WSF (1998): “Every worker must condemn attacks on foreigners”

WSF (1998): “Every worker must condemn attacks on foreigners”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

On September 3, 1998, a march organised by the conservative “Unemployed Masses of South Africa” organisation murdered three immigrants on a train near Pretoria, The marchers were carrying placards with signs such as “We Want Jobs, Not Foreigners”, and threatened to “take steps”. These “steps” included the brutal murders of three Senegalese: one was thrown out of a window, and hit by an oncoming train; the other two were electrocuted on the train roof when they tried to escape.

Every worker must oppose this thuggery. It is the bosses who fire the workers, not the immigrants. The foreigners are workers, like ourselves. They have the same concerns as we do- so why should we murder our fellow-workers? If we spend our time hating the immigrants, we forget the real enemy, the bosses who mercilessly oppress and exploit us. The bosses are mostly South African- but this does not give us anything in common. Instead of fighting immigrants, we must fight the bosses who control the country. And in this fight, we must UNITE with the immigrants. So long as the immigrants are unorganised, discriminated against, and terrorised by the police, they can be used by the bosses against other workers.

It is the old game of DIVIDE AND RULE. The bosses want workers to fight immigrants to make the unions weak. As soon as we organise the immigrants, and fight for their basic human rights, we become stronger, and the mighty working-class movement for socialism grows. AN INJURY TO ONE WORKER IS AN INJURY TO ALL WORKERS.

IT IS A LIE THAT FOREIGNERS ARE TAKING OUR JOBS

ONE: This thing of immigrants causing crime is a blatant lie. In 1996 only 257 Mozambicans, 65 Zimbabweans and 94 Lesotho citizens were arrested for criminal offences. And only ONE Zairian and SEVEN Nigerians were arrested for drug dealing. This shows that the vast majority of crime is by South Africans. The main reason why immigrants are arrested by the police is for not having the proper papers. That is, they are arrested for not carrying a pass. This is absolutely unacceptable in a post-apartheid South Africa.

TWO: Immigrants actually benefit the country they come to. Many have skills or money, and create work for other people. Immigrants also buy goods in the economy, and this helps boost the economy and create jobs in the industries that produce these goods.

THREE: Foreign workers have helped to build this country. Even today these workers are very important to the mining industry which is the lifeblood of the economy. It is the mining industry which raises money for the country to import the machinery needed to industry and farming. So these immigrants are important to sustaining the amount of jobs we have at the moment.

FOUR: Unskilled immigrants do work for very low wages. However, this problem is caused by greedy bosses who want to sweat blood from workers. The solution to this problem is not to attack the immigrants. It is precisely because the immigrants have no rights, and are always living in fear of the police that they are willing to accept these bad wages. If they try to organise for better conditions, then the boss threatens them that he will call the police. If South African workers also oppose the immigrants, they become even more vulnerable, and therefore even more attractive to greedy bosses. The solution is to organise the immigrants into the trade unions and fight for their rights. If we oppose the immigrants we play into the bosses’ hands, we do their dirty work of making the immigrants into cheap labour.

FIVE: We are all workers and we must stand together. If we are divided, we are weak. A working class united will never be defeated. Therefore if we organise and unite with the immigrants we will be stronger. If we are with the immigrants, all workers will benefit because the bosses will not be able to divide us and rule us. We all have the same basic interest: organising to fight for a better life. We are one class of people.

SIX: On principle we must oppose all racism in the workers movement. We must not be like the white workers in 1922 who went on strike against the black miners getting jobs. No! We have long fought against racism. Let us not now be racist against other workers just because they come from another country or because they speak another language.

SEVEN: Workers don’t own the country- the bosses do. And the government acts to help the bosses. If we think of ourselves first and foremost as South Africans, then we can easily forget that our real enemy is not the foreigners, our real enemy is at home-the bosses. We are not one nation with one common interest- the South African nation is deeply divided into rich and poor, and to fight for a common South African interest is to fool ourselves.

South African and foreign workers must unite against the bosses. All people should be free to go where they please, without a dompas in the form of an ID book.

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About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).