WSF (1999): “Victory! BTR-SARMCOL Workers Win 13-year Battle”

WSF (1999): “Victory! BTR-SARMCOL Workers Win 13-year Battle”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 5, number 1, second quarter 1999. Complete PDF is here

ON MAY DAY 1985, workers at the BTR-Sarmcol rubber factory at Howick outside Maritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, embarked on a wildcat strike. The following day, the bosses fired all 970 strikers, members of the then Metal and Allied Workers Union, which was not recognised by plant management. And so began the longest and one of the bloodiest labour battles in South African history. The community of Mophomeni was torn apart by the resulting conflict between strikers and the scabs hired by management to replace them. Since 1985, 39 people have been killed in fighting related to the dismissals. The dispute came at a very dangerous time in the province, when the first Inkatha units were returning from secret death-squad training in the Caprivi Strip in Namibia. The IFP-ANC battle for the heartland was about to begin and the laid-off workers at Mophomeni were in the thick of things.

SHOP-STEWARDS MURDERED

In December 1985, MAWU chief shop-steward Phineas Sibiya, a key Continue reading

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WSF (1999): “South African Labour Market Too Flexible, Says Report”

WSF (1999): “South African Labour Market Too Flexible, Says Report”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 5, number 1, second quarter 1999. Complete PDF is here

The bosses and government always SA labour is highly protected. However, a recent report by the International Labour Organisation, which is part of the UN, says that despite advances in worker rights since parliamentary democracy came in 1994, our laws on firing workers and contract work and working conditions are more flexible than the international average, showing up the bosses’ lie that the SA labour market is too inflexible.

WSF (1999): “Strikewave! South African Labour Flexes its Muscles”

WSF (1999): “Strikewave! South African Labour Flexes its Muscles”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 5, number 1, second quarter 1999. Complete PDF is here

1998 was a record-breaking year for strike activity in South Africa, and this year looks set to be even more active on the militant labour front.More than 3-million persondays – the highest figure since the 1994 elections – were lost to capitalist exploitation last year as a wave of industrial unrest swept the country. The year was characterised by long, intense and often violent strikes, despite calls by COSATU to settle the issues at stake as soon as possible so as not to scare off foreign investment. But as can be seen with the looming shutdown Continue reading

WSF (1999):“Voting is your right but have NO ILLUSIONS IN PARLIAMENT”

WSF (1999): “Voting is your right but have NO ILLUSIONS IN PARLIAMENT”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 5, number 1, second quarter 1999. Complete PDF is here

RIGHT TO VOTE

The WSF supports the right to vote. Working class people fought and died for this right. Any working class person should be free to vote for whoever they want. It is better to live under a democratic government than under the apartheid government. But we must have no illusions in the parliamentary system. As we have seen after nearly 5 years under this sort of government, parliament cannot be trusted. Even the best comrades sent to government have changed drastically.

SWEET LIFE

This is for a simple reason. Continue reading

Moussouris, “Between Class Struggle and the ‘Developmental State’: COSATU and the Sector Job Summits” (2007)

Mandy Moussouris, 2007, “Between Class Struggle and the ‘Developmental State’: COSATU and the Sector Job Summits, Lessons in Corporatism,” paper presented at “Labour and the Challenges of Development” conference, Global Labour University, University of the of the Witwatersrand, 1-3 April.

Get the PDF here.

Payn, “NUMSA and the ‘United Front Against Neoliberalism’” (2014)

NUMSA and the ‘United Front Against Neoliberalism’

By Jonathan Payn

Part 1 in a series of four articles on the concept and history of the United Front

This article first appeared in Workers World News

The resolution adopted by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) to form a ‘United Front against neoliberalism’ – as well as its decision not to endorse the ANC in the elections – represents an interesting development in the political landscape, one which activists should look at carefully and engage.  Due to the language used by the media, the Left, NUMSA’s critics and even NUMSA itself much confusion surrounds the debate – leaving many questions: Is the ‘United Front’ an organisation or attempt to build a new labour federation or political party? Is it an attempt to revive the 1980s United Democratic Front (UDF)? Why NUMSA’s sudden interest in community struggles?

This series, of which this article is the first, aims to clarify these and other questions by looking at the proposal and history of united fronts locally and internationally to clarify key issues and draw lessons that activists can use when engaging the pros and cons of NUMSA’s United Front proposal and if and how they think it should be developed.

