WSF (1998): “Union investment arms: A disaster in waiting”

WSF (1998): “Union investment arms: A disaster in waiting”

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

While we should support the unions by all means, our support for the leadership should no be uncritical. The last time I checked unions were institutions that sought-after the best interest of workers. I wonder if that mission has had some alterations or has been totally changed over time. There is a fundamental shift in the use and focusing of the union resources in the past few years. Union money, which actually belongs to the workers, is being directed by union “bosses” into projects that are to the union and more especially workers’ detriment.

We as workers are destroying ourselves by allowing leaders to invest our money in the very institutions that exploit and dehumanise workers. Unions were not designed for profit-making but to protect the workers from greedy bosses. Therefore, unions should not engage themselves in any sort of business investment not only because it a fundamental organisational goal displacement but also because it is very anti-worker, reactionary and demobilises workers. It makes the unions reluctant to fight in case they harm investments; it makes the unions think that profit-making is good; it makes the union leaders forget about the workers; it makes the unions stand back from fighting privatisation. It is the reason why the union muscle of about two million members in COSATU alone is not being utilised.

Union resources should be channelled toward projects that benefit, not destroy, workers. The projects that I would suggest the union should direct funds in include among others the following:

* Worker education. Projects of such nature should help educate workers about their rights and inform them about the union policies. This I think is important because many the union members are not informed to a reasonable extent about the politics and policies of the union. In 1994, for example, a survey found that most COSATU members did not have a clear knowledge of the RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) was. Yet the RDP was developed by the unions, and adopted by the African National Congress (ANC) as its platform in the 1994 elections.

* Furthermore, a significant percentage of the union members are either illiterate or semi-illiterate. This in turn hampers their understanding of contracts and policies-a disadvantage that the company bosses will always exploit.

* Also it would be helpful to educate the workers because it will unburden the shop-stewards of the load they carry. The union will benefit in that it will be more democratic. The union officials will carry out the mandates they receive from workers themselves and not what a few of them in the national level have decided upon.

A central part of the battle between slavery and liberation is psychological- it is a struggle to free workers’ minds of the lies and propaganda that keep workers ignorant and passive. It is not just force by the government that keeps workers oppressed- it is also the hold over workers’ minds exercised by the bosses. These lies tell workers that they are not able to run society, that they are poor because they are uneducated, that the government will deliver. In a sense then by educating workers, the union would be liberating them.

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


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.


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.

WSF (1998): “Unions must organise the unemployed”

WSF (1998): “Unions must organise the unemployed”

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

About 30% of all economically active people in South Africa are unemployed. The trade unions must organise the unemployed into unions. There is no reason why the unemployed should be left isolated and suffering.

The bosses and government are responsible for causing unemployment, and unemployed workers should pressure on them to provide jobs.

If the unions do not organise the unemployed, then these millions are left starving. They are then used by the bosses as scab labour during strikes. Workers and the unemployed have the same interests. They are both part of the working class. COSATU used to have an Unemployed Workers Co-ordinating Committee to deal with these issues. It was closed down in the early 1990s due to corruption. But it must be revived, and run in such a way that the previous problems of corruption do not come back.


“Work is exploitation. Unemployment is misery. It is this society which must be changed”
A slogan of CNT-AIT [Paris], a French revolutionary trade union based on libertarian socialism (anarcho-syndicalism)

In many countries there have been successful movements to organise the unemployed. In December 1997 and January 1998 tens of thousands of jobless people demonstrated in dozens of French cities. The government does pay a small allowance to the unemployed, but it is very small, and does not apply to people under 25.

Initially the protests were aimed at securing a “Christmas bonus” of extra money for the unemployed. But other demands also began to be raised. These included free transport, a call for the extension of unemployed benefits to youth between 18 and 25, and an increase in payouts. Also, there were demands that there were not electricity cut- offs for people who could not pay, and that outstanding debt on electricity be cancelled.

The protestors used many militant tactics. These included occupations of government welfare and unemployment offices, electricity companies, and repossession agencies. There were also blockades of roads and railways lines. In some cases groups of protestors went into fancy restaurants, ordered meals, and then refused to pay. Other times, people went to luxury shops and handed goods to the unemployed.


