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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 15, No. 32, 22 September 2016

In this Issue:

   

Red Alert

Roll back monopoly capital, grow jobs and build unity: Unite our communities, the working class and our movement

SACP solidarity message to Sactwu`s National Congress delivered by General Secretary Comrade Blade Nzimande.

Cape Town International Convention Centre, 22 September 2016.

On behalf of the 250 000 members of the South African Communist Party (SACP) I bring revolutionary greetings to this, the 13th Congress of SACTWU - a pioneering union and founder member of our federation and ally, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). I must also take this opportunity to congratulate SACTWU, through its creative combination of mass struggles and negotiations, in saving and beginning to grow the textile sector over the last decade over the last two decades.

You are holding your congress under a very important theme of "Defending democracy, protect workers, build unity, fight corruption, grow jobs and strengthening service to members". The subthemes of your Congress slogan in fact constitute the key pillars of advancing the interests of both the trade union movement and our country. Your theme is broadly similar to the SACP`s own recent concerns about the necessity to roll back monopoly capital, fighting the parasitic bourgeoisie through building the unity of our communities, the working class and our movement, in order to drive a second, more radical phase, of our national democratic revolution. I will however come back to these important matters.

Today in our message, we would like to touch on the following:

  1. The global context within which we find ourselves as the left, the working class and as a country
  2. The domestic terrain and its challenges
  3. As well as some of the key internal organisational challenges facing our movement, Alliance and its components
  4. A brief report-back on my part on some of the recent and current challenges facing post-school education and training facing our country
  5. And conclude with a call to action by the working class, by giving the SACP`s own content to your main Congress slogan

The global context: Necessity for build a left alternative to neo-liberalism

Globally we are still living under the lingering effect of the 2008 financial meltdown which was perhaps the worst of the bust cycles of capitalism since the Great Depression of the late 1920s. This crisis is a natural outcome of the contradictions within monopoly capital, arising from the patterns of over-accumulation and over-production on the one hand, and under-consumption on the other. Additionally, the period of globalisation was characterised by stagnation and even a decline in real wages and the implementation of austerity measures and the commodification and outsourcing of basic public services by the state; juxtaposed against massive public financing of the private sector through bank bail-outs. The consequences of these contradictions were increases in unemployment, poverty, and income polarisation and deepening inequality.

Given the enormity of the crisis one would have expected an emergence of a powerful left movement organised to challenge the capitalist system itself. But that was not to be, and it is important for working class formations and the left broadly to ask the question as to why this has not been the case? There are a number of factors, but perhaps the most important factor could be the impact of neo liberal restructuring on the working class in advanced capitalist countries; restructuring that has severely weakened the organisation capacity of the working class structures.  For instance, we no longer have the industrial working class that was defined by Marx and Engels in contemporary advanced capitalist countries in their 19th century writings.  Today, we have people with three or four, often casualised, jobs. We also have displacement of industrial production with services sectors with the emergence of the so-called `knowledge economy`. That has changed the character and social composition of contemporary working classes.

Another factor is the overwhelming dominance of media monopolies, which means that the capitalist class for now is really able to win the ideological war against any attempts at socialism.  The ideological impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union can also not be underestimated, as it was projected as a failure of socialism as an alternative to captialism. 

However, we need to study closely and engage with some of the emerging left, alternative projects in a place like Latin America. Much as these projects are under huge imperialist offensive to suffocate them, but the emergence and experiences of left-wing governments in places like Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, etc must be closely studied. They provide some hope that indeed it is possible to organise mass formations into a political bloc of pro-socialist and anti-neoliberal forces.

Working class and progressive movements also need to study closely and engage with the experience of the left political party Syriza in Greece. The Syriza experience shows the increasing dominance of banks over the political system and the dictatorship of capitalist banks of the electoral choices of the people. The people of Greece voted the leftist Syriza into power on the mandate of rejection of austerity measures imposed by European Banks in Greece.  Furthermore, they rejected the austerity measures prescribed by European banks on Greece through a referendum as well.  Yet Syriza, as government, was forced to implement those very same austerity measures that were democratically rejected by the people and undemocratically imposed by the European banks.

The Greek experience perhaps represents one of the sharpest moments of the crisis of Western multi-party democracy under neo-liberalism. It is a serious crisis when the voice of the people no longer matters and when the voice of the big banks and financial institutions matter more and decide the fate of countries over electoral outcomes.  The value of democratic elections is then challenged.  Does it really matter if left parties win elections today, if banks (and rating agencies) can after all impose their will?  What difference does it make, if the capitalist institutions such as banks impose their will against the will of the people?   That is the crisis in the political system of Western democracies.  Are we not experiencing the same with the axe of rating agencies hanging over our democracy?

