now browsing by tag
Perspectives to build a militant trade union movement in the context of Covid-19 and economic turmoil
Statement by WASP National Committee
The Treasury forecasts that job losses this year will range from 3 to 7 million. Even the highly optimistic three-million-scenario sketches the outlines of the economic storm and extreme shocks awaiting the working class. The most probable scenario is for much higher losses in jobs and catastrophic levels of poverty and hunger, based on realistic projections of GDP contraction and considering reactions of supply and demand impacts on the real economy, shocks in treasury, in financial and world markets.
According to the SA Reserve Bank, the 1,5% GDP contraction following the 2008 Great Recession led to 900 000 formal sector job losses. It becomes patently clear that the projected contraction ranging from 4% to 15% of GDP spells a jobs bloodbath of unimaginable proportions and horrific living conditions for the masses.
Working class people are already bearing the political brunt of the lockdown as the ruling class is opportunistically pounding them with an avalanche of attacks, even as they hypocritically preach class ceasefire and patriotism. Punitive anti-working class terms of the curfews on the hungry and starving poor, widespread abuses and human rights violations by the military and the police, as well job and income losses for millions of workers in precarious employment and the informal economy for whom government offers no relief, compel the working class to fight back.
In addition to the 10,3 million people who were unemployed and without income before the pandemic escalated the economic crisis, there are 3 million workers in the informal sector. Representing 20% of total employment in the country, many informal workers are currently wholly or partly unable to ply their trades, losing their source of income. These include over 1,1 million street traders, over 200 000 mechanics, construction workers and electricians under strict curfew, and 26 500 tavern and shebeen operations (who up to 1 June were prohibited from operating in terms of lockdown restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages).
Current relief measures like the Temporary Employees/Employers Relief Scheme (TERS) and Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) for farmers are not only inadequate to provide relief to targeted recipients, but geared strictly to workers in formal sectors. This excludes millions of the poorest and most marginalized sections of the working class, who are also being excluded from the social grants for the unemployed on bogus grounds.
In spite of great difficulties, many of these communities are already trying to organize around solidarity and fighting for support from government with tenacity. These communities deserve support from the broader movement and organized working class in particular.
Workers in the labour broking companies, outsourced services and other precarious forms of employment in formal sectors are formally entitled to benefits and protections offered by relief programmes. The reality, however, is that many are excluded as they are not registered with the Department of Labour. These workers are employed under the worst conditions of ruthless precarity and slave wages by an extremely parasitic section of the capitalist class. Their entire social existence depends on the plundering of the state and human trafficking that the ANC characterizes as the ‘patriotic black bourgeoisie’. Not only can we trust that these leeches will leave their workers out to dry, but we can expect them to steal funds meant for UIF relief funds of unpaid workers, as many workers have reported.
However, we can also expect that rising anger at the hunger and theft will propel these workers into struggles in the private sectors in a way we have seen in the public sector during the #OutsourcingMustFall movement. If the trade union movement seizes the opportunity to step up campaigns to target these workers and rapidly finds creative ways to organize under conditions of lockdown, they could organize these workers in their thousands. This will strengthen unity and the fighting capacity of organized labour, currently severely weakened by the poor levels of organization of these layers.
In the formal sectors of the economy, workers are also being hammered and forced to resist. The capitalist system is driven by extracting as much wealth on the backs of workers as it can. This cruel logic of capitalism is exposed in the callous maneuvering of employers seeking exemptions to operate as “essential services”. The bosses have openly blackmailed the government to “reopen” the economy. It unmasks the repulsive patriotic pretensions of the past months and betrays their heartless attitude to keep the wheels of industry turning to churn out profits without regard for the health and lives of workers, their families and communities. Emboldened by the lackluster response and capitulation of the trade unions, big corporations are now lobbying government to completely reopen every section of big business. At the same time, the working class is kept under militarized lockdowns to crush occasional food riots and protests, and repress the impending political revolt.
Many companies where bosses are unable to manoeuver around lockdown regulations, management has forced workers to take unpaid leave or use normal leave days to compensate the employees. The lockdown timeframes were clearly based initially on the number of annual leave days, never on science and epidemiological predictions for the viral pandemic. It is clear again that the ruling class intends to force workers to pay for the current public health crisis. This is exposed by the widespread measures of forcing workers to take loans against their future earnings and pensions, now that they have exhausted the 21 annual leave days.
