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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 13, No. 35, 4 September 2014

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Let the hypocrisy be exposed: Irvin Jim, a person economical with the truth

By Comrade Bonakele Majuba

Late last Friday 29 August 2014 a statement was issued and distributed with the subject line "Statement by NUMSA General Secretary Irvin Jim on Nkandla and Public Protector".

Where has worker control gone?

Under the principle, a trade union is an organisation of workers, its statements are not statements of an individual; on the contrary, they are statements of the union on behalf of its individual members and officials, elected and appointed. The subject line of Mr Jim`s statement is indicative of either an individual or his leadership clique elevating themselves above the organisation. This is characteristic of liberal elitism.

Mr Jim alleges that there is "rot, corruption and loss of revolutionary morality". It is obvious that he is directing this allegation at the ANC and SACP as part of his campaign to form a new party. As our democratic revolutionary movement embarks on the second radical phase of our transition from oppression more and more strange formations are being created with the declared objective of bringing down the ANC and its Alliance, including COSATU. Mr Jim behaves like a predator that is trying to feed itself from the flesh of our Alliance formations ANC, SACP and COSATU, in order to survive. He will fail; the Alliance will prevail.

Mr Jim boldly asserts that the article by SACP`s 2nd Deputy General Secretary in the recent Umsebenzi Online (28 August 2014) is "claptrap". He goes on to say it "reinforces the idea, in the public domain, that the PP (more than White Monopoly Capital) has become enemy number one in blind defence and loyalty to the misconduct of the RSA President". What real gibberish by Irvin Jim. The many sections of apartheid conservatives, liberal and right-wing opportunists, infantile left-wing populists and demagogues who agree with his hogwash not only in the "public domain" but also in private against the ANC and its Alliance partners, and against the President, do not all agree that white monopoly capital is enemy number one. In fact, many in these categories (and the various media platforms that give him space) who agree with him do so in defence of white monopoly capital. This is why they hate our democratic revolutionary movement with passion.

Mr Jim has obviously realigned. He is actively pursuing the agenda of those who propagate the idea that our liberation movement as led by the ANC is the number one enemy of the people. This agenda has failed on May 7th General Election: based on the advances made under our movement an overwhelming majority of our people voted for the ANC, but, despite this clear victory, bogus statistics were invented, and using NUMSA as his new party political platform in the making Jim congratulated the EFF.

In sharp contrast to his deliberate distortions about our liberation Alliance and the enemy, for the SACP private monopoly capital, regardless of its personified bearers` skin colour, is the strategic opponent and therefore the fundamental enemy of the struggle for socialism and the people as a whole. In its statement presented by the 2nd Deputy General Secretary Comrade Solly Mapaila at the 19th Anniversary Commemoration of the death of Comrade Joe Slovo (6 January 2014; also See Umsebenzi Online Vol. 13, No. 1, 9 January 2014) not only has the Party correctly observed the anti-Alliance tendency that seeks to project our liberation movement as the enemy number one of the people but also clarified the question of the enemy in simple terms:

"Some inside our own formations have taken the bait. They have decided to turn a programme against the enemy into a weapon against our own movement.

Our movement is not the enemy of the workers. Our democratic developmental state that we seek to build is not the enemy of workers. The enemy of workers is the big private capital that exploits them, takes their labour and pays them peanut wages."

Let us return back to Mr Jim`s primary allegation: "rot, corruption and loss of revolutionary morality". His very first reason to back it is that: "Average household size is 3.4, but is roughly 5 for African households". Who is responsible for this, and is any average household size a problem of rot, corruption and loss of revolutionary morality by the ANC and SACP as Jim claims? Our revolution has never sought to expropriate the right of persons to determine their family size, organisation, and to follow their culture. On the contrary, we have fought for these and other human rights as captured in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution.

Also, it is common cause that since ascending to government in 1994 the ANC-led government built over 3.3 million houses; transferred over 500 000 rental houses to their occupants; delivered over 30 000 rental housing units to low and moderate households; and extended electricity to 7 million more households and potable water to 92% of South Africans compared to 60% in 1994. Is there any other country in the world that has done this within the short period of time in which our revolution has done it, noting the many constraints we have experienced in the economic and revenue base? Is there any government that takes people out of shacks and gives them new houses, totally for free with the addition of subsidised water and electricity as our revolution has done since 1994? Does Jim recognise this massive advance achieved only in the first 20 years of our transition from oppression? If he does, which is not the case in his statement, why does he not acknowledge these achievements and in whose interests does he do this or belittle them and wants to bring down the ANC and the Alliance?