The other crisis is the rise of right wing neo fascist and populist forces in many countries in the world, ranging from those in Europe to countries that are being destabilised by imperialist forces, thus creating a new momentum for right wing, neo fascist forces.

The emergence of the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) platform to provide an alternative to, amongst others, the Brettonwoods institutions through the setting up of the New Development Bank, and through its efforts to promote an alternative (potentially) progressive economic trajectory.  While appreciating these efforts, there has however not emerged a globally significant coherent, left alternative capable of challenging global capital in the wake of the 2008 crisis and its aftermath had failed to emerge and occupy the space presented by the crisis of capital.  Instead the failure to consolidate a left hegemony had allowed for growing instability in some of the countries with left wing governments, ignited in the main by imperialism.

Even in the BRICS countries there are some serious problems and challenges that require that we temper with whatever (legitimate) optimism we might (and should) have. We therefore should be very optimistic about BRICS whilst grappling with the challenges that it faces.  For example each of the BRICS countries is facing some serious problems or challenges. Brazil has been in a recession and the right wing forces have just performed a coup of unseating (through impeachment) a sitting left-wing president committed to the ideals of BRICS as a progressive international platform.

Russia has also been in a recession and its economy under siege from imperialist sanctions. We however need to study and analyse closely the Russian political economy, as well as its political structures and not fall into some romantic idea that contemporary Russia is some re-incarnation of the former Soviet Union. Russia`s political economy is that of an alliance between a securocratic class and some powerful capitalist oligarchies. Some make the pertinent observation and comparison between Russian and contemporary South Africa that the Russian state is able to discipline the oligarchy, whilst in South Africa some established and emergent oligarchs are the ones that seem to discipline the state!

India is now ruled by a right wing government, despite some flash of hope with the communists winning back the state of Kerala - another example we need to study closely.

China is focused on restructuring its own internal economy, and is no longer absorbing our mineral resources, whose exports helped to cushion us from the worst vagaries of the 2008 crisis.

The SACP`s perspectives in the current global conjuncture are that our movement and government need to wage a consistent struggle to develop our country by partially delinking from the major centres of the imperialist economy. This means that whilst we cannot completely delink, but we must wage a serious struggle for our national sovereignty so that we are able to make some choices on our paths to economic development that is beneficial to the workers and poor of our country.

The domestic situation

Our message has spent a considerable amount of time on the global situation, because it has had and continues to have an enormous impact on our domestic realities.

For instance the SACP would like to argue that we need to study very closely, and learn lessons from, the SACTWU own experiences and struggles in trying to save the clothing and textile industry, in order to understand the relationship between global realities and our own domestic challenges. SACTWU has had to wage major struggles and sought to negotiate for workers in the light of cheap foreign textile and clothing imports, against the background of rapid de-industrialisation of South Africa. How did SACTWU manage to achieve what it has done in the light of hugely unfavourable global and domestic terrains? It is perhaps important that we do not learn only from other countries` experiences but to also learn from ourselves, through thorough and dispassionate analyses of experiences such as that of SACTWU and the textile industry. The SACP hopes that you will use your 13th Congress for such reflections.

Employment in the clothing, textile, leather and footwear sector was approximately 239 000 in 1994. It declined by about 36 500 jobs, to just over 275 000 in two years to 1996. This massive jobs bloodbath further resulted in over 100 000 jobs lost in the sector between 1996 and 2009. The sector`s employment shrunk to just over 164 000 in 2009. The decline continued thereafter, but this time at a slow rate, stabilising at about 138 000 jobs in 2014. By 2015, the sector was recovering and new jobs were being created. What these numbers tell us is that 68.77 percent of the workforce in the sector lost their jobs from 1994 to 2009. This means 59.66 percent of the sector`s workforce lost their jobs from 1996 to 2009.

As a direct fruit of your union`s in co-operation with the Economic Development Department established in 2009 and the Department of Trade and Industry to revive production and create jobs in the sector, its exports contributed to its output by R15.9 billion from a low base of R6.1 billion in 2009, to R22.1 billion in 2015. Productivity in the sector has increased remarkably in clothing, footwear and leather segments and is well under way in the segments of leather goods and textiles. Employment increased by about 6 000 jobs in one year from 2014 from about 138 000 to about 144 000 in 2015. What this means is that your work with at least the two government departments has managed to both stabilise the sector and ensure growth in both production and employment. The trend in production and employment growth must be sustained. The SACP has confidence in your union; that you will deliver on this task.

