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Women rise up!

The fight against gender-based violence

Written by Ferron Pedro

Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

In September 2019, public outrage at the brutal murder of student Uyinene Mrwetyana triggered nationwide protests against the rising tide of gender-based violence in South Africa. Phemelo Motseokae, WASP Tshwane Branch Secretary, reported from the march to the Union Buildings: “Women are now more willing to take action. There was a large presence of young people at the march and they had so much anger and energy with slogans like #AmINext and #IsMySkirtAProblem?”.

The recorded number of women assaulted, raped and murdered in South Africa in 2017/2018 increased by 11% from the previous year to 36 731 cases. In 2016 the World Health Organisation reported that South Africa had the fourth highest female interpersonal violence death rate out of 183 countries listed.

Across the world, women and LGBTQI+ communities are taking to the streets to demand action against gender-based violence. On 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, thousands of activists protested in South Africa, Spain, Guatemala, Russia, Sudan, Turkey, Bulgaria, France, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Belgium, Switzerland and more. The feminist movement today is international in character with feminists around the world recognising the need for radical social change and using strikes as a weapon.

In 2016 millions of women went on strike to defeat a ban on abortions in Poland. International Women’s Day on 8 March in 2017 and 2018 saw internationally coordinated strikes in many countries. On IWD in 2019, close to seven million people went on strike in Spain. Feminist strikes and mass demonstrations have also swept across Latin America and India. The strength of the movement against women’s oppression has seen the significant presence of women leading mass uprisings in places like Sudan, Lebanon and Chile.

While the #TotalShutDown movement does not yet adequately include broader working class layers, there is an important recognition that shutting down the economy is a fundamental tactic in overcoming gender-based violence. From here, the understanding of how GBV is woven into the fabric of patriarchal class society needs to be developed so that we can organise on a socialist programme and transform society altogether.

Radicalised layers of women, LGBTQI+ communities and young people are recognising the need for collective action to transform society. It is vital that trade unions and civics actively turn to and take part in them, as part of reviving the working class movement for socialism.

Hierarchies are a necessary part of class society like capitalism. To overcome the exploitation of workers; racism and the oppression of women and LGBTQI+ communities, we must abolish capitalism. To abolish capitalism we must unite the working class, female and male, cis and trans, black, white, gay and straight. When we place the ownership of the economy under the control of society as a whole, we will make sure that all people access the necessities of life. This will form the basis of a new social order, free from oppression. To win genuine freedom for all, we need to build a mass movement with revolutionary leadership and socialist programme to challenge the economic system and the capitalist state. Ultimately, the working class majority must seize power and take control of the economy in the service of the needs of all people. That´s how we will create the material conditions for the full liberation of women, LGBTQI+ communities and all the oppressed.


Marxism and the Changing Climate

SYSTEM change, not CLIMATE change!

Written by Ndumiso Ncube

Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

Worldwide, science shows that climate change is speeding towards a point of no return; tipping points from which damage will be irreversible. Despite the wealth of scientific evidence, world leaders are doing nothing of value to act against this disaster, with COP25 in Madrid the latest example. To address climate change effectively, a united working class must lead the way to change the system.

Humanity is part of nature and depends on it for survival. Marx used the term “metabolism” to describe the necessary exchanges between humanity and our environment. He observed how the development of capitalism had opened up a “metabolical rift”, which today has grown into a gaping chasm that threatens our very existence.

Research shows the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is increasing rapidly: in the past 19 years it has increased by 10%! In 2000, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was 367 ppmv (parts per million by volume). Today is is 407 ppmv. The loss of polar ice, higher temperatures globally, rising sea levels, and drought are only some of the effects. The rate at which floods occur has increased 15-fold since 1950. Africa is the highest on the Climate Change Vulnerability Index, which measures the negative impact of climate change on human populations and the ability to cope with these changes. If business as usual continues, parts of Africa could be uninhabitable by 2100.

As Earth’s temperature rises rapidly, scientists are concerned for human survival – with a mere increase of 1,2°C we already witness devastating cyclones such as Idai, drought such as in the Northern and Western Cape, and forest fires in Australia, the Arctic, Central Africa and the Amazon.

Industries continue harmful practices like deep mining, fracking, fertilisers, etc, even with green alternatives in existence, because spending on new machinery and technologies would impact their profits. 800 000 people die annually from breathing contaminated air. Millions of farmers worldwide are struggling to adapt to changing weather patterns, diminishing grazing fields, and decreasing crop yields, resulting in famine, drought, malnutrition and starvation.

The challenges confronting humanity require a coordinated global effort to shift the production of energy, agriculture, food, metals, textiles, as well as transport, construction and forestry – in short, every aspect of the economy.This is impossible under the capitalist logic which subordinates everything, including people and planet, to the profit motive. Marx explained, capitalism will remain in conflict with nature; to continuously expand it exhausts natural as well as human resources. Therefore, it is bound to come up against natural limits as resources are depleted.

Marx argued that the socialised human must actively manage the relationship between human and nature, taking rational measures to ensure the sustainability of life on earth. Only an international socialist society, run by the working class will be able to take the necessary steps in dealing with climate change.

 Global protests against climate change, sparked by the Fridays for Future movement, are taking place. In many countries, youth strike from school every Friday and millions have taken part in strikes calling for climate justice and system change.

Marxists need to stand with young people fighting for their future. As the workers movement awakens to the devastating impact of climate change, we must clarify that capitalism itself must fall, remaining resolute in our call for the working class to join and lead the struggle for system change – for a socialist alternative!

Capitalism is the Real Villain: A Review of Joker

Written by Phemelo Motseokae

Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

Joker was first portrayed as a criminal mastermind: a psychopath with a warped, sadistic humour and audiences grew to know him as the archenemy of Batman. In the 2019 adaption of Joker, he is the alias of a character named Arthur played by Joaquin Phoenix. A child abused by his father and neglected by his narcissistic mother who is oblivious to his suffering, he develops severe mental illness and is rejected and mistreated by society. Arthur resides in a ramshackle apartment, taking care of his disabled mother and barely surviving as a clown in precarious work. He has been to a psychiatric prison and is unstable. Unable to receive essential medical services due to budget cuts, his hopelessness turns into rage and drives him to become a murderer and a working class vigilante. He correctly identifies his class enemy as the “men in suits”. In our society, we’ve seen this anger and bitterness be directed against women, immigrants and queer people.

When the richest man in the city contests for mayor, expressing his disgust for the poor calling them lazy and “clowns”, a riot erupts. Working people rioting in clown masks remind of the Yellow Vests in France or the masked protesters in Hong Kong challenging state power. Arthur joins the crowd chanting slogans and thrusts his fist in the air with anger. He revels in the noise as if he has found a remedy for his fury and loneliness.

