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Coronavirus: Quarantine Capitalism Now!

Our publication will feature the following statement on the coronavirus. See the bottom of the page for details.

WASP EC Statement

At the time of writing, the recorded spread of the Coronavirus spans 157 countries, with 62 known cases in South Africa, figures sure to be outdated by the time this is read. Within its few months of existence, this virus has begun to lay bare every fundamental failure of capitalism.

The spread of the novel Coronavirus (or SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes (COVID-19) has rapidly become a pandemic – a globally spread epidemic. There are still uncertainties about how best to contain and control the spread of corona.

What is clear is that the virus spreads rapidly and that it can and will kill. With mortality estimates for now ranging between 0,7-3,4%, and estimations that 30-70% of populations will be infected, inadequate health care systems risk being overwhelmed, as evident from China to Italy.

Capitalism, its blind chase for profits and its neoliberal austerity are behind the failure to contain and respond to the Coronavirus.

For weeks, Chinese authorities suppressed and covered up, allowing the virus a head start in the interest of “stability” and profits-as-usual for big business. Its global spread has exposed the deadly impact of decades of austerity, deregulation and privatisation of health care in combination with precarious livelihoods.

South Africa is set to be extraordinarily hard-hit. With over 20% of the population aged 15-49 HIV-positive, one of the world’s highest TB infection rates, and widespread malnutrition, it’s fair to assume that the portion of those infected who will need critical care will be higher than in many other countries – which our class-divided, two-tier, understaffed health care system is not fit for.

Both rural and urban areas provide disastrously conducive conditions for the spread of the virus. On top of the unaddressed Apartheid legacy of “bantustan” devastation and massive inequality, ANC’s rule has meant decades of underfunding and mismanagement of water supply, infrastructure, housing, health care, and education. Climate change and the predatory mining industry mean destruction of water resources and rural livelihoods.

The results include mass unemployment, with desperate precarious workers who face the “choice” of going to work sick or going hungry. Overcrowded buses, trains and taxis stand for over 70% of transport. Millions live in packed townships and shacks.

In schools, standard class size is 40 learners, with the poorest schools which also routinely lack water and sanitation often exceeding this. The broken education system makes a mockery of the idea of effective online learning for the vast majority. 

Likewise, the basic hygiene recommended to protect from infection is a cruel joke to many. In rural areas, 74% get water from wells and pumps – many of which run dry amid the worst drought in a thousand years. In urban areas, many depend on taps shared by whole communities.  Water cut offs hit millions of those lucky enough to have piped water at home.

Workers must take action now to slow the spread and ramp up the capacity of health care. 

Capitalists and their governments will put profit before people, just as they are doing with the climate crisis. WASP calls on trade unions, students, communities and other movements of the working classes to organise for the following:

  • Allow all who can to work from home, special leave without loss pay for others, except workers essential for provision of health services, food and other necessities.
  • Safe working conditions for all: protective gear, anti-transmission training, regular testing, breaks for recovery, full pay and compensation, safe transport and accommodation.
  • No restriction of democratic rights like right to strike and organise.
  • Shut down schools, universities, colleges and pre-schools immediately to limit the spread; provide special childcare for essential services workers.
  • Roll out free testing at temporary stations in all communities; quality medical services and medication for all.
  • Free soap, water and sanitisers in every public space, workplace and poor community.  
  • Stop and reverse all water and electricity cut offs, supply water to all households.
  • No profiteering off the pandemic – nationalise all private health institutions, medical aids, labs and pharmaceutical corporations under democratic workers control; to produce test kits, medicine and protective gear according to need.
  • Price caps for all necessities – no opportunistic price gouging!
  • Avail hotels, guest houses, empty apartments etc to quarantine those in need.
  • Basic income grant and supply of free basic food and utilities for precarious workers and others forced to stay home and in need. 
  • Stop all retrenchments, nationalise any company that defies ban; halt the government’s austerity plan – all hands on deck to to fight the crisis.
  • Mass employment and training of health assistants and community healthcare workers to contain the spread and ensure treatment and services at point of need.
  • Suspend payments of rent, rates, water and electricity tariffs; emergency loans to small businesses in need.
  • A complete end to evictions. 
  • Set up import-substituting industries to ensure continuous supply of all essential needs for which the country currently depends on imports.
  • Permanent, secure and decent-paying jobs and training for all workers including in community health care, home-based care, food production, distribution and retail.
  • Build a single, public, national health care service for all.
  • Massive public works programme to overcome backlogs in housing, schooling infrastructure, hospitals and clinics, piped water supply, for safe public transport.
  • Reorganise the economy on the basis of public ownership of all key resources (eg banks, mines, big businesses) for a democratic plan to put need for health, education, housing, work, water, sustainable food and energy production first.

