now browsing by month
written by Mametlwe Sebei
The COVID-19 pandemic has ignited a global public health crisis without precedence in living memory. The worldwide personal suffering and misery is incalculable: tragic loss of life, untold emotional torment and pain of survivors, terror and fear of starvation, enormous losses of income for many struggling for survival under lockdowns and curfews. The social and economic consequences of this pandemic are however only in their infant stages. Only after the lockdown, in the months and years to come, will the full scale of both economic and societal devastation become clear. This, in part, depends on the measures undertaken by the state.
On Tuesday 21 April Cyril Ramaphosa addressed people in South Africa regarding updated measures in dealing with the coronavirus crisis. In a country where austerity measures and “tightening the belt” has become everyday vocabulary, people viewed the seemingly sudden surfacing of hundreds of billions of rands in shock and awe. Where has this money been before the crisis, when the working class and poor have been crying out for relief to the “usual” crises of health, service delivery, housing, overcrowding, education and unemployment? Organised labour and progressives must take caution in praising the government for the newly announced relief measures, because, as they say, the devil is in the details. And there are many details left out in Ramaphosa’s latest presidential address.
The open letter from 76 economists
A group of “Left Economists”, in an open letter addressed to the president, estimated that South Africa can face up to 7% contraction in the GDP due to the corona crisis, which will leave many millions unemployed and hungry. Responding to the immense distress faced by many working class and poor during the ongoing lockdown and the impending economic slump, the ANC government has announced an economic and social relief package. Most of the measures echo the views penned in the open letter to the president, putting forward a range of Keynesian measures to pull the economy from the abyss.
As some of the authors of this letter are linked with the trade union movement, either directly or through “think tanks” that support trade union policy units, their ideas find resonance in the workers’ movement. We see this in media statements issued by both COSATU and SAFTU, and the recently established COVID-19 People’s Coalition (endorsed by trade unionists, working class community organisations, and NGOs). We, therefore, are compelled to respond.
WASP supports many of the proposals affirming demands of the workers’ movement and activists organizing in communities, and we believe they are worth fighting for as part of a fighting programme of emergency relief for workers and communities. It is however the underlying ideas of Keynesian economics – which boil down to measures taken to save capitalism – that pose an extreme danger and must be exposed and purged if we are to forge a revolutionary alternative to the ever increasing crises inherent in the decaying capitalist system.
Appeal to ‘reason’ and benevolence of the state
Capitalism divides society into two main classes, the capitalist (owners of capital, i.e. factories, banks, businesses) and the working class (who need to sell their labour power to survive). The tiny minority capitalist class gets its wealth from the labour power of the working class, in a constant and bitter struggle. They are supported and protected in this by state power, which works to maintain this massive robbery and thereby acts ultimately in the political service and class interests of the capitalists.
By failing to grasp, or at least openly approach government from this perspective, the authors of the letter commit a grave crime of ideological obscurantism and foster dangerous illusions in the possibilities of change, without the need to struggle. The most generous interpretation of the approach of the letter is that it petitions the government as an independent state organization capable of intervening in the struggle for the distribution of wealth, fairly in the interests of the working class – it must only be convinced through clear articulation of what is just. To be sure, Marxists and the workers’ movement do petition state power, but ought to always do so by means of demands that point to the fact that the state is an organised enemy class, which can only be won over to pro-working class reforms by means of organized power of the working class and struggle, not by humility and false flattery.
The brutal class character of the current state is obscured by the ruling class, as is its vicious anti-working class austerity against public healthcare and other essential services, which laid the foundations for the current disastrous public health crisis.
The manner in which the state is ‘dealing’ with the crisis can sow confusion and illusions in the working class about the cruel class aims of its measures, including the brutal lockdown – in which millions are starving without relief, water services and any possibility of social distancing in the overcrowded and unbearable squalor of working class and poor households. As we have said before, the shutdown of the economy and social distancing are absolutely vital and we have been involved in independent campaigns for the enforcement of the social distancing in working class communities, but we absolutely oppose restrictions of democratic and worker rights, police brutally and military intervention – which is being positioned against working class struggles now and in future.
The workers movement must therefore emphatically oppose this approach, as it blurs and obscures the class enemy and its main instrument of political power, the ANC government.
