Massive opportunities for working class struggle despite United Front postponement

Executive Committee statement

Activists across the country will be disappointed over the postponement of the launch of the United Front, for the second time in six months. The conversion of the original launch in December 2014 into a Preparatory Assembly was understandable and necessary. Then structures were not in place and there was uncertainty over the UF’s ideological orientation, organisational character and political objectives.

With these key questions having been referred back to the areas for discussion, a process of debate, highly imperfect in many provinces though it might have been, had begun which was to have been concluded at the launch. For the first time since Numsa’s historic Special National Congress (SNC), the UF’s place of birth, a sense of momentum had begun to develop. Civics which the UF had for most of the past eighteen months failed to connect with, and which, in turn had adopted a wait-and-see attitude towards the UF, have begun to be drawn towards it.

Thus, whereas in December 2014, there were hardly any structures in place, this time the UF has established structures in every province except KZN. Again, although in many cases still rudimentary at this stage and still to develop into active forums for mass action campaigns, their establishment represents an important step forward. The debates on the key issues – whether the UF should be socialist, stand in the elections or adopt the Freedom Charter –that were to have continued at the launch, have animated activists, providing a sense that the UF is at least, and at last, beginning to take the necessary steps towards clarifying its ideological, programmatic and political character.

The new postponement has been explained as necessary due to the lack of finances available. Whilst finances are always a struggle for the working class movement this could have been overcome if the UF had developed its roots amongst the mass of the working to a greater extent than has been the case.

Wasp calls upon all the structures in the provinces not to allow the momentum to be slowed. The majority of provinces have come out overwhelmingly in favour of socialism and prefer the UF to stand in the elections. These developments indicate that the UF still has the potential to achieve the objectives for which the Numsa SNC gave birth to it – the unification of struggles of working class communities and of the working class in the workplace.

The UF must, as a matter of urgency, connect with the service delivery protests that have reached new levels of frequency and intensity across the country. At the same time there are major disputes in the workplace in both the private and public sector. Telkom is threatening to retrench 14 000 workers. MTN workers have been hospitalised after being shot at by police. Mining industry wage negotiations have commenced against the background of over 34 000 job losses since 2012 with more threatened.

The public sector wage agreement teetered on the verge of collapse following the government’s decision to renege on the agreement for a 7% increase. The state’s decision to unilaterally claw back 0.6% on the basis of the provisions of the 2012-14 three-year deal was provocative in the extreme. Belatedly recognising the severe damage that could be inflicted upon Cosatu president Dlamini by robbing him even of this small ‘victory’, the 7% has finally been agreed to. But this episode, and the attempts to extend the life of an expired agreement, converting it effectively into a permanent agreement, has serious implications for the collective bargaining process and the right to strike which will come under increasing threat in the next period. The local government wage negotiations are also dead-locked with workers rejecting Salga’s derisory offer.

Education Minister Blade Nzimande has openly admitted that there are insufficient funds to finance the education of thousands of working class students who are effectively being thrown onto the scrapheap of unemployment which has now reached the highest level in many years bringing the total to 8.7 million. Yet the UF has yet to take solidarity action to support students. The Numsa SNC mandated the UF to unite all these struggles. Unfortunately the UF leadership appears to have interpreted its mandate differently.

The ingredients are present for a national day of action, even a general strike, by organised labour. But despite the simmering anger across all three theatres of working class struggle – the workplaces, the communities and the education campuses, the UF leadership have focussed the UF’s energies on campaigns that, though not unworthy in and of themselves, are far more the pre-occupation of its middle class leadership than those the working class is seized with.