Greedy capitalists take advantage of the exemptions granted to businesses to force workers into working in unsafe conditions. In essential and frontline sectors, many are being compelled to work without Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), lack of proper sanitation and without possibility of safe physical distancing.
In the health sector, the situation is dire and healthcare workers have experienced growing rates of infection. At Netcare’s St Augustine hospital, 47 staff members testified to the catastrophic human cost and treasonous implications of the government pandering to big business and the private health industry. The infections are a damning indictment on the refusal by the government to act decisively in protecting healthcare workers. The state has also failed to mobilize South Africa’s vast resources and industrial capacity against the pandemic.
Nationalization of private healthcare, pharmaceutical, chemical and textile industries could stop these blatantly reckless pursuits of profiteering of private companies like NETCARE. It could ensure proper safety for infected workers and patients in private hospitals and clinics, where bosses are cutting corners in safety measures to save costs. The government could also repurpose chemical and textile factories for mass production of sanitizers, masks, gloves and other protective clothing that is essential in these times. The ANC government is not taking these measures because they refuse to upset capitalist interests in these industries.
Failing to act decisively to mobilise the resources in the grips of big corporations, the ANC government has instead opted for military and authoritarian measures. That the lockdown even became necessary in the first place is the direct result of the neoliberal austerity programmes. A system of governance that has left many living in the horrendous squalor of overcrowded townships, informal settlements and shacks, countless homeless on the streets, and a crippled public healthcare. Overloaded taxis, busses and trains as the main method of transport for the majority, in addition to too few hospital beds and ventilators and staff to treat those suffering acute respiratory complications, has become a deadly formula in this pandemic.
The deployment of 24 389-strong security forces, including the military and police, had nothing to do with conducting education, testing and caring for those infected by the virus. It was for a ruthless imposition of strict curfews in conditions where many cannot afford them. These curfews and regulations are violently enforced on masses of people whose communities have been subject to extreme conditions of neglect that the ANC has either created or perpetuated in the past 25 years. Many are extremely vulnerable to starvation and hunger, lack physical and mental health support, suffer from various addictions, and many other social ills.
In a country with 7,6 million HIV positive cases (2018 data), higher TB infection rates than most of the world, and other comorbidities, these conditions are like fuel for Covid-19 to sweep the entire country with a trail of devastation and death. The workers’ movement must be clear that the criminal responsibility for these terrifying prospects and conditions, as well as the gross human right violations and economic repercussions of the lockdown to avert them, lies squarely with the ANC. The working class must refuse to conceal this and should not shoulder any part of the responsibility. Preparations for emergencies are not done during emergencies themselves, but in advance. Through decisions to cut spending on public health, housing and other services over decades, the ANC left South Africa disarmed and defenseless against Covid-19 and future inevitable pandemics.
Sweeping arrests, shootings, beatings, use of teargas, water bombs, and humiliating people by forcing them to swim in the mud, crawl and frog jump on the streets have been widely reported in the mainstream and social media. These are but some of the brutalities which in a short time have revealed the violent nature of the securitized response by the state through its police and military forces. In the first seven days of the security deployment 2000 people were jailed, four people fatally wounded and many more injured. In spite of widespread publications of blatant excessive use of force, brutality and violence, along with false reassurances by Ramaphosa, only a few cases are currently investigated by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.
The real approach of the state is revealed by the heads of security forces, the ministers and heads of police and the army. Besides the usual ‘shoot to kill’ policy of police minister Bheki Cele, the head of military, Solly Shokwe made it clear to his troops that: “there are those who speak of human rights, All of us must enjoy our human rights. But human life is more important than individual human rights. You are out there to protect human lives and those who threaten human lives must be dealt with”.
Working class organising for solidarity and struggle
The occupations and abuses by the police and military are not just the foolishness of the forces, and their irresponsible “skop en donner” style military training, as the bourgeois media and apologists like to argue. They also represent cynical attempts of the ANC government to intimidate the working class into submission and fear. They further serve as a rehearsal for open class warfare, in anticipation of the struggle and resistance to the draconian lockdown, and impending brutal austerity against the working class.
Many working class activists have already demonstrated the possibility of independent organizing, mass education on the need for self-isolation and social distancing, co-operation in testings, and other measures to contain the pandemic without the use of military force. These, along with popular education in personal hygiene, and provision of sanitizers, food and other supplies, have been proving far more effective in enforcing public health measures, discipline and restricting movement. These have only been on a modest scale, but so successful that the military itself is forced to imitate them in their widely publicized postures to pacify middle class public opinion and working class anger and resistance.