A capitalist society sees to it that people believe their suffering is their own making, despite society’s soaring wealth, inequality and the exploitation of workers earning less than a living wage. We see Arthur commit crimes, but he was not born a criminal. He was turned into one by a criminal system.

Joker is human, and the movie exposes the pitfalls of capitalist class society. As it falls short of pointing towards an alternative, it potentially leaves the audience feeling despair. In real life, we can fight for a worker-controlled economy which ensures that science and resources cater for humanity’s needs instead of being commodified. We must struggle for socialism – for permanent change. Together, we can organise to break from this capitalist system that alienates us from our work; from ourselves, and from each other.

Service delivery struggles unite and coordinate

Written by Trevor Shaku and featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

On 14 January 2020, nine members of Ikgomotseng community appeared before Brandfort magistrate court on charges of public violence related to  a September 2019 service delivery protest. Due to the backlog in social services, unemployment and grinding poverty, the community of Ikgomotseng, just outside of Bloemfontein, embarked on a protest to demand jobs and service delivery.

From a chaotic runaround with police, WASP cadres re-orientated the protest and rallied the entire community behind the struggle, based on a clear fighting strategy.

Just as revolutions are not chaotic riots but disciplined and organised struggles to wrestle power from the ruling elite, Marxists use interventions in day-to-day mass struggles to instill revolutionary organisation and discipline. This creates new traditions for working class actions, and also acts as education and preparation for the ultimate struggle for socialism. Revolutionary programme and discipline are vital to make our struggles sustainable.

The community submitted a 14-point memorandum with demands such as: the allocation of residential sites, state (RDP) housing for the existing shack dwellers, completion and opening of community hall and library, fencing of the landfill and sewage, eradication of the bucket system and unemployment.

These demands are similar to those of thousands of community protests that have engulfed the political landscape for years.

The backlog in service delivery is not only created by rife corruption, but by the structure of the political economy itself. Public funds serve to make the system just about work for the capitalist ruling class but do not match the needs of the vast majority. Raising funds through tax collection has severe limits in an economic system built on exploitation of workers, with mass unemployment and poverty wages as key pillars – especially in the era of neoliberalism where governments have bowed to big business by cutting corporate taxes. Municipalities are largely funded by electricity and water tariffs, fundamentally a tax on the poor. Many state-owned enterprises are bankrupt and rely on state bail-outs.

This leaves the state with little in its coffers to deliver basic services like those required in Ikgomotseng. Its interest in doing so only awakes when it fears that the pillars of the system may be shaken. But the resources are there – in the pockets of the super-rich.

The 6 303 people in Ikgomotseng make up 0.8% of Mangaung’s 787 930 population, out of whom 3 415 are neither ”economically active”, nor in any form of education. This includes pensioners but many are youth, ‘Not in any form of Education, Employment and Training’ (NEET). Less than 10% of those who matriculate in Ikgomotseng make it to higher education.

The high number of NEET youth in the community is not surprising – Ikgomotseng is a microcosm of the nation which has 10 million ”NEETs”.

The ANC government has no solutions for the crisis that has resulted in the high unemployment rate, widening levels of inequality and grinding poverty for the majority. Not because it has leaders who cannot think, but because of the structural makeup of capitalism – a system they have fought to preserve since coming into power in 1994.

Since government cannot voluntarily solve this backlog on service delivery – if anything, they have been privatising provision of these essential services to corporates – what will?

When we organise and fight, communities can force through change, but to go beyond rage to concrete gains, coordination is needed. There were on average four protests a week in 2018. Communities are up in arms fighting for service delivery, but their struggles are isolated from one another and from the crucial force of organised workers. This has weakened their ability to make concrete gains despite the high levels of fierceness and determination.

WASP calls on the Ikgomotseng community to ally with other communities within Mangaung Metro, appealing for trade union solidarity in action, in order to launch a coordinated and powerful movement to fight for service delivery and jobs.

Can Eskom leaving SA in the dark be the spark for rebellion?

Written by Mametlwe Sebei and Newton Masukuu

Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

Eskom’s load-shedding has once again plunged us into darkness, marking the beginning of a ‘black Christmas’ season for South Africa. This time the ‘black Christmas’ nightmare will not be limited to the most ‘unfortunate’ – the entire working class and many middle-class people are affected.

Implementing Stage 6 load-shedding in order to cut a record level 6 000 megawatts from the grid has pushed the country over the cliff. Major mining corporations, including Sibanye, Impala and Harmony, as well as big manufacturers, and other high energy users have announced interruptions in operations. This is costing the economy billions and can push it into another devastating recession.

Eskom is only a fraction of the deepening and prolonged agony of South African capitalism plagued by a vicious cycle of multiple ecological, economic, social and political crises.

Corporate ruling class cheers aside, business confidence in South Africa is lower than during the “lost nine years” of Zuma and capital formation has plummeted from 9% annual growth to 0,6%, meaning capitalists are not investing in new equipment, machinery and businesses. The claims of sabotage behind load-shedding serve only to deflect attention from the growing disillusionment with his ‘crusade’ against the ‘state-capture’ blamed for all the grave ills of the economy and the country. The extreme volatility in SA economy since the Great Recession of 2008/9 has been due to a stagnation and instability in the world economy, especially due to weak recovery in advanced economies and the slowing down of China. If Zuma’s regime was a period of dangerously low growth, Ramaphosa’s is characterised by downturns. These economic crises have aggravated a social crisis.

Unemployment is at its highest since the 2008/2009 recession, with over 10.2 million people unemployed, which includes everyone who could be working. Poverty levels plunged to record lows. A total of 56% (30.4 million) South Africans are living on less than R41 a day, according to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group. Hunger, homelessness, physical and mental illness are skyrocketing. Gender-based violence (GBV), child abuse, crime, drug and alcohol abuse are on the rise too. The quality of life of the working class is violently plumme-ting to new depths every day.

Devastating floods in the Tshwane area in December resulted in deaths, loss of property, and swept away shacks from the informal ‘Marikana’ settlements in Mamelodi. This, along with floods earlier this year in areas like KZN, highlight the increasingly cata-strophic impacts of climate change. At the same time five-year droughts have plagued the Western Cape, Limpopo, and Eastern Cape. In the Eastern Cape, five out of seven districts were declared ‘disaster areas’ in the 2015/16 season. Now, in the worst affected areas of Nelson Mandela Metro, Sarah Baartman, Amatole and Chris Hani Districts, loss of livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) totaled 310 000. Weather authorities project drought conditions to continue into 2020, threatening almost 4 million animals.

R30 million per day is required to aid the worst impacted 1440 commercial, 8700 small-scale, and 55 000 subsistence farmers. To provide animal feed for the province, R1,8 billion is required, and tens of billions for the entire country. At the same time, it is reported that R220 million is ‘missing’ from the State’s emergency relief fund. In the meantime, chronic water shortages and dramatic loss of livestock continue across the country, in spite of heavy rains and floods.