Marxist approach to state relief
Once the state is stripped of its constitutional disguise as an ‘independent’ organization expressing the ‘common’ interests of all and the ‘collective’ power of society, it is rightfully unmasked for the bloody anti-working class organization that it is. We must treat it with the class suspicion it deserves. The bourgeois ANC government does not intervene in the economy to the benefit of everyone.
From the standpoint of the working class, and by implication anyone speaking on behalf of it, every proposal for the relief and ultimate resolution of the crisis, is an arena for class struggle. The main aim is to redistribute the ‘profits’ expropriated by the capitalist class, which are essentially the unpaid wages of those who do the actual work of producing the goods and services in the economy – the workers. To put it differently, the demand for relief is a struggle for a social wage and not a beggary for charity from the benevolent state.
We should therefore always be clear when we make demands or proposals. Who will they benefit and how? Most importantly, who will pay for these measures and how should they be made to pay for it?
Who benefits from relief measures?
To contain the social and economic collapse, the authors of the letter proposed wide-ranging interventions for immediate relief and to sustain private industry. The most fundamental of these proposed measures, beside food parcels and other relief measures, are wage subsidies, tax relief, loan guarantees and quantitative easing (introducing new money into money supply) measures to stimulate spending and in this way bolster the economy.
In his 21 Apriladdress, Cyril Ramaphosa has certainly obliged them. As part of his Covid-19 economic and social relief package, he pledged ‘R500 billion bailouts’ based on measures along the lines proposed in the open letter. These include R41,6 billion in wage subsidies, R100 billion in cash payments to companies to save jobs, and R70 billion in tax relief, as well as a further established R200 billion loan guarantee facility and R80 billion in massive repo rate cuts (the interest rate at which the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) loans money to the commercial banks).
Although these measures are as comprehensive as could be expected of the state in the current capitalist framework within which they operate, the package is woefully inadequate and in no way represents any break with the neoliberal austerity programme. Not only does it fall short of the R1 trillion package COSATU proposed at NEDLAC, the package is also not really R500 billion worth of ‘stimulus’. Most of the funds are existing funds such as R40 billion from UIF, R130 billion from reprioritising an existing R1,95 trillion budget and 40% of it, R200 billion, is loan guarantees, not actual loans and/or investments. Apart from these, there are unprecedented quantitative easing measures initiated by SARB which, besides 200 basis points cuts in the repo rate to a record low of 4,25%, has unlocked R540 billion by lowering liquidity requirements for the banking industry.
WASP opposes these proposals. As the government bailout blatantly shows, these measures are not only meant for rescuing capitalism in general as was the stated aim of Keynes (after whom Keynesian economics are named), but invariably means using public funds to bail out private business. State power will be wielded to plunder the working class while bolstering big corporate profits.
Even where they appear to be bailing out workers – such as guaranteeing workers’ wages – we still oppose these measures on the basis of private ownership. As with the government measures, the authors effectively propose redirecting public money away from the essential services for the poor in order to pay wages owed by big corporations. These corporations then go on to make profits off the labour of these workers.
The working class is in effect made to pay twice: firstly, by attacks on their working conditions as many of them would not get reduced wages, and secondly, through the increasing cuts to services. To be sure, WASP is fighting for workers to be paid fully during the lockdown whether they are working or not, but we demand that the cash reserves of big corporations and dividends paid to their shareholders be used to pay workers. At most, state support should be limited to small businesses on the basis of a proven need, opening of books, and overseen by workers.
A quick glance at the package makes it clear that whilst the lion’s share of the R500 billion goes to big business, only a pittance is available to the working class and the poor. Less than R100 billion will be spent on fighting COVID-19, expanding municipal services like water, transport, etc. and emergency relief for the poor and small businesses. The same government, which has preached that small businesses and entrepreneurship are solutions to the unemployment and poverty crisis in the country, is providing only an additional R2 billion to the R100 million they spend thus far on ‘SMMEs, spaza shops and informal economy’ compared to hundreds of billions for big business.
Who pays for these measures?
Where these ‘relief’ funds come from is also telling. R130 billion will be from “reprioritizing” of the current budget – which is a nice way to describe savage cuts to spending on housing, education, and other public services essential to the working class. The remainder is to come from government managed funds like the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), Public Investment Corporation (PIC), and be raised from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and BRICS bank amongst others.
