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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 5, No. 63, 6 September 2006

In this Issue:

Red Alert

The rule of law, working class struggles and the tasks of the 9th Cosatu Congress

By: Blade Nzimande, General SecretaryThe Red Pen

The South African media, true to its style and with very few exceptions, has sought to reduce and collapse the significance of the forthcoming 9th COSATU Congress into the ANC so-called ‘succession debate’ and to personalities – ‘Zuma vs Mbeki camp’, ‘Vavi vs Madisha’ or ‘the ANC versus the SACP and COSATU’. Having invented these epithets itself, the media has sought to relegate the very fundamental issues facing the South African revolution into these, relegating the main issues to the sidelines.

The above dichotomies are certainly the creation of the media, and the media alone, and it now seeks to impose these as the primary mode through which to analyse the very serious questions facing the South African revolution and the challenges of our transition to democracy. Incidentally, this reflects the extent to which our country is suffering from a lack of genuinely left-wing media that has a deeper understanding of the class, national and gender struggles in contemporary South Africa. Even more seriously it is a reflection of the paucity of quality, analytical and genuinely investigative journalism in our country, perhaps one of the most serious weaknesses in our transition to democracy.

South African media during this period of transition has hopelessly failed to develop a paradigm through which to understand class and broader social struggles in society. Instead it is increasingly reducing politics to personalities and gossip. This is, amongst other things, reflected through its wholesale failure to engage with the major political and socio-economic issues emanating from the recent congresses of some of the leading COSATU affiliates – the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) held over the last two weeks. The COSATU Congress has already been prefigured along similar lines, devoid of the most fundamental challenges facing this important congress. Yet media projects its own failure to cover these issues as those of these organisations.

At the centre of this ideological fabrication by the media is the ludicrous claim that COSATU has abandoned its shop-floor struggles and now wholly subsumed by the succession debate in the ANC. Yet, the very same media, over the last 20 months has reported on the intensified class struggles in virtually every sector of our South African economy. This has included the massive strike at the South African Airways and the security and cleaners’ strike led by SATAWU, teachers’ strikes and demonstrations led by SADTU, massive demonstrations by NEHAWU against deteriorating conditions in the health sector in Gauteng and the North-West, and the two COSATU general strikes against job losses and poverty during the first half of 2006. In addition actions by SACTWU against job losses in the textile, clothing and leather industry, action by CEPPAWU against SASOL, CWU actions in the telecommunications sector and NUM action against the mining bosses.

Yet the lie is often repeated that COSATU has, through its support for the Deputy President of the ANC, been derailed from its core focus. This lie is oft repeated enough such that the very media and its analysts responsible for this distortion begin to believe it themselves. Even more problematic is the notion that the manner in which comrade Zuma has been treated by some of the state organs, and the serious violation of his rights, is a matter that should be ignored by the workers if they are to focus on their ‘core’ tasks. It is the very state organs, which if workers are not vigilant about, can in future be used to smash and suppress working class organisation and struggles.

There is no contradiction between the struggle for vigilance over organs of state and working class struggles! In many instances it has been the working class that has paid the heaviest price in instances where abuse of state organs has been allowed to flourish. To ask of the working class to divorce matters of the rule of law from broader working class struggles is another false dichotomy manufactured by the very same elite which spends inordinate amounts of money on opinion polls, publications, let alone ‘conspiracies’ behind the scenes, plotting about and seeking to influence the presidential succession as part of their strategy to secure South Africa as a haven for intensified capitalist accumulation. South Africa’s working class never struggled for political freedom and a rule of law governed by ‘off-the-record’ press briefings used for character assassination of political opponents!

To therefore equate a principled struggle of the working class around the rule of law and abandonment of its mission to serve the workers and the poor of our country is a further attempt to try and reduce COSATU into a ‘gum boots and overalls’ trade union, with a narrow focus on workplace struggles. This is liberalism and bourgeois legality disguised as genuine working class struggles! It is unfortunate that some within the ranks of the working class movement itself seem to have bought into these false dichotomies and bourgeois liberalism – a modern expression of workerism - that we have long defeated inside COSATU. In any case there is absolutely no truth, other than empty assertions, that COSATU (and its affiliates) have been diverted from daily workplace struggles in its fight around the very serious abuse of Cde Zuma’s constitutional rights.

Instead the very same media and its analysts have chosen to ignore the very important issues discussed and debated by the major congresses of the unions. As an example, the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) and the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) recently held congresses which were approached by the media almost exclusively from the standpoint of contests over elective positions, with very little coverage of the very significant issues discussed at these.

The SAMWU Congress for example covered very many pertinent issues relating to working conditions of municipal workers as well as the necessity and role of municipal workers in local government transformation. Similarly SADTU debated a whole range of issues relating to the transformation of education in our country, including a call for a rapid implementation of free and compulsory education for all, in line with the Freedom Charter.
Buried beneath the metres of columns in the print media and the voluminous commentary in the electronic media is the fundamental question around the direction that our national democratic revolution should take – capitalist or a socialist oriented national democratic revolution. 

Failure to cover the above issues in South Africa’s public media is actually a sad reflection of the increasing ‘tabloidisation’ of South African media, and its deterioration to being a medium for US-type personality contests, smear campaigns against sections of  leadership and an instrument and refuge for faceless factional battles over the soul of the progressive trade union movement.