Lack of relief funds for the farmers, working class people and the poor is in-deed a major problem in a context of an estimated R1 trillion lost to corruption and state-capture in the past decade. However, it is secondary to public debt.

The national debt equals R3 trillion and is expected to grow to R4,5 trillion in the next four years. In February, Mboweni reported the projected debt-to-GDP ratio (how much we owe compared to how much we produce and earn) of 60.8% for this financial year. This means what is borrowed makes up two-thirds of what is produced. This is likely to increase faster than expected with the looming recession in the global and South African economies.

High unemployment rates have eroded the tax base that grew by only 3.7 % this year. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the state to raise enough money to meet its expenses. As the state fails to collect enough revenue, the cost to service SA’s growing debt has reached R204 billion a year. During his medium-term budget statement, Mboweni warned that if nothing changes, “by the end of the three-year framework, debt service costs will be bigger than spending on health and economic development.”

Government itself is bankrupt and incapable of bailing out farmers and millions of starving people. The bankruptcy of many departments, municipalities, and SOEs responsible for providing essential public services meant to relieve the people in worsening crises, will do the opposite – aggravate an already dire situation.

Capitalism has no way out of these crises except through brutal austerity. This will mean mass retrenchments, growing levels of poverty and with it, xenophobia, GBV and ecological disaster of unimaginable proportions. Eskom’s rolling blackouts could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, where we say enough is enough.

The working class must fight back and wrestle power from the elite. Struggles to save SOEs, to defend jobs and public services against corrupt politicians and their decaying capitalist system are vital.

The worldwide radicalisation of women and youth, fighting for their lives and for a future, mark a turning point in the development of the forces digging the grave of capitalism, forces that will revive the working class movement for socialism.

We have to organise and rebuild a united workers, youth, and civic movement against privatisation, unemployment, poverty, climate change, and GBV. Together we must demand free quality public services, including free education, health care, and decent housing for all. To ensure that production in SA is based on the needs of the vast majority of the country without further environmental destruction, and not the profits of the capitalists, we must nationalise the SOEs, mines, the banks, and large-scale agriculture to be democratically controlled by us, the working class. To move outside of struggles in isolated silos, we need to build a mass workers party that will campaign and unite the working class on a programme for a socialist alternative and do away with the decaying capitalist system, its crises and growing barbarism

SAFTU: Confront GBV in the federation and workplaces! Fight for working class unity!

On 23 January, General Secretary of SAFTU, Zwelinzima Vavi, released a statement outlining that the National Spokesperson for the federation, Ntozakhe Douglas Mthukwane, had had his employment withdrawn after a series of background checks revealed that Mthukwane is currently on trial for three rape charges and was convicted in 1995 of attempted rape. 

We applaud SAFTU for acting swiftly in suspending and ultimately dismissing Mthukwane upon learning of this information. There are however serious problems regarding the commencement of his employment and the discovery of this information and subsequent actions taken.

As the Workers and Socialist Party we are outraged that a man charged of several cases of sexual assault, even convicted, has worked for SAFTU – a trade union federation where all workers, irrespective of gender, should feel welcome and safe. SAFTU as a fighting union federation building to overcome the very issues that divide the working class, and striving towards a society free from sexism, racism, and exploitation at work places, could have completely prevented the storm it finds itself in now.

That Mthukwane worked at the head office of SAFTU, as the voice of the federation, is particularly disturbing. The question as to how an alleged serial offender, in the wake of growing movements against Gender Based Violence (GBV), could be appointed by the leadership of a federation that claims to seriously fight against GBV should be closely examined. 

Unfortunately the statement released by SAFTU does not shed any light on how Mthukwane came to be employed when his unacceptable history is easily revealed by a google search. In the statement SAFTU also fails to indicate what further actions will be taken to prevent such lapses in judgment taking place in the future. 

The recorded number of women assaulted, raped and murdered in South Africa in 2017/2018 increased by 11% from the previous year to 36 731 cases. In 2016 the World Health Organisation reported that South Africa had the fourth highest female interpersonal violence death rate out of 183 countries listed. The appointment of Mthukwane in October 2019 came in the wake of the national outrage against these very statistics, triggered by the gruesome rape and murder of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana in September last year. Even in June 2019 we were inspired by the  brave strike action of the Lanxess mine workers against sexual harassment. It must be stated in no uncertain terms that the fact that Mthukwane flew under the radar of SAFTU regarding his past, in the context of mass awareness campaigns and uprisings worldwide, is a grave injustice to all victims of GBV and those of us fighting against it. 

The consequences for Mthukwane’s actions should not only end with his dismissal, he should also be brought to justice before he is able to victimise anyone else. We must however question why someone like Mthukwane is afforded bail for such serious charges as 3 separate rape allegations, after a conviction. The oldest pending case is from 2016, which is an absolute indictment on the bourgeois legal system’s inability to deal decisively with cases of sexual assault, allowing individuals with serious convictions free reign no matter the danger they pose to society. Between 2016 and today, Mthukwane has been confronted with two more charges of sexual assault. 

And the danger someone like Mthukwane poses to SAFTU is also important. If SAFTU is serious about becoming the fighting weapon for all workers and their communities in South Africa, including the growing number of precariously employed women, it must ensure that every single member and potential member feels safe from harm in the federation. The only way for SAFTU to overcome this storm is to face it head on and learn from it, which must necessarily include confronting the culture of patriarchy that permits GBV and sexual harassment that is unfortunately still a problem in the federation and her affiliates.

WASP calls on SAFTU to launch a thorough investigation into the mistaken appointment of Mthukwane. It is crucial that this investigation is conducted by committed, active members of the federation, with women at the helm. In order to prevent re-victimisation of the survivors of Mthukwane’s actions, SAFTU must take an all-encompassing, principled gender-sensitive and political approach to the matter. In addition to this we call on SAFTU to work out an internal programme to make visible and combat the full spectrum of gender oppression – from GBV, rape, sexual harassment, derogatory language, ridiculing, belittling, silencing etc – in the work place. This will assist the federation in advancing gender consciousness, which is clearly lacking in fatal ways. This programme must ensure that concrete processes are set in place to aid the membership in reporting violations against them within the federation, and that these processes are sensitive and supportive of the victims.  

Our main enemy is the capitalist class, who super-exploit women workers through low wages and insecure employment, as well as undermining the standing of women in society in other ways – through objectification and commodification of women’s bodies, unequal pay, lack of social services etc. 

In order to usher in a socialist world free from oppression, SAFTU must unapologetically be a federation that consciously fights for the liberation of society from the ills of all violence, including GBV – an integral part of class society and of the divide-and-rule through which the capitalists manage to keep the working class in fear, confusion and submission.