Jim asks the hysterical question: "Why is there no one in the ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance willing to openly condemn not just the looting and corruption by government officials and those corruptly involved in the so called `security upgrades`…"? On the contrary, FACT:

"As the Communist Party we agree that the money spent is too much. We condemn the variation, and the main thing we are condemning is the corruption which led to too much money being spent there", said SACP Statement delivered by 2nd Deputy General Secretary Comrade Solly Mapaila at the 19th Anniversary Commemoration of the passing of Comrade Joe Slovo.

In its response to the release of the Inter-Ministerial Task Team`s investigative report the Party said:

"…the SACP has consistently expressed concern about the seemingly inflated prices not only at the construction at Nkandla, but also in ministers` and other government properties. We therefore welcome the findings confirming that indeed there was inflation of prices and services and that action will be taken against the culprits".

But why is there such as diversity of elements who, ignoring all other problems and solutions in South Africa, concentrate on the manufacture of lies and half-truths about Nkandla? As the Party statement presented by Comrade Solly Mapaila said, there is an idea:

"that the more lies are repeated they end up being believed, instead of the truth. That`s what a German Nazi called Joseph Goebbels believed. He was a falsehood propagandist, a great liar, who was the right hand man of Adolf Hitler… it is now abundantly clear that interest is given to giving space to and therefore telling not only lies but big lies. This is perhaps driven by some belief, wrong in the extreme, that the bigger the lies promoted, the better they stand a chance to be believed".

We would hate to call Mr Jim a liar. But without doubt, in addition to distortions, he is being economical with the truth.

In his statement, Mr Jim makes use of NUMSA to promote an EFF programme and to attack the ANC-SACP-COSATU Alliance. He further commits the union to mobilise for the success of that programme. Like the EFF, Jim ignores the fact that the Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela has submitted her investigative report on the Nkandla matter to Parliament, and that Parliament, to which the Public Protector is accountable, is duly processing the report in terms of the mandate vested upon it by the Constitution. It did not come as a surprise that immediately after Mr Jim`s statement, Zwelinzima Vavi came out in what was apparently co-ordinated support. Vavi is widely reported in the media as Jim`s closest collaborator. We all know that on matters affecting Vavi, Jim has correctly insisted that all due process must be followed to the letter and be exhausted. It seems that in his eyes, President Zuma should not be treated with the same respect, even in matters, which, according to the Public Protector, he was not involved.

Let the hypocrisy be exposed. Has Mr Jim called for his commander-in-chief Julius Malema to pay back the money and be prosecuted?

Just imagine how much in illicit income did Malema misappropriate and squander for him to owe the Receiver of Revenue R16 million in tax payers` money?

In her investigative report titled `On the Point of Tenders`, this is what the Public Protector had to say with respect to what is actually a "rot, corruption and loss of revolutionary morality" exhibited by Mr Jim`s commander-in-chief through his Ratanang Family Trust, his 50% stake in Guilder Investment and his connection with Gwangwa Family Trust:

"The evidence of Mr Gwangwa in respect of how and by whom it was decided that On-Point should pay (monthly) dividends to the Ratanang Family Trust and make payments to the Gwangwa Family Trust (via Guilder Investments) furthermore supported the allegation that the Trusts were probably used as vehicles for the transfer of funds obtained through an unlawful process.

As the main source of income of On-Point during this period was the payments made to it by the Department in terms of the agreement and On-Point owed its existence as a profit making establishment that could declare regular dividends thereto, the Ratanang Family Trust as one of two shareholders of Guilder Investments (as the holding company), accordingly benefitted improperly from the unlawful, fraudulent and corrupt conduct of On-Point and maladministration of the Department.

Notice how the Public Protector had to highlight the last paragraph in bold!

Comrade Bonakele Majuba is SACP Mpumalanga Provincial Secretary.