Workers can fight unemployment. We must call a general strike against joblessness. Our demands should be forty hours working week with no loss of pay. This will allow jobs to be shared. Why must we work 50-60 hours a week, while one in three people is unemployed? We must also demand more jobs- for us it does not matter if these jobs are in government or the private sector. In addition, workers should totally oppose any and all attempts at retrenchments. When we are threatened with big lay-offs or the closure of the factory we should occupy it and demand our jobs. Even if there is no chance of jobs being saved at the workplace in question, we must demand that we get new jobs at union wages in the same area.

The important thing is to FIGHT. The ability of bosses and governments to pay low wages and retrench workers is determined by the overall balance of power between these elements and the working class. That is why it needs union backing, and a solid campaign- and not just resolutions.

WSF (1998): “Will low wages create more jobs?”

WSF (1998): “Will low wages create more jobs?”

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

The bosses and the government say that low wages will lead to more jobs. This is in GEAR (government) and the SA Foundation (big business) policies. Both government and business made this argument in their submissions to the Presidential Job Summit this year.

What they are saying is that wages in South Africa are very high. Also, workers have many rights, such as paternity and maternity leave. All of these rights make workers very expensive to hire. In fact, they make workers too expensive to hire, and so bosses have decided not to hire more people because this will cost too much. In other words, unemployment is being caused by very expensive labour.

So as a solution to unemployment both the government and the bosses are calling for a so-called “flexible labour market”. What this means is that wages and working conditions must be reduced to the level that is acceptable to employers.

This argument is a lie.


The argument that a “flexible” labour market and low wages will make more jobs is rubbish.

We say this for the following reasons

ONE: Wages in South Africa are already very low. The bosses say that South African workers get paid much more than workers get in other developing countries. This is not true. If you look at the wages of ordinary Black workers, they are lower than the wages of ordinary workers in similar countries such as Mexico, Brazil and South Korea. In fact there are many workers in South Africa who -even under the collective bargaining agreements – still earn only R500 a month. This includes labourers in the metal industry and municipal workers. The situation is even worse for unorganised workers.

TWO: Unemployment is growing in South Africa despite low wages. In the last two years, 1 in every ten jobs in South Africa has been lost. Sectors with particularly big job losses are farming and mining. But in both sectors wages are very very low. For example, many farmworkers earn under R100 a month, yet they are still being fired. So low wages are not a guarantee of a job.

THREE: There are many unemployed people in South Africa who would be glad to work for a low wage. Many people are so desperate that they will take any job. They are not expensive. Some will even work for only food. But they still do not get jobs. How can it be that these workers are unemployed because they are too expensive when in fact they will work for very low wages?

FOUR: If you look at different countries across the world, you will see that low wages do not make more jobs. The countries which have the lowest wages are also the countries with the most unemployment. For example, Zimbabwe and Indonesia. Low wages do not lead to more jobs. In fact unemployment leads to low wages. Let me explain. If there are many unemployed people who will work for any wage, then those workers with jobs are willing to accept low wages because they are afraid if they strike that unemployed people will take their jobs. Low wages always go hand in hand with high unemployment- low wages do not make more jobs.

FIVE: Also, if you look internationally you will see that those countries with the highest wages are also those with the least unemployment. For example Sweden. This is because if there are many jobs, then the boss cannot just hire and fire workers, he has to treat workers better so that they will stay in his firm.

SIX: If wages for existing workers are made lower, then there will be even more unemployment. Let me explain. Workers use their wages to buy goods. The goods are made in factories. If workers can buy many goods, there will be a lot of work in the factories, and more workers will be taken on. If workers wages are cut then workers will have even less money to spend. This will lead to the factories making less goods, which will lead to workers being laid off. So low wages will in fact lead to fewer jobs.

SEVEN: If wages are cut the boss will have more money to hire more workers. This is true. But who says that the boss will put the money into the factory to make more jobs? In South Africa, the bosses have been putting their money into machines which replace workers, or they have been using their money to buy up existing companies-not in expanding their own factories. So they do not make more jobs, they just make more money for themselves.

