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Spartacist South Africa No. 17

February 2020

For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Randlords' Union-Busting Offensive!

Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Party! For a Black-Centred Workers Government!

Much like 2019 ended, 2020 began with a veritable jobs bloodbath across numerous sectors of the South African economy. Massmart, Telkom, ArcelorMittal, Sibanye-Stillwater—hardly a day goes by without a new announcement of thousands of retrenchments. With economic growth almost non-existent, the rapacious bosses’ only “solution” is to toss more and more working people on the scrapheap. Meanwhile, real unemployment is already an eye-watering 38,5 percent and close to half the adult population lives below the poverty line.

More and more, the Randlords and their mouthpieces see the prospect of the country’s credit rating being downgraded to “junk”, and further economic meltdown, as an opportunity to jack up the rate of exploitation by attacking the unions and “disciplining” the restive working class. They are particularly eager to exploit the crises wracking state-owned enterprises (SOEs) like Eskom and South African Airways. These crises are a result of years of looting at the hands of corrupt private contractors and bourgeois politicians, and the bourgeoisie wants to use them as blackmail to ram through privatisations and wage cuts. As recounted in Pieter du Toit’s book The Stellenbosch Mafia (2019), Johan Rupert relishes the prospect of South Africa being forced to crawl for a “bailout” to the imperialist bloodsuckers at the IMF:

“I think we’ll be at the IMF in a year’s time.... We’ll either have an Arab Spring-type event, or Ramaphosa must restructure everything. And he cannot do it. The IMF will, however, force you to restructure, and if you think about it, isn’t that the best thing that could happen to the country? Halve the public service, clean up the state-owned enterprises.”

It’s no mystery what the Randlords and their imperialist senior partners of Wall Street and the City of London are after, but what they are able to get away with will be determined by the outcome of class struggle. There is a real appetite among the working class to fight these attacks. Many workers rightly see no reason why they should be made to pay for the looting, corruption and mismanagement that have driven the SOEs to the verge of collapse. They don’t see why they should accept wage “restraint” and mass retrenchments to bolster the dividends of capitalist shareholders.

What’s urgently needed is to link this desire to struggle with a class-struggle programme and leadership that can marshal the unions’ enormous collective social power to beat back the Randlords’ offensive. The starting point must be an understanding that the conflicts at SAA, Eskom, and elsewhere are not a result of “misunderstandings” but of the irreconcilable conflict of interest between the capitalists and the working class. They cannot be resolved by working out a plan that serves the interests of both sides, because they are expressions of a ruthless class struggle wherein power alone decides the issue. Such a class-struggle perspective is diametrically opposed to the class-collaborationist outlook that defines the reformist leadership of COSATU and of their competitors in SAFTU, NACTU and FEDUSA.

The disastrous influence of their class collaboration was starkly highlighted in the course of last November’s strike at SAA. Called by the SAFTU-affiliated metalworkers union NUMSA and the SA Cabin Crew Association (SACCA), the strike was a response to the SAA bosses’ arrogant attempt to force through a wage freeze and mass retrenchments using the airline’s near bankruptcy as blackmail. It was seen by all involved as a preview of the battles to come at Eskom and other SOEs. Yet, despite being billed by NUMSA and SACCA leaders as the “mother of all strikes”, the strike was massively undermined from start to finish by rampant scabbing and government-imposed anti-strike laws that made the picket lines almost meaningless. As a result, SAA—not to mention its subsidiaries like Mango—was able to operate most flights throughout the strike, and in the end the strikers were forced to accept much less than they had demanded. The jobs of all SAA workers are now being threatened by a “business rescue” process aimed at gouging the workers to pay off the banks and other creditors.

The misleaders of COSATU-affiliated transport workers union SATAWU, as well as the National Transport Movement and Solidarity, all directed their members to scab on NUMSA and SACCA. While COSATU leaders have long paid lip service to “industrial unionism”, such treachery exposes that as a blatant lie. In a strike, elementary working-class solidarity means one out, all out: picket lines mean don’t cross! A class-struggle leadership would fight to organise workers of an industry into one union in order to maximise their strength against the bosses.

