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.