The Kurdish struggle for freedom

By Comrade Solly Mapaila

“Freedom for Öcalan brings huge prospects for peace in the midst of imperialist war and its subsequent social chaos in the Middle East, probably the most concentrated terrain of imperialist aggression and hostilities at the moment”, writes Comrade Solly Mapaila, SACP 2nd Deputy General Secretary.

This piece is inspired by the recent visit of Kurdish revolutionaries to our shores. We shared experiences and recent information about the already worsening developments in the Middle East. Because the Kurdish question does not receive enough media attention on the continent and particularly here at home, I decided to dedicate this piece to the Kurdish people. I hope that many South Africans and our democratic government will also relate to these important developments. However, this not in a mechanical statehood approach. The Kurdish people have long past that stage. Comrade Öcalan is now talking of a confederal system based on self-rule in their areas that are spread in the four states governing them.

I have interacted with Comrade Roj, who has been dispatched by the broader Kurdish progressive movement to set up information service centre and office. We welcome him with open hands. We open our revolutionary embrace. We hope that all of South Africans including our government will not equivocate to business lobbies which only represent their class interests and not the people`s.

For a while now, the sadly hegemonic and yet atrocious capitalist-imperialist system is in a deep crisis. This has resulted in chaotic situations almost everywhere around the world but with massive concentration mainly in the Middle East and surrounds. There should be a reason for this. The U.S and its allies are trying to overcome the systemic crisis by deepening the exploitation of, but not exclusively, the Middle East. For decades now the U.S has been trying to impose deepen the exploitation with more intense since the end of WWII including through the creation of the state of Israeli.

Israel has also been created also for Jewish repatriation after the unspeakable brutality of the genocide inflicted by the inhumane Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, and his Fascist friend Mussolini of Italy. Every power that wanted to be a world power looked at placing the Middle East under its hegemony. This was true for Hitler as is for the U.S. The U.S and its allies, in order to strike a balance with the Soviet Union, created the Green Belt in the Middle East to support the development of backwardness in the name of Islam. This includes training the fighters like the “holy warrior” Islamist Osama Bin Laden. The aim was to prevent the struggle for socialism from penetrating into the region. In contrast, in the west most democratic welfare states were created in Scandinavia, this a different tactic to block the “threat” of socialism in that region. We are still suffering the drawbacks of these and similar policies of the world powers. It is no secret that this is the name of the game.

When you are fighting a certain “enemy”, it is believed, you should create internal divisions to weaken that “enemy”. This gives the oppressors “legitimate” power to become harsher than ever, or even to become “heroes” of the moment. If we go and have a look at the pretexts under the recent attacks in the Middle East or elsewhere we shall see that this is the case. The U.S invaded Iraq and Afghanistan under this pretext. But we all know that Al Qaida was established by the U.S in line with the Green Belt scenario and that Saddam Hussein was backed by all efforts, means and manner possible by the U.S and the West as is Israel. Israel bombed Gaza “due to Hamas”. But was it not Israel that nurtured Hamas against the Palestinian Liberation Organisation? Who, if not Israel, the U.S and its allies, have created divisions amongst the Palestinian people in order to create a decoy for less effective challenge against the U.S-Israeli backed military (U.S`s support to Israeli military capacity is than most African countries` GDP)?

It is thus important for the revolutionary forces not to be confused. We must keep a step ahead of the game. We must understand what is being planned and not fall into the trap. Recently we also saw the desire to re-design the Middle East under the pretext of the Arab Spring. It is true that the people did rise. They demanded a more democratic life. But because there was no revolutionary organisation to take this forward, imperialism stole a ride to re-shape and get rid of some of the regimes that have been giving them problems. Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are examples. The imperialists tried to do the same thing with Syria but failed. The overall re-design of the Middle East has not been successful. This is the reason why they are now making fresh attempts with the “Islamic State” (ISIS) fully supported militarily by the U.S with the Secretary of State Robert Gates been on record to helping them fight Assad.

The turmoil in Syria was not allowed to face the same end as the other countries due to the approach of the Kurdish freedom movement led by jailed revolutionary Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the Workers Party of Kurdistan (PKK, which the West has listed as “terrorist`) who has become the undisputed leader of almost 50 million stateless Kurdish people in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Despite the pressure exerted from all angles Kurds in the Syrian part of Kurdistan declared that they will only defend themselves and the people of the region.

