Let us rebuild our movement and foster broader trade union unity!
7 November 2019
Message to the 9th National Congress of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union
As delivered by the SACP General Secretary, Dr Blade Nzimande
Allow me, on behalf of the SACP Central Committee and the entire over 311 000 members of our Party, to convey our revolutionary greetings to this 9th National Congress of POPCRU, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union. We wish this important Congress a resounding success.
Before we proceed, please allow me to make use of this opportunity to express our Party’s sincere gratitude for POPCRU’s contribution to the SACP by buying us a building for use as our headquarters. The SACP greatly thanks you, most sincerely, and underlines the fact that it is workers themselves who should take care of the resource-needs of their own Party.
We also wish to congratulate POPCRU on its 30th anniversary.
The current global political economy
We are gathered here as our country is facing a very difficult situation in a global conjuncture that is characterised by the rise of populist, if not authoritarian, leaders, parties or movements, as is the case in a number of countries in Europe and the United States (US). These right-wing and neo–fascist tendencies are challenging the dominant political liberal democratic model and system but not abandoning neo-liberalism and its economic programme. Instead they are seeking new and populist ways of enforcing neo-liberal economic measures. This agenda is also characterised by a renewed offensive by the Trump administration of the US and its imperialist agenda to destabilise and dislodge progressive and Left governments in Latin America, with the most vicious attacks directed at Venezuela, as well as Bolivia, Nicaragua and the intensification of the illegal blockade against Cuba.
Your Congress is taking place at the same time as the United Nations General Assembly is once more debating and denouncing the illegal US blockade. Let POPCRU come out of this Congress with another re-affirmation of our unwavering solidarity with the Cuban revolution, as well as solidarity with other legitimate struggles for freedom and democracy in countries like Venezuela, Swaziland, Western Sahara and Palestine. Let us together reiterate our shared democratic stance for the US to end its illegal blockade of Cuba unconditionally with immediate effect.
New challenges are also emerging, in the form of latest technologies referred to by others as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or ‘4IR’, ‘Industry 4.0’, the ‘Second Machine Age’, or what we characterise as the Digital Industrial Revolution that has ushered in the Digital Era. Whilst technological advances create possibilities for overcoming poverty and inequality globally, however in the hands of a greedy capitalist class, these technological advances pose a serious challenge to the future of work, with very real possibilities of displacing millions of workers through among others robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning and writing, the Internet of Things and other new machine-to-machine technologies. As Karl Marx noted more than a century and a half ago, capitalism revolutionises the technical conditions of production (including through technology), as it improves methods of production, in a manner that can able humanity to eliminate many of its problems, including poverty. But technology in the hands of private capital tends to be deployed at the expense of the workers and poor of the world. Our struggle therefore is not to condemn technological advances, but to wage a struggle for its use to advance social, economic and ecological justice.
We are also in a period where the US has launched trade wars against China, under the pretext that technologies of Chinese companies, like Huawei, are used as mechanisms to collect military and other intelligence. US accusations include the allegation that companies like Huawei were helped to be established and are supported by the state in China. Of course this is the worst forms of hypocrisy on the part of the Trump administration that hides the true fears of the US about China. Both the Silicon Valley and the Apple company were established with the full support of the US government in strengthening US dominance in the unfolding Digital Era and therefore consolidate its global hegemony including through digital technologies and the digital cyberspace.
In fact the US driven trade wars are about China’s strengths in relation among others to the new 5G technology. Whoever takes a lead in this technological advance is likely to significantly strengthen their economic position internationally. The US is afraid that technological advances, especially the strength of China in this regard, is likely to negatively affect its economic, and therefore its political and even military dominance as well.
