WSF (1998): “Right wing ‘social movements for unemployed'”

WSF (1998): “Right wing ‘social movements for unemployed'”

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

DEADLY DANGER TO WORKERS MOVEMENT

Over the last two years, right-win unemployed movements have emerged. These movements are opposed to the organised working class. The Malamulela Social Movement for the Unemployed says that unions cause unemployment by fighting for workers rights. Therefore it fights for LOWER wages. It also wants a “Free Trade Zone” in Johannesburg. This is a zone in which workers have NO legal rights at all. Malamulela is totally wrong when it thinks low wages will make more jobs (see article on last page). Its anti-worker and anti-union politics take it into the arms of reactionary forces like the Democratic Party (with whom it has had joint rallies) and the bosses organisation, the South African Chamber of Business. Only the bosses will benefit from anti-worker and anti-union policies.

Another right-wing unemployed movement is Unemployed Masses of South Africa. This organisation is best known for leading a rally in September under the slogan “We Want Jobs – Not Foreigners”. The rally culminated in the murder of three Senegalese people on a train. The foreigners are not taking the jobs- the bosses are(see article on last page). We must UNITE with foreign workers against the enemies of the working class. IF THE UNIONS DO NOT ORGANISE THE UNEMPLOYED THE RIGHT-WING WILL.

THE RANK & FILE STRIKE BACK

So what is the true way forward for the shop floor? As usual, the workers have already taken the initiative:

* Direct action: in July, the National Union of Mineworkers trashed millions of rands worth of bosses’ property at Eskom’s Megawatt Park, burning three cars and a razing a building, because the bosses refused a wage increase that would keep pace with the cost of living. NUM secretary-general Gwede Mantashe refused to call the workers’ actions “criminal”, which is what the bosses wanted. Mineral and Energy Affairs Minister Penuell Maduna and Public Enterprises Minister Stella Sigcau sided with Eskom, which is suing NUM.

* Strikes against capital: in the first half of 1998, the man-days which the exploiters lost to strikes rose by 19% compared to last year, with major strikes in the chemical and motor industries, as well as industrial action by teachers. COSATU spokesperson Nowetu Mpati said government’s austerity programme and the terrible conditions in which most black workers still live were the main factors driving the strike wave. What the bosses’ media called wage disputes almost always had broader concerns: job losses, casualisation, privatisation. NUM motor industry negotiator Tony Kobe said whereas workers previously had held back on demands in order to give the ANC a chance to service disadvantaged areas, “now they are prepared to heed any call for a strike”

The ANC-IFP government has responded to these strikes much like the NP government did: police with live ammunition were sent to chase protesting airport workers off the runway at Johannesburg International in August – and the media was prevented from witnessing the action.

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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).