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Awakening a Giant: the mighty working class is on the march

Workers Unite Across Federations in Nationwide Strike Action

Workers from all major union federations turned up in the thousands for the 7 October #CosatuNationalStrike. SAFTU, NACTU and FEDUSA called on their members to support this action, marking an end to the long paralysis in the labour movement and a historic moment of working class solidarity not seen since the fall of Apartheid. 

Slogans on placards demanding jobs and against the privatisation of State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) like ESKOM and PRASA, with chants calling for the end to corruption and the scourge of Gender Based Violence were seen and heard across  the country. Union federations are calling on the state to implement the agreed wage increases in the public sector.

Marching to the Treasury in Pretoria, hundreds of COSATU members were joined by a small contingent from SAFTU. It was notable that issues facing working class women, such as workplace harassment and abuse, as well as Gender-Based Violence, formed one of the main themes of this march. 

Striking workers gathering together in the streets of Pretoria

In Cape Town the mobilising efforts of GIWUSA could not go unnoticed, bringing out the largest portion of the SAFTU workers present at the rally with militant women leading the charge. As SAFTU picketed opposite Parliament, the COSATU motorcade came through with hooting and cheering “Viva SAFTU, Viva COSATU” drowning any other noise. COSATU members in cars and minibus taxis quickly jumped out and joined the SAFTU picket. Together everyone danced, chanted, and sang before marching to the Western Cape Legislature to deliver their demands. 

GIWUSA members outside Parliament in Cape Town

When asked what they were protesting, a NEHAWU worker responded: “Everything. We are facing so many attacks and we must start fighting back.” Another member added that “workers cannot continue being in the same union as the bosses”, referring to the Tripartite Alliance between COSATU, ANC and SACP. 

Members of the COSATU motorcade arrive to join the SAFTU picket outside Parliament

In Johannesburg, COSATU marchers chanted “Viva SAFTU” urging the picketers to join them. Eventually everyone came together in a mass rally. COSATU members told our WASP cadre that the unity of the working class is essential in the current struggle against the system. The sea of red brought together the frontline workers, such as nurses in YNITU and DENOSA, public sector workers in NEHAWU SADTU and NUPSAW, as well as a significant presence from THORN and NUMSA rank and file.

SAFTU picket joined by WASP member Lebogang in Joburg

Mametlwe Sebei from WASP addressed the crowd in Johannesburg, emphasising that “the significance of this day not only lie[s] in the fact that workers in their thousands are out of work in demonstration – a fact of importance on and by itself – but this day will go into the annals of history as one of those rare moments in history when the working class stood together against capitalism and the austerity programs… The last time workers across federations were united was before 1994; not since the dawn of democracy have we ever had a strike endorsed by all major federations in this country.”

WASP member Sebei addressing the crowd

Organised workers were joined  by unaffiliated and unemployed workers who either took part in the strike action or joined the rally during their breaks, in spite of the lies peddled by bosses that the strike was not protected. Leftist, climate change and community organisations also joined in solidarity on the day, including C19 People’s Coalition, Eastern Cape Water Caucus, and Extinction Rebelion to name a few. 

It is clear that in spite of the delusions of some of the leadership in the labour movement and broader left, the workers know that there is only one working class, and that solidarity along class lines overcomes any other divisions. The union leaderships should take note of the participation in spite of COVID19 concerns and generally poor mobilization efforts. The working class turned up in thousands across the country – in every province – providing the kindling of a potential revolutionary fire. 

It was WASP members in the trade unions who pushed for a motion to get SAFTU to endorse the COSATU General Strike and call on all other Federations to do likewise. We also insisted on the adoption of a clear programme of rolling mass actions going forward. We are proud of this achievement and will continue to campaign for an active programme for a fight back against the capitalist onslaught and for a strategy to rebuild the workers movement into a fighting force for socialism. Unlike those who enjoy shouting at the workers movement from the wilderness, WASP firmly believes that there is no genuine socialism outside the workers movement, because as Marx pointed, the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class itself and nobody else. It is this which distinguishes us from the rest of the Left.

What this historic action shows is the Left as a whole cannot afford to wait — the working class is clearly moving into struggle with or without them. To critique the movement from the sidelines and actively obstruct it by refusing to stand in solidarity with the masses will prove to be a disastrous mistake. While this action offers a glimpse into what is possible, it was only a first step in lifting the paralysis of the workers movement. The declaration of solidarity from trade union federations and working class organisations is critical towards building the working class solidarity needed to overthrow this sick capitalist system. 

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and beard, text that says "UNITE WASP orke SP VORKERS, THE COMMUN THE STRUGGLES AND YOU Nationalise all companies facing liquidation Workers must not suffer for bosses failures SP socialist.org.za Save jobs & fix the country! We need a mass public WASP works programme. Partr socialist.org.za socialls"
WASP members attending the rally in Cape Town

WASP calls on all working class formations to build on this momentum and mobilize for the coming campaign of mass actions proposed by both COSATU and SAFTU. We need a Joint Shopsteward Council of workers from across all federations and independent unions, as well as a Working Class Assembly inclusive of activists from community, youth, gender and climate change movements to discuss the next steps in the mass rolling actions and perspectives and programme for the whole movement in the current period.