EIGHT: The labour laws in South Africa already allow flexible labour markets. For example, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act makes many promises to workers including allowances for night shift, paid maternity leave and so on. But the Act also says that these conditions can be flexibly applied to different firms. So the laws already allow flexibility.


WSF (1998): “Nigeria: Death of a tyrant, death of a democrat – but no freedom until capitalism is dead too!”

WSF (1998): “Nigeria: Death of a tyrant, death of a democrat – but no freedom until capitalism is dead too!”

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

Ordinary Nigerian people took to the streets in celebration on June 8 after hearing that murderous dictator General Sani Abacha, 54, had died of a heart attack. Abacha’s death brought to an end a four-year iron-fisted reign that saw the hanging in 1995 of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others who had dared to speak out against the oppression of the workers and the poor by wealthy western oil drilling companies exploiting Nigeria.


But Abacha was swiftly replaced by Nigeria’s ninth military dictator, Abdusalam Abubakar, a career soldier trained in the United States and Britain like so many Third World strongmen, who immediately ordered seven days of national mourning for Abacha. Abubakar then appeased the regime’s critics by releasing several jailed unionists and activists. Then on July 7, Social Democratic Party leader Chief Moshood Abiola, 60, who was jailed after apparently winning the 1993 presidential election, conveniently died of a heart attack during a visit by American officials. Abiola was no angel: a multimillionaire shipping tycoon who used his military friends to try for the presidency, he boasted four wives and 19 girlfriends and was widely believed to have stolen millions intended to upgrade Nigeria’s telephone system. Supporters of the corrupt Nigerian state claimed that Abiola was the only leader able to unite a country deeply divided between the largely Christian Yoruba and the mostly Muslim Hausa. But Nigeria does not need more robber-baron leaders. It needs a strong workers movement to organise, rise up and throw off the yoke of capitalist-sponsored terrorist dictatorship.


At the Organisation for African Unity summit in Burkina Faso shortly after the dictator’s death, his cronies who oppress other African countries underlined exactly what they had in mind with their vision of an “African Renaissance” when they paid their respects to the man who ordered the detention without trial of pro-democracy activists, jailed newspaper editors for reporting the truth, and whose police shot dead at least 10 workers dead during May Day celebrations earlier this year.

The Nigerian regime earlier this year tried to whitewash its image by sending armed forces to Sierra Leone on the West Coast to oust another military junta and install United States- approved “democracy” (i.e. protection of western mining interests).


Abacha the Butcher was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by his sipporters, but the opposition United Action for Democracy – an umbrella of 26 human rights and pro-democracy groups in Nigeria – strongly opposed this stupid suggestion. The UAD listed Abacha’s crimes as:

1. The arrest and detention without trial of Abiola.
2. The arrest and secret military trials of pro-democracy activists.
3. The hangings of Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni activists.
4. The closing of newspapers and secret military trials of journalists for “plotting to overthrow the state”.
5. The banning of some unions and the detention of union leaders following a strike in the oil industry to protest the political crisis.
6. The expulsion of student activists and the imposition of military- appointed administrators in the universities.
7. The death in prison of ousted General Shehu Musa Yar’adua and the sentencing to death of other opponents.
8. The overruling of the courts and the law by the army.
9. The promotion of conflict between tribes and between the Muslim north and Christian south.
10. The plundering of national resources and the collapse of social services due to officially tolerated corruption.

Amnesty International notes that there are “scores of prisoners held in life-threatening conditions in Nigeria’s jails” and has urged Abubaker to release Nigeria’s 250-plus prisoners of conscience – those jailed simply for their beliefs like so many South Africans were under apartheid.


Nigeria’s military dictatorships have all drawn strength from the international oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Mobil whose operations earn the country 80% of its national budget (about R51,5-billion a year). The wealth of the dictators and of the American, British and French oil companies is directly derived from the continued class inequality of the Nigerian social economy.