Emboldened by the slow pace towards a clear political and trade union alternative by NUMSA, Vavi and their trade union allies, not to mention the UF, the government has adopted a more harde-gat attitude. Soweto residents have been told that they will just have to accept the pre-paid meters and their associated  higher and unaffordable tariffs under threat of cut-offs, tear gas and rubber bullets. Ramaphosa has threatened draconian, and potentially illegal measures, (non-renewal of vehicle licenses) to break the back of the boycotts of e-tolls. The most grotesque example of the ANC government’s insolence and the contempt in which it holds the people, is its rallying behind Zuma’s refusal to pay for the Nkandla corruption.

March to union buildings

Astonishingly the UF leadership has chosen not to lead, but merely to support the proposed mass action campaign against corruption and its centrepiece of a million strong march on Union Buildings on 19th August. The issue around which the march is being called has the potential to unite the overwhelming majority of society. It has the potential to deal a severe blow to the government with potentially fatal consequences for its electoral prospects especially in the metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekhuruleni and Nelson Mandela Bay in the 2016 local government elections. It could provide the basis and momentum for the formation of a mass workers party to challenge for power in 2019.

But with the political character of the anti-corruption campaign left in the hands of Vavi, there is no counter-pressure to his attempt to put a political and ideological stamp on the march that runs directly counter to Numsa’s and the rank-and-file of UF aligned structures. In the face of accusations that its SNC resolutions and the UF in particular were evidence of a hidden agenda of “regime change”, Numsa has replied defiantly that “regime change” is inherent in every election. We would add that to one degree or another, “regime change” is inherent in all the struggles taking place and is the common point around which they are increasingly converging.

Unfortunately Vavi has taken fright at the ANC’s “regime change” accusations. He has denied that the march is against the ANC or the government. Apart from the fact that the ANC and its government are not two different political personalities, against whom could a march to the Union Buildings possibly be directed if not the ANC government? Vavi’s approach is reinforced by those sections in the UF leadership who oppose the UF becoming a political party or participating in the elections.

By focussing narrowly on the issues of corruption, the golden handshakes plague and the manipulation of Chapter Nine institutions like the Public Protector’s Office, the impression is being created that, cleansed of these transgressions, the ANC government is capable of solving the problems of poverty, unemployment and inequality. But corruption is not the equivalent of the unpleasant outbreak of a bout of flu. It is the oil that allows the wheels in the machine of capitalism in government and the private sector to turn. The slogan of the march should be “Zuma must go! And the capitalist ANC government behind him!” The idea of a constitutionally-compliant ANC and a better Zuma is hardly the way to inspire the masses to turn up for the march and can only invite derision.

We believe the purpose of the march has been narrowed down in this way to accommodate business, the first on the list of social forces, institutions, organisations and individuals to be invited as announced by Section 27’s Mark Heywood’s on radio. Private sector corruption dwarfs that in government. They collude with each other and we should not be sowing illusions that the political morals of the capitalists are any less soiled than those of the ANC government for whom they set the example.

Most important of all, advantage is not being taken of the fact that that every service delivery protest taking place daily is in reality against the equivalent of Nkandla-type corruption in local government. The march therefore has the potential to resonate directly with the masses provided the political purpose of the march is broadened to place the grievances and demands of the masses at the forefront. In this way it will be the middle class being drawn behind the working class instead of the masses being the foot-soldiers of the middle class.

The working class must lead this march not only politically but also ideologically. The liberal tone set by the march organisers at this stage is the mirror image of the those UF leaders who oppose the UF adopting a socialist orientation.

Come out boldly for socialism

In preparing their own political alternative, the strategists of the bourgeois have acted decisively and boldly. They have carried out a coup against Helen Zille in the Democratic Alliance (DA), ‘blackened’ the leadership by installing Maimane who is enthusiastically hoisting the banner of the “free market” (capitalism) and slogans such as “freedom and opportunity for individuals”. The capitalist class are further preparing the DA as a substitute, or partner, for the ANC as the main managers of their system should the ANC vote fall below 50% in 2019.