NUMSA: The United Front is a weapon for uniting the working class.

Global capitalist crisis and a stalled revolution

To understand NUMSA’s decision to break with the ANC and SACP, and the potential its call for a united front could offer for building a working class-based alternative to the ANC-led Alliance and its neoliberal policies, activists must contextualise these decisions and unpack what NUMSA understands by the United Front.

NUMSA has noted that, twenty years after the democratic transition, the majority-black working class has not experienced meaningful improvements in its conditions. At the same time, however, a small black elite has become super wealthy. In South Africa NUMSA has noted that the neoliberal restructuring, implemented by the ANC government and supported by its Alliance partners, has been aimed at benefiting the capitalist class and has resulted in the increased dominance of finance capital, in massive job losses and increased poverty and inequality.

‘A weapon for uniting the working class’

NUMSA claims not to see the United Front as a new organisation or party but a mechanism “to mobilise the working class in all their formations into a United Front against neoliberalism”. Whereas NUMSA sees the Alliance as “simply a mechanism for mobilising a vote for the ANC”, it envisions the United Front as a “mobilising tool to organise and coordinate working class struggles”.

The United Front is also not about building a new labour federation as NUMSA is calling on COSATU to join it in breaking with the Alliance and building a new movement. Nor is it an attempt to simply revive the UDF. Rather, it is “a way to join other organisations in action, in the trenches”, through sharing common struggles.

NUMSA says that “better working conditions are inseparable from the working class community struggles for transportation, sanitation, water, electricity and shelter” and that it wants to break down the barriers that exist between worker and community struggles. The two pillars on which its United Front would stand are gaining community support for NUMSA campaigns and building “concrete support for other struggles of the working class and the poor wherever and whenever they take place”.

‘NUMSA is part of the community, and NOT the community’

For many community activists the question then is why now, after ignoring community struggles for so long, does NUMSA claim to want to support them? Moreover, why does NUMSA think it should lead this unification process? After all, community activists long ago identified the ANC’s neoliberal character.

Despite the fact that its members come from the communities NUMSA has not supported community struggles in recent years. Yet now it seems NUMSA wants to support community struggles and lead them in building a united front. While it might have a role to play, some community activists feel NUMSA cannot legitimately take the lead in uniting community struggles.

Instead they feel NUMSA should focus on building unity with other unions before approaching communities. Similarly, communities should first work together to unite their own struggles from the bottom up; a process that is already underway in parts of the country.

Only once community struggles are united and coordinated from below, by the activists involved, can they feel confident in uniting community and worker struggles without fear of bigger, more resourced organisations like NUMSA imposing themselves on them.

Conclusion

A good thing about the United Front is that it accommodates ideological differences in order to build the unity of working class formations in struggle. However, Communist Parties have historically engaged in united fronts to create unity in action in struggles against the onslaught of capitalism, but also with the aim of winning over the majority – who mostly (but not exclusively as there were other revolutionary currents) supported reformist social democratic parties – involved in these struggles to their programme and lead as a Party. When engaging the NUMSA United Front proposal, then, it is important to ask whether or not NUMSA also sees the United Front as a tactic to win what it has sometimes unfortunately described as leaderless and unorganised community struggles to its perspectives and to ensure they accept its leadership in struggles.

Community activists across the country have, despite scepticism, responded positively to NUMSA’s call by supporting the 19 March actions against the Youth Wage Subsidy.

Will NUMSA reciprocate by putting its resources and capacity at the service of building “concrete support for other struggles of the working class and the poor “wherever and whenever they take place”?

The possibility of NUMSA playing any relevant role in fostering working class unity depends on the answer to this question.

Payn, “Class Struggle, ‘Xenophobia’ and the Local Elite” (2015)

Class Struggle, ‘Xenophobia’ and the Local Elite

Jonathan Payn

First published in Workers World News

The xenophobic violence and looting following King Zwelithini’s statement that foreigners “pack their bags and leave” spread to cities and townships across the country. However, the recent attacks are not an isolated incident; nor is Zwelithini solely responsible for fomenting it. Local elites – particularly those linked to the ruling party – also encourage anti-immigrant attitudes and actions. This article, based on discussions with Abahlali baseFreedom Park activists, looks at how local elites stimulate ‘xenophobia’ to protect their class interests, as well as how progressive working class activists have responded.

Xenophobia and local elites

Freedom Park is among few townships where development is underway; Continue reading