Together with the rise of neo-fascist populist political tendencies, there is, in regions like Europe and the US, a growing hostility towards immigrants. This has often become a platform for right-wing populist mobilisation, which is one of the reasons we must deal decisive blow to xenophobic attitudes in our country. The rise of neo-fascism and right-wing and related populist tendencies is fuelled by the fact that, perhaps, the world today is faced with unprecedented levels of migration, both within and between countries and regions, with the largest being migration into European countries. Part of what has influenced Brexit has been the very same anti-immigrant sentiment amongst the British populace, fuelled by narrow nationalist mobilisation. The principal cause of this migration is the destruction visited upon by US imperialism and its allies, in places like the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere. In the Americas, imperialist exploitation of South and Latin America and the political agenda accompanying the exploitations have resulted in serious problems. This is one of the factors that have fuelled migration to North America. Indeed that has been underpinned by the devastating impact of neo-liberal policies in most of the developing countries in particular.
All these developments call for more, rather than less, international worker and working-class solidarity. The current global realities call for deepening working class solidarity, especially in the wake of significant displacement of workers by new technologies and new methods of work. The fact that the global economy is not out of the impact of the economic meltdown of a decade ago, strengthen the call for alternative working-class mobilisation and advancement and struggle for more developmental economic policies that stand to benefit the workers and poor of the world.
In this regard, the present period is also characterised by increasing instances of popular resistance to neo-liberalism and its authoritarian versions, including currently in Chile, Brazil and the dislodging of a right-wing presidential regimes in Latin America. These popular expressions of resistance to neo-liberalism call for deeper-working class internationalist solidarity, and for the intensification of national struggles against the re-assertion of neo-liberalism.
South Africa’s economic challenges
Our economy in South Africa is in serious stagnation. It is unable to address the challenges of poverty, inequality, unemployment and social insecurity. The structural nature of our economic crises has had a huge impact. It has created a huge crisis of social reproduction amongst working-class and poor households and communities – this is growing inability by the workers and the poor to make ends meet.
The crisis of social reproduction has not only engulfed South Africa but the whole of the Southern African region; sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa (look at what the destruction of Libya by France, the US and their NATO allies has done in Libya, for example). Regarding our Southern African region, it is a well-known fact that the SADC has historically been the labour reservoir of South Africa’s monopoly capital. Whilst in the past labour from the rest of the region was largely located in the hostels of mining companies, today that labour is sharing the same space and battle for resources with South Africa’s working-class and the poor in the sprawling informal settlements of our urban areas. As there is increasing forced economic and political migration from the rest of the region into South Africa, there is also increasing migration from the under-developed or undeveloped rural hinterlands of South Africa into the major urban areas.
In fact, this migration and movement of mainly the poor is creating an explosive situation pitting the poor against the poor. This actually is the explanation of a significant part of what is referred to as xenophobic attacks. This explosive situation of the poor scrambling for meagre resources in the same impoverished space with minimum resources is exacerbated by employers who deliberately cheapen and thus choose to employ cheap and often undocumented migrant labour taking advantage of their forced migration conditions.
It is often in conditions of crises of social reproduction that violence increases, including gender-based violence as patriarchal notions battle to assert themselves, even in their failure to look after families. Other regressive tendencies also emerge in such conditions include abuse of drugs, alcohol and other substances.
South Africa is presently engaging in an important policy discourse, especially in the post-May 2019 general election, especially in the wake of the release in August by the National Treasury of its economic discussion document. The SACP has produced a response to this National Treasury paper, not simply for purposes of debate, important as that is, but in search of, and seeking to facilitate, an Alliance agreement on priority actions needed to be undertaken by government to transform, grow and develop our economy.
We would like to take this opportunity to underline two key issues of economic policy importance that form an important part of the essence of our response to the National Treasury document.
As the Alliance, FIRST OF ALL we should evaluate every proposed policy based on our shared strategic perspective of the necessity to move the national democratic revolution, our shared democratic transition strategy, on to a second, more radical phase. In other words, in our assessment of all major draft policy papers, we must frankly answer the question as to whether they advance our strategic objectives to drive a second, more radical, phase of our national democratic revolution.
SECONDLY, the ANC developed the May 2019 election manifesto in consultation with all Alliance components. Subsequently we all endorsed the manifesto and took it to the people to seek electoral support. We have made commitments in the manifesto. These include the commitment that we will align our macro-economic policy framework to support the objectives of the second radical phase of our democratic transition and the other commitments contained in the manifesto. It is important to remain true to history and truthful to our people. In this regard the importance of strategic consistency cannot be overemphasised.