We risk catastrophic consequences and must organise a general stay-away of workers, communities and young people if the government doesn’t take these and many other measures to mobilise society to combat the pandemic and save lives.

WASP’s statement on the coronavirus will be featured in our latest uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication. Grab your copy starting tomorrow!

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.

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.

Transpharm Workers March Against Climate Change

Written by Ndumiso and Phemelo

Last week on Thursday morning about 150 workers from the pharmaceutical company Transpharm marched to the Department of Energy in Pretoria. The workers led a lively demonstration, singing energetically and toy-toying for hours. Most of the workers had come in support of the Union campaign on Climate and exhibited a high level of interest in the speeches that were delivered.

A company like Transpharm represents the state of medicine in South Africa where it is for-profit rather than matching the needs of people, which is why workers often complain that they cannot afford it. And with South Africa having serious health endemics of TB, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, heart diseases etc. it means the government has to use tax-payers money to purchase these medications. Also, the damage that these medications do the environment is hidden from people and workers are not educated on the impacts. The meat industry puts animals under heavy medication, such as hormones and antibiotics, and even animals that are not genuinely ill are put in horrible and unhealthy conditions to produce a lot of meat fast and cheaply. This builds the potential for superbugs, or antibiotic resistant bacteria that could potentially cause widespread epidemics. All this is happening while humans who are in need of medicine cannot afford them.

Workers singing and toyi-toying at the Climate change March at the Department of Energy

It was clear that marching workers, already frustrated by their employer’s unfair labour practices, were disappointed with their bosses’ utter disregard for the well-being of the planet. Additionally, it was obvious to the workers that the foul labour practices of reckless polluting and evading safety regulations are a way for the bosses’ to secure their profits. The workers easily made the link between the way the bosses treat the workers and the way they treat the environment. There was an apparent shock at the state of the world climate and its current and possible future effects on weather patterns, food production, increasing sea levels, and increasingly frequent natural disasters like floods and droughts throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

Many workers, having experienced cruel treatment at the hands of capitalists and their government, also understood the disastrous implications of privatizing Eskom. This reassured their support of trade union opposition to these privatization plans. Furthermore, the workers found that profit-driven motivations of the big corporations come naturally, meaning electricity tariffs will continue to escalate while wages continue to stagnate, or even decline, leading to electricity becoming unaffordable for much of the working class. This will inevitably lead to more people resorting to the cutting of trees and burning wood for fuel thus adding more CO2 to the already fragile atmosphere.

As much as the march was a demonstration of trade union opposition to privatization of Eskom and climate change, it was also an open school for many workers who are frequently denied information and education on the science of climate change by the media and schooling system. By the end of the march, it became clear to workers that our planet is in danger for the same reasons they are on low wages. Capitalism is being exposed as the true force behind the exploitation of both the working class and the natural environment. The same relentless pursuit of profits that butchered the miners at Marikana leads us to a planet brimming with greed-induced disasters that threaten food supplies and render our homes unlivable. The workers were convinced of how big business treats the environment, that the instinct to preserve profits comes naturally with capitalists, and that this cannot go on.

The Department refused to accept the memorandum saying they were not notified in advance. The spirited demonstration of the workers, however, could not be ignored and clearly impressed the staff of the Department who came out to take pictures of the posters, banners and to listen to the chanting and toyi-toyi songs.

Mametlwe Sebei, WASP memeber, addressing Transpharm workers at a March in Pretoria at the Department of Energy, against Climate change and the impending plans to privatize Eskom.

The power of big businesses must be stopped and workers need to take control of the economy. Only the workers can guarantee that businesses transition to renewable energy, to sustainable agriculture, and to an economy were the wealth produced by society serves the needs of society and not the wealth of the few. We can build more ambulances and we can certainly have decent wages, proper green housing plans, free education, shorter working hours and essential services for all.

WASP stands in solidarity with the Transpharm workers and workers worldwide in combating climate change and saving the planet from corporate greed. The demonstrations, if combined with many more mass education programmes on a more systematic basis, can lay a concrete foundation for a more organised mass intervention of the trade union movement in the Climate Change strikes and working class campaigns for a just transition to environmental justice worldwide. The trade union movement needs to organise the working class on a wider scale for a more organised mass intervention. An international revolutionary working class movement in communities must be built to campaign against climate change and force big business to transition to green technology and encourage small businesses to get government assistance for a just transition too. The only way to reverse climate change is through system change!

