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From The Socialist newspaper, 1 September 2010

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.

Full article can be read on - 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.

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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 1 September 2010:

A fightback can stop cuts

Youth fight for jobs

Our future under attack

Anti-cuts campaign

Anti-cuts movement builds momentum in Plymouth

North Staffs TUC public meeting against cuts

Cuts hit poor hardest


Fighting the far right in Bradford

Socialist Party news and analysis

Labour's three stooges aid Con-Dem coalition

Government cuts hit our benefits

Keep Middle Street centre open

Defend school meals

Socialist Party feature

Slashing public services: do councillors have 'no choice'?

Lobby the TUC conference

International socialist news

Kazakhstan: Human rights activist beaten and arrested

Worldwide protests against brutal attack on three Russian socialists

Pakistan flood disaster: Workers' solidarity appeal

International feature

General strike movement sweeps South Africa

Socialist Party workplace news

Battles ahead on London Underground

London firefighters ballot for action

Jobs threat at RBS

Coventry mail centre closes

Civil service jobs under the cosh


Home   |   The Socialist 1 September 2010   |   Join the Socialist Party

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Related links:

South Africa:

triangleLeeds & York Socialist Party: How apartheid was ended in South Africa

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triangleSouth Africa: 60 years marking the Sharpeville Massacre

triangleSouth African Airways workers win wage increase after strike action

triangleViolence against women in South Africa


triangleOppose BT site closures - national strike ballot needed

triangleIran: Renewed wave of protests and strikes

triangleIsrael: Nurses strike and win

triangleHugely significant council workers' strike continues


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triangleSouth Africa: Xenophobic violence - a product of failed capitalist policies


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Public sector:

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Jacob Zuma:

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Democratic Socialist Movement:

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