We must seize this opportunity to fight not only against attacks from the capitalist class, but also to move forward and demand the nationalisation of banks, commercial farms, mines, big factories and big businesses under democratic working class control. This fighting movement must aim to build a mass workers party on a socialist programme as a real alternative to the current parties that unashamedly represent the bosses’ class.

Mobilise for 7 October

The time to strike is now!

A CALL TO ALL WORKING CLASS ACTIVISTS TO JOIN THE LABOUR ACTION ON 7 OCTOBER

Workers in COSATU have taken the bold first step to call for mass action in a period of generalised disorientation by the labour movement to defend the hard-won gains made in the public sector wage agreements of 2018. 

NEHAWU workers have taken a stand against the brutal reality for frontline workers during the COVID19 crisis. We have seen workers critical to society put their health and safety on the line without adequate PPE, while receiving poverty wages. At the same time financiers and bosses continue to hoard wealth and make financial gains on the stock market. 

Paying for crises built into the capitalist system, the working class faces countless attacks as  austerity budgets and policies are implemented. Before the pandemic, these policies failed to provide adequate healthcare, housing and social services for the majority and have left society unprepared for a public health crisis with severe economic consequences. Millions of people in South Africa have gone without work, adequate food, sanitation, healthcare or schooling since March. 

The implications for our readiness for future crises, including the worsening climate crisis, are startling. We must fight to undo the worst of this capitalist system now, and mass demonstrations called by COSATU in support of working class control of our wages and public coffers, as well as protections in the face of a pandemic, is a vital first step. 

All unions and labour activists must fight back against attacks on the working class, including mass retrenchments – a reality before COVID19 and getting worse as heartless bosses are emboldened by the current crisis. We must fight back against the state’s flagrant disregard for the public sector wage agreement, which will set a dangerous precedent for the credibility of all future wage agreements and drive down wages in all sectors. 

Corruption and cronyism are built into the capitalist system. However, it is especially atrocious to have witnessed the corrupt dealings of local and national government officials in the procurement and supply of much needed PPE and other services during a time of national and global crisis – over 100 companies are under investigation for exactly this in Gauteng alone! At every level, we have seen those with power abuse it at the expense of working class communities as companies continue to steal workers’ UIF and TERS payments, the already insufficient “safety-net” of rands and cents spread so thin between households. 

Workers across the labour movement, and working class communities are all forming similar conclusions about the need for a political alternative that truly represents working class interests. There is growing recognition of the limitations of the tripartite alliance for workers in COSATU. To quote the statement released by the COSATU Gauteng PEC, “The refusal to honour the PSCBC Resolution 1 of 2018 is a direct attack on workers. What is unacceptable is that this is done to appease the markets and rating agencies at the expense of workers…It is necessary to start discussing the relevance of the Alliance and whether it remains relevant, when the government is starting to hand over the country to the IMF. These frank assessments of the effectiveness of the Alliance should take into consideration the current situation where millions of workers are losing their jobs, where the VAT has been increased instead of corporate tax and where private and public sector corruption have become endemic.” 

It is clearer than ever that the ANC and SACP represent the bosses, and the opposition parties do not offer a fighting alternative. Now, more than ever, we have to build a mass workers party that represents us – the working class. This strike is an historic opportunity to unite forces of the working class, workers in all federations, communities and civics, students and the youth, against capitalist corruption and those who benefit from it. Mass actions like these can mobilise the working class in the numbers necessary to disrupt this sick system, and ultimately build the democratically organised forces necessary to do away with capitalism once and for all. 

WASP calls on all union organisers, community and left activists to mobilise for the action where you are and join planning meetings happening in the next week in support of the strike. We call for a Joint Shop Steward Council of all federations to plan for the 7th of October. We’re encouraged by the invitation from SAFTU to all forces on the left to a planning meeting on Friday, 2 October. This will be an excellent opportunity to plan for an effective show of force from SAFTU and those outside of the COSATU ranks to maximize class solidarity. The 7 October strike will set the momentum for the future mass working class actions planned by SAFTU, and it is important SAFTU throws its full weight behind mobilising for this action. 

To ensure a sustained, continuous struggle for our demands to be met, a National Working Class Assembly of all shop stewards from across the workers movement, community, youth, gender rights, migrant justice and climate change activists must immediately be organised. This assembly must draw up a programme of working class perspectives, political strategy and mass rolling actions to fight the crises of capitalism in this period.

We must all fight to defend the gains made by labour and social movements throughout history. We must take a stand against this system that fails us in the best of times and has been disastrous in the worst of times, and demand a new society that can meet the needs of all. 

Without compromise, we must struggle for:

  • Implementation of all wage increases as recognised by the PSCBC Resolution 1 of 2018 
  • A living wage for all public sector workers
  • A mass public works programme to provide jobs, essential goods and services to communities that need it. No tenderpreneurs!
  • Immediate nationalisation under democratic worker and community control, all companies facing liquidation and who are retrenching workers, as a first step to nationalisation of all the commanding heights of the economy under working class control. Bosses must go and workers must stay! 

We must fight for these using the strongest tool we have, collective withdrawal of our labour- the labour that creates the wealth for those who are safest from the consequences of this pandemic and the future climate crises. 

We call on all workers, students and communities to join this historic action of working class unity. We will meet you on the streets!

Amandla!

The Workers and Socialist Party