Phil Bonner, 1982, “The Transvaal Native Congress 1917-1920: The Radicalisation of the Black Petty Bourgeoisie on the Rand” (‘Africa Perspective’ version)

Phil Bonner, 1982, “The Transvaal Native Congress 1917-1920: The Radicalisation of the Black Petty Bourgeoisie on the Rand,” Africa Perspective (first series), 20: 41-62.

Get the PDF here.

Outside the Pass Office - From Bonner - 1982 - Africa Perspective

ARM – May 1995 – posters from the “Wits 5” defence campaign and NEHAWU sleep-in

These Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) posters were put up, and around, the 1995 sleep-in/ occupation at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) to defend the Wits 5. The sleep-in was led by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). ARM was actively involved. More on this struggle here.

Images below: get the PDFs here and here and here.

ARM/ WSF reading group ca. 1995/1996: The Unions #1

The Anarchist Revolutionary Movement (ARM) was one of a number of anarchist or syndicalist groups and initiatives that emerged in South Africa in the early 1990s, a period of great political upheaval and relative openness. ARM was quite a loose group, formed in 1993 in Johannesburg, spanning a range of ideas and projects, and it lacked clear structures or strategy. Its student section mainly involved militants from the anti-apartheid student movement at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).

In 1994 , there were serious discussions in ARM on the way forward. By the end of the year the group had divided into a “counter-culture” side and a “class-struggle” side. The counter-culture side left to form a network, while the class-struggle side retained the name ARM, and was oriented to unions and the black working class.For more on this history, see here.

In 1995, what was now ARM (now a “class-struggle” formation) started a regular reading group which ran through 1995 and 1996. ARM was renamed Workers Solidarity Federation (WSF) in April 1995. Normally there would be one kit with texts outlining the debates on a topic (e.g. the nature of unions), followed by a second kit providing historical material on the topic (e.g. the CNT in Spain). The person who developed a kit would write an introduction, which was included in each kit. The discussions were developed into draft Position Papers, which formed the basis of the Position Papers adopted by the WSF around the end of 1996. These same Position Papers have, with minor updates, been retained by today’s Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF).

Get the first reading kit on “The Unions” here. Note that the original printing was quite low quality and that the scans reflect it.

More reading kits are being uploaded — see here — as time permits and where copies are available.

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

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.

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.

ORGANISING THE UNEMPLOYED: LESSONS FROM FRENCH WORKERS STRUGGLE

“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.

FIGHT UNEMPLOYMENT NOW!

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.