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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 17, No. 02, 9 March 2018

In this Issue:


Red Alert

The political attack of the capitalist crisis on women, its consequences in the struggle for socialism and the role of the vanguard Party - SACP statement on the occasion of the International Working Women's Day

As delivered by Cde Jenny Schreiner, Central Committee and Politburo Member, Metsimaholo, 8 March 2018

We dip the Red Flag of a socialist future to Comrade Fezeka Loliwe, whose untimely death has robbed the working women of South Africa of a passionate, dedicated leader, whose role in the vanguard Party, the Alliance and in the lives of our people will be sorely missed. We dedicate this speech to her - long live the spirit of Cde Fezeka!

8th of March as International Working Women's Day, has its origins in the struggles of working class women against their working conditions, and the campaigns of the international socialist women's movement for the vote for women, and for peace, formalised in a resolution of the International Socialist Women's Congress in 1910. Since 1975, it has been celebrated by the United Nations as a day to celebrate all women - let us not lose sight of this day as the day we celebrate and deepen the struggles of working class women. So, it is highly appropriate that today we consider the impact of capitalism on working women, and hence on the necessity for socialism to secure the full emancipation of women, in which women and men are able to develop their full potential, politically, economically, socially and culturally.

Let us also celebrate the centenary of the birth of Cde Ma Albertina Sisulu who as a nurse, identified herself firmly with the struggles of working women, fought for the unity of working class men and women in the struggle for National Democratic Revolution, and dedicated herself to education for the working-class girl and boy children. She was the only woman present when the ANC Youth League was formed; she led women in the mass campaigns of the 50s through to the 80s, when she took the helm of leadership in the United Democratic Front (UDF).

We are honoured to have this International Working Women's Day event in the Municipality of Metsimaholo, where the SACP answered the call of the community to contest the local government election. Here the SACP has through an election campaign in the form of a broad front and a governing pact with other parties, established a municipality focused on delivery to the working people. Metsimaholo is the reconfigured alliance in practice, as it should be not through national leadership meetings, but in action on the ground in our communities. Cde Lindiwe Tshongwe, Mayor of Metsimaholo, the first Mayor elected as a Communist, a powerful woman, we salute you and we expect to learn much from this municipality. And we are honoured also to have the Executive Mayor of Fezile Dabi District Municipality, Cde Oumix Oliphant, here today. What a powerful team of women leadership we have here!

We are proud of the role this municipality has played over the past 3 years in promoting the struggle of women. In 2015, this hall and field right next to it, was the venue of the massive gathering of 20 000 women from across the country on Women's Day. It is the place where the Report on Status of Women in Economy was launched. From the valuable information in the report, we know that:

  • Girls and women have made significant gains in education, but that girls and young women are not well represented in the maths, science, technology and engineering fields; that women are not reaching the top levels of their fields of study at the same rate as men are; that the rural girl child is not getting the same quality of education infrastructure or content that she deserves and needs; and that often women do not get jobs in the fields that they are qualified in.
  • We know that while women are entering the labour market in bigger numbers, the unemployment rate for women is higher than that of men; the women are usually employed in lower pays jobs, and even when we are in the same jobs as men, somehow it is justified that we get a lower pay; there are particular sectors, often lower paid, more individualised and less well organised by the labour movement where women are concentrated - we know women are employed on the farms, as domestic workers; the work is often changed to be casual work as women enter into that type of work.
  • Apart from jobs, women struggle to find their place in the economy, whether as small business entrepreneurs; as mining industrialists; as executive managers. The equity ratio at top management of 20 per cent women and 80 per cent men shows how far we have to go. But we also have experience that a woman in management does not necessarily result in a more favourable working environment for women, as we have seen in Germiston at the TopBet, where a woman manager, on finding a drop of blood in the women's bathroom, gathered all the women workers, asked which of them was menstruating and then got the three women who admitted that they were to be strip searched to see who was responsible for that drop of blood. A human being, male and female, with empathy, would have ensured the blood was cleaned up, and that additional sanitary products were available for women who are “caught short” at work.
  • We know that the brunt of poverty bears down hard on women, that the debt of women is higher than that of men and that many women are dependent on the social grants to mitigate poverty and keep their families fed and clothed.
  • We also know that women's access to finances, banking facilities, as well as to ownership of property and land excludes many women from economic inclusion. This is made worse by patriarchal inheritance patterns so that even where a family or household has a house, has land, when the father of the household dies, we often find that the mother of the household.
  • The Report also focused on violence against women. No women, elderly or young, or a girl, who is scared to walk down the street on her own, who knows she is not safe at home, or at work or in the community, can feel confident to stand up in her community, in the workplace, in her organisations, or in political life of our country to raise up her voice and highlight her issues. In Giyani, a single man has terrorised the community by raping women that no girl or young women walks anywhere except in a large group.

This is the lives of working women in South Africa. We must dig deeper to understand why this is experience of women, not just here but across the capitalist world, and hence focus on a long term strategy to secure total socio-economic and political emancipation of women and gender equality.

