Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/636/10152
General strike movement sweeps South Africa
THE COSATU trade union federation in South Africa has warned the African National Congress (ANC) government that its refusal to meet 1.3 million public sector workers' demands - for an 8.6% pay increase and a housing allowance of R1,000 a month - will result in an escalation of the three week long public sector general strike. An embattled president Jacob Zuma has now arranged fresh talks between Cosatu and government ministers.
Weizmann Hamilton of the Democratic Socialist Movement (the Socialist Party's counterpart in South Africa) explains the importance of this strike movement and the way forward for workers.
SOUTH AFRICA has been shaken by a public sector general strike, a strike that one newspaper called "a war between South Africa's classes" and one which represents the end of many illusions in the new Jacob Zuma leadership of the ANC.
As well as trying to defend their pay and conditions against a full frontal government attack involving intimidation and threats of mass sackings, workers have also faced tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets from police.
Workers won concessions in a strike wave in 2007 and the government is desperate to take them back. They repeat a claim seen around the world that the workers' demands for better pay and conditions cannot be afforded.
'Affordability' runs thin as an argument with a government that has spent billions of Rand on luxury cars, 'on travel, procurement and conferences' and where ministers continue to use their positions to loot the state, tendering for government contracts through companies owned by them.
State owned enterprise executives have given themselves huge pay rises. For example, an Eskom (electricity public utility) executive got a bonus because he performed poorly and needed to be incentivised to do better!
Fortunes were spent on the football world cup, yet profits disappeared to Fifa (the world cup governing body) not to South Africans. And four out of every five world cup workers are back on the street with no skills transfer.
The government's 'affordability' argument is merely an echo of the voice of their capitalist masters. Their common refrain is that low wages, along with the right of the bosses to hire and fire as they please, will lead to more job creation.
In accordance with the logic of this argument the cheap labour system that underpinned apartheid and that continues today should have led to full employment. Yet a million jobs have been lost since the recession began in 2008.
With no end to the crisis in sight, and with an economy continuing to throw more onto the scrap heap of unemployment, those fortunate enough to have jobs like civil servants, have to increase their meagre salaries to support not only themselves but jobless family members who fall into the wrong age group to qualify for government's miserable social welfare grants. Workers on average support eight to ten dependents.
The government gives money to the capitalists and then turns around to tell us there is no money for wage increases. Capitalists have enjoyed a bonanza of R70 billion in tax breaks as the government has reduced corporate taxes from 45% to 28% today, thus reducing tax revenue.
Neo-liberal capitalism requires cutbacks in social spending, especially on wages, whilst allowing capitalists free rein to profiteer to their hearts' delight.
We cannot accept that we must tighten our belts because of an economic crisis we have not caused. The capitalists and their government must take full responsibility. The 2008 world financial crisis was no more than the trigger for a crisis prepared by the mounting contradictions of capitalism that had been building up for decades before then.
- For a 48-hour general strike to support the public sector workers.
- Lift the interdicts [legal action] against all unions.
- Meet the demands of the workers in full.
- Cosatu out of the tripartite alliance now.
- For a mass workers party on a socialist programme.
Full article can be read on www.socialistworld.net - Public Sector workers shut down city centres in day of marches
Cosatu and the tripartite alliance
COSATU HOLDS the idea that the 'ANC is a revolutionary movement with a working class bias' and post apartheid, the union held a tripartite relationship with the ANC and the Communist Party (SACP). Yet SACP leaders attack trade unions, saying 'people cannot whine like hungry babies'.
The relationship between Cosatu and the ANC is one increasingly seen as collusion with an antagonistic employer who speaks of banning trade union rights for soldiers, health workers, police and teachers. Cosatu's refusal to face this fact meant that preparation of the strike was very hesitant. Instead, everything they could do to avoid it was tried but rejected by a government determined to attack workers conditions.
Cosatu's position amongst workers was being undermined and the need to restore credibility helps explain its leaders call for an indefinite strike.
The public sector strike represents a turning point in the political situation. Illusions in Jacob Zuma have been severely damaged. The Zuma coalition lies in ruins with bitter recriminations against the SACP by the ANC Youth League, criticism of the SACP by Cosatu, insults against Cosatu by the SACP and attacks on the Zuma cabinet by Cosatu.
Cosatu is in mortal danger unless it breaks from the tripartite alliance and the trap of class collaborationism.
Unless Cosatu is taken out of the tripartite alliance the federation will disintegrate. The task of taking the federation out of the Alliance cannot, however, be left in the hands of the leadership. The rank-and-file must spearhead the process.
In The Socialist 1 September 2010:
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news
Socialist Party workplace news