The SAA bosses made full use of a host of anti-strike measures—from requiring that unions hold a bogus “secret ballot” before going on strike, to giving management wide-ranging powers to determine “rules” of picketing—that were introduced thanks to 2018 amendments to the Labour Relations Act that the COSATU, NACTU and FEDUSA bureaucracies treacherously supported. Adding insult to injury, in the midst of the SAA strike, COSATU spokesman Sizwe Pamla openly endorsed (“partial”) privatisations, touting the potential for “the involvement of private investors…to revive the SOEs’ fortunes”!

Such wretched strike-breaking is the bitter fruit of the trade union tops’ programme of “partnership” with the capitalist exploiters, which in practice sees the bureaucrats acting as labour lieutenants of capital, forcing sell-out deals down the workers throats in the interest of “our economy”. Speaking with the Randlords’ mouthpiece Financial Mail (3-9 October 2019), COSATU president Bheki Ntshalintshali very clearly spelled out the treachery at the core of the Alliance, boasting that COSATU had, for a few years, “not called on its members to launch a full-blown strike…because of the grim state of the economy”.

While the COSATU tops are shamelessly open about shackling the workers to their class enemy, the leaders of NUMSA and SAFTU use “left” rhetoric to cover for the same fundamental class collaboration. For instance, the NUMSA leadership has bitterly denounced the anti-strike amendments to the LRA and COSATU’s support for these, but, aside from a few token protests, has done nothing to mobilise the power of its more than 300 000 members to actually defy them. Instead, they meekly submit to the anti-strike legislation while awaiting the outcome of a challenge in the capitalist courts.

As the SAA strike graphically demonstrates, this is a losing strategy. The whole history of the powerful black trade union movement in this country shows that no decisive gain of labour was ever won in a courtroom or by an act of parliament. Everything the movement has won of value has been achieved through hard-fought struggle, usually in defiance of the racist, anti-union laws and police repression of the capitalist state—from the 1973 Durban strikes, to the convulsive class battles that shook the apartheid regime in the 1980s, to the wave of wildcat strikes that swept across the mines in 2012. Hard class struggle is what’s needed to rip up the anti-strike laws.

Such a perspective is anathema to the NUMSA and SAFTU leaders, who remain firmly wedded to the class-collaborationist politics that saw them act as loyal pillars of the ANC/SACP/COSATU Tripartite Alliance for decades—including standing by Jacob Zuma’s side following the Marikana massacre. The focus of the NUMSA leaders during the SAA strike was not on how to mobilise the maximum power of their membership throughout the airline industry and how to stop scabbing to have a solid, effective strike. Their whole orientation was to advise the SAA bosses on how best to save “our airline”—including demanding the reinstatement of former CEO Vuyani Jarana; drafting proposals on how SAA can cut costs to fund the insourcing of contract workers; and scandalously pleading with the government to let the union tops “be involved in the business rescue process so that our plans to save the airline are considered and implemented” (NUMSA and SACCA statement, 5 December 2019).

It is clear to every class-conscious worker that the Randlords’ plans to privatise Eskom and other SOEs would mean attacks on working conditions, weakening or smashing the unions, as well as deepening the country’s subordination to imperialist finance capital. These are all crucial reasons why there must be a class-struggle fight against the privatisations. But this does not mean that the SOEs under capitalism are some kind of step toward “socialism”, as the reformists claim. Eskom, for instance, was founded under British colonial rule to provide electricity “at cost” to the mine owners and industrial magnates. Under apartheid, these privileges were extended to whites-only residential areas to shore up white-minority rule. While the ANC and Alliance tops tout the “roll out” of electrification to the black majority since 1994, the reality of neo-apartheid has been racist “debt recovery” from black and coloured townships, blackouts for those who cannot afford to pay, and bloody police repression when they protest the miserable state of “service delivery”. The reformist trade union tops obscure this reality and sell workers the lie that they have a stake in ensuring the “success” of “our SOEs”—a swindle that the bosses always use to try to trick the workers into feeling “invested” in their own exploitation.