Perhaps the primary (and contradictory) defining feature of the South Africa domestic conjuncture today is that whilst the ANC government has done exceptionally well with some of its major redistributive programmes, it has not succeeded in the transformation of the semi-colonial trajectory of the South African economy. For instance, today, no country in the world, except South Africa has managed to build more than 3 million houses and hand them over to the poor for free! This is a huge achievement indeed! So we can count extension of social grants, electrification and education. For instance today virtually all poor learners in school get at least one free meal a day. In higher education, there has been a phenomenal growth of over 20 year olds with a tertiary qualification from 9,1% in 2009 to 14,3% in 2015!

But (and a big BUT), our semi-colonial trajectory remains unchanged. We still remain a predominantly mining economy that continues with a `pit-to-port` economy, exporting all our raw materials, not beneficiated, into other countries. Our domestic economy continues to be hemmed in by the persisting racial, class and gender inequalities, reproduced by, and in turn reproducing, the structural unemployment, poverty and inequality.

In the above reality, more and more South Africans become reliant on government for redistributive interventions (be it housing, services, social grants, etc) which are unable to cope with the demand. There is also massive and continuing migration from impoverished rural areas into the urban areas, putting more stresses into the services in   metropolitan areas, with a significant growth of both the unemployed or precariously employed poor.

Within the ANC, and the Alliance, these social and class realities are manifesting themselves through an internal and perpetual scramble for political and governmental positions as the only means of accessing livelihoods for many cadres of the movement. It is these realities that form the material basis for factionalism, money politics, tenderpreneurship, politics of slates and networks of patronage and corruption that in turn become an unending source of conflict and the weakening of especially the ANC as an organisation. `Service delivery` as a mode of interacting with our communities, often with a middle man mediating the government-community relations, is reinforced by the patronage-driven offering of many services. Therefore delivery from above, rather than grassroots driven participation in local development, becomes the predominant mode of functioning of government.

The above dynamics also find expression inside a number of our unions, through what we have referred to as business unionism. This is where capturing of union financial and other resources are often elevated above service to workers.

In South Africa, there is also high indebtedness of both the working class and the middle classes, given the very high inequalities in society, as well as consumerism that has become the primary mode of accumulation for the financial sector, rather than investment into the productive economy, SMEs and co-operatives.

All of the above have in turn fuelled student protests as a result of increasing unaffordability of especially higher education, not only for the poor but also for especially the lower middle classes.

Therefore the resolution of all these challenges, including the class dynamics within our own movement and Alliance, are inextricably linked to the radical transformation of the current economic trajectory. But this must not be interpreted to mean that our organisations cannot do a lot through enforcement of the values of our liberation movement, and deal decisively with corruption and factionalism.

It is the SACP`s view that at the heart of the dissatisfaction in most of our communities have a lot to do with this contradictory relationship between, on the one hand, the inadequacy of the ameliorative redistributive measures, and on the other hand, within a context of deepening and stubborn, structural features of our semi-colonial growth trajectory.

However, a crucial struggle we need to jointly wage as the SACP, together with the trade union movement is that of deepening inter-sectoral trade union solidarity campaigns as well as rebuilding trade union and community solidarity struggles.

Challenges in post-school education and training

Let me take this opportunity to report back to you on matters relating to higher education. I will largely be drawing on the statement issued by the Department of Higher Education and Training on Monday, with a particular focus on the 2017 university and college fees.

Currently, our universities face an extremely difficult financial situation. The effects of last year`s moratorium on fee adjustments and the extra costs associated with insourcing have both added to these challenges.

Our immediate and pressing task is to ensure that as we continue to improve access to post-school education and strengthen the quality of learning and teaching, we do not erode the financial sustainability of the sector. 

Our economy is currently weak and our fiscal position parlous. The tax burden has been rising in recent years, and we must preserve the fiscal space to fund government`s policy agenda in future years. This means that any funding government mobilises to support the pressing challenges in higher education, it would need to reprioritise from other government programmes.

We understand the legitimate student concerns about the affordability of university education. At the same time, we need to ensure that those who can afford to pay must pay.

Equally importantly, the post-school budget has to cover students in technical and vocational education and training alternatives for 18 million South Africans who are unable to study at university.

In other words, our job as government requires a number of very delicate balancing acts.

To achieve our objectives, we must continue arguing for as significant a budget allocation as possible for post-school education. Indeed, a look at this year`s budget shows that this sector received the largest increase in funding of any government department.

Higher Education and Training this year received an additional 18% for 2016/17, with an average annual increase of 9.8% across the Medium Term Expenditure Framework period up until 2018/19.