While opposing loans from the IMF, World Bank and other international financial institutions, some of the authors have in a separate letter to the Minister of Finance proposed raising funds from the PIC.
WASP argues that, without calling for nationalization of the businesses threatening job losses, this proposal, like the current government package, means risking pension funds of public servants and workers’ savings for unemployment insurance on the speculative activities on which most of these corporations will be using these funds. Most importantly, WASP opposes raiding and plundering workers funds to perpetuate private ownership of the economy and the profiteering of big corporations based on the wage slavery of the working class.
Although the authors oppose the IMF and World Bank loans, it is only on the basis that these are foreign loans that would take the money out of the economy and compromise the country’s “sovereignty”. WASP also opposes IMF and World Bank loans, but we argue that loans from local private banks are no different.
The entire banking industry operates on the basis of the same principle, no matter its national status. Foreign ownership of the debt is not the main problem. Foreign debt has been in decline recently, in addition to record outflows of R57,5 billion in sales of foreign-held bonds in 2018 in anticipation of downgrading of South African public debt to junk status. With an estimated further bond sales of R96 billion upon the downgrade, according to the market strategists Credit Agricole, foreign debt has been plunging below 40% of the country’s bonds. This has changed nothing in so far as the public debt is concerned, which has continued to skyrocket.
Instead of borrowing money, WASP argues that the government should renounce all debt except for the portion that the state owes to the savings and investments of workers and small businesses. A 99% special tax for the super wealthy will still allow Nicky Oppenheimer, and Anton Rupert, to each retain the R1 billion they offered in charity, in exchange for the remaining R99 billion of their R100 billion estates, which, along with others, can be used to compensate workers funds invested in public debt.
Quantitative Easing only aggravates the problem
Quantitative easing is also not a viable solution to the economic downturn, especially due to the crises of oversupply and overcapacity across the economy. This merely underlines the undeniable contradictions of capitalism, including its inescapable tendency for overaccumulation of capital – as inevitable under capitalism, as death is to life. Liquidity is not a factor in the current crisis. If anything, there is too much of it as a result of similar measures in the 2008/9 Great Recession. It will serve to create enormous public and private debt, in addition to the widespread and excessive speculation.
Following the 2008-9 crash, ecentral banks and treasuries the world over injected large sums of cash into the financial markets, and rolled out bailout packages like the current ones. For a whole period, quantitative easing saved big business, drove stock markets to record highs, and through hugely increased debts, the economic meltdown was pushed further down the road. But the hopes that QE will trickle into the real economy and save jobs and industries are delusional. , Because the markets were bloated then, as they are today, there was no outlet for profitable investment. This is the reason South African capitalists are hoarding R1,4 trillion cash in an investment strike and capital formation (investment in new factories, machines and equipment) stagnated. Lack of outlets for profitable investments is also the reason corporations like Pamodzi Gold used R300 million received from the IDC (State-owned bank) bailouts in 2009 to pay its shareholders and directors, before liquidating the company, leaving workers to vultures like Aurora to strip the mines of the remaining assets.
A familiar story
The working class has been down this road before. We know that it led to even bigger crises than the ones the capitalist class tried to avert.
Measures being undertaken by the government and cheered by the economists are like a medication that cures the illness by killing the patient. The Reserve Bank buying treasury bonds can, at best, be a short term measure that will resolve nothing. QE effectively means printing more money and there is no such thing as free money. That it could “work” in the US – for the profiteers and speculators, not the workers – had to do with the exceptional standing of the US dollar as international reserve currency, which means all countries holding dollar reserves subsidise US imperialism. Its value is therefore not entirely linked with the performance of the US economy. Also, the “success” of these measures are entirely relative and can only last in the short term, as cost of living skyrockets, while wages stagnate.
Printing money to hand cash to speculators can further displace the equilibrium in the financial markets and cause serious inflation. WASP does not oppose inflation like rightwing market fundamentalists. We oppose these measures because they will erode the value of workers’ wages and savings, in order to print cash for banks, speculators and other rich parasites.
Working class alternatives
As an alternative, we are fighting for the nationalization of the finance industry including commercial banks and massive private funds in the economy in order to expropriate the R1,4 trillion cash hoarded in banks by big corporations, to instead be used for a massive public works programme. It can be utilized to build decent houses, schools and classrooms to enable social distancing, clinics and hospitals, etc.