However, in dealing with the economic challenge facing our country, it is important that the working-class intensifies tackling, weakening and defeating the parasitic networks both inside and outside our movement. Public sector unions like POPCRU have to be at the forefront in rolling back and defeating the corporate-capture of the state and all its parasitic networks.
At the same time, the current economic crisis seems to be encouraging sections within our ranks to seek to pursue the old neo-liberal policies that have failed dismally and have also contributed to the crisis we are facing today. This we must fight against with the democratic capacity at our disposal. But in fighting neo-liberalism we must be careful that we do not unwittingly strengthen the hand of the parasitic networks. Similarly, in fighting the parasitic networks we must be careful that we do not unwittingly strengthen the hand of those who are seeking to re-assert the failed neo-liberal economic policy regime.
This is one of the most important tasks facing the working-class and the SACP today, including all the progressive forces inside our own movement. Our call therefore today must be that neither parasitic networks nor neo-liberalism, but a democratic developmental state, driving policies in order to build a truly inclusive economy.
The manifesto of the ANC provides just the basis for that developmental model we are calling for, which must include the following as stated in the manifesto:
- investigating the introduction of a prescribed assets policy to mobilise funds within a regulatory framework for socially productive investments (including housing, infrastructure for social and economic development, and building township and village economies) as part of employment creation strategies;
- establishing a sovereign wealth fund to invest in strategic sectors of the economy and long-term social and environmental needs of the country;
- establishing an infrastructure fund to finance key economic and social infrastructure projects, and, in the same vein, strengthening the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission to unblock and fast-track the delivery of infrastructure projects, such as the public passenger transport system, water infrastructure and building integrated human settlements;
- transforming and diversifying the financial sector, including building successful state, co-operative and mutual banks, and, in the same vein, addressing the role of the financial sector as whole in national development, including solving the problems of access to funding and capital for small enterprises, co-operatives, housing, township and village enterprises, as well as infrastructure;
- a comprehensive social security, including decent housing for the working-class, and especially the investment of pension and provident funds to support such a social security system. (It is indeed a shame, if not an indictment, on the trade union movement in the public sector for funds like those in the Public Investment Commission to have been allowed to be squandered for dubious investments that bring little value or change in the lives of the working class);
- a comprehensive strategy and approach to rebuild and strengthen the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and thereby turn them around so that they can thrive. (It is also important to first ask yourself as to where you were when the SOEs were being stolen and squandered. The SACP is also strongly of the view that it is no longer enough to just call for the SOEs to remain in the hands of the state. This is a necessary but insufficient condition for strengthening the role of public enterprises in economic development and transformation. In fact some of the worst looting of SOEs has happened when they were right in the hands of the state, with the looters appearing to be agreeing with us against privatisation but for reasons that were very different from ours. The progressive trade union movement also needs to develop concrete proposals on what is to be done to strengthen and reposition the SOEs so that they can never be corrupted or looted again.)
These and other commitments contained in the manifesto must be implemented as the shared commitments of the Alliance to the people, and the primary mandate endorsed democratically by majority of the electorate through the ballot.
The progressive trade union movement has a direct and active interest in the use of the number of funds that are often squandered by middlemen – yes, they are males in particular or otherwise predominantly. These funds, which are supported by workers’ monies, are meant to support various interests of the working-class, including social security. The funds include Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS); the National Skills Fund; the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and the Compensation Funds. Similarly, the PIC is the single largest investor in Old Mutual, yet workers are just spectators in what is going on at Old Mutual at the moment. The progressive trade union movement has to build robust activism in ensuring that all these and other worker funds are used in the best interests of workers and support their needs including through investment strategies and decisions.
In fact, the SACP would support an initiative by COSATU and other progressive unions to convene a gathering to discuss these funds and how they should be deployed for the benefit of the workers and the poor in our country by contributing towards the developmental investment. In my capacity as Minister, I intend to convene a discussion in the new year with the trade union movement about the skills funds.
