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Articles featured in WASP’s official publication uManyano lwaBasebenzi (Workers’ Unity)


The sex industry: the ultimate commodification

Rosa International Socialist Feminists

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.

Climate Change: here and now for the working class

System Change not Climate Change!

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 !

Editorial: uManyano lwaBasebenzi Issue #2

Originally published 18. March 2020

Dear Reader,

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.

Film Review: Hustlers – Capitalism is an illness

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 !

World Congress: CWI Majority becomes International Socialist Alternative

by Phemelo Motseokae

Featured in our latest uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication #2

In the past year, a shift in the shaky state of capitalism saw widespread mass struggles and advancing consciousness – growing anti-capitalist sentiment and internationalism. Worldwide, radicalised layers of women and youth took on struggles more militantly.

During this time, WASP’s international party, the CWI, had an internal crisis with long and unresolved political debates, leading to a split (see Issue #1). In spite of this, over 30 sections of our international party remain united as an active force in working class struggles.

At the 12th world congress held in Belgium in January, comrades from all over the world were energized as we sharpened our political analyses. The world party was unanimously re-named: International Socialist Alternative (ISA). An International Women’s Bureau was formed at the WC, which has launched an International Feminist network: ROSA. It aims to draw in radical layers of women to reach socialist conclusions in the fight for liberation.

ISA’s programme clarifies the tasks necessary to end capitalism and avert the impending doom facing humanity through climate change. We don’t claim to have ready-made answers, but by basing our programme on the worldwide experience of working class struggles and sharp Marxist perspectives, we maintain that the working class remains the revolutionary force that can end capitalism. Our sections are involved in struggles around service delivery, GBV, state repression, and workplaces.

A struggle to win the working class to a revolutionary socialist programme means intervening in workers’ struggles, recruitment, paper sales, internationalism, and political education. We prepare for the re-emergence of socialist consciousness and to link struggles of all oppressed groups with the struggles of workers. The revolutionary party remains principled and revitalised for the period ahead that – more than ever – requires a fight for a socialist world.

Delegates of 12th world congress of the CWI, now renamed International Socialist Alternative (ISA)

The Root of the Crisis in State Owned Enterprises

by Newton Masuku & Tinovimbanashe Gwenyaya

Featured in our latest uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication #2

The economy continues to plunge deeper into crisis as it enters yet another recession. For the second time since Ramaphosa’s ascendancy, the economy contracted for two consecutive quarters in the last half of 2019. Major companies like Glencore, Samancor and Telkom have announced that thousands of workers will be retrenched this year while state owned enterprises (SOEs) are reeling from relentless looting and plundering. SAA, Denel, Eskom, Prasa, Transnet and many others are all in a critical state. 

Heavily indebted, plagued by maladministration and outright corruption, South Africa’s SOEs are unable to provide even their most basic services effectively. The national power utility, Eskom, is drowning in debt to the tune of R454 billion, while Denel, the state’s armament manufacturer, is owing R2.7 billion. Similarly, the national carrier, SAA, entered into business rescue late last year following a long battle with R12.7 billion owed, despite numerous bailouts by the state. In each of these SOEs, the ordinary workers, who had absolutely nothing to do with their crises, are set to shoulder its burden – job losses are looming! SAA is scheduled to retrench 4600 workers. Eskom is wielding an axe, set to chop and render redundant many workers. The top management at the power utility are trying all sorts of maneuvers to circumvent union resistance. To rid the power utility of “excess workforce”, the top management at Eskom are proposing “voluntary retrenchment packages to non-core employees”. As if that was not enough, Denel, according to its management, is closing its Aeronautics division in an attempt  to return the arms manufacturer to profitability – leaving thousands of workers out to dry. 

The spokespersons of the bosses in the mainstream media place the blame for the dire state of SOEs squarely on the shoulders of the Zuma administration – the so-called nine wasted years. Some go so far as to argue that the crisis ravaging SOEs provides ample evidence that only the private sector can efficiently run these entities, and so call for their privatization. 

While it is true that rampant corruption and unrepentant looting contributed immensely to the near collapse of these entities, this is not the whole story. What is often not talked about in these celebratory claims of the efficiency of the private sector, is that these SOEs are, in the main, brought to their knees by the selfsame private sector! 