Most importantly, worker-controlled public ownership of the finance industry would allow mobilization of the vast savings and surplus capital into productive investment in agriculture and industrialization. This would enable production of adequate food, and manufacturing capacity to produce sufficient PPEs, medical equipment and public transport to combat COVID-19 and equip us against future pandemics.
Workers, as the only class with organized power at the point of production, must fight to achieve this. The working class must take over businesses threatening closure and job losses to force nationalization from below – through factory, mine and land occupations. Working in support of the education and organization of workers’ and community struggles is the pressing task of the hour for anyone yearning to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and fundamentally change society.
It should be without question that the state invests in public spending, those who argue that grants are merely creating a “dependency syndrome” are effectively saying people should be left to suffer, even when they had no hand in creating the crisis. However, we have no illusion that bailouts are sustainable. Capitalism, with profit making as its driving force, likes to play a “cross that bridge when I come to it” game, and when the crisis is over, it’s business as usual – exploitation and looting continues.
The above measures, in addition to nationalization of the other sectors of the economy under the democratic control and management of the working class would form a basis for a democratically planned economy and socialism, for which the working class must organize, unite and struggle. Workers control will make sure the economy is planned and a response to crises such as pandemics and climate change take place early and swiftly. Most importantly, responses would value the lives of everyone, and not be informed by profit motives, as we see in the reopening of economies worldwide – including Ramaphosa’s latest (23 April) announcement that South Africa will gradually reopen business, made on the same day as our highest cases of infections and deaths to date were announced.
by Phemelo Motseokae
Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication
Capitalism works by turning everything in the world into commodities. In the sex industry – strip clubs, pornography, prostitution – commodification is extended to women’s bodies and, as such, their very beings. Commodification is also reflected in the tendency for sexual relations generally to take a transactional form, with men buying the power over women whether as wives, asides or one-night-stands. Indirectly, the images and text that dominate the media feed into this by objectifying women’s bodies and sexuality.
Many feminists today pose the question of the sex industry mostly on an individual level, focusing on the right not to be stigmatised, but to be accepted and affirmed. It is a true yet one-sided view. WASP argues that “selling sex” should not be criminal, but at the same time we say prostitution and the sex industry should be fought and abolished. Unlike in wage labour where workers create commodities using tools or their intellectual labour, prostitution turns womens’ bodies into commodities themselves. Almost universally, women in these circumstances report that their minds and feelings shut down to various degrees, which has a severe impact on their mental health. Mental health problems such as post traumatic stress and substance abuse rates are high among women who turn to prostitution in a desperate bid to survive. Vulnerable members of the LGBTQI communities are often forced into prostitution after being rejected by families and their communities. While some women report that prostitution is their choice, the vast majority of women who turn to this work are trafficked or coerced by circumstance and face brutal conditions, violent victimisation and psychological harm. Far from “empowering”, prostitution and the sex industry more broadly represent the ultimate forms of commodification and dehumanisation, and also play a role in reinforcing sexism throughout society.
We need to fight for a system where all can do fulfilling work and be full human beings. The 2008 economic recession undermined the liberal feminist notion of women’s liberation through gradual improvements within the capitalist system. Today, it is undeniable that capitalism has failed to liberate women – in fact re-creates and profits from women’s oppression. Capitalism denies healthcare, childcare and shelters for women esccaping abuse. Unpaid work, through the family unit, means a women’s time is largely spent on socially necessary tasks of caring for the old and sick, and raising children. We can socialize housework and stop burying women’s talents under tons of dishes and raising children. Women are also largely confined to precarious, low-paid jobs, creating super-profits for the bosses. It is capitalism that gains from this sexism and exploitation.
With this class perspective, we link solutions to broader economic and structural change that can free women from the narrow confines of capitalism and its ideologues.
For more info on this topic check out WASP’s 2014 Manifesto.
For further international perspective on the socialist feminist struggle, take a look at our website for the ROSA Movement.
by Rob Krause
Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication
Climate change is rapidly approaching tipping points beyond which irreversible damage will be done to ecosystems and humans could join the list of endangered species. Climate change continues to be discussed as a technical scientific issue and as a threat of the near future, rather than a crisis produced by capitalism which impacts us today.