Against such scams, a class-struggle leadership would advance demands that speak to the burning needs of the masses and link these to the need to fight for a black-centred workers government that will expropriate the Randlords and smash the whole system of racist neo-apartheid capitalism. For instance, it would call to open the books and abolish the business secrets of the giants of the JSE, as well as the SOEs. In the 1938 Transitional Programme, Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky motivated this call, urging the workers movement to make use of it “to explain the debits and credits of society, beginning with individual business undertakings; to determine the actual share of the national income appropriated by individual capitalists and by the exploiters as a whole; to expose the behind-the-scenes deals and swindles of banks and trusts; finally, to reveal to all members of society that unconscionable squandering of human labour which is the result of capitalist anarchy and the naked pursuit of profits”.

The call to “open the books” should be linked to the fight for other burning necessities like jobs for all. Along with a shortened workweek with no loss in pay, this calls for a broad and bold programme of public works, which can only be successful as part of a general economic plan geared toward meeting the needs of the masses. Such demands transcend the limits of capitalist property relations and inevitably pose a head-on conflict with the bourgeois state. They can only be fully realised through the conquest of power by the proletariat, which in the course of the class struggle must be prepared to become the new ruling class. All of this cries out for a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party that bases itself on the complete political and organisational independence of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie, its political parties and its state.

The question of working-class political independence was posed in the lead-up to the May 2019 general elections, after NUMSA launched the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) to contest the elections. The SRWP sought to appeal to the bitter anger against the ANC among the black proletariat, but despite using a lot of “Marxist-Leninist” verbiage the SRWP was not based on any fundamental political break from class collaboration. A clear indication was its refusal to state, in its election platform, whether or not the SRWP would support and/or form coalitions with bourgeois parties such as the ANC and the EFF.

In order to draw a clear line over the principle of political independence of the working class from all bourgeois parties, we sent the Open Letter reprinted below to the SRWP. The SRWP declined to take a stance on this critical question, and therefore we opposed giving any support to its election campaign. Although the SRWP has been pretty inactive since performing dismally in the May 2019 elections, the question of working-class political independence remains vital for class-struggle militants. NUMSA leader Irvin Jim (who is also national chairman of the SRWP) has openly chased after any and all opportunities to lash up with bourgeois forces, for instance calling via Twitter to unite all trade unions, “revolutionary political parties”, and “individuals across political parties including the ANC that opposed this...whole sale privatization of the country SOEs [sic]”. This call has nothing to do with defending the interests of the working class through joint struggle around concrete demands. Rather, it aims to politically subordinate the working class to bourgeois-nationalist forces, in particular the EFF and a faction of the ANC. This is a guarantee for new betrayals. (See “Split in COSATU”, SSA No. 12, Summer 2015, for more on past betrayals by the NUMSA and COSATU tops.)

For two and a half decades, the Tripartite Alliance has presided over neo-apartheid capitalism on behalf of the same white ruling class that reigned under apartheid, with a few black faces added to its roster. The police massacre of 34 black striking platinum miners in Marikana in 2012 was the bloody signature of this system of entrenched poverty, brutal exploitation and violent suppression of the proletariat. There is burning anger against the cruel betrayal of the aspirations for the liberation of the black majority. Against the demagogues of the popular front, we of Spartacist/South Africa fight to forge a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party needed to lead the fight for a black-centred workers government.


Spartacist South Africa No. 17

SSA 17

February 2020


Democrats, Republicans: Parties of Imperialist War

US Hands Off Iran, Out of Near East!


Neo-Apartheid State Stokes Anti-Immigrant Rampage

Defend Immigrants! For Workers Defence Guards!

For Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!


Oppose State Censorship of BLF Demagogues!

BLF Deregistration Threatens Rights of All the Oppressed

"Non-Racialism" Sham: Screen for Racist Neo-Apartheid


James Robertson



For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Randlords' Union-Busting Offensive!

Forge a Leninist-Trotskyist Party! For a Black-Centred Workers Government!


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Hong Kong: No to Counterrevolutionary Rampage!

Expropriate the Tycoons!


Hong Kong Under the Butcher's Apron


Open Letter to the SRWP: No to Coalitions with Bourgeois Parties!


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Feminism vs. Marxism: Origins of the Conflict