Fight against Xenophobia and Scapegoating

By Newton Masuku, Mametlwe Sebei and Phemelo Motseokae

The Workers and Socialist Party calls for ongoing action and intervention to fight against the reactionary xenophobic mobs, criminal violence and rampant looting targeted at foreign migrants.The political and corporate capitalist elite are responsible for all these crimes against migrant communities and the working class. We can also not overlook the daily violence exerted towards the working class.The capitalists’ neoliberal austerity policies pursued by this government have led to a social crisis.The situation is of course not helped by incitement and inflammatory xenophobic statements by government officials. Migrants are scapegoated for the failures of the policies of the ANC-led government. These policies have failed to overcome the burning crises of unemployment, poverty, collapsing public health, education services and housing.

The working class must rebuild its movement to overcome divisions. We must rebuild our mass fighting organisations to unite in struggles to challenge the ANC’s capitalist austerity. Unemployment in South Africa is sitting at 10 million yet we have workers on night shifts and compulsory overtime. This year alone, standard bank closed about 91 branches (with over 1200 jobs lost) and the mining sector has been retrenching workers since the year begun. The government was contemplating chopping wages of government employees by 10%, despite the rise in fuel, clothing, food prices etc. Unemployment and increasing product prices is but an inevitable part of capitalism: reducing the workforce means saving on profits. We call on trade unions to organise workers and collaborate with community organizations to fight xenophobia and gender-based violence; to fight for quality and accessible healthcare, housing, efficient transport systems and for companies to absorb workers instead of hiring fewer people for longer hours and little pay. Above all the working class need a mass workers party on a socialist programme to end capitalism, its oppressions, discrimination and violence against the marginalised and poorest sections of the working class.

Flames of xenophobic violence engulfing the country

The bloody scenes of xenophobic violence that broke out in Pretoria and Johannesburg, and then spread to other cities and townships, sent shockwaves across the country and the world. Their spread threatened to engulf the entire country in bloody xenophobic pogroms. The Minister of police even declared a national state of emergency. But the reality is that the police and the state cannot be trusted to resolve the crisis. The police are directly and immediately responsible for stoking the current waves both in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Although in Pretoria the xenophobic attacks were sparked by the shooting of a taxi driver, allegedly by a Nigerian drug dealer following an argument, it is no doubt the Johannesburg mob revived the xenophobia.

Following clashes with small shop owners in Johannesburg CBD, who fought back against extortions, arbitrary raids, confiscations of goods, the police responded with raids, mass arrests (most of which were unlawful) and media campaigning, indiscriminately criminalising migrants. It was these incidents which created a xenophobic hysteria that sparked the current wave of xenophobic violence. In its rhetoric, the police were echoed by politicians and government officials across the establishment parties. The premier of Gauteng, David Makhura and Gauteng mayor, Herman Mashaba have contributed to the fanning of xenophobic flames. So has the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, former Minister of Police, and many other Ministers and senior government officials. Every one of these politicians is scapegoating the poor migrants for the crisis of the capitalist system and failures of their policies to deliver on the electoral promises and solve challenges facing the working class.

Rise of anti-migrant right-wing populism

These statements however no longer reflect just individual views. For the first time since the 1994, major parties like the ANC and DA, as well as numerous small parties, contested elections on anti-migrant programme. These made xenophobia an official programme of major parties and government policy, and legitimised it. In so doing they provided the political cover and impunity for criminal elements that seized on these, on the desperation of the hungry and starving masses, to carry out rampant and organised looting, robberies, murders, rapes and many violent crimes against the migrant communities.

The opportunistic anti-migrant rhetoric of the political establishment partially echoes the rising tide of right-wing populism internationally. The elections of Donald Trump in the US, Borris Johnson in the UK and Bolsanaro in Brazil are part of this counterrevolutionary current sweeping the world. This international phenomenon reflects the deep roots in the crisis of world capitalism.

A Capitalist crisis: A lake of fuel for xenophobia.

The recent economic downturn of 3,6 percent in the first quarter, was a sharp twist in the economic volatility that has characterised the now decade-old economic stagnation. It signifies a deepening economic crisis. Capitalism has no way out of this prolonged agony other than the barbarism of xenophobia and other prejudices rooted in the brutal exploitation and oppression of the most marginalised sections of the masses.