Neighborhood and solidarity committees are springing up everywhere in spontaneous acts of the working class solidarity and opposition to the violence of the state security forces. This represents a modest but important outline for the independent working class and left alternative to the repressive state apparatus, punitive lockdowns and quarantines. WASP advocated and actively supported these from the onset.
Through our cadres actively participating in the emerging Covid-19 Coalitions and in trade unions, WASP is relentlessly campaigning for trade union solidarity and development of community organizing into a politically conscious and co-ordinated national network of street and regional committees. Instead of the charity, voluntarism and substitutionalism of the NGOs and petit-bourgeois left, we campaign for developing the current Covid-19 Coalitions to focus strategically on organizing genuine solidarity. This can be done through building and co-ordinating grassroots and working class community organization.
Not only is this vital as part of broader movement building, but it is essential for developing a political programme of immediate demands and action to fight for relief from the state. The demand and action for relief has to include state provision of food, water, decent housing for the homeless, mass testing and quality public healthcare for all, as well as guarantee of wages for workers under curfews, adequate basic income and social grants.
This must be linked to organizing in on-going community struggles around service delivery and job creation. We must put pressure on organized labour, not only by lobbying trade union leaders, but most importantly, by supporting workers on the frontlines of the class struggle. These workers should be organized to build a rank and file opposition to the bureaucratization and capitulation to the patriotic propaganda by the trade union left in SAFTU. In the trade union right wing, found mainly in COSATU and FEDUSA, workers must resist the class collaboration that feeds the anti-democratic authoritarianism, austerity, and reckless pursuits of profits at the expense of the public and workers’ health.
WASP and its predecessor, the Democratic Socialist Movement, have demonstrated how this is possible through the role it played in building Amaberete against labour-broking in the post-office, the National Strike Committee during the 2012 Mineworkers strikes, and #OutSourcingMustFall in the immediate aftermath of the #FeesMustFall in Universities. All these are instructive examples of successful mass rank and file movements that circumvent the sabotage and bureaucratic opposition of official trade unions against workers struggles. Our interventions in these struggles, in GIWUSA and in the Metal and Electrical Workers Union of SA (NACTU Affiliate) before them, have shown how these rank and file movements can also lay an important foundation for the revitalization and rebuilding of the trade union movement, based on workers militancy and a fighting strategy.
A raging class war
Far from being blackmailed, intimidated and cowed into submission like the trade union leadership, workers have been resisting against the brutal determination of the bosses. The capitalist class is pushing to sacrifice public and workers’ health for profiteering and unscrupulous attempts to exploit the pandemic to carry-out restructurings, pay cuts, worsening conditions, and other cruel class aims. Radical rhetoric, posturing and grandstanding of NEHAWU, DENOSA and PSA leadership is a distorted expression of the boiling discontent of the rank and file members in the essential services.
Healthcare workers are angry at the orders to continue work and treatment of Covid-19 patients without adequate protection. In addition the government has stabbed them in the back with budget cuts on public services over decades, including breaking of the three-year collective agreement. Above all, healthcare and public service workers are furious at the capitulation of NEHAWU to the pressure from the ANC to call-off strike action, combined with the failure of all public service unions to lift a finger in protest against the unilateral withdrawal from the 2020/1 wage increases in the collective agreement.
International opposition from below
Public service and healthcare workers in this country are not alone in their anger. Internationally, workers in many industries have shown the determination to fight back. Consciousness has evidently grown to the extent that the public can admit that these essential workers have been some of the most undervalued workers in society. However, this has not yet developed into mass support for workers taking direct action for better working conditions. Due to the extreme propaganda pushed by the ruling class – that “we are all in the same boat” and must set class divisions aside to fight the pandemic – workers have had to act without public support, and even in defiance of trade union leadership who are under tremendous pressure to close ranks with the bourgeois governments and the bosses.
In Wuhan, China where the Covid-19 first broke out, working class people protested against opportunistic price increases and profiteering out of the crisis. Many more across China opposed the covering up, detention of whistleblowers, and disastrous initial response of the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship to the Covid-19 outbreak.
In Italy workers took to the streets and trade unions called a general strike, which was only called off after workers won crucial concessions from the state to shut most of the industries to contain the spread.