From R42 billion in the 2015/16 financial year, the Department`s budget is set to rise to R55.3 billion in 2018/19.

Government has this year provided R1.9 billion of the R2.3 billion shortfall resulting from the subsidisation of the 2016 university fee increase. More than R4.5 billion in the 2016/17 financial year has been reprioritised to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Expanded funding is targeted to support 205 000 students entering universities for the first time or continuing this year, and a further 200 000 students at TVET colleges. This means that a total of 405 000 students would receive government support to access universities and colleges in 2016.

The National Skills Fund (NSF) has allocated R1.393 billion in 2016 towards funding undergraduate and postgraduate bursaries in scarce and critical skills. This funding is directed at meeting the full cost of study for over 13 500 undergraduate and 1 200 postgraduate students enrolled in programmes at our 26 public universities.

Artisan development is also key on our agenda to address the National Development Plan target of 30 000 artisans per annum by 2030. Dependent on the artisan trade, it costs between R350 000 - R400 000 over a period of three years to train an artisan. This year the target is to register 30 750 new artisan learners, which will amount to approximately R4.6 billion in artisan learner grant funding through the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs).

While the Presidential Commission does its important work in developing proposals for a long-term funding model, universities will not be able to operate with less funds than what they already have. Everything is more expensive today than it was this time last year.

That is the reality of inflation.

We have looked at the challenges at hand from all sides and have concluded that the best approach would be to allow universities individually to determine the level of increase that their institutions will require to ensure that they continue to operate effectively and at least maintain existing quality - with the caution that this has to also take into account affordability to students, and therefore has to be transparent, reasonable and related to inflation-linked adjustments. Our recommendation is that fee adjustments should not go above 8%.

To ensure that such inflation-linked fee adjustments on the 2015 fee baseline are affordable to financially needy students, government is committed to finding the resources to support children of all poor, working and middle class families - those with a household income of up to R600 000 per annum - with subsidy funding to cover the gap between the 2015 fee and the adjusted 2017 fee at their institution. This will be done for fee increments up to 8%.

This will in effect mean that all NSFAS qualifying students, as well as the so-called "missing middle" - that is, students whose families earn above the NSFAS threshold but who are unable to support their children to access higher education, will experience no fee increase in 2017. Government will pay for the fee adjustment. This will bring huge relief to nurses, teachers, police, social workers, and other parents who work in occupations that do not earn huge salaries, and who have children at university. This will apply to students at universities and TVET colleges.

Administrative mechanisms will be developed and students informed on how to apply for the gap-funding grant before the end of this academic year.

There are many students from upper middle class and well-off families, as well as students on full company bursaries in our institutions who can afford to pay the adjusted 2017 fees, and we expect them to do so.

It is very unclear to government why families who can afford private schools should, under the current circumstances, be receiving further state subsidies for their children at universities.

To subsidise these students would require taking funding from the poor to support cheaper higher education for the wealthy, which is not justifiable in a context of inequality in our country. We cannot subsidise the child of a cleaner or unemployed person in the same way as we subsidise the child of a well-paid advocate or investment banker.

While NSFAS will continue to provide loans and bursaries to poor students, the Department of Higher Education and Training and universities will continue to mobilise institutional and private sector financial support to enable affordable financial aid options for the "missing middle" students.

I have constituted the Ministerial Task Team on funding support for the poor and "missing middle" students, which is developing a model that will be tested in 2017 to provide affordable support to these students. We will continue to look for other ways of supporting financially needy students not covered by NSFAS, whilst a long-term solution is being developed to raise sufficient funding from the public sector, private sector and other sources to fund "missing middle" students at universities and TVET colleges.

We call upon SACTWU to also condemn some of the vandalism in our institutions, and to express support for the progressive measures taken by government to deal with the 2017 fee adjustments. Also, as parents, we call upon SACTWU to partner with us in the journey to transform higher education.

What is to be done? The urgent tasks of the working class

Our revolution is truly at its crossroads given the many urgent challenges facing our movement and in particular the working class. It is important that we firmly locate our contemporary struggles within the overall context of our struggles to fight for a socialist South Africa. But it is along your own Congress slogan and its subthemes that we must define the tasks of the working class in the current period, against the background of deepening the national democratic revolution towards a transition to socialism:

Defend our democracy

Defending our democracy is an important theme in the contemporary struggles of the working class in South Africa today. At its core, defending our democracy must fundamentally mean the advancement of the socio-economic rights of the workers and the poor and the defence of all the institutions that will advance these. The struggle for defending democracy in the interests of the working class must be integrally linked and connected to the struggle against corruption.