Despite all their rhetoric about democracy, the big capitalist powers like the USA are desperate to ensure that this oil exploitation does not falter, and so have never taken up the obvious weapon of sanctions to force the army to quit. It would be all so easy, but the profits are just too fat and the capitalists fear that the power vacuum created by the removal of a strongman will cause the country to split in half. The US, which imports half of Nigeria’s oil production, has not banned the sale of arms to Nigeria’s fascist military either: profits before people is their motto.

Abacha’s corrupt regime allowed Nigeria’s once vibrant agricultural sector to decay. What was once the world’s biggest palm oil industry has collapsed. Cocoa output halved since the 1960s, rubber production has fallen.

Abacha’s legacy has is a country pinched between demands by the capitalist overlord International Monetary Fund that Nigeria slash its already threadbare social services and public sector- which will lead to more popular unrest – and the threat of a coup by fat-cat army officers terrified of any challenge to their power and looting of the country.


This is the country that Abubakar takes control of. He has signalled his readiness to comply with the US’s and European Union’s insistence that there be “a genuine transition to civilian rule” by October 1.Of course, what the US and the EU really want is a civilian ruler installed in Nigeria to prevent the world’s seventh-largest oil export industry from being disrupted by those who want an end to oppression. They don’t care that the oil industry is the main exploiter of poor and working class Nigerians. The Western capitalist governments want democracy in name only: continued rule of the chiefs, military brass and company bosses – not real control of Nigeria’s assets by the Nigerian workers. And already, the local strongmen and robber barons have been scrambling to create new “democratic” political parties.

In August, Abubakar flew to South Africa where he was honoured at a state dinner. But his change from military uniform to a flowing white robe for the cameras should not fool anyone. He is no angel and his backers remain the brutish armed forces and the capitalist exploiters.

We support a move from military government to parliamentary rule. This will create better conditions for the working class and peasants to organise for further struggle.

In the end, however, only free socialism (anarcho-syndicalism) can redistribute wealth and power in Nigeria- and across the world. The solution is not a “good” government but workers power.


WORKERS OF SOUTH AFRICA! We cannot allow the tragedy befalling our fellow workers in Nigeria to continue! We cannot stand by and ignore our comrades’ pain, we cannot be silent.

IN YOUR COMMUNITIES: Support Nigerians who are genuine refugees of oppression against attacks by police. The cops are oppressing these visitors on behalf of the ruling class, falsely blaming all Nigerian immigrants for our country’s problems.

IN YOUR UNIONS: Tell your shop stewards, your leaders: “We demand justice for Nigeria. We boycotts of Shell and Mobil until Abubakar’s regime is toppled and democracy comes to Nigeria!”


Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, with 104 million people, has only had 10 years of civilian rule since independence from Britain in 1960. It is hardly surprising that here we find the biggest anarcho-syndicalist organisation in Africa: the Awareness League. From its roots as a radical student’s group, the League has become directly involved in the Nigerian workers’ struggle, and now has more than 1000 members across Nigeria.

Some members are rotting in Nigeria’s inhumane prisons. Others have written a book, African Anarchism- the history of a movement, that clearly shows a way out of Africa’s sad, battered love affair with brutal military dictatorships, cruel capitalism and so-called “socialist” exploitation: libertarian socialism. The League is an affiliate of the International Workers’ Association, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation formed to fight capitalism through revolutionary trade union activism worldwide.

WSF (1998): “The Alliance: An Unhappy Marriage — Communists must choose — COSATU must be independent”

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

The Alliance: An unhappy marriage/ Communists must choose GEAR or the workers/ COSATU must be independent

Nationalisation is the fundamental policy of the ANC”
– Nelson Mandela, 1990.
“Privatisation is the fundamental policy of the ANC”
– Nelson Mandela, 1994.

At the heart of current problems within the Tripartite Alliance (ANC, SA Communist Party, COSATU) is a central fault line- GEAR. There is a conflict between two basic agendas- the GEAR programme of privatisation, retrenchment, and cuts in government spending, and the demands of the Black working class for redistribution and empowerment. The two agendas are mutually incompatible. That is, the two agendas cannot be reconciled. This is the basic factor undermining the Alliance, splitting it into two camps: ANC, which supports GEAR, and SACP/COSATU, which do not.