Build for a general strike against the bosses’ resistance

By Mametlwe Sebei

The outcomes of the strikes and collective bargaining of 2019 signify a shift in the capitalists´ industrial policy, from political pacification to hardened resistance and the outlines of an impending generalised offensive. This is underlined by stalemates such as the recent SAA and Spar strikes, following the Transpharm strike and defeats such as at Sibanye Gold and in the plastic industry. In Sibanye Gold, the employer dug its heels in for five months against AMCU´s demands. In the plastic industry, NUMSA lost the year-long strike which started in October 2018. In some workplaces, workers remain locked out unless they accept the slashing of minimum wages by 50% from R40 an hour to R20, adding five hours to a 40-hour working week and reducing leave days, amongst other ruthless terms of the ultra-reactionary Plastic Convertors Association of South Africa. NUPSAW also suffered a crushing defeat in Dischem where the employers dismissed all but two workers after the strike over wages.

All these still pale in comparison to what lies ahead in many sectors if the brutal austerity and counter-reform programmes of the capitalist class are not checked in time; with massive retrenchments in the mining, steel and banking industries, the “restructuring” of Eskom.

Behind the defeats of the workers is as much the determination of the bosses to resist as the failure of the trade union leaders to appreciate the qualitative changes in the political and class relations. On the industrial plane, the bosses have been hardening the resistance to workers demands and in instances, such as the plastic sector and Dischem, shifted to a full offensive. The use of the harsh anti-trade union labour law amendments in these strikes reveals the brutal class interests of the ANC regime. The purpose is to emasculate the trade union movement and disarm workers in preparation of the war the capitalists want to unleash on the working class. 

Behind the cruel aims of the capitalist class and the Ramaphosa regime is the deepening crisis of capitalism. Notwithstanding Cosatu support and his former trade union credentials, the millionaire Ramaphosa’s regime is a one of class war. The capitalists have been clamouring to restore falling profitability and open new outlets for investments. Relentless propaganda against trade unions, workers´ rights, state-owned entities and public spending serves to demoralise organised labour and reconcile public opinion to neo-liberal counter-reforms on worker rights, and to facilitate massive retrenchments and wage cuts, privatisations of SOEs and public services.

Already the impact of this propaganda is evident in the treacherous capitulation of the Cosatu leadership on, and growing public support for, the privatisation of South African Airways. Once SAA goes, Eskom, PRASA, and many others will follow. The trade union movement needs to counter this propaganda, developing a clear transitional programme to transform SOEs to become socially useful to the vast majority, instead of plundered by the parasitic corporations and political elite.

Most importantly, the trade union movement needs to develop a strategy to smash the capitalist resistance on the industrial plane. Well-organised, rolling mass actions organised on industrial and/or citywide basis along the lines of #OMF will be a great start. Such mass action should form part of a nationwide mobilisation for a general strike, involving not only workers but linked to the growing working class and youth revolt in community shutdowns, the movements against gender-based violence, xenophobia and climate change amongst others. 

SAFTU has a leading role to play. It must appeal to Cosatu, Nactu, Fedusa and AMCU for united action – to the rank-and-file, not only to the leadership. Massive leafleting and campaigning in industrial areas, cities and rural areas will have a tremendous impact in the current situation.

The Working Class Summit must be reconvened to prepare for this. With mass uprisings across the world, a plan for a three-day general strike and mass occupations of main cities is realistic if based on a unifying programme of demands, action plan and aggressive campaigning and mobilisation.

Such an action will enormously boost the political confidence of the working class and its organisations and sharply pose the question of the mass workers party which the SAFTU CC recommitted to launching.

The bosses are testing the waters for a full-scale clash with the working class, with the ruling party and all other parties in parliament on their side. Our answer must be to prepare for a serious struggle to end their rule and build a socialist South Africa, taking up and uniting all the struggles that have no solutions within this system.

SAA workers fight for better wages and jobs

On Wednesday morning, the Workers and Socialist Party joined and supported the striking workers at South African Airways. Our comrades in SAFTU succeeded in putting forward a motion calling for the SAFTU Central Committee to join the picket and pledge solidarity with the strike. About 100 members and leaders of SAFTU and its affiliates stood shoulder to shoulder with striking workers on the picket line at OR Tambo International airport.

The bosses of SAA have taken a conscious class approach towards the strike, instead of approaching the matter strictly from the narrow economic considerations of SAA. If there was any doubt on that, this was further confirmed by the revelations of the losses the airline has incurred since the beginning of the strike; the conduct of the SAA management in the negotiation and public declarations of government in response to requests for a further bail-out.

The unprecedented intervention of the Department of Labour in the strike is further evidence of this co-ordinated political onslaught. The department has written a letter to Numsa demanding proof of compliance with the new anti-trade union amendments to the labour laws, especially a requirement for a secret ballot. This is calculated to intimidate the unions and prepare for the possibility of declaring the strike ‘unprotected’ in accordance with the draconian anti-trade union amendments to the labour laws.

WASP comrades in solidarity with striking workers at SAA

The media has reported losses amounting to R200 million in four days of the strike – an amount which could have easily settled the strike. The NUMSA report of the last minute withdrawal of management’s offer of a 6,5% increase clearly reveals that Treasury, which is expressed preference for liquidation of SAA, is dictating the terms of negotiations and are hell-bent on digging in its heels rather than make concessions to the modest demands of NUMSA and South African Cabin Crew Association, the trade unions organising the striking workers.

In a remarkable demonstration of class unity and determination to fight, the strike remains solid after days of intransigence of the SAA bosses and relentless attacks and demonization by the capitalist class through all their mouthpieces. Mainstream media reporting is unanimous in their blatant blackmail of the workers as well as their cynical attempts to blame workers for the crisis of SAA caused by years of looting by the ZUPTA gang, mismanagement and neo-liberal restructuring.

Workers and Socialist Party calls on Numsa and SAFTU to escalate the support for the strike. The workers movement cannot afford this defeat which is clearly a prelude to attacks on the workers in ESKOM, PRASA, and other state-owned entities (SoEs). It is clear that government wants to dismantle the SOEs and is moving towards wholesale privatisation to provide outlets for monopoly capital that is currently hoarding cash estimated at R1,4 trillion and desperately searching for profitable outlets. 

We have again called for SAFTU to organise a general strike to link struggles of workers in SAA with workers in all parastatals and in the private sector where employers are also mounting resistance against wage demands and imposing retrenchments to demoralise workers trying to fight for better wages and defend conditions of employment. After the Central Committee decision, WASP will be actively working to mobilise workers, affiliates and other forces necessary to make the general strike successful.