Through the inflation of prices of the commodities sold to SOEs; incentive schemes offered by the state in an attempt to woo investment; and exorbitant consultant fees, the parastatals have been left reeling and bleeding cash. In 2013, for instance, Fin24 revealed that Eskom lost R10.7 billion supplying Hillside, the biggest of BHP Billiton’s aluminium  smelters. Through a deal concluded in 1992, BHP Billiton pays only a fraction of what an ordinary consumer pays for electricity. In 2018 major consultancy firms like Mckinsey, Bain & Company and KPMG had to pay back R1 billion to the state following the controversies around the services they provided to the SOEs. Between 2017 and 2018, Transnet, Denel, the SABC, SAA, and Eskom spent a combined R3 billion for consulting and outsourcing of services. Even the former Treasury Chief Director for Governance, Compliance and Monitoring, Solly Tshitangano, admitted that there exists a great deal of “unnecessary outsourcing in SOEs, and a lot of it at inflated prices”. 

This all means that the public is in fact subsidizing private corporations. SOEs, in their current configuration, are piggy banks for profiteering by these privately owned industries, corporations and consultancy firms. The working class should not bear the brunt of the failure of SOEs under capitalist rule. We must fight back to stop the era of loadshedding, failing public transport services, and now mass retrenchments and the Corona Crisis. In a united campaign of  workers, communities and the youth, we must embark on a programme of rolling mass action to fight for genuine nationalisation of SOEs under the democratic control of the working class and in the interest of all of society.

WASP calls for: 

  •  the SOEs to immediately be placed under the direct democratic control and management of Recovery and Reconstruction Councils made up of their workers as well as communities that are impacted by their activities. These councils would bring in accountable expertise as needed and, removing the profit motive, would develop a turnaround strategy to reorientate the SOEs to serve the interests of our communities and not ANC fat cats and multinational consulting firms. 
  • An  end to outsourced sub-contracts and backroom  BEE deals – they are not in the interest of the black majority but benefit a few politically connected tender-preneurs and lead to the worst exploitation of workers in precarious employment 
  • An end to state-subsidised electricity to energy-intensive users. Trade unions and other working class organisations must struggle for the nationalisation of the banks, mines, manufacturing industries and mega farms under democratic control of the working class. In this way, we can plan our economy for the social good, including the production and distribution of our energy resources, in the most sustainable and equitable way, including urgent measures to address the climate crisis.

8 March: International Working Women’s Day

By Carmia Schoeman

Featured in our latest uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

Initially a commemoration of the decisive strike action taken by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, one of the largest unions in USA history, the formal institution of International Working Women’s Day (IWWD) was championed at the 1910 Second International Congress by German socialist, Clara Zetkin.

The initial intent of the day was clear: a day of coordinated international action by working class women to challenge the capitalist system founded on oppression.

Marching in a coordinated effort under IWWD’s banner against food shortages, the Tsarist regime and war, 90 000 working women initiated the 1917 Russian Revolution in Petrograd (now St Petersburg).

In a cruel twist of irony, women of today are encouraged to celebrate the 4% of female CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies, or perhaps the slightly more attainable, 24% representation in parliaments across the world. The obvious co-opting of the socialist working women’s struggle by the exploitative elite was exemplified in its rebranding as International Women’s Day.

Concerns of working class women, such as the increased cost of childcare, decreasing job security, racism, and attacks on bodily autonomy have been appropriated as insincere talking points to fuel the populist rhetoric of the ruling elite. The ANC Women’s League will make big scenes at rape trials and Gender Based Violence protests, whilst at the same time protecting powerful men accused of rape like Jacob Zuma and looking the other way when services that help victims of GBV are gutted.

Our international initiative, ROSA, is organising to reclaim International Women’s Day as a day of struggle and revolution. This year, ROSA organised and took part alongside millions worldwide on 8 March. The working class is starting to draw the conclusion that bourgeois feminists will not bring liberation for all oppressed by gender, sexuality, race, and class.

Click the banner below to find out more about ROSA 👇

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!