They want all of their rights recognised collectively and individually. With this affirmation they have established three cantons with all peoples taking part in the self-rule (of the cantons). It is a multi-cultural, multi-belief, multi religious system with a lot of emphasis and organisation for the freedom of women and the youth. Thus the imperialist plans for Syria were not successful since the Kurds did not join in turning Syria into a play-ground of these reactionary forces led by the U.S and executed by ISIS on the ground. It is also important to reflect that Syria is one of the most multi-religious country in the world if not at the leading edge.

All of a sudden the world woke up to the rise of ISIS in Syria almost out of nowhere. One comrade from Kurdistan says actually out of everywhere but Syria. It is widely known that ISIS has been directly funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, given logistical support by Turkey, including fighters entering the region via Turkish airports or treatment of the wounded in Turkish hospitals, or having training camps in Turkey, just to name a few.

When we consider the close relation between the U.S and Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the West recently selling the most technically advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia and Qatar we can see that ISIS did not just grow in its own ability. Indeed if we look deeply and analyse the fact that ISIS`s main target is not really focusing its attack on any state power but more on the peoples of the region, maybe we can get the glimpse of what they are trying to do. The people have been intimidated with absolute genocide to give up on the ISIS`s demands or join them.

Ever since its activity in Syria, for the past two years ISIS has been fighting almost only with the Kurdish autonomous regions established there, yet we did not hear much of this over the news. Interestingly the Kurdish people here are not non-Muslims or non-Sunnis who should be converted. So what was the fight there for the past two years then? And why did not anyone wish to stop it? Exactly the same atrocities were committed by ISIS during these attacks and the Kurdish freedom fighters YPG (Peoples Protection Units like our Self-Defence Units - SDUs) and YPJ (Women`s Protection Units) which are the general and women`s army) along with Assyrians and Arabs who have joined them to establish a peoples` rule there have been holding them off gallantly.

It is interesting that despite all the advanced technology and drone systems the world powers did not see an attack on Mosul coming while the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) did. All these seem to serve the Western initiated much-talked about plan of dividing Iraq into three: Sunni, Shia and Kurdish. In the midst of all this, unfortunately ethnic cleansing in all fronts sponsored by imperialist forces continue. Why would the Western world powers planning and funding these atrocities and grand plan care about the few hundred thousand left Ezidi Kurds, or even less Assyrian Christians or Turkmen Shias? The Western powers which have lost their humanity are content these people can be sacrificed for their Middle East grand plan. But for now they are manoeuvring the betrayal by the ISIS group which has even started killing journalists covering their evil deeds.

The YPG and YPJ as well as HPG (People`s Defence Forces) and YJA-Star (Union of Free Women) forces thought otherwise. There is no greater good that these people can be sacrificed for, but when their plan was activated into an atrocious killing machine attacking the YPG and YPJ reaching the Sinjar region from the Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) and HPG and YJA-Star reaching them from the other end of South Kurdistan. Kurdish Peshmerga complained they did not have enough weapons against ISIS. The guerrillas had much less than the Peshmergas. They only had AK47, commonly called Kalashnikovs in the region, well-known in our revolutionary ranks as the liberation machine gun.

By the time they had reached the region there was genocide but ISIS was stopped from complete ethnic and religious or belief cleansing of the region by forces who sacrificed their being for humanity, the PKK at the frontline and all their varied allied revolutionary forces. These forces opened a safe passage by holding off ISIS so that the people from Mount Sinjar area can make the crossing into Syrian Kurdistan. Freedom fighters evacuated more than 200 thousand people on their own - without help from any single Western power. This action alone deserves more than the Noble Peace Award (despite my non-belief in it) but a worldwide acclaim for selflessness. It ranks amongst the greatest conscious human action to safe humanity from barbarism since the end of the WWII.