Like all crises of capitalism, the effects are unevenly felt based on class, oppression (race, gender) and geography – most harshly experienced in the neo-colonial world. For the workers, rural populations, the unemployed and poor communities of Southern Africa – and women in particular – the impacts of climate change are suffered every day in the life and death struggles against water shortages, crop failures and hunger.
Water and food are the most basic necessities for survival. Late 2019 saw Southern Africa’s worst drought in decades; possibly even a century. The impact is especially severe in a region heavily dependent on agriculture. An estimated minimum of 11 million people in the region are facing food shortages, as Grain production has dropped by an average of 30% – and 53% in Zimbabwe.
South Africa has been far from immune from the impacts. The Eastern Cape had the driest and hottest spring season in recorded history – with a provincial average of 30% of the usual rainfall and only 12% in Graaff-Reinet.
Water shortages are increasingly becoming part of the daily experience of working class communities in South Africa. In areas such as Sekhukhune a combination of low rainfall and wasteful water usage by mining, agribusiness and the state has resulted in an ongoing water crisis for residents. The impacts fall on women especially, who perform the bulk of unpaid domestic labour such as elderly/sick care, cleaning, cooking etc.
We already witness resistance against the capitalist policies that drive climate change by sections of the working class. In Soweto, workers are resisting water and electricity tariff increases, demanding renewable energy production. Communities in areas such as Xolobeni are resisting the imposition of mining.
The task of Marxists is to intervene in these day to day struggles, draw links between the conditions people are experiencing, the impacts of climate change and its root cause – the capitalist system which maximises profits at the expense of the needs of humanity and our planet. We must link up with the global climate strikes – upcoming on 24 April! We need united actions of all sections of the rural and urban working class – workers, youth, women, communities, the unemployed – around demands such as:
- Shift to 100% renewable and sustainable energy sources, zero emissions by 2045 without job losses – retrain all workers who need it
- No privatisation of SOEs; democratic worker control to stop carbon emissions and replace with renewable capacity at ESKOM, Sasol, SAA
- No to water and electricity tariff increases and cut-offs: the burdens of climate change and corruption must not be placed on the working class and poor
- Nationalise factories, mines, big businesses and large-scale agriculture and place under democratic worker control
- No imposition of mining on communities!
Make sure to also check out our MARXISM AND THE CHANGING CLIMATE article.
For international perspective, take a look at SOCIALISTS PROPOSE REVOLUTIONARY CHANGE TO WIN CLIMATE STRIKES from our world organisation, International Socialist Alternative !
Originally published 18. March 2020
Issue #2 of uManyano lwaBasebenzi is going to print as South Africa and the world is further engulfed in crises sparked by the Coronavirus pandemic every day. It is clear we are at the beginning of a monumental historical turning point.
Stock exchanges have woken up to reality. The Dow Jones in the US fell by 12,9% on March 16 – worse than the 1929 crash that set off the Great Depression. In Italy, markets lost 70% of their value in mere days. China recorded a 13% drop in industrial output in Jan-Feb and is set for -9% GDP “growth” in the first quarter of 2020 (its first economic contraction since 1976!). The world economy, volatile even before the pandemic, is entering recession – the question is how deep will it fall and for how long.
Globally, governments are responding with fiscal stimuli, new “quantitative easing” and slashing interest rates to boost businesses – raining money on banks rather than hospitals.
As lockdowns set in, many states try to cushion the effects on workers and small businesses, as with the suggested UIF boost in SA. It’s too early to assess the effects, but a shift towards state intervention is clear. Spain’s nationalisation of private health care will likely not be the last of these measures of self-preservation.
The ruling class suddenly claims that “we are all in the same boat” – and fear that it will be turned around by the great unwashed who provide the rowing power. They are throwing in all their tools, conjurations and cash to steady the capitalist boat, and will let millions of lives be lost in the process.
Governments and big businesses will apply shock doctrine methods to try to effect sweeping changes to get by now and to salvage a post-Corona-capitalism.
Amid the shock and fear, extraordinary powers are granted to the repressive cores of states, and restrictions on democratic rights, like the rights to assemble and to strike are introduced.
Jobs are slashed: up to 40% of China’s 300 million migrant workers have lost their incomes, 18% of US workers have lost their jobs or had hours cut. Preliminary forecasts show South Africa’s GDP could shrink by up to 7%.
For the working class in South Africa, the pandemic is a blow upon blows. It hits on top of climate change-fuelled drought and an economy already in recession. It will hammer a state set to impose unprecedented budget cuts on public services already woefully underfunded.