The attack on working class women to maximise capitalist profit

From the beginning of capitalism, when property and tools became owned by individuals, and the majority of people were separated from the means of production, the oppression of women or patriarchy took on particular forms. Let us understand why capitalism needs to keep working women oppressed and exploited in the farms, in the factories, in the wax and fuel producing plants such as Sasol, and the mines, as well as in the home.

Capitalist accumulation (profit making or getting rich) takes place through private appropriation by the owners of surplus value created by workers. Some of the Metsimaholo community may be working in the Sasol plant, but the Sasol profits don't get shared with those workers. Instead the workers are paid a wage, a small part of the profits workers make.

Profit is the money that is left from the sale of what the workers have created, after the owners have taken the money they need for reproduction of productive forces - to keep the factory, machinery, mine shaft, cooling towers, tractors, harvesters in working order, and after the wages for the workers have been paid. The wages that workers are paid is to ensure that the workers can buy and eat food to be able to work tomorrow, to be able to have clothes, to be able to go to a clinic when necessary. Let's ask ourselves why workers don't get paid enough money to buy cooked food, or eat at a tavern or restaurant. The capitalist system relies on the fact that someone in the working-class household will cook the meal, wash the clothes, clean the house, look after the children, the sick and the elderly. No one gets paid for cooking a meal at home, or washing the clothes at home, or cleaning the house. Capitalism has relied on women being predominantly in the home and being expected to do this unpaid work. This unpaid work contributes to keeping wages lower and profits higher.

Profit maximisation is the goal of capitalism and in the history of capitalism we have seen its versatility as it weathers storms of profitability. Capitalism has shown an ability to reinvent itself, in particular through 3 industrial revolutions, where capitalists have found ways to cut the costs of production and increase the productivity of their companies. Globally we are in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution, called the Digital Revolution. The electronic age is going to fundamentally change the workplace, with technology, computers and robots doing things that are currently done by people. The first sector that is likely to be hit by this technological revolution is the retail sector where many of the workers are women. As capital shifts to a reliance on ICT in economy and thereby reduces the costs of labour, and so protects their profit margin, we must prepare to fight for the protection of workers, and in particular of women workers. Many girls and young women have avoided studying in the science, technology, engineering and maths fields. Do women workers have the skills to use technology? Are we going to see as technology is introduced that many of the women are those who are retrenched first? The drive and ability for capital to reduce costs while increasing productivity, often hits women the hardest.

We talk of the triple challenges of inequality poverty and unemployment. All of these are inherent in capitalism across the world. The only difference being that in some economies, the working class is relatively better off than in other countries, or that inequality, poverty and unemployment are better or worse in different time periods. The 2015 poverty study has identified that more than 55 per cent of South Africans are living in poverty, and that the poverty is worse amongst women and in female and child headed households. Income Poverty means that families do not have the money to provide for their basic needs. What does the bourgeoisie and the upper middle class do when their income drops, they sell shares, mortgage their house and get money from the banks, or sell one of their many assets or cars. Working people, are hit not only by income poverty, but also experience asset poverty. The working class has nothing but their labour and their wages; they have nothing to sell, or mortgage, they cannot get surety for loans. They are unable to get enough money from what they own to provide for basic needs for a period of three months.

When capitalism is in crisis, that is when capitalism can't keep the level of profit as high as it has been, the range of strategies capitalists adopt to solve their crisis, often impact very harshly on working women. We have seen this in the casualisation of work in sectors where women are employed; we have seen workers losing their jobs as more technology is used; we have seen bosses reducing benefits that workers have struggled for and won - for example while the law says women must be allowed paid maternity leave, in the mining, energy and construction industries NUM women report that in some companies maternity leave is not paid, and worse that women are sent home on unpaid leave from the second or third month of pregnancy because the employers claim they have no safe jobs for these women to do. The gains that unions had made, building on the struggles by unions such as Food and Canning Workers Union, led by Cde Ray Alexander unionist and SACP Central Committee member, and role model to all Communists, in the 1940s and 1950s for childcare facilities at work so children are safe and women can breastfeed their babies, are rolled back in times of economic pressure for capital; the retrenchment principle that capital uses of “last-in-first-out” hits women, as late entrants to the labour market, hardest. In addition, the escalating cost of food, of petrol and hence of transport, the increase of VAT, all impact on women's burden. Capitalism has embedded the oppression of women and the private sphere of the home inside itself. The oppression of women, and in particularly of black working-class women, is not something alongside capitalism; it is deeply part of capitalism.

Socialism and women emancipation

The SACP is convinced that while we must intensify the struggle for women's empowerment and against patriarchy in the national democratic revolution, the total emancipation of women is only fully achievable in a socialist society. That does not mean wait until socialism is here and then struggle for women's freedom. Our strategic route to socialism is through the national democratic revolution; socialism is the future and we are building it now, with the emancipation of women and the creation of gender equality integral to our South Africa socialism.