Meanwhile, the worst atrocities were those against women both in Syrian Kurdistan and in Iraqi Kurdistan. ISIS is a force that is establishing a state of the strong and male-domination. The question of women`s freedom which has been forced into a bad position has gone worst. As ISIS moves in they declare that the women`s place is the home. They have used sexual violence as a strategic tool of war. Hundreds if not thousands of captured women are seen as pillage of war and are being sold as sex slaves in “markets”. Alternatively they are told to convert and then are married to jihadists purely for sexual gratification.

Such behaviour cannot be tolerated. This is why the Kurdish freedom fighters - men and women - are also training women units alongside the Ezidi Kurds, Assyrian Christians and Turkmen Shias so that all the locals are able to protect themselves against this barbarism.

The next point of attack was Makhmur. The camps which housed more than 12 000 Kurdish people who ran from Turkish state terror back in 1993 after their villages were bombarded and destroyed by heavy artillery fire against civilians. There was no recourse by the International community including the U.S dominated and cajoled UN Security Council. In the town which is home mostly to Arabs, again the Kurdish Peshmerga (Kurdish regional government forces) left their posts and the guerrillas came into rescue of the people and to stop ISIS from capturing the capital of the Kurdish regional government, Erbil.

Indeed the Kurdish freedom fighters did not only save the Kurdish peoples` honour but that of humanity by sacrificing themselves. Once again a commendable act of humanism by the revolutionary forces, not collaborators who stand aside when atrocities are committed in their own countries by their own government and still fail to act.

Indeed the Kurdish freedom movement is trying to do something different in the face of what the people of the Middles East consider to have long started the third world war that is being played out in their region in the name of proxy religious superiority, various forms of domination and defence against decline of “religious” rule.

They are pulling the mask of this warfare and showing us all that this is only another version of the same old story played as a game of killing against people. What we can tell the West, their complicit collaborators and the fundamentalist who are carrying out a war not of their own is that indeed the desire to create religious and ethnic wars will not and cannot be successful in the 21st century that we have entered into. They will be defeated. In Africa, Rwanda has taught us and our comrades in the Middle East have garnered enough war experience. They will not surely fall for these Western created wars. In particular the PKK shows that they certainly will not fall for this. They have been one of the most provoked. They could of course alternatively act with the target of establishing their own nation-state no matter what befalls the others. But Abdullah Öcalan has understood so well the game played and how people and religions later are positioned against one another and the conflict continued one way or another.

This chaotic situation in the Middle East is open ended. The super powers do not hold all the ropes in their hands. The struggle and the resistance, as well as the future vision of the revolutionary forces shall determine the results. Kurds, over 40 million people partitioned between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey have been through genocides - cultural and physical - and have suffered a total denial of their existence regionally and world-wide sealed through international agreements. Their leader, Abdullah Öcalan - just like our leader Madiba was - is in an island prison guarded by over 1 000 Turkish soldiers for almost fifteen years alone with limited visitations. He has now been joined by few other comrades, and is trying to negotiate an amicable solution that will benefit all peoples. These efforts must be supported by all freedom loving people all over the world. We however understand that September 2014 may be a make or break for the negotiations.

Both Öcalan and Turkish state officials have talked favourably about talks turning into negotiations this month. This alone will determine how the grand plan of the Western powers is played out and how their war programme will be decided and effectively change in the Middle East. There are possible tectonic changes in the region with these talks.

If Turkey chooses not to make peace with the Kurds this may place it in an untenable situation with prolonged instability. It will also affect its intentions to be the capitalist mecca of the East and the bulwark of European and U.S`s interests in the region. We hope that its recent intentions to purchase top of the range U.S produced fighter planes would not deter them from completing this course of peaceful solution on the Kurdish question and thus impact hugely on solving the Middle East crisis.

As alluded earlier, the Kurdish freedom fighters led by Abdullah Öcalan are now protecting people from different ethnicities and beliefs not only in Kurdish part in Syria, but also in Iraq and Turkey. Kurdish people deserve to have all of their rights restored and to live in freedom.

The Kurdish freedom fighters are now covering a vast area protecting people from the war debris and atrocities of ISIS. Öcalan seems adamant however not to fall into capitalist traps. The Kurds and other people were sacrificed while nation-states were formed in the Middle East during the WWI. Öcalan and the Kurdish freedom movement will not allow for anyone to be sacrificed. Instead are determined to struggle for the vision of people`s democracy and self-rule within a confederal system recognising all Kurdish people and their rights in the four states and those in the diaspora.