The 10,2 million people currently unemployed and the majority of the half a million new entrants in the job market, have no hope of finding work, when the most ambitious programme of government promises only two million jobs in 10 years. Without any massive public works programme, the crises of a 2,3 million housing backlog; collapsing public health system; failing transport system and poor schooling facilities, will continue to grow each year. The deepening economic crisis threatens to wipe out the remaining, weakened industrial and mining base, which is the mainstay of the SA economy.

The ANC-led government has absolutely nothing to offer but to impose more cruel versions of the same neoliberal policies which have plunged the economy into its current dire state to begin with. The so-called stimulus package unveiled by Ramaphosa early last year, though cloaked in a different language, is the same old recipe guaranteed to fail. In the best scenario, they hope to create jobs only for 2 million of the many more millions of new entrants to the labour market in the next decade. Caught between a rock and a hard place of a colonial low-wage economy with a poor working class that cannot anchor the industry and a shrinking world market, South African capitalism has no way out than break the poor even further. We are urged to be patient in building the country, but hunger cannot be postponed, rent payments cannot be postponed. The imposition of the National Minimum Wage  Bill is a verdict that this pretense at “working together to eliminate poverty” is a way to make the rich stay rich and the poor even poorer.

Seeking to shift the blame for these failures and anti-working class measures, such as cuts in public spending, jobs and wages, government officials have placed the blame for crime, unemployment, drug abuse and all other social ills emanating from the economic and deepening environmental crisis, squarely on the shoulders of the immigrants. Genuine and dire as the challenges faced by communities are, the indiscriminate and violent attacks against foreign nationals are not only misplaced, but also help to cloak the underlying cause of all these social ills – capitalism! All of these are inevitable because the contradictions of capitalism are what defines it. In an aim to maximise profits, or in Cyril Ramaphosa’s words “maximum return on their investment”, companies will hire a thinner work force for longer hours and low wages. With automation taking over, this will include an even smaller workforce. Pension funds, fully paid maternity leave, medical aid, housing benefits, provident funds and other such benefits, which the working class cannot do without, must necessarily be sacrificed if the bosses are to be guaranteed maximum profits. It is to capitalism, therefore, that the working class, local and foreign, must take the fight– for it is by defeating capitalism, and reorganising society based on a socialist programme, that all these social ills will only be of historical interest to the youth and future generations.

WASP-member Mametlwe Sebei at the September 14 March Against Xenophobia in Joburg

Tide against the Stream

Workers And Socialist Party not only takes a firm stand against the xenophobic hysteria and attacks, but calls on the entire labour movement, community and youth organizations, all progressive forces in society to hold the line and not yield an inch of ground to combat xenophobic sentiments amongst members and in society. What the South Africans have in common with African immigrants is that they are working class. It is the social and political cohesion of the only force that can overcome the conditions breeding xenophobia -the working class-  that is at stake and gravely threatened. The fundamental task is to rebuild the mass movements to combat xenophobia, racism, sexism and other prejudices and to unite the working class on a transitional programme for immediate demands of the working class and for a socialist alternative. Africa must be organised on a socialist programme. We need a continent wide general strike! The working class divided will never conquer.

The workers movement and the youth must lead the fight. The havoc wreaked by these attacks is a bloody correction for the political complacency, and even complicity of the trade union movement which abdicated political responsibility to the class enemy on this, and other fundamental challenges, facing the working class and the marginalised. The workers movement must now mobilise and act decisively against xenophobic mobs, violence and discrimination, growing unemployment, poverty and the attacks on the working class that are fuelling them.

We fight for:

  1. Eradication of Xenophobia, looting and violence targeted at migrants and the marginalised.
  2. Immediate adoption and implementation of key policy recommendations to deal with xenophobia, and recurrent xenophobic violence including emergency relief, shelter and compensation for victims of xenophobic mobs and violence.
  3. Political and Criminal Accountability– Political censure and criminal prosecution for inflammatory xenophobic incitement and actions, including looting, robberies and other conduct targeting migrants.
  4. Build a Mass Campaign – For Mass education and rolling actions against Xenophobic and Gender violence. Mobilise for a National Day of Action against Xenophobia and for a sustained, grassroots education and organised campaigning.
  5. Internationalism and working class solidarity– SAFTU and #NationalShutDown Campaign should call for an all-African General Strike from Morocco to Madagascar, Cape To Cairo against poverty wages, unemployment, xenophobic and gender violence and deepening economic and environmental crises of imperialism across the continent.
  6. A United Working Class Movement – Rebuild trade union and mass movements of the working class in communities and create a mass workers party to unite the struggles against xenophobia, gender oppression, climate change, with ongoing struggles for decent jobs, service delivery, access to good quality education for a socialist South Africa, Africa and world.