We reject the imposition of the consequences of looting on workers and calling on the working class to join a fight to save SAA. Part of this struggle should be a demand to end corruption and mismanagement. But none of this is possible on the basis of the current boards and management of SAA, ESKOM and PRASA amongst other parastatals. The boards are made up of the same corporate elite that is exploiting and plundering the working class in the private sectors and who use state-owned entities for their corporate interests and personal enrichment. SAA and other state-owned entities must be placed under the control and management of the working class – workers, trade unions and communities.  In the final analysis, the real alternative to the crisis of state-owned entities and every industry in turmoil is the nationalisation and democratic planning and management of the commanding heights of the economy by the working class, where SAA and other SoEs will serve a socially useful functions in the interests of majority and not the few. For that, the working class must rebuild its mass organisations and movement including a mass political party to unite and struggle for a socialist alternative to the crises of capitalism.

DA imploding – Only a workers movement can provide a real alternative

By Mametlwe Sebei

A series of resignations from South Africa’s official opposition, Democratic Alliance, starting with Herman Mashaba, a reactionary right-wing populist mayor of Johannesburg, who had styled himself a Donald Trump of South African politics, and culminating into resignations of the national leaders of the party itself, including the party leader Mmusi Maimane and Federal Chair Athol Trollip has plunged the DA in the unprecedented crisis. Since its formation in 2000, out of the merger of the predominantly white, neo-liberal conservative parties, the Democratic Party, Federal alliance and the architects and ruling party of the apartheid regime (the National Party). The Democratic Alliance has been the most successful and, until explosive emergence of the EFF, the fastest growing party in the country. All this crumbled in the 2019 national elections, when the party, for the first time since the first democratic elections in 1994, when its main predecessor DP started its triumphant march to becoming an official opposition, lost votes and seats in parliaments. 2019 elections outcomes precipitated a terminal party crisis unfolding currently.

The rapidity with which the party plunged into this deep crisis is only matched by its meteoric rise from a small, fifth biggest opposition party of 1, 73 % in the 1994 elections to the official opposition party in 1999 elections, where it registered a phenomenal increase in electoral support and seats in the national assembly from 7 to 38 seats. This meteoric rise culminated in the take-over of three additional metro councils of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay during 2016 local government elections which put the party in charge of the four of the biggest six cities in the country including its legislative, administrative and industrial capital cities.

On the basis of this breakthrough, not only the party appeared unstoppable but with skyrocketing polls of 31-35 % in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 elections, many in the DA and outside of it, thought DA was poised for a take-over of power nationally, through coalitions with bourgeois black parties, in spite of its unshakeable image as a party of white minority. Based on this perspectives, DA developed its strategy of coalitions and adjustments of its policy positions to reach out to even broader sections of the black middle class and accommodate its alliance partners.

These perspectives and strategy crumbled in the last elections when it was clearly rejected by DA’s traditional white minority base, many of whom defected to an openly white racist and right-wing Freedom Front, leading to the electoral slump and unravelling of the current crisis.

The damning prognosis of this in the report of the review panel led by the former leader of the party, Tony Leon that called for resignation of the party leader, Mmusi Maimane and chairperson of the party’s federal executive, James Selfie set in motion trail of disastrous events that culminated into a unfolding calamity for the party.

Illusions of stability and cohesion shattered

Following the report of the review panel appointed by Mmusi Maimane to investigate the causes of the loss in the electoral support in the 2019 elections and on its recommendations, James Selfie’s resignations as the chairperson of the party’s federal executive, elections for the replacement threw wide open the factional squabbling which DA had hitherto downplayed. The concerted attempt to cover-up the cracks had allowed the party to present an illusion of the most stable political party in the country. To be sure there were occasional leaks of internal fights and squabbles, which even led resignations of key figures like former party chief whip Lindiwe Mazibuko, but these were isolated instances and the party downplayed with a measure of success.

This appearance of stability and political cohesion, along with a false impression of zero-tolerance for corruption and ‘moral’ purity were major factors amongst others in a sustained growth of the party, especially in the whole period when all major parties were in open turmoil and tainted by scandals of corruption, and internal strife that invariably led to paralysis and splits in the ANC, COPE, and IFP.

All these illusions of internal party stability were crushed by this crisis. Along with the shattering blows to its highly cloistered image of moral purity it suffered from scandalous revelations of corruptions in its administrations in the metros of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Tshwane, this crisis marks a qualitative turning points in the fortunes of the DA and spell the disastrous end of its glorious days. In the best scenario it can retreat into an insignificant party of privileged white minority, and prolonged death agony.

Zille’s ascension to power- turning back the tides of change.

The report of the review panel, which was headed by the former white party leader Tony Leon and ascension to the powerful position of Federal Executive chair of an increasingly controversial former white party leader, Helen Zille has been widely viewed and correctly so, as a clawing back of power by the party’s old ‘white establishment’ and right-wing counter-reform project to return the party to its traditional white conservative base.

The damning statements of Mashaba, Maimane and exodus of black members in Kwazulu-Natal province to ANC, coming barely months following a significant shedding of its long standing black base amongst ‘coloured voters’ to the newly formed GOOD party led by its expelled former mayor of Cape Town, Patricia De Lille, marks a crushing blow to the painstaking, decades long efforts to shake-off the image of DA as a racist anti-black white party.

Zille has been causing serious embarrassment to the DA through her racist tweets speaking favourably of the legacy of apartheid regime and colonialism in South Africa and openly defied Maimane’s attempts to reign on her. She has also been using her widely followed twitter account to campaign against Maimane’s ‘One South Africa for all’’ project which had tried to take DA much further into the black communities through support for BEE policies and highlighting racial injustices against black majority in a way that clearly made the ‘Old DA establishment’ uncomfortable.

These positioned her as a voice of the conservative counter-reformist grouping, supported by Institute for Race Relations, which Herman Mashaba has labelled right-wing.  Her ascension to power, regardless of her declarations to ‘stay on her lane’, could therefore not be understood otherwise than a triumph of this faction over the Maimane faction and resounding defeat of the black caucus that has been driving for more orientation to the black middle class and support for BEE policies that pitted them against the white DA establishment and supporters.   

Corruption scandals

The scandals of corruption implicating major DA leaders including Maimane himself have also tainted the DA publicly and undermined Maimane leadership severely. The recent revelations of the car donated by Steinhof and the-below-market rental for the luxury house in Cape Town for Maimane and his family, illegal or not, have seriously damaged his name and along with him, DA image.

Torrents of revelations of corruption scandals in DA local government administrations have also tainted the party. Reveleations of corruption and bribery in R12 billion GladAfrica and R1 billion fuel supply tender irregularities in Tshwane Metro, R1 billion Fleet contract tender in Johannesburg metro, which also involve EFF, and  misappropriation of funds in Cape Town to mention only few have exposed the party posturings on corruption as a lie.

Growing social polarisation at the root of DA crisis.