Kurdish freedom movement has stated that they cannot fight alone against this threat. They have called on anyone who declares that they are against them to come and join them. They have declared their readiness to work in a common front. And it looks like this is done with the Kurdish regional government`s Peshmerga forces already.

One would encourage such keenness and also call for international participation, including volunteers mainly from the African continent who have not shown much enthusiasm in this regard.

To our comrades in Confederal Kurdistan: may you not tire to fight for your universal basic freedoms and rights including reclaiming your rights by any means possible to your denied language, identity and dignity.

Long live the Kurdish struggle!
Freedom for the Kurds everywhere!
Freedom for Öcalan from Turkish jail!

Comrade Solly Mapaila is SACP 2nd Deputy General Secretary.


The development of trade unions in South Africa and the challenges facing workers

By Comrade Xola Phakathi

The rise of industrial economy in SA and trade unionism

The discovery of mineral resources, diamond in 1867 in Kimberley and gold in 1884-1886 in Johannesburg heralded the beginning of the Industrial economy in South Africa. Under the monopoly control of De Beers Consolidated Mines in Kimberley the host of Small Claimholders who participated in the "rush" were squeezed out. De Beers produced 90% percent of the world`s supply of diamonds. By the end of the 19th century they had netted their owners no less than 700 million Pounds in gross returns.

Africans provided cheap labour to the booming mining economy, while the mining houses sourced their skilled labour from Britain and other parts of Europe. Imbued with the spirit of European craft unionism, colour and national prejudice, the miners and other white workers fought courageously against the mining millionaires, but together with their government showed no sympathy with their exploited and oppressed African counterparts.

These struggles by white mineworkers came to a head in May 1913 when 68 thousand Rand miners downed tools demanding trade union recognition, and an 8 hour day. General Smuts who was the Minister of Defence at the time declared a martial law to suppress the strike, killing a number of workers in street clashes; nine union leaders were arrested and illegally deported to England.

The formation of working class political parties

The development of trade unions was accompanied as in other capitalist countries by the formation of working class political parties with more or less clearly defined socialist objectives.

In 1902 a branch of the British Social Democratic Federation was established in the Cape, and a similar group was formed in Johannesburg in the same year; all these were branches of British Bodies.

The first nationally based African workers organisation, the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) was formed in January 1919. Its initial base was amongst Cape Town dock workers, under the leadership of Clements Kadalie who was an immigrant from Malawi. The ICU extended its influence to all four provinces by the mid 1920`s. In the late 1920s the base shifted to Natal and by the 1930s it had virtually collapsed into localised and weak factions. Despite its weakness the ICU was instrumental in founding a tradition of Black workers militancy. One of the victories of the ICU was a successful court challenge against a Durban Municipality by-law ordering all Africans to be dipped in disinfectant tanks along with their belongings before entering the City.

The lack of political clarity by Kadalie led to him purging all Communists in the ICU. Capable organisers such as James La Guma, Edward Khaile, J.B Marks and many others holding key positions in the ICU, were purged. Kadalie then turned his attention to White, liberal organisations with mother-country connections back in Britain for assistance. This was the beginning of the end of the ICU.

The rapid disintegration of the ICU created the conditions for re-assessment of strategy and tactics in building the trade union movement amongst the African workers. Aside from the continuity of individual organisers there was a qualitative break between the ICU structures of general unionism of the 1920`s and the new unions that were to emerge in the 1930`s. The major distinguishing feature was organising along industrial lines. Only in this way could workers directly challenge employers as the cause of their exploitation and could their organisation reflect the overall changes in the political economy associated with industrialisation.

Communists built the progressive trade union movement

By the late 1930`s the African trade unions, most of them formed by members of the Communist Party, initiated a process of forming a trade union federation. These efforts coincided with the political education classes run by the Communist Party in its drive to bring Africans into the party and reverse the old pattern of White domination and often white prejudice. Among those recruits were Africans who later played leading roles in the trade union and liberation movements, Johannes Nkosi, Gana Makabeni and Moses Kotane.