Some of the key tasks and challenges for the 9th COSATU Congress

The forthcoming 9th COSATU Congress to be held in just under two weeks is a very important event in the calendar of working class struggles and organisation in our country. It takes place in the wake of a renewed offensive by both the capitalist class and elements within our state to co-opt organised workers into a capitalist, narrow black economic empowerment driven project – what the SACP discussion document has characterised as the 1996 class project.

The first and most important task in the build up to this COSATU Congress is to refuse to reduce its important debates into an agenda defined by the mainstream capitalist media. In addition that congress must debate and strongly condemn the phenomenon of some of its leaders using the media to fight their own personal, factionalist battles.

It is also important for the COSATU Congress delegates to understand that at the heart of the contemporary struggles is the question of the direction which our national democratic revolution must take. The fundamental challenge is whether the national democratic revolution must take a capitalist character or a socialist orientation. It is a considered view of the SACP that never was our democratic revolution meant to assume a capitalist character, and this is contrary to the very concept and strategy of a national democratic revolution. A national democratic revolution that is capitalist in character ceases to be a national democratic revolution, but is in essence a bourgeois revolution. This is underlined by the failure of market friendly policies over the last ten years to address even the minimum of the economic needs and aspirations of the workers and the poor of our country, whilst creating new millionaires.

The above challenge is important given what is now a clearly rightist revisionist interpretation of the NDR, as advanced by what the SACP refers to as the dominant class project within the ANC and the state over the last ten years. This project distorts and seeks to reduce, if not co-opt, the goals of our national democratic revolution into a struggle that aims to manage capitalist relations, ‘within the logic of the capitalist system itself’. This is a departure from the conception of the national democratic as has evolved within our movement over at least the last five decades or so.

Therefore the COSATU Congress needs to locate itself firmly through, amongst other things, undertaking a thorough critique and rejection of this rightist revisionism, and firmly assert programmatic perspectives that aim to reclaim and rebuild the socialist orientation of the national democratic revolution.

For the above to take place the question of the reconfiguration of the Alliance, in the light of access to state power since the 1994 democratic breakthrough, must be firmly placed on the agenda of the 9th COSATU Congress. This matter must be debated as part of engaging the SACP discussion document on the relationship of the working class to state power over the last twelve years, in the short-to-medium term.

Fundamental to the above challenges is the need for the COSATU Congress to re-assert the Freedom Charter as the only programmatic way forward to address the huge developmental challenges in South African society. Over the past twelve years organised workers in particular, and the working class in general, have not been forthright enough around the need for a sustained struggle towards the full implementation of the clauses of the Freedom Charter. This is the only way forward to take South Africa out of its current accumulation trajectory.

Organised workers in general and COSATU in particular need to intensify the struggle against the gender division of labour in South Africa’s workplace. There is an increasing danger that danger struggles and perspectives in society are being increasingly dominated by middle class women (black and white), with a tendency to reduce the gender struggle into a moral or merely representational issue. The heaviest price in the deepening casualisation of labour is being paid by mainly young women. It is only when the working class as a whole takes a lead in this struggle that we can also be able to build a truly progressive women’s movement. COSATU Congress will have to reflect on its own role and contribution in building such a movement, as an important weapon in the struggle for gender equality.

A much broader political question that actually requires decisive leadership from the SACP is that of ensuring that the working class intensifies its struggles to take direct control over the national democratic revolution. The imperatives of a negotiated transition and the need to foster national reconciliation as part of securing our transition to democracy in the mid 1990s created a situation where the national democratic revolution and its class struggles was exploited by the white capitalist class to drive an agenda hopelessly inadequate to address our many developmental challenges. Is it therefore not time that we escalate the struggle for the working class to take direct charge of this revolution, without any mediation through narrow black economic empowerment and policies primarily aimed at appeasing the domestic and global bourgeoisie? COSATU Congress will need to reflect on its role and contribution as a progressive trade union movement in these broader political struggles and imperatives.

Another important challenge facing the COSATU Congress, and indeed our Alliance as a whole, is that of defining the kind of collective leadership and policies that the ANC needs as it approaches its Policy and National Conferences in 2007. COSATU has correctly posed as one of the major challenges in the immediate period as that of a struggle for an ANC whose economic policies should directly and immediately benefit the workers and the poor of our country. The question therefore arises as to what kind of ANC leadership do we need and what kind of policies should the ANC pursue in the wake of its 2007 national conference and the post 2009 government?

The COSATU Congress might as well set the tone for the next 16 months during which the ANC will hold its national policy conference early next year, the SACP’s 12th Congress in July 2007 and the ANC National Conference in December 2007. It is also with these in mind that the delegates at the COSATU Congress should approach the very critical challenges facing organised workers in our country.  

It is within the context of the above and other related matters that COSATU should locate and seek to advance its 2015 plan. It is true that whilst COSATU is not a political party of the working class, it should nevertheless consciously use its organisational muscle as a contribution towards addressing all the above issues.

All the above should be translated into a concrete programme of building COSATU as a strong progressive trade union movement. This includes the development of a strategy to organise unorganised workers, especially those in the marginal and informalised sectors in the service, agricultural and other similar sectors.

It is within all these considerations that the issue of who leads COSATU must be located. As we have said before we need a leadership that will preserve and build upon the militant traditions of this giant federation; an independent formation that is simultaneously located within our Alliance.

The SACP, in its participation at the forthcoming 9th COSATU Congress will seek to engage on all the above and other related issues. It will be through addressing these matters that the working class will be able to wage a successful struggle to take direct control over the national democratic revolution, and assert itself as the leading motive force of the national democratic revolution.

The SACP looks forward to a successful COSATU Congress!