Socialism is not just an economic system in which the people collectively own the means of production. Socialism is far more than that. It is a society geared to serve the needs of all people, women, men and children, irrespective of colour, religion, culture, to emancipating the full potential of the human being, in all spheres of life, in cultural, arts, music and sports, in intellectual thinking, research and writing; in innovation, technological and economic development; in the social life of our communities; and in the political life of the nation and the world.

Often you will hear people say that Marxist Leninists think that if you give women jobs you will end the oppression of women. This is simply not true. Indeed the Soviet Union as the first even socialist state did actively encourage the already growing trend of women joining the workforce, but this was not enough. The early years of the Soviet Union showed a broad approach to emancipating women.

The Communist Party in the Soviet Union undertook a massive literacy campaign, teaching women to read and write, and through this also educating the working women about the socialism that they were building. The literacy level amongst women in the urban areas was 16% and women in the rural regions simply could not read or write at all. All socialist states know that the holistic education of the children and adults of the nation is fundamental to empowering people to take control over their own lives and to contribute fully to the society they live in.

The Soviet government recognised that working women under the Tsarist regime had suffered enormously in their unique potential as child bearers. The only women for whom pregnancy was not a life threatening ordeal were the women of the aristocracy. Working women were forced to give birth at work, or in their humble houses. The Soviet Union set up immediately after the 1917 revolution maternity clinics, and childcare facilities for working women. In addition, the law of marriage, divorce and family changed to enable men and women to have equal rights in marriage, in divorce, and in the decisions in the family.

The Secretary of the Cuban Women's Federation was recently briefly in South Africa. A South African woman who is active in the struggle against abuse of and violence against women, asked her about violence against Cuban women. The Secretary of the Women's Federation looked confused and asked that the question was explained. Her translator helped, the Secretary still looked confused. Once we had explained the scourge of violence against women and children in South Africa, the Secretary of the Cuban Women's Federation stared at us in silence, and after a long pause said, I remember that we did have once case, about 4 years ago, one woman had been hit by a man. Cuban women are safe to walk around their community day and night. Girl and boy children in Cuban socialism are educated and brought up to respect each other, Cuban men and women respect each other. Cuban boys and girls go to play in the parks, with hoola hoops and balls. The young men playing and watching basketball pose no threat - it does not cross anyone's mind that a girl child may be vulnerable there.

The Cuban form of government empowers women to have access for their issues to be heard by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Government Ministries. The Federation of Cuban Women is a mass organisation, in which the voice of women in every community are heard. Not just the voices of women who are in the Communist Party of Cuba, but every woman in that neighbourhood is welcomed to talk in the Federation of Cuban Women meetings in the communities. The issues and needs that women express are taken by the Federation of Cuban Women to the Central Committee and the Ministries in the Government of Cuba. This is real people's power, real woman's power - a different form of democracy and government at play. Comrade Mayors, let's see participatory democracy amongst women taking place in your municipalities! We salute the Metsimaholo Mayors announcement to hold a women's summit to consult with all organisations and all women, across all sectors, in Metsimaholo to help shape the Councils programme to empower women.

The role of the vanguard Party

As a vanguard Party, the SACP strives to lead the working class and its organisations to build hegemony of working class on all issues. It is imperative that this hegemony also asserts the needs and interests of working women. Thus, the SACP has a key responsibility as a vanguard party, to organise, educate and lead the mass of working women into the struggle for the national democratic revolution and the socialist future that we are building. We must double the number of red t-shirts in this room, as we recruit women into the SACP and deepen our political education. Let's work towards: Every Working Woman a Union Member! Every Woman a Member of a Women's Organisation!

The SACP understands that the full emancipation of all women under capitalism is not possible. However as decided in our 14th Congress Resolutions we must fight for the empowerment of working women, and secure gains for women and protect these gains at all cost. We must through hegemonic organisation of working women, ensure that the national democratic revolution dies not simply empower the rich women, and thrive off the unpaid work of working class women at home and in our communities, off the lower wages that women are paid.

We have committed ourselves through active recruitment of women into the SACP, the development of women leadership within the Party to strengthen and deepen the mass organisation of women in communities and in Alliance partners and other progressive organisations. We have taken a firm position that abuse and violence against women cannot be part of our future, and launched the Red October Campaign to Stop Abuse of Women and Gender Based violence. Our street committees in Metsimaholo should know your neighbourhood and act to stop and uproot abuse and violence against women. Let us intervene in families where we know that women and children are not safe. Let us stand firm with women and girls who have been raped and abused so that there is no shame in standing firm, and reporting the crime, and there is support for the emotional recovery that rape survivors have to go through. Let's ensure that we work with the municipality to get street lights in dark areas where crime in rife and women are vulnerable. As men, women and the Municipality of Metsimaholo let's join hands to make this community crime free and safe for women and girls to be active in the community.

Our Congress also said that we must defend the women's empowerment gains that we have made in these 24 years of democracy. We want to see women in leadership not because men have decided which woman should be promoted, but because we as women are supporting each other to take up those responsibilities. Today we are proud to have two comrades here who are mayors - lets support them with strong organisation and mobilisation of women, who can interact with the municipalities they lead and ensure that the lives of women in these communities are changed for the better.

Women will not be able to