Leaders in both sides have tried to cover up the divisions. The ANC’s basic approach has been to try and silence criticism of GEAR. This is why Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela have lectured both the SACP congress and the COSATU central committee mini-conference that the ANC will not retreat on GEAR. The ANC approach is this: to save the failing marriage by asserting the authority of the ANC as head of the household. The ANC is not looking for a democratic family, instead, it is telling its partners to toe the line and know their place. At the SACP congress, Mbeki went so far as to claim opponents of GEAR remind him of White right-wingers. When Mandela spoke, delegates were instructed, like little children, to stop singing Asifune GEAR. The ANC is skilfully manipulating workers loyalty to Congress to silence workers voices and to impose anti-worker policies.


The recent Alliance discussion document that hints at a review of GEAR does not change the situation. ANC blames the failure of GEAR to create jobs and growth on international factors (the world economy is in depression), and on slow implementation. It does not see any basic problem in GEAR itself. Therefore it is certain that ANC will NOT retreat on GEAR. Could the document be an attempt to create a mirage of consultation so near the elections?


SACP members must now choose- either the alliance with the ANC (and GEAR), or the fight for socialism and workers power.

COSATU members must choose- to turn the organisation into an independent fighting movement of the working class, or to be reduced to a “silent partner” which cannot challenge anti-worker policies like privatisation, and which tries to solve all problems by “discussions in the alliance”.

Workers must begin to break from Congress.




The SA Communist Party originally entered into alliance with the ANC because it believed the ANC was the main force for progressive change in South Africa.

This position can not be justified after the events of the 1998 SACP conference.

At this conference the SACP was told in the clearest possible terms that the ANC was NOT going to get rid of the anti-worker GEAR policy.

If the SACP stands for the workers struggle, and for socialism, then it must realise the Alliance with the ANC no longer serves a progressive purpose. A vote for ANC in the next elections is a vote for GEAR.

WSF (1997): “Workers Fight Back Across The World”

WSF (1997): “Workers Fight Back Across The World”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 3, number 1, first quarter 1997. Complete PDF is here

The bosses are on the march against the workers and poor of the world, cutting jobs, wages and social services. But the workers and the poor are fighting back through their combat units, the trade unions. We draw inspiration from these struggles. It is our global resistance that will defeat the global enemy- capitalism and the State. But there can be no final victory until the union rank-and-file expel conservative and undemocratic union leaders and adopt a revolutionary programme of seizing and self-managing the land and factories through the trade unions.


During 1996 the South Korean government tried to pass a new labour law that attacked workers rights, and undermined job security. Already 10,000 public sector workers face dismissal.

Workers have said no to this law. On the 26 of December 1996 thousands auto and shipping workers took up strike action in protest. This action escalated into a general strike as workers of all jobs and unions came out. Led by the militant Confederation of Trade Unions, it is the biggest strike in South Korea’s history. And students have supported and joined the workers.

The government has tried to break the strike, raiding trade union offices, initiating legal actions against union militants and sending the riot police to break up demonstrations. But the strikes continue despite the repression. These workers show us the way forward: every attack on the working and poor people must be met with mass action and resistance.


Last year the German government planned to attack workers’ access to sick pay and pensions. The government also wanted to erode laws that protect workers, including unfair dismissal laws.

Workers did not take these bosses attacks lightly and took up action. On June 15 1996 350,000 workers gathered in Bonn (the main city) to protest. The protest was initiated by an umbrella group that included the Anarcho- Syndicalist group, the FAU- AIT.

The German Trade Union Federation (DGB) provided more than 300 busses to ferry workers. But the conservative bureaucratic DGB leaders tried to tone down the strike. They even managed to exclude the groups that initiated the protest from organising the rally. The DGB leaders want to build a “social partnership” with the class enemy- bosses.

Militant rank-and-file workers reject this. Many workers booed the speech of the DGB president. Workers from the metal union carried a banner stating “Social Partnership- there are other ways: general strike, occupy and expropriate.”

Phantsi ngeCapitalism! Phambili Basabenzi! (Away with Capitalism! Forward Workers!)

Socialist Revolution Through One Big Union!