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  • Red Alert: A distant clap of thunder: Class struggles in the second decade of freedom in South Africa
Red Alert: A distant clap of thunder: Class struggles in the second decade of freedom in South Africa

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

Last Sunday City Press newspaper street headlines screamed about (renewed) conflict between the African National Congress (ANC) and COSATU. By implication therefore this points to a continuing fracture within our Tripartite Alliance that includes our party, the South African Communist Party (SACP). In addition, the newspaper goes further to claim that COSATU's planned stayaway for June 27 is a strike against the ANC and government.

This approach by this newspaper is reflective of the South African media as a whole. When a market friendly climate is created, accompanied by massive job losses they project this as necessary to grow our economy. The City Press editorial patronisingly tells COSATU that its task is not to mobilise but to foster "a globally competitive economy", from which we can create jobs - a classic trickle-down approach. It is as if that is not precisely where we have been during the first decade of our democracy, with no improvement in the jobs situation. To project mobilisation of the working class as an offensive against the ANC government is a deliberate mischievous act to delegitimise the struggle of workers, thus elevating the interest of the bourgeoisie as the national interest.

The above is also a reflection of the paradigm within which the media has been reporting on our Alliance. To the media ours is not a revolutionary alliance to deepen and consolidate our democracy, but an alliance of tensions and conflict. This paradigm only serves to divert from the very serious problems facing our economy, principally the question of jobs and poverty. It also diverts from the fundamental conflict in our society, at the core of which is the conflict and struggle between the capitalist class and the working class.

The media and some of its commentators have also taken this type of reportage to absurd levels. Both the City Press editorial and Allister Sparks column in today's Star newspaper try to project COSATU's planned action as directed at the issue of labour market flexibility as specifically raised in the ANC's NGC discussion documents. For instance Allister Sparks says "Already COSATU has declared a season of strikes? to fight be rollback of workers' gains scheduled to begin on June 27 - just two days before the start of the national general council debate". This creates a completely wrong impression about the real purpose of COSATU's actions. How can COSATU embark on action to protest against a discussion document which is not formal ANC policy?

The large-scale offensive that we have seen, and continue to see, during the first decade of our democracy against the working class - retrenchments, massive casualisation and outsourcing - do not get such patronising and condescending editorials or commentaries.

For example the rather expensive, but failed bid by Harmony to take over Gold Fields became the pastime and fascination of the business pages of the media as to which amongst the two "capitalist bulls" is going to finally win, and what will the Competition Commission say. In the end both bulls "won", but with millions of rands wasted, and capitalist lawyers getting filthy rich. But who is paying the biggest price for this fight between these two capitalist bulls, the working class. And indeed Harmony Gold is planning to retrench 11 000 workers, and yet there is not outcry about this, instead we are told if COSATU stands up against this, it is fighting for its "narrow, sectoral" interests, and not promoting "a globally competitive economy" and the "national interest".

The above essentially captures the kind of accumulation path that has been fostered during the first decade of our freedom, the sacrificing of the interests of the workers almost at every point where these come against the interests of the bourgeoisie. Yet if the workers of our country announce rolling mass action to defend their interests there is an outcry, and they are denounced as advancing their "narrow and sectional" interests, whilst there is silence on enrichment in the name of BEE.

During the first decade of our freedom, our country has correctly focused on redressing the racial imbalances of the past, but with a bias towards the racial and gender legacies, sometimes to the exclusion of addressing the class contradiction in our society. Yet the continuation of the same accumulation path as under apartheid is continuously reproducing the very same national and gender contradictions we are supposed to overcome, with the black working class, especially African working class and poor women, bearing most of the brunt of this accumulation regime.

It is for the above reasons that the SACP fully supports COSATU's rolling mass action on jobs and poverty. Our Special National Congress in April and our Central Committee in May continued to express concerns about the continuing job loss bloodbath in our country. Our Special National Congress in particular committed our Party to a struggle for a new growth path, away from the current one that is shedding jobs and not creating adequate new quality jobs.

In addition our Special National Congress called for an intensification of the struggles of the workers and the poor in order to make the second decade of our freedom, a decade of the workers and the poor. We see this rolling mass action as an important dimension in the struggle towards the realisation of this goal. For the SACP this rolling mass action is also part of the continuing struggle to build the capacity of the broader working class as a key motive force for our revolution.

The capitalist class has generally benefited handsomely from our democracy, but have failed to use this to contribute towards meaningful growth and development in our country. Instead they have responded by retrenching, casualising and outsourcing workers. It is clear that the capitalist class is incapable of leading any sustained effort towards growth and development. It is therefore essential for the working class to build its power and seek to lead a process of growth and development for the benefit of the workers and the poor.

The SACP is of the view that the real issue that should be attracting headlines, editorials and commentaries is the fact that capitalism is seriously failing our democracy. COSATU's action might as well be a warning that our organised working class is not going to take the capitalist offensive lying down. This action might as well be "a distant clap of thunder" against the current accumulation regime and the capitalist system itself. The SACP will engage with this action from the standpoint of building the capacity of the motive forces of our revolution to lead growth and development beneficial to workers and the poor, and to further raise consciousness about the necessity for socialism as the only rational, humane alternative to capitalist barbarism.

The SACP is convinced that intensified worker action is a signal that our second decade of freedom will see escalating class struggles around the trajectory of our national democratic revolution. Whilst there are many struggles being fought at various levels, including ideological battles, about the direction of our society, the principal terrain around which these struggles will congeal will be the class terrain. The truth of the matter is that the trajectory of the national democratic revolution in our country over the second decade of freedom will principally be decided on the terrain of class struggle. That is why it is of utmost importance to escalate working class mobilisation against the capitalist class right at the beginning of the second decade of our freedom, in order to ensure that this becomes the decade of workers and the poor.

It is for the above reasons that the SACP will also use this action to take forward and integrate its own campaigns on the financial sector, land and building of sustainable livelihoods for poor households and communities. To this end we shall mobilise all the mass and other progressive organisations that we work with in our other campaigns to also mobilise for and join COSATU's rolling mass action.

We call upon all our structures of the SACP, and generally all the workers and the poor of our country to support the jobs and poverty eradication campaign of COSATU. We do so because it is the working class, and only the working class, that will be the architect of its own history. It is only working class struggles, acting together with the mass of the landless poor, that will finally expose that what media and other commentators parade as national interest is actually the interest of the bourgeoisie.