The SACP is strongly of the view that the interventions required in the economy must be handled in a manner that seeks to unite the Alliance and the widest possible sectors of South African society, including the middle-classes and professionals who are also finding it hard to make ends meeting. These interventions should also seek to enlist, given our present conditions, the support of industrial sections of capital that have an interest in the development of the productive sectors of our economy.
It is for the above reasons that the SACP firmly believes that the effort to mobilise domestic and foreign direct investments by President Ramaphosa must be supported, as it is important to mobilise investment from the current sources of investible capital. But it is important that the trade union movement becomes stronger at the same time, so as to ensure that such investments do indeed translate into decent work, employment growth and opportunities for sustainable livelihoods for the workers and the poor.
Unify the working-class and rebuild our mass movement
The key organisational challenge facing the working-class in our country in the present period is that of intensifying efforts to build strong organisation on all fronts. The first and most important step is that of seeking to forge the widest possible front of progressive trade unions behind key common demands of the working-class, including the ones just outlined, as well as fighting against retrenchments and casualisation. Whilst we must still pursue the goal of one country one federation, the starting point for this must be in forging common struggles of the working-class on the ground, here and now.
Your Congress is taking place at a time when the trade union movement is highly fragmented, and perhaps spending too much time checkmating itself rather than concentrating on uniting workers to defend their interests. It is also no longer enough just to focus on defensive struggles, but to also define clearly the role of the trade union movement both inside and outside of the workplace. Struggles outside the workplace were much clearer during the struggle against apartheid, but now this role is not that clear. For instance the trade union movement has been sluggish in seeking to forge not just progressive trade union common fronts, but also in forging relations with communities, especially in those struggles that have a potential to pit workers against communities.
For instance one of the major struggles which a broad front of trade unions needs to drive is that of the struggle against gender-based violence and discrimination. POPCRU, as a union located in our criminal justice system, has an extremely important role to play in this regard. If the trade union movement does not play its leading role, the struggle against gender-based violence will fall into the hands of all kinds of opportunists and populists.
Let us closely look at the issue of the state of the trade unions and worker organisation in South Africa today, as one of the key challenges facing us. According to the latest Statistics South Africa’s Labour Force Survey, released on 29 October 2019, South Africa has a labour force of approximately 23.12 million, with about 16.4 million of the workers employed. The formal sector, non-agricultural, employs 11.214 million workers, while the informal sector, non-agricultural, employs approximately 3 million. Agriculture employs 880 thousand workers and private households employ approximately 1.3 million.
By April 2016 South Africa had 187 organisations registered as trade unions. The total number of workers organised under the 187 unions registered by April 2016 was just fewer than 3.6 million. This meant that only 33% of workers recognised as employed were organised in trade unions, while the unorganised workers constituted 67%. The number of newly formed unions continues to increase. For instance, in the same year of 2016 four new organisations were formed and registered as trade unions, bringing the total number of registered trade unions up to 191 by September 2016.
Furthermore, an increased number of trade unions do not necessarily organise the unorganised. Trade union proliferation is thus concentrated in the ranks of the already organised sections of workers. This has given rise, in all sectors, to trade union competition and/or so-called rivalries, or even what can be described ‘scope wars’. In worst-case scenarios, it is possible to find one trade union achieving membership growth against the background where another is suffering continuous killings of its members, leaders and officials and thus declining in membership. It is almost impossible to not see these as somehow connected.
The situation is compounding the challenges of rebuilding worker unity and forging proletarian solidarity. The very same elements relentlessly involved in the pursuit of disunity blame others for the weakening or collapsing of unity. In fact, if truth be told, the trade union movement has, in some respects, been converted into an industry used by others as the source of their private accumulation. It is therefore not impossible to find certain organisations registered as trade unions while in essence they are like privately-owned companies. In addition, the rise of business unionism in the post-1994 period and its aftermath remain a serious problem.
Meanwhile, racial fault lines deriving from the colonial and apartheid features of capitalist construction in South Africa remain unresolved in the organisation of the trade union movement. There are still trade unions with roots in advancing racially-based privileges dating back to successive colonial and apartheid regimes. These realities, and the entire structure of the persisting legacy of colonialism and apartheid, deeply worry us as the Communist Party, and should worry you, too.