Many commentators have correctly pointed to the factional struggle between the reform project centred around the black caucus of the DA and its ‘old white establishment’ as the underlying cause of the crisis.  The fall-out between Zille and Maimane over the provocative racist tweets of the Zille and ‘black and white conflict’ in the DA offers, however, no explanation for the depth and timing of the crisis in the DA.

The conflict between the ‘race-blind’ white ‘liberals’ and racist conservatives in Helen Zille camp and pro-BEE and populists of Maimane-Mashaba faction are real and were inevitably bound to lead to the crisis.

This factional conflict and splintering however has far deeper sociological causes than the superficial analyses of bourgeois commentators suggests. Neither the Zille bashing conspiracy theories nor the white washing of Maimane-Mashaba cabal sheds light on the material basis of the DA split in the social polarisation taking place in society and deepening crisis of capitalism.

Workers and Socialist Party and its predecessor, Democratic Socialist Movement, has consistently argued that DA will never grow significantly beyond the high point it reached in the 2014/2016 elections. This prognosis was based on the historical limitations of the DA as a traditionally white party with a history stretching back to colonial and apartheid regimes and brutal anti-working class programme, which could appeal to sections of black middle class appalled by rampant corruption of the ANC and its black elite but can never appeal to the vast majority of the black working class.

DA’s growing black base was based on historical factors which have turned into opposite effects today, the ANC and the economic situation in the country. In a thinly veiled swart-gevaar (Afrikaans for black danger) Fight Back campaign that won over the support base of the right-wing parties like Freedom Front and National Party, the DA secured its position as the only viable party of white minority opposed to the ANC policies in government since 1994. Recognising the electoral limitations of this support base to the political ambitions of the DA, the leadership has been at pain to broaden its electoral base by reaching out to black middle class voters.

Based on the disillusionment of the black middle classes with the ANC government over corruption in particular and media-sponsored image of DA as corrupt free party, this strategy was successful enough to allow the party to sustain its growth beyond limits initially imaginable. Nonetheless, this was mostly aided also by the growing disillusionment and electoral drop-out of the black working class votes for the ANC, which allowed DA to increase its parliamentary representations disproportionately higher than the increase in its electoral support. 

The victory of Cyril Ramaphosa in the ANC and to the helm of the country brought to an end of a period that was a paradise for the opposition, especially for the DA which increasingly found itself increasingly running short of Zuma-era scandals to capitalise on. Most importantly however, these co-incided with a period of deepening economic crisis of capitalism which undermined the social foundations for the political coalescing of black and middle classes on which DA successes rested.

Beginning with the recovery from the shockwaves of Asian financial crisis in late 1999 and accelerating in 2003, South Africa experienced an exceptional period of sustained and fastest economic growth surpassing previous records, with economic growth reaching over 5 % over a period of four years leading to 2007. Although the growth was mainly in the financial sectors of the economy and had no significant impacts in the conditions of the working class, it did allow for advances of the black middle classes in the corporate and public sectors of the economy.

Growth in public fiscus and private sectors of the economy, along with restructuring and outsourcing of public services, created conditions for the advances of black professional middle classes and small businesses to occupy positions left by old white officials leaving for private sectors and securing business opportunities in outsourced service like cleaning, security and technical consultancies, etc.     

These stalled with the Great Recession of 2008 and since then worsened with the deepening crisis, massive retrenchments, rising interest rates and tariffs which are also ruining the middle classes. Plummeting levels of consumption, rising levels of debts and defaults on credits, housing and car repossessions and retrenchments in the banking sectors are just but few indicators of these deepening crisis of the middle classes.

It is also this situation which is at the root of the growing social polarisation which translates into racial and political polarisation within and between classes in society, especially the middle class. How can the DA contain the colonial nostalgia and the ever growing discontentment of Black liberals within the party? It is also the crisis that is tearing the DA apart. Both on the basis of Maimane’s black caucus group and counter-reform programme of Helen Zille DA is doomed. The demand for DA support for Affirmative Action and other BEE policies reflect the growing frustrations of the black middle class support mobilised by DA with the reverses of previous social gains and voluntarily collaboration of the white elite in advancements of their ambitions. DA fudging its policies on these issues no longer suffices.

On the other hand, these policies spells a disaster for the white middle classes in particular who stand to lose from shrinking job and business opportunities in public and corporate sectors. With DA increasingly unable to speak unequivocally against BEE policies to placate its black supporters and coalitions, the white supporters began to vote with their feet. Regaining this support is main object of counter-reform wing of the DA and right-wing turn of Zille and faction around her. Either way, it seems the DA isfacing an abyss as it can no longer grow and even keep its black middle class base without alienating its white supporters and vice versa.

Maimane and Mashaba don’t represent aspirations of black majority

Allegations of corruption, racism and factional splintering of the DA does not only demonstrate that DA is not an alternative to the corrupt and factionalised ANC. It shows that there cannot be any alternative on the basis of capitalism and any of its parties, particularly in the period of deepening economic crisis of capitalism, which lay bare and aggravates every tendency towards the social and political crises of the system and exposing its contradictions. It was, as Warren Buffet commented, that “only when the tides goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked”. The rising racial tensions and growing revulsion for the corruption of the political establishment reflects the widening social polarisation that is rooted in the alienation of the working and middle classes over their worsening economic conditions.

Both corruption and racism are, however, inherent to capitalism. As a system based on theft and plundering of the working class, public service and environment for profiteering of few, capitalism cannot free itself of corruption. The same with racism. As Malcolm X said “you can’t have capitalism without racism”. For the tiny part of the population to rule over the rest they have to divide them in order to conquer and keep them in subjugation. Racism has been one the most enduring form of prejudice to keep the working class in chains.

Maimane and Herman Mashaba do not represent the aspirations of the black majority, who are poor and working class. The cabal around them has also been responsible for corruption in DA administrations which has stolen the money from public services for the poor. Herman Mashaba has been at war with the poor of Johannesburg through his xenophobic rhetoric and anti-immigrant campaigns which legitimised looting, plundering and killings of many poor African and Asian migrants. Herman Mashaba using the Johannesburg Metro Police Department in an operation of “Clean sweep” that has been running since 2013, confiscating goods of street vendors and shops around around the CBD of people who are trying to make a living. This is a blatant class war from the government, these attacks are barbaric and baseless as we see unemployment rising everyday.

His Free Market Foundation has been actively campaigning with the most reactionary employer associations to dismantle centralised bargaining which has had to devastating impacts on the plastic sector workers where workers’ wages have been slashed by more than 50 percent amongst others. In this anti-working class crusade, they collaborated with the most reactionary white racist groups, Orania Movement. All these happened under Mashaba as Helen Zille pointed out in relation to the FMF conference that Mashaba hosted at Orania, a white-only town which is the bastion of this ultra-reactionary extremists where black people are not allowed to stay.