Although the Party line had called for non-racial trade unions as the ideal, the reality was that Black workers first needed to solidify their collective strength against, not only capital, but also white workers who were firmly committed to the industrial colour-bar. It was against this background that Gana Makabeni insisted that Whites should not fill office in any affiliated unions as he pointed out in 1939: "must we have European leaders even in our association?" Nonetheless in 1941 the Council of Non-European trade unions "CNETU" was formed and led the African workers struggle throughout the 1940s.

The inaugural meeting was presided over by Mose Kotane, Gana Makabeni was elected President, Dan Tloome Vice President, David Gosani Secretary and James Phillips Trustee. At this time the African trade unions were strong and confident enough to pursue a serious campaign for non-racial working class unity.

The ascendance to Power by the Nationalist Party in 1948, and its failure to control the White labour force, led to the break-up of White Union. The National Party used the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 to get rid of what they termed foreign agitators who previously had the relative protection of the state.

The CNETU campaign for a National minimum wage of 40s or 2 pounds a week for all unskilled workers, but the increases allowed were in most cases held to 25s to 27s per week in Transvaal industries.

In 1946 African Mineworkers strike was a watershed in the struggle of the people against class exploitation and oppression.

The largest strike in South Africa (in terms of participants) and led by migrant workers, those who are at the base of cheap labour system under the able leadership of J.B. Marks.

Although CNETU concentrated on organising black workers, in October 1954 a group of progressive unionists threw their efforts into building non-racial trade unionism in South Africa. This led to the formation of SACTU in March 1955, bringing together unions that were affiliated to White Trades and Labour Council (T&LC) and CNETU unions; 66 delegates from 33 unions converged at Trades Hall in Johannesburg on the founding conference of SACTU o the 5th - 6th March 1955.

At its founding conference, SACTU declared that:

"the future of the people of South Africa is in the hands of its workers. Only the working class, in alliance with progressive minded sections of the community can build a happy life for all South Africans, a life free from unemployment, insecurity and poverty, free from racial hatred and oppression, a life of vast opportunities for all people.

But the working class can only succeed in this great and noble endeavour if it is united and strong, if it is conscious of its inspiring responsibility. The workers of South Africa need a united trade union movement in which all sections of the working class can play their part unhindered by prejudice of racial discrimination. Only such a truly united movement can serve effectively the interests of higher wages and better conditions of life and work as well as the ultimate objective of complete emancipation for which our forefathers have fought.

We firmly declare that the interests of all workers are alike, whether they be European or Non-European, African, Coloured, Indians, English, Afrikaans, of Jewish. We resolve that this co-ordinating body of trade unions shall strive to unite all workers in its ranks, without discrimination and without prejudice.

We resolve that this body shall determinedly seek to further and protect the interests of all workers and that its guiding motto shall be the universal slogan of working class solidarity AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL".

SACTU lived by this declaration throughout its existence, while in May 1955 CNETU officially dissolved. The leadership of SACTU was drawn from all racial groups and across gender lines.

Comrades would recall that during this period, the Nationalist Party was consolidating Afrikaner Nationalism, and institutionalising apartheid and racial segregation. The Communist Party was its first victim, banned under the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950.

Alliance with the congress movement and apartheid clampdown

True to its declaration, SACTU firmly allied itself with the Congress Alliance during its existence. This led to the banning of SACTU leaders, harassment, arrests and house arrests because its leaders were also leaders of the ANC.

In 1956, the apartheid state clamped down on almost the entire leadership of the Congress Movement, in what was to be known as the 1956 Treason trial; which ended in 1961.

The blanket bans proclamation came into effect on 1 February 1963. The entire leadership of SACTU was banned, and as such forced to leave the country to operate outside, mobilising international solidarity and building blocks towards a new Trade Union Federation.

The release of some comrades from Robben Island in the early 70s led to the revival of political activity and the underground structures of the broad movement including the Trade Union Movement. This contributed to the Durban strikes of 1973.

The strikes led to the formation of Industrial Trade Unions with the assistance of some SACTU activists who have been lying low since the 1960`s.

The National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) established a wages commission where students such as Halton Cheadle, Alec Irwin, John Copelyn, Gordon Young and others operated. The process of forming the unions was painstakingly slow and incremental. This changed only on 1 May 1979 when the first report of the Wiehan Commission was released. It recommended the recognition of the right of African Workers to form and belong to trade unions.