Across the globe strikes have broken over lack of protective equipment, for support of people in lockdown, wages for workers under lockdown and other measures such as those in Brazil, Australia,Ireland and other countries. Workers are also fighting back against lay-offs and job losses. These industrial actions in the USA have been followed by mass uprisings in major cities under the #BlackLivesMatter banner in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Our international comrades in Socialist Alternative are at the forefront of linking the organised labour movement to the current protests, successfully pushing union rank and file to take a stand.
Class struggle sharpened by pandemic conditions
Armed with class perspectives and understanding that the pandemic does not suspend class struggle but accentuates it, WASP members have taken their place amongst the vanguard of the workers resisting against bosses in pharmaceutical, retail and healthcare sectors. These workers saw through the hypocrisy of the bourgeois propaganda from the onset, and are fighting in the raging class war in many essential workplaces.
Since the State of National Disaster was declared, WASP comrades supported, through work in GIWUSA, strikes in Adcock Ingram, L’Oreal and Clover, amongst others. Some of these strikes were victorious and forced management to concede to workers’ demands.
Through our student wing, Socialist Youth Movement, WASP also supported a strike by University of Johannesburg students doing practicals in various hospitals and clinics without protective gear. The University management released the students until adequate protection can be offered. These workers were not alone to organize and resist marching orders in the healthcare sector. WASP is supporting them in their process to organize into NUPSAW, a public service affiliate of SAFTU.
Doctors, nurses and support staff in Welkom, Port Elizabeth, Durban hospitals and many other places went on strike over provision of transport and lack of surgical masks, gloves and sanitizers. Nurses at Bongani Regional hospital in Welkom took strike action over provision of transport. They were confronted with rubber bullets and stun grenades from police, injuring several nurses. In Port Elizabeth, support staff at Livingstone hospital struck over lack of PPE, whilst in Dora Ngiza hospital they were joined by doctors and nurses. In Durban and other KZN hospitals, including St Augustine, workers protested lack of adequate protection. In Cape Town, Tygerberg Hospital staff have been protesting the lack of PPE as well.
Emergency workers across the country also joined in strikes and a go-slow. In Greys hospital, Pietermaritzburg, ambulance drivers refused to attend Covid-19 patients without adequate protection. Emergency workers in Ekurhuleni have engaged in a go-slow, refusing assignments without protection and working equipment.
The strikes are not limited to traditional workplaces. There were strikes by taxi drivers in Port Elizabeth and coordinated hunger strikes by inmates across the country’s prisons. Both cases forced concessions from the government. These included amendments of restrictions for passenger loads demanded by taxi drivers, improved protective measures and reduction of overcrowding through granting early parole for thousands of inmates jailed for non-violent crimes.
Unless the government continues to make concessions, localized workplace actions can rapidly develop into a generalized strike movement. Threats and intimidations have not silenced workers who are fighting for their lives. Municipal unions, SAMWU, DEMAWUSA, and others, called on workers in emergency services to stay away unless provided with protective gear. HOSPERSA and PSA advised its members in hospitals and clinics to report at work but ‘down tools’ if no equipment, including PPE including surgical masks, gloves and overalls, and sanitizers, are adequately provided.
NUPSAW is currently threatening to take strike action to protest the lack of PPE for prosecutors who continue to attend urgent applications in courts.
Months of lockdown conditions have made the importance of workers in food production, retail, healthcare and pharmaceutical, transport and other frontline industries clearer than ever before. These are the workers leading the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and keeping society running.
The bourgeois governments’ desperate attempts to contain the pandemic have served to vindicate the fundamental contributions of Karl Marx on a historic scale. According to Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx was the first to discover and elaborate that society at its core is an organization of the production of the means of subsistence – food, clothing, shelter, etc. Further, he discovered that under capitalism this productive activity is organized not only to produce use-values (goods and services), but primarily, a surplus value (source of profits). The latter is done by exploitation of the workers, who are made to work for more than they get paid, thereby creating growing wealth. The capitalists expropriate this wealth through institutionalized violence – the legal framework of wage slavery and the repressive apparatuses of the state (the police, military, courts) are created to uphold it.