Unity is essential for the working-class to achieve greater progress and major breakthroughs on all fronts of the struggle to end economic exploitation, secure social emancipation and ultimately ascend to the position of ruling-class through a socialist dispensation. It is these struggles we must wage now so as to realizes, amongst others, the SACP’s strategic and programmatic slogan of SOCIALISM IS THE FUTURE, BUILD IT NOW! In other words, without unity in action the working-class will be an ineffectual or sentimental quantity not capable of achieving any serious victory in any front of class struggle.
This is our message of unity not only to you and your entire membership, comrades, but also to our own structures and members of the SACP ahead of our 4th Special National Congress in December. There is no substitute for building working-class unity and power on the ground and in everyday struggles of the working-class.
It is therefore important to take this opportunity to underline that, rather than party-political power, our programme as the Communist Party in regard to the state is to build working-class unity and power, and democratically secure working-class hegemony over the state, and thus raise the working-class to the position of ruling-class. This is one of the reasons why we are very concerned with the state of working-class mass organisation at the moment
Our Special National Congress in December will therefore delve deeper into the state of working-class mass organisation and its implications for the national democratic revolution and socialism, as well as, organisationally, for the SACP as a working-class Party. This is an essential focus in our analysis of the class balance of forces and the strategies necessary to secure working-class advances and ultimate democratic victory in the course of class struggle.
The importance of rebuilding our mass movement and building working-class and popular power cannot be overemphasised. In this regard, forging a Left popular front and pushing the reconfiguration of the Alliance, as directed by the 14th National Congress of the SACP in July 2017, should be seen as mutually reinforcing organisational tasks, rather than as mutually exclusive. The task of building a widest possible patriotic front in defence of our democratic achievements as a people is also important, especially against the background of the state capture agenda and its fightback manoeuvres. Our Special National Congress will receive Central Committee reports on the implementation of these organisational tasks and adopt the way forward towards the 15th National Congress of the Party, which is scheduled to take place in July 2022.
The progressive trade union movement and other progressive formations have been invited to participate at the Special National Congress of the SACP next month. We are looking forward to your contribution.
Coming out of our Augmented Central Committee is September, as the SACP we have called upon the workers to take up the task of rebuilding the ANC and its branches as well as reclaiming the revolutionary values of our movement and defeat factionalism, gate-keeping and greed. Our country still requires the ANC as a broad movement that is at the centre and serves as the glue to unify and lead the principal motive forces of the national democratic revolution. It would therefore be irresponsible for workers to celebrate or take their focus away from a deeply divided ANC.
On the current in the DA as the crisis of South African (white) liberalism
The recent eruption of internal cracks within the DA is an indicator of a clash between its core leadership and some sections of its leadership that were apparently catapulted to high-ranking positions (for public relations purposes?). These divisions tend to take a racial form inside the DA. A number of utterances from within the DA itself have in fact made this very clear. As a manoeuvre, the public relations stunt was destined for attracting votes from among the black electorate by masking the essence of the DA. This involved, among others, making it appear as if it is essentially a diverse party, primarily racially, without altering the foundation of its core political agenda. The current crisis exposes this facade of the DA once and for all.
What is also happening inside the DA is that the new black leadership and its rhetoric that comes closer to BEE and affirmative action, has alienated the former National Party membership now in the DA, hence the increase in the vote for FF Plus. But this language is also alienating the core of the DA’s liberal base.
What this crisis further exposes inside the DA is that it would like to see a pliable black leadership that must not interfere with what is the core of white liberalism – protection of white minority privilege, especially in the economy.
Perhaps this crisis in the DA is bigger for the EFF than the DA as it exposes the EFF as to who it has really handed over Tshwane and Johannesburg municipality to, and that it has been colluding with defenders of white minority hegemony.
In fact this should be the time for our movement to re-affirm and strengthen both its organisational and ideological role as the true embodiment of non-racialism in our country!
Let us emerge from this Congress more united and clearer about the tasks of POPCRU and the rest of the progressive trade union.
We wish you a successful Congress!
Issued by Alex Mohubetswane Mashilo, Central Committee Member and Spokesperson, 7 November 2019