Ramaphosa claims that at this “greatest Thuma Mina-moment”, “we” must show “solidarity […] and compassion”. Beyond the recommended precautions everyone should take – which the working class and poor are largely unable to – what he really means is that the exploited and oppressed should bow down and be “sent” to save the profit system that knows no compassion for us; close ranks with the very people responsible for this mess, who allowed the virus to spread and rendered health care systems incapable of managing it.
Both the government and SAFTU leaders say “we” are at war against the virus. At the onset of actual wars, class lines are blurred. As wars play out however, they can expose the real challenges facing the working class, and trigger revolutionary upheaval. We must prepare for similar perspectives.
The case for public and democratically planned services and systems in health care, education, water, public transport, food distribution; for directing society’s resources to what is actually important – the case for a socialist South Africa and world – is stronger than ever.
WASP is determined to resolutely make this case and to find ways to strengthen the organisation of the working classes worldwide. Our solidarity is with the health care workers, co-workers, and neighbours; with those trapped in wars and refugee camps, with the worldwide mass uprising of 2019 put on hold (for now).
Contrary to what the SAFTU leadership apparently believes, there exists no “COVID-proof” capitalism, even if it did, it is not the worker leaders’ task to fall in line as advisors to capital on illusory “Keynesian” escape routes.
There will be a before and after Corona. As socialists, we must do all we can to ensure that the “after” is renewed, revolutionary mobilisations to replace this sick system with a society organised to care for the needs of people, not profits. That struggle starts now.
Yours in solidarity,
The uManyano Editorial Team
Stay-tuned for up-to-date analysis as the COVID19 crisis unfolds.
by Phemelo Motseokae
Part of Karl’s Korner, featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication
Warning: Spoilers Below
Hustlers (2019), a film based on a true story, gives audiences a view of the multi-billion dollar strip club industry. Similar to other enterprises under capitalism in the USA, strip clubs treat dancers as independent contractors. Strippers keep a relatively small portion of the money ‘rained’ on them during the show while club owners take a big cut. Despite ongoing and sometimes organised resistance from these workers, this status also denies them access to pension and medical benefits or even protections for injury at the workplace.
In the film, Destiny (Constance Wu), a young single parent joins a strip club, in a desperate attempt to take care of her daughter and grandmother. Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), also a single mother teaches Destiny dance skills
and takes her under her wing. In the dried-up aftermath of the 2008 recession, Destiny tries to return to stripping after a break and finds that Russian immigrants have been hired for much less pay. In her desperation, some man tricks Destiny to get slightly closer and stroke him for $300, only to leave her humiliated with $20.
Ramona comes up with a plan to earn more money and have more say over their lives. A group of these dancers use their sex appeal to drug and scam their sleazy Wall Street clients.
In the film, Ramona and Destiny remind each other of their power, financial wellness and dignity. Ramona says to Destiny, “Motherhood is an illness”. Ramona’s maternal attitude towards women gives her pleasure in robbing these men, turning her oppression into liberating revenge. When they’re finally busted, Destiny betrays Ramona in order to remain with her daughter; Ramona says again “Motherhood is an illness”. We may very well say “capitalism is an illness”. Poverty often traps us in ”moral” dilemmas. Even the idea that opening a business as a way out of poverty leads us to a contradictory binary that capitalism forces us into: sell your labour cheaply and suffer, or exploit others and succeed. In Hustlers strippers are disassociating a piece of themselves for survival, and in trying to embrace their experience and profit from it, they end up harming others.
With the pending global recession, strip clubs, prostitution and transactional sex in other forms can only be expected to rise among poor women. WASP has consistently explained that to win real freedom for all oppressed layers of society, we must link these struggles up with the mass dissatisfaction among the working class. We must struggle in solidarity for a socialist society that will bring a new social order to end this oppression once and for all.
Don’t forget to check out our other film review of Joker !
by Ferron Pedro
Featured in our latest uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication #2
Capitalist economists claim that retrenchments are an unfortunate consequence of an economy in recession. They argue too many workers in government mean it can’t pay its debts and if we don’t retrench some workers, businesses will fold. We must not accept this logic. It is not workers who have failed the economy, but the capitalist economy that continues to fail the working class.