As the bourgeois class try to force as many workers to continue production, whilst sheltering themselves as far as possible, they’re inadvertently compelled to acknowledge the significance of these workers. Most of these workers are ordinarily undervalued, with many precariously employed and underpaid for the essential work they do. The desperate actions of the capitalists therefore unintentionally reveal the importance of these workers, as the real producers of goods and services sustaining society. The cruel logic of their current position and actions also demonstrate that the billionaires, highly paid corporate directors, parliamentarians, and other sections of the ruling elite who are currently hiding in self-preservation, are in fact useless to society.
The awakening consciousness of the workers’ and public opinion – although with varying views and understanding – to the importance of their jobs and role in society has given workers enormous confidence and some public support, demonstrated in the unprecedented level of public recognition and appreciation. Many of these workers have started to demand permanent contracts and payment proportionate to the significance of their work and risks involved. In Transpharm and other workplaces, workers have already won hazard pay and demands are becoming bolder every day.
In both large companies like Clover and Adcock Ingram and smaller ones, worker action has generally been spontaneous, informal and generally isolated to one shift and/or workplace. This is definitely bound to change. Unsurprisingly, the abruptness of the outbreak combined with the rapid spread of Covid-19 had a stunning effect over the majority of the working class – including its vanguard. Workers were understandably caught off guard: terrorized by the unknown perils of the virus, and disoriented by bourgeois propaganda and measures. However, the strikes and stay-aways taking place now are sowing the seeds of the class war, which can only grow in intensity and scope as the crisis deepens. Here and abroad, worsening working conditions in the wake of the economic fallout from the quarantines and disruption of industrial activity will serve as fuel to the growing resistance.
Potential for elements of revolution and counter-revolution
However, the poor organisation, political fragmentation, and general lowered consciousness of the working class as a consequence of the desperation of enduring horrendous living conditions can manifest in divisive ways. It is almost certain that the increase in unemployment and deepening inequality, will lead to xenophobia and anti-migrant mob violence and looting, if the workers movement does not respond promptly and adequately. This is already fueled by the xenophobic attitudes reflected in the ANC government’s pandering to South African owned business and calous neglect of desperate refugees and undocumented workers in the informal sector in need of aid.
The historic processes being sketched out here will in no way be a straight forward, linear progression and steady in tempo. It is going to be a complicated conjuncture, combining advances in revolutionary tendencies with partial retreats, and setbacks. The social collapse may even fuel counter-revolutionary elements. All these contradictory and complementary features will develop in rapid successions, characterized by extremely sharp twists and turns in the political situation, for which the working class must be prepared.
Although the shape, form and location cannot be foretold, we can boldly predict that the fundamental process is that of the growing anti-capitalist, working class movement leading to mass upheavals – the scale and scope of which we have not seen in recent times. The rhythm of class struggle will be decisive in how fast mass political consciousness develops, and this will certainly push the trade union movement to the left. But the trade union leadership, and SAFTU in particular, can also play a crucial role in accelerating the development of political consciousness, and consequently the path class struggle takes.
In the 2008/9 Great Recession, the mass organisations of the working class were formally led by the political leadership committed to putting down the revolt, as was evident in its collaboration in the bloody massacre of the mineworkers’ years in Marikana. The situation is completely different today. The COSATU bureaucracy, and through it the SACP leadership, is too weak to play the role it did in the past. The erosion of its political credibility and authority after years of betrayals, its shameful treachery in Marikana, the purging of its left wing and massive splits have wounded it beyond repair in its current political form.
The crucial role of SAFTU
SAFTU has the potential to be a politically left point of reference for workers looking for a fighting alternative, despite its leadership’s failure to give guidance so far. A well-planned propaganda and agitational strategy and active campaigning to support workers’ struggles for PPE, transport and hazard pay, as well as intervening in working class community organizing to enhance and politicize solidarity initiatives, can position SAFTU as the political leadership of the impending mass uprisings. In spite of restrictions on movement, and necessary social distancing, there are opportunities for organizing. Creative ways of protesting including online meetings, and strikes, stay-aways. With precautionary measures, mass demonstrations in streets where it is absolutely vital is also possible.
The working class has a long way to go in rebuilding its mass organizations in communities, but service delivery protests and on-going organizing for solidarity in response to Covid-19 pandemic has prepared the ground. They provide foundations for the rapid development of a national civic movement that can unite communities and link with organized labour and youth radicalized by #FeesMustFall, actions against climate change, and feminist movements across schools and campuses. SAFTU can greatly assist this process through a General Strike action and reviving the Working Class Summit to build for one.