The report noted that the unions were growing, and that by leaving them outside the official system they would escape control. Indeed this right to organise was to be controlled through the process of registration, and as such contract, and foreign workers should not be organised, foreign in the context of (TBVC States).

The consumer boycotts and Ford workers` strike in 1979 signalled the emergence of new breed of unionism which also rejected registration, arguing that it involved collaboration with State structures. SACTU backed this position. These unions emerged in different forms, with the most notable being SAAWU in East London.

In Port Elizabeth the United Auto Workers (UAW) dissidents at Ford formed Motor Assemblers and Component Workers Union of South Africa MACWUSA led by Thozamile Botha, and the Black Municipal Workers Union led by Joe Mavi. These were called Community unions and formed the core of township civic organisation. They aligned more openly with the ANC political perspectives and later affiliated to the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983.

The formation of COSATU

A number of re-alignment took place in the post Wiehahn years. Co-operation with SACTU in exile led to the unity talks which started in 1981 and culminated to the formation of COSATU in Durban in 1985.

In August 1981, 100 representatives from 29 Unions met at Langa Cape Town. The Summit chaired by SAAWU`s Thozamile Gqwetha succeeded in placing unity in the agenda. Few months later one of the participants Dr Neil Agett died in police custody, at John Vorster square while in detention. The unity talks led to the launching Congress of COSATU on the 30th November 1985, at the University of Natal, 760 delegates, from 33 unions representing 460000 organised workers. Cyril Ramaphosa had been chosen earlier as the convenor of the launching congress.

Cyril Ramaphosa opened the Congress with a short address: "The formation of this Congress represents an enormous victory for the working class in this country. Never before have workers been so powerful, so united and so poised to make a mark on society. We all agree that the struggle of workers on the shop floor cannot be separated from wider political struggle for liberation in this country".

COSATU adopted the following principles:

  1. Workers control
  2. Paid up membership
  3. One union one industry
  4. Non-racialism

The political complexion of the new federation was left for another day. However, it was clear that the Federation was to associate itself with Congress movement politics, as well as Barayi`s announcements as he took the podium as a newly elected President.

Contending ideologies and political orientation

The different organisational cultures, and complex ideological strands nearly collapsed the Federation. The emergence of Workerists and Charterists as they were called due to the adoption of the Freedom Charter, was a contradiction that produced a forward movement.

The workerist block claimed that the workers can on their own pursue the struggle for socialism outside the broader progressive alliance. On the other hand, it was argued that there can be no fundamental pursuance of a socialist order until the resolution of the national question and therefore COSATU should form alliances with progressive organisations. The latter won the day and this ideological strand remains to this day.

Over the years, COSATU grew both numerically and politically. In the post 1994 era, the membership of COSATU grew rapidly from 460000 numbers in 1985 to 2 million in 1995. This numerical strength does not necessarily translate to ideological strength.

The 1994 democratic breakthrough saw a sizable number of unionist occupying key positions in the State, resulting in the leadership turnover in the unions.

The key question is whether the founding principles of the trade union movement are of essence to today`s unionists, the culture of mandated reflections, and report back, participation of members in the daily life of a trade union in the context of workers control, and so forth.

Deadly threat facing the trade union movement

The most deadly threat facing the trade union movement today is money which flows in a variety of veins. Proximity to union investment is what inspires some to contest leadership positions for the sole control of the money. There are many service providers who have taken charge of different areas in worker life and between trade unions and employers.

Inability to grasp the historical relations of the Congress Movement and the appreciation of the roles of each ally, to the extent that employer-employee relations are allowed to encroach into the political space where the alliance is perceived to be a bargaining council.

The resuscitation of workerist tendencies, and the absence of appreciation of the prevailing material conditions and balance of forces. The complexion of the employer has also changed, and as such there is an expectation that black employers would be sensitive in treating black workers.

Unemployment, Poverty, Inequality is what confronts society today, which then suggests new policy instruments to address this triple challenge. These cannot be resolved immediately, and they remain a fertile ground for demagogues.

Comrade Xola Phakathi is former COSATU Eastern Cape Provincial Secretary