Only the working class can build a real opposition to the ANC rule.

With the EFF nose in the trough of corrupt DA administrations and battling their own damaging complicity in the VBS banking looting, close links to cigarettes mafia and discredited by overt rapprochement with the Zuma camp, the stinking rot of the whole political establishment has never been clearer. The corruption, paralysis and bankruptcy of the bourgeois opposition parties reveals the impotence of these parties to provide a viable alternative to the corrupt, incompetent and anti-working class ANC.

WASP has consistently argued and campaigned for a new mass political alternative based on the fighting organisations of the workers, youth and communities. A campaigning, mass working class party organised democratically and at this stage, on a federal basis can potentially lay a basis for a broad fighting unity of the working class and the revolutionary left parties based on a mass campaigning around trade union issues, student and community struggles, against xenophobia, climate change, gender oppression and every other injustice.

With a bold socialist programme capable of answering all the pressing problems facing humanity, a fighting workers party can become a pole of attraction for environmental justice activists in extinction rebellion against the growing ecological calamity, the whole generation of young people radicalised by #FeesMustFall, #OutsourcingMustFall and now #TotalShutdown and growing community protests taking an increasingly insurrectionary character in the localised shutdowns for service delivery and jobs.

The trade union movement has a leading role to play in building this alternative. SAFTU-initiated Working Class Summit is a step in the right-direction and need to be developed further along with campaigns for a general strike and #TotalShutDown based on mass occupations of all the major cities across the country for decent wages, jobs, service delivery and to stop climate change and gender based violence. The affairs of humanity, are better managed in the absence of profit motives, only socialism can ensure good quality education, housing, health, infrastructure, etc.


US: How socialists defeated Amazon’s bid to buy Seattle’s elections

By Ty Moore, Socialist Alternative USA

Foreword by Alex, Workers & Socialist Party

In August of this year I had the opportunity to volunteer for the Vote Sawant campaign run by our US section in Seattle to re-elect Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant to Seattle’s district 3 council seat. The visit was brief, but it highlighted the discipline and determination required for a legitimate working-class campaign to succeed.

There were many ways to help despite my limited time in Seattle. I was given plenty of tasks such as preparing packets that aid “canvassing” teams and putting up posters around the neighborhood (a busy job given the daily vandalism that targets Kshama posters). I was able to end the day by joining a team to canvass the neighborhood and knock on doors of potential voters. We spoke with Seattle residents about their views and struggles while informing them about the movement behind Socialist Alternative and Kshama.

Fellow volunteers, mostly Socialist Alternative members, were quick to strike up conversation and create a very welcoming environment. This was especially remarkable given the hectic position of being a week away from the primary election. I went through quick training sessions in how to canvass with scenarios where we took up roles and advised each other on how to better handle certain situations with potential voters. Canvassing itself involved separating into teams and using mobile apps to help organise which voters to meet and speak with.

The daily routine in the office ran efficiently like clockwork, but it was also able to adapt to developing conditions. This was made possible due to a dedicated layer of assigned roles and tasks, analysis of evolving material conditions on the ground, and effective use of limited resources (the campaign accepts no corporate money and primarily runs on volunteers and donations from working people).

In addition to taking inspiration from the efforts and success of the hard-fought victory of our US comrades, we also take note of what strategies and methods we can adapt to our work here in South Africa. A revolutionary working-class party must be actively involved in community and workplace struggles. As WASP we are funded by our members and working class supporters and refuse any funding from the bosses. We must push the enforcement of the Political Party Funding Act in South Africa so that the parties in power reveal the corporate donors they serve.

Despite visiting from a world away, it was possible to step into action with comrades I had just met, and we operated as if we had worked and fought shoulder-to-shoulder for years. It is critical that we as the Committee for a Workers’ International continue to aid our socialist brothers and sisters abroad with solidarity in forms of finance, motivation, and labour. Where possible, we must also escalate our campaigns to worldwide movements that can unite the working class across borders. I’m proud to be part of this revolutionary international, in struggle, not just in name.

Kshama Sawant Re-Elected Despite Corporate PACs Spending $4 Million to Buy City Council

Jeff Bezos’s bid to buy Seattle City Council has backfired. Despite big business dropping unprecedented cash behind Amazon-backed candidates in all seven council races, Seattle voters rejected this attempt to flip the council to the right in all but two of the seven council races. In Seattle’s most-watched, most expensive, and most polarized council in decades, Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant appears to have won a narrow victory.

After election night returns showed Sawant behind by 8 points, with 46% to Egan Orion’s 54%, the corporate media and big business sounded triumphalist. But 60% of late arriving ballots counted in the following days swung toward Kshama. By Friday evening’s count Sawant had crested 3.6% past Orion with a lead of 1,515 votes, with that number likely to rise a bit further in the days ahead.

Washington State’s mail-in ballot system allows voters to mail in their ballots up to three weeks before election day. Early voters tend to be older and wealthier, with later voters being disproportionately younger, working class, and renters – those more likely to vote socialist. This year the late ballot bump for Sawant was bigger than ever, a reflection of the huge 58% turnout in District 3. Even our critics in the local media were forced to credit Socialist Alternative’s record-breaking get-out-the-vote operation.

The high turnout also reflected the wave of outrage that swept Seattle in the final three weeks of the election following Amazon’s $1 million “money bomb” dropped on Seattle on October 14. This brought Amazon’s total contribution to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce PAC to $1.5 million, and corporate PAC spending as a whole to over $4.1 million – approaching five times the previous record!

National political figures weighed in against Amazon, followed by a wave of national media attention. The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board complained that “Bernie Sanders tweeted this week that Amazon’s spending in Seattle was ‘a perfect example of the out-of-control corporate greed we are going to end.’ Elizabeth Warren decried Amazon for ‘trying to tilt the Seattle City Council elections in their favor,’ adding that ‘I have a plan to get big money out of politics.’”

A referendum on corporate power

Warning that Bezos’s $1.5 million gamble to defeat Sawant and other progressives may have backfired, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat said: “The election was playing out as a referendum on the performance of the City Council.” An Elway/Crosscut poll showed 67% of likely voters supporting “someone who wants to change” the Council’s direction. Westneat continued: “Now [the election] could well be a referendum on Amazon and corporate power” (10/23/19).

Of course, the Seattle Times is at the forefront of a relentless corporate propaganda offensive to blame Sawant and other so-called “left ideologues” for the failed “performance of the City Council” in addressing Seattle’s homelessness and affordability crisis, the top concern for voters. The paper endorsed Amazon-backed candidates in all seven council races, portraying them as “change” candidates.