In the current period, this means defending our democratic institutions, and institutions sustaining our democracy, must be defended from being captured either by monopoly capital or by the parasitic bourgeoisie. This means defending, albeit transforming, our Treasury, the South African Revenue Services (SARS), from predatory capitalist elements, etc.

The struggle to defend and deepen our democracy must also mean defending and strengthening the capacity of State Owned Companies (SoCs) so that we are able to use them to discipline and roll back the negative impact and influence of monopoly capital.

If our state, its SoCs and democratic institutions are captured, it would be the working class that would suffer and we would not be able to fight poverty, unemployment and inequality.

We call upon the workers of this country to intensify its struggle against monopoly capital and also to defeat the parasitic bourgeoisie so that we place the interests of the workers and the poor at the centre of our developmental agenda.

Protect Workers

It is of course very important for SACTWU to intensify its struggles to defend the jobs of workers in the textile and clothing sector. On this score it is important that we deepen the struggles against the neo-liberal restructuring of the workplace - against casualisation, outsourcing and labour brokerage.

An important dimension of the struggle to protect workers is that of strengthening trade union service to members and workers generally in various workplaces in which SACTWU is organised.

An important dimension of the struggle to protect workers is that of rebuilding the many industrial unions of COSATU that are currently severely weakened or threatened by corporate capture and business unionism. Two important dimensions of rebuilding industrial unions must be, first, deepening and embarking on inter-sectoral solidarity activities, especially along unions organised in the same value-chain; and, second, to rebuild union-community solidarity activity. It is in the case of the latter struggles that the SACP can be of enormous assistance in using its community based structures to support important trade union and workplace struggles.

Growing jobs

The SACP is inviting SACTWU and the whole of COSATU to join in launching a broad based campaign on the right to work. This would be a very important campaign to challenge neo-liberal, and anti-work, restructuring of the contemporary workplace.

We further and once more invite SACTWU to join the SACP-led financial sector campaign so that we together struggle for resources in the financial sector to be largely invested in the productive sectors of our economy.

Both the SACP and Cosatu need to intensify the struggle for continued government investment into infrastructure, supporting the work done by Cde Ebrahim Patel and the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission (PICC).

Perhaps a small, but very symbolic gesture would be that of the SACP merchandise to be exclusively manufactured and produced by Zenzeleni of SACTWU. This would send a strong message for local production and local content, and intensification of relations between our two formations!

Building Unity and the motive forces of the national democratic revolution

Perhaps this is the most important task facing our movement and alliance. The principal challenge here is that of uniting principally the left axis of our Alliance, the SACP and COSATU. We need to realise that there are frantic factionalist attempts from inside our own movement to try and drive a wedge in order to divide the SACP from COSATU. The aim of this agenda is to draw Cosatu closer to a dominant faction in the ANC in order to isolate the SACP. But the second step in this strategy is that after the isolation and hopefully defeat of the SACP then the parasitic bourgeoisie inside our movement would launch a fatal assault on the organised working class itself.

It is also important at this point to remind ourselves that there is a deep relationship between the parasitic bourgeoisie and factionalism in our movement. The parasitic bourgeoisie needs factions to capture our movement so that it can have access to the state and its resources. In turn, factions need the money of the parasitic bourgeoisie in order to fund their slate politics. And all often deeply hate the communists and the working class.

It is for the above reasons that we need to deepen relations not only between the SACP and Cosatu, but also to deepen relations between the SACP and all the affiliates of COSATU, including relations between the SACP and SACTWU. We need joint campaigns between our two formations as well as joint political schools in order to deepen our common understanding of the tasks facing the working class in the current period.

Our challenge is already that the loss by the ANC of most of the major metropolitan areas point to the growing chasm between the ANC and leading sections of the organised working class. It was in the metros that the national liberation movement, with the organised working class at its head, that the final assault was led against the apartheid regime. The fact that we are losing these metros now means that the ANC may be losing its capacity to mobilise and lead the principal motive force of the national democratic revolution. A critical question in this regard is where is the organised working class in all of this?

It is therefore very important to rebuild the militancy of COSATU and the whole of the progressive trade union movement. Building trade union unity, defeating factionalism in our movement, and trade union militancy are all important mutually reinforcing ingredients for the working class to stamp its authority in the current period, and rebuild our movement as the leading force in South African society. Let us build a fighting SACTWU and a fighting COSATU!

Good luck with your Congress!

* Dr Blade Nzimande is SACP General Secretary and Minister of Higher Education and Training. This is the final edition of Comrade Blade Nzimande`s address to the Sactwu National Congress, 22 September 2016, Cape Town International Convention Centre

 

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