A clear fighting plan to build for a General Strike
SAFTU should organize a General Strike to unify working class resistance in workplaces and communities against lack of PPEs, job losses, non-payment of wages, and for provision of water, food, and adequate social grants, etc. to communities. However, a call for a general strike lacking the analysis of the state of the workers’ movement, and strategies for organizing and building for it during lockdown and social isolation, is not helpful.
Currently trade unions are paralysed by the curfews, lack of skills to organize online and, most importantly, lack of class-independent and fighting perspectives for the Covid-19 pandemic. We need to rebuild carefully – but urgently – as the situation demands. A programme of rolling mass actions based on different themes and political demands, organized on provincial and sector basis, combining online protests, lunchtime demonstrations and pickets in workplaces across the country, can serve to raise the sights of the workers and provide the basis for renewed trade union organizing across the country.
Protests should target South African Airways, hospitals, and mining corporations such as Marula in Sekhukhune on issues of retrenchments, PPEs, and for recklessly spreading Covid-19 in poor working class communities. These are only a few examples.
These actions will be important in mobilizing towards national days of action, testing the mood and readiness for an all-out general strike in weeks or months to come. The rage of caregivers, teachers and communities over the decision to reopen schools provides an excellent opportunity for SAFTU to launch a campaign for the first national day of action including caregiver and teachers’ pickets outside schools, online solidarity strikes, learner stay-aways and class boycotts.
For a revolutionary strategy
To unite the working class however is primarily the question of an analysis and perspective corresponding and correctly estimating the objective historical process, and forging a political programme that responds to it. Unfortunately the trade union leadership, including SAFTU, is left wanting on this important matter. A legacy of Stalinism, which still lurks at the union bureaucracy, means in spite of the organizational rupture with SACP, SAFTU is facing the twin problem of right-wing opportunism and ultra-left-wing sectarianism. These tendencies contradict but also complement each in reality.
A faction in NUMSA and SAFTU are masquerading as revolutionary purity, where ultra-left sectarianism is manifesting itself in a refusal to engage and support working class struggles that do not fit neatly into their narrow “workerism”. In essence these (in)actions with regards to movements against corruption, climate change, gender based violence, and others only serve to weaken and isolate the workers’ movement. It is also used to justify opportunistic bureaucratic maneuverings, lobbying of varying gangs of the ANC and traitorous class collaboration.
The majority of SAFTU leadership have uncritically accepted the social reformist ideas inspired mainly by left academics in universities and NGOs. These ideas are equally incapable of consistently putting forward independent fighting class alternatives and a political strategy to build the labour movement and unite the working class into a mighty revolutionary force.
It is clear from statements released by SAFTU leadership that they believe there is no breaking with capitalism as a system, but effectively want to reform it from neoliberalism towards a welfare state. Beside the current material conditions lacking any grounds for sustained reforms, this reformism forgets its own history. The social reforms of the past were a byproduct of revolutionary mass movements and were wrested from the ruling class through bitter class struggles – not by means of civil and polite petitions to ministers.
To rebuild and unite the working class, we need a revolutionary transitional programme, based on immediate demands that can raise the masses to struggle. It requires a clear revolutionary strategy to transform society towards a socialist alternative to do away with the current crises of capitalism and imperialism. To see through this programme and win a socialist society requires that the working class build a mass political party to oppose the ruling class. It must unite within its ranks the best layers of organized labour, emerging civic movements fighting for service delivery and organizing solidarity for those under lockdown, climate change and women’s movements, youth, and communities battling unemployment.
Organise left opposition to the trade union bureaucracy
The current paralysis in the trade union movement clearly shows that this is not the task that can be left to the trade union bureaucracy. The revolutionary left must actively orientate and organize the militant layers of the trade union rank and file and organizers into an opposition organized around a fighting programme with socialist policies. It must fight for workers’ control and democracy to ensure the rank and file of the trade union movement is able to hold its leadership accountable to the advancement of the fighting strategy, union policies, and ultimately to defeat collaborationist tendencies.
Workers and Socialist Party is building its trade union fractions across the trade union movement and will be using these to actively assist in this task of organizing and uniting socialists and the Left in the trade unions.
For further perspectives on COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis in South Africa, check out NOW IS THE TIME FOR REVOLUTION, NOT REFORMISM
Originally published 18. March 2020
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.