass unemployment, with desperate precarious workers who face the “choice” of going to work sick or going hungry. Overcrowded buses, trains and taxis stand for over 70% of transport. Millions live in packed townships and shacks.
In schools, standard class size is 40 learners, with the poorest schools which also routinely lack water and sanitation often exceeding this. The broken education system makes a mockery of the idea of effective online learning for the vast majority.
Likewise, the basic hygiene recommended to protect from infection is a cruel joke to many. In rural areas, 74% get water from wells and pumps – many of which run dry amid the worst drought in a thousand years. In urban areas, many depend on taps shared by whole communities. Water cut offs hit millions of those lucky enough to have piped water at home.
Workers must take action now to slow the spread and ramp up the capacity of health care.
Capitalists and their governments will put profit before people, just as they are doing with the climate crisis. WASP calls on trade unions, students, communities and other movements of the working classes to organise for the following:
- Allow all who can to work from home, special leave without loss pay for others, except workers essential for provision of health services, food and other necessities.
- Safe working conditions for all: protective gear, anti-transmission training, regular testing, breaks for recovery, full pay and compensation, safe transport and accommodation.
- No restriction of democratic rights like right to strike and organise.
- Shut down schools, universities, colleges and pre-schools immediately to limit the spread; provide special childcare for essential services workers.
- Roll out free testing at temporary stations in all communities; quality medical services and medication for all.
- Free soap, water and sanitisers in every public space, workplace and poor community.
- Stop and reverse all water and electricity cut offs, supply water to all households.
- No profiteering off the pandemic – nationalise all private health institutions, medical aids, labs and pharmaceutical corporations under democratic workers control; to produce test kits, medicine and protective gear according to need.
- Price caps for all necessities – no opportunistic price gouging!
- Avail hotels, guest houses, empty apartments etc to quarantine those in need.
- Basic income grant and supply of free basic food and utilities for precarious workers and others forced to stay home and in need.
- Stop all retrenchments, nationalise any company that defies ban; halt the government’s austerity plan – all hands on deck to to fight the crisis.
- Mass employment and training of health assistants and community healthcare workers to contain the spread and ensure treatment and services at point of need.
- Suspend payments of rent, rates, water and electricity tariffs; emergency loans to small businesses in need.
- A complete end to evictions.
- Set up import-substituting industries to ensure continuous supply of all essential needs for which the country currently depends on imports.
- Permanent, secure and decent-paying jobs and training for all workers including in community health care, home-based care, food production, distribution and retail.
- Build a single, public, national health care service for all.
- Massive public works programme to overcome backlogs in housing, schooling infrastructure, hospitals and clinics, piped water supply, for safe public transport.
- Reorganise the economy on the basis of public ownership of all key resources (eg banks, mines, big businesses) for a democratic plan to put need for health, education, housing, work, water, sustainable food and energy production first.
We risk catastrophic consequences and must organise a general stay-away of workers, communities and young people if the government doesn’t take these and many other measures to mobilise society to combat the pandemic and save lives.