In reply those who have been elevated into their positions politically and organisationally by workers want to hide from the working class the banner of socialism – the ideology of the working class and the only programme upon the basis of which a society capable of ending the misery and barbarism of capitalism that is the daily experience of the working class can be created. They respond to an ideologically and politically bold capitalist class with ideological and political cowardice. The greatest scepticism and hostility towards socialism comes not from the working class but the more prosperous sections of the upper middle class and the capitalists and their worshippers in academia and the media. As survey after survey has shown in Cosatu and amongst the broader working class there is overwhelming support for a workers party (67% in the last Cosatu shop steward survey) and socialism.

To argue that the UF has too much on its plate to lead the Union Buildings march which has been initiated by Numsa and the seven unions supporting it is like a political party or trade union saying it is “full” and can’t accept new members. The SNC delegates who voted to bring the UF into being and those that have been drawn towards it did not want unity for its own sake, but for the purpose of struggle. There can never be enough struggle until the working class is emancipated from capitalism and has taken its place at the head of a socialist society.

The UF leadership appears to have failed to grasp the significance of the developments within Cosatu and the country as a whole. They are thus at risk of abdicating an historic responsibility to provide leadership. The decision to bar Numsa from the Special Congress which Numsa had called for is the final nail in Cosatu’s coffin. The seven unions supporting Numsa now have to choose between participating without Numsa – thus endorsing a decision that they have so far resolutely opposed – or, as they are more likely to do, to walk away from Cosatu in its present incarnation.

The UF should be actively supporting Numsa and the seven “apostles” not only by taking a clear stand on the battle for the soul of Cosatu and the formation of a new federation, but by ensuring that the march to Union Buildings takes place under its banner.  The UF’s failure to take a bold and principled stand on this question comes across as disinterest, even indifference on a question in which Numsa, out of which the UF was born, is playing a central role.

The leadership of the seven apostles has until now been wary of taking their support for Numsa beyond the issue of its expulsion and its call for a special Cosatu congress. The UF’s poor excuses for not taking its place at the head of the march could resuscitate the hesitation of these leaders precisely at the point when they have begun to overcome their political reservations about the UF. The rank-and-file of the seven apostles have been to the left of their leaders on these issues from the onset. A Gauteng Cosatu Shop Stewards Council as long ago as last year expressed support not only for Numsa’s demands for Vavi’s reinstatement and its demand for a special congress, but for all the political resolutions adopted at Numsa’s SNC.

The recent NUM congress demonstrated that the rank-and-file of those unions that remain firmly within the Cosatu fold for now are also far to the left of their leaders and could be won over to a new socialist federation and workers party with a bold policy. The booting out of Frans Baleni and other figures associated with NUM’s slavish support for the ANC which saw the NUM leadership assume the role of key apologists for the Marikana massacre, leading to the loss of some 100,000 members, whilst falling short of the development of an organised ‘left-wing’ that some commentators have invented, and notwithstanding the questionable politics of new general secretary David Sipunzi, nevertheless represented a rebellion of the rank-and-file and the development of another hairline fracture not just in NUM but also Cosatu.

We call upon all UF structures to mobilise for the Union Buildings march linking the Nkandla corruption to what they are experiencing locally across the country. We must make it crystal clear that we are mobilising not only against corruption, but for regime change and system change – for a workers government and for socialism. Wasp has developed a ‘Zuma must-go’ petition, if all the organisations supporting the march were to take-up the collection of signatures it would be possible to obtain at least a million. This would show the widespread support for the march and give a fuller indictment against this government and its capitalist masters.

The Union Buildings march offers a unique opportunity to unite working class communities in the townships with organised workers in the workplace, to contribute towards the acceleration of the process towards the formation of a new socialist trade union federation and ensure that the tide of discontent swelling in all the main streams of working class struggle is directed towards each other, becoming tributaries of a single river of working class rage. The march has the potential to elevate the UF into a position to be the leading force in the development of the political alternative that millions are yearning for – a mass workers party on a socialist programme.