In reality, Seattle’s housing crisis is part of the global failure of capitalism, which treats housing as a commodity to enrich billionaire speculators, rather than as a basic human right. Working people are right to be angry at the inaction of city, state, and federal authorities to address the crisis. But blame for this falls squarely on a political establishment that is complicit with corporate power, not on activists and political leaders like Kshama Sawant calling for universal rent control and taxing big business to massively expand quality public housing.

Amazon executives’ chosen opponent for Kshama was Egan Orion, a fully corporate candidate who posed as a “progressive” to win votes. Orion put posters up all over town saying he accepted no corporate PAC money despite the fact that he applied for corporate PAC money, interviewed with the PAC, and thanked them when he got their endorsement. He sent out mailers with lies about Kshama to every household.

Orion’s supporters tore down over 1,000 Kshama Sawant yard signs throughout the district, and in the final two weeks, they vandalized over 200 signs with spray-painted profanities. Crucial to overcoming the lies and attacks against our campaign was building widespread public awareness about this attempt to buy the election through thousands of conversations on the doors and at street corners by our members and volunteers.

Debate on Seattle’s Left

Once again, Seattle has shown that socialists and working people can take on the most powerful corporate titans and win. This victory should give confidence to movements everywhere, from the recent wave of mass anti-austerity and democracy protests spreading across the globe, to the youth climate strikes, labor battles, as well as other socialist election campaigns including Bernie Sanders’ inspiring fight for the presidency.

Yet it would be a major mistake to imagine that similar victories can be won through struggle and determination alone. The role of Marxist perspectives, program, and organization was essential in Seattle and will be vital to defeating the concentrated power of the capitalist class everywhere.

At the start of the election campaign, a de-facto alliance between big business, key labor leaders, and most liberal political figures had coalesced to try and defeat Sawant and block the election of Democratic Socialists of America candidate Shaun Scott in District 4. This anti-Sawant alliance came to life in the aftermath of the “Tax Amazon” campaign in 2018, which went down in defeat following aggressive bullying by Amazon, including threats to move jobs out of Seattle.

The broad coalition built around the Tax Amazon campaign, in which Sawant’s office and Socialist Alternative played a central role, initially won unanimous passage of the tax on the top 3% of Seattle corporations to pay for affordable housing and homeless services. However, facing intense pressure from big business and a well-funded repeal campaign, this coalition was shattered and city council repealed the tax in a 7-2 vote just one month later.

From left-liberal and pro-business voices alike, blame for the defeat was put on the “divisive” approach of Sawant and Socialist Alternative. Despite support from a number of unions, leaders of the Ironworkers and other trades angrily denounced the campaign as a “tax on jobs,” fearful that Amazon would follow through on their threats to cut back new construction in retaliation.

In the August 6 primary, with no endorsements from her fellow city councilmembers or other prominent Democratic Party politicians, with labor publicly divided, Sawant received just 37% in the primary election. “No incumbent in recent memory has survived a primary showing that low,” wrote Westneat in the Seattle Times (8/7/19). “[T]he days on the council for the crusader for rent control and taxes on big business could be numbered.”

The fight for unity against Amazon

If Sawant and Socialist Alternative had adopted the approach of most liberal and labor leaders to try and avoid a direct confrontation with Amazon, it’s likely Jeff Bezos’ bullying strategy and attempt to buy the city council would have succeeded. There was nothing automatic about the widespread working-class distrust toward corporate power getting organized into a coherent fightback.

In fact, most elections across the U.S. don’t feature bold working-class challenges, given the corporate domination of the two-party system. Even in Seattle, where the local Democratic Party organizations have shifted leftward under the impact of Sanders and other left challengers, this hasn’t resulted in strong working class fighters running for city council in most races.

Socialist Alternative based our electoral strategy on confidence that, if offered a fighting lead, working class and young people in Seattle were capable of defeating Amazon and big business. Crucial to this strategy was the potential for working-class pressure from below to push progressive and labor leaders off the sidelines and into a united fight with us against Seattle’s corporate establishment. Socialist Alternative members provided the Marxist backbone of this strategy. Their energy, self-sacrifice, and political skills successfully built  perhaps the most powerful grassroots election campaign in Seattle history.

Over 1,000 volunteers and SA members have helped us knock on over 225,000 doors and make 200,000 phone calls. 7,900 working people donated to the campaign, and with a median donation of $20 we raised $570,000, smashing all previous records for both the number of donors and total amount raised. We’ll be publishing a fuller report of this historic effort soon.

The dynamic unleashed after the primary election confirmed our strategy. Candidates backed by Amazon and big business moved on to the general election in all seven council races, facing off against more progressive candidates. With the looming threat of the Chamber of Commerce engineering a wholesale takeover of City Hall, our call for maximum unity against big business rapidly gained traction among grassroots activists, exerting pressure on bigger political players.

More endorsements for Sawant, as well as Shaun Scott, began rolling in from progressive leaders and groups who had sat on the sidelines in the primary. The scandalous effort of conservative labor leaders to win Egan Orion the Labor Council’s endorsement was defeated when over 300 union members signed an open letter in protest. By the final weeks, 21 unions had endorsed Sawant – a substantial majority of the union locals who endorsed in the District 3 race. A joint event promoting a Green New Deal for Seattle was organized with Sawant, Morales, and Scott speaking, an important display of programmatic left unity that was absent in the primary.

In a major defeat for the business-backed Democratic establishment who have long-dominated city  politics, local Democratic Party groups endorsed both Shaun Scott and Kshama Sawant in September (they had already endorsed Morales in the primary). Sawant is the first independent socialist ever endorsed by Seattle’s Democrats, and this endorsement was made despite her very public calls for left Democrats, labor, and social movements to join together to build a new party for working people. This victory, the product of an energetic grassroots effort, was linked to passing resolutions condemning corporate PAC spending  through four Democratic Party organizations.

All this laid the basis for our re-election campaign to become the central driving force behind a unified response when Amazon dropped their $1 million money bomb on October 14th. Alongside the Democratic Party groups, we organized a press conference two days later outside of Amazon headquarters, followed by rally called by Amazon workers a week later.

This broke the dam. A wave of national media coverage followed. In a high profile reversal, even Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda – the liberal city councilmembers who had publicly called for Sawant’s defeat in the primary – felt compelled to speak at the rally against Amazon and announce their endorsement of both Sawant and Scott. A wave of other progressive Democratic Party leaders followed suit.

The  naked attempt by Jeff Bezos to buy Seattle City council backfired, but only because it met a well-prepared united front strategy to mobilize working class anger into a unifying force, pushing even reluctant labor and liberal leaders into alliance with socialists to fight big business. The role of Socialist Alternative, with our clear analysis, strategy, and a politically self-confident membership, was absolutely vital to moving these wider forces into united action.

As the wave of socialist election campaigns across the country continues to expand, the rich lessons of how we defeated Jeff Bezos in his hometown can help serious socialist organizers develop winning strategies for working class struggle everywhere.