Capitalism is a system of many contradictions. It requires people to work in order to have money for life’s necessities – food, shelter, water, electricity, healthcare – and at the same time does not guarantee jobs for every person, let alone a living wage. In fact bosses benefit from having a pool of unemployed workers as this creates the conditions of desperation that drives down wages. As jobs become automated and populations increase, the reserve labour pool will continue to grow. This contradiction has been evident for centuries and today we see it in an extreme form in South Africa.
Unemployment is at its highest in a decade: 29.1% at the end of 2019. The Expanded Unemployment Rate (which includes discouraged job seekers) is at 38.5%. The unemployment crisis only looks to worsen as more companies threaten retrenchments. In the first three months of 2020, a number of large companies announced retrenchment plans, with 10 000 jobs at risk already. Mining company Samancor said they plan to retrench 3100 people, while retail giant Massmart warns of the possible retrenchment of as many as 1440 workers as it looks to close 34 of its Dion Wired and Cash & Carry outlets. Tongaat Hullet, whose executives may face criminal charges of fraud, will continue their restructuring process with more job losses this year. They have previously announced that by March 2021, 8000 workers will be retrenched.
Despite legal challenges from unions, courts have given SAA and Telkom the go-ahead for retrenchments with Telkom announcing that 3000 of its workers are at risk of losing their jobs. Eskom is currently offering workers ‘voluntary separation packages’, a likely precursor to retrenchments. With Tito Mboweni announcing a reduction of the public sector wage bill by R160 billion, and a review of the 2018 public sector wage agreement, thousands of public sector workers are also at risk. If nothing is done, all EPWP workers face retrenchment as of 31 March 2020. The total budget cuts of R261 billion include not only these reductions in the wages of public servants but also huge cuts in housing, infrastructure, and public transport spending as well as in the education and health budgets. The capitalist class is on an all-out assault on workers and communities.
This crisis is rooted inside the logic of capitalism – a system that fails when the working class is not earning enough to buy the products it sells to make profit. When wealth becomes more and more concentrated at the top, as it is today, we enter periods of extreme overproduction, where the working class cannot afford to buy or consume all the products the capitalists force them to create. Cutting huge numbers out of the economy reduces the number of people able to consume what is produced in the economy, deepening the crisis even further, leaving the working class to suffer hardships and poverty while bosses hoard wealth and profits.
On 6 March, around 50 representatives of the organisations that attended the historic Working Class Summit in 2018 reconvened to develop a programme of action to fight back against these latest attacks on the working class by the ruling elites. The Working Class Movement, including student and community organisations, mass movements and SAFTU affiliates resolved to take ‘concomitant’ action against the government and the capitalist class who have declared war on poor, working class communities in order to overcome an economic crisis of its own making.
The Workers and Socialist Party supports the call for a general strike on 30 April 2020 as a show of our strength against these attacks and to fight for:
- Defending public spending on service delivery, increasing public spending on social services, not least to address the public health emergency of the coronavirus pandemic and the social crisis of gender-based violence.
- Defending the jobs of public sector workers, including EPWP workers, who must be permanently employed on a living wage.
- Retaining public ownership of SoEs but placing these firmly in the hands of the working class. Workers, trade union and community representatives must make up the boards of directors.
- An end to all retrenchments.
- Immediate action on climate change.
- Nationalising all sectors of the economy under the democratic control of the working class – the capitalist class, not us, must pay for the government spending crisis.
- Strengthening and uniting working class organisations to fight for a socialist South Africa and world, where society and production are organised democratically according to need.
The Working Class Summit was a significant move forward in uniting the struggles of all communities, workers, youth and unemployed. The Working Class Movement that has emerged is a vehicle to forge ahead with a powerful programme of rolling mass action. We strongly encourage that it actively pursues the inclusion of new local shutdown campaigns, like those in Ladysmith and QwaQwa as well as resurgent student movements at Walter Sisulu University, University of Limpopo, Tshwane University of Technology, and Cape Town University of Technology amongst others. These represent an important fighting contingent of the working class. Building our organisational strength, we have an opportunity to take on the historic task of the formation of a mass workers party on a socialist programme to ensure united action, political independence and a clear programme to dismantle the capitalist state. This opportunity for the working class must not be lost. We must fight back now and face our real enemy: the ruling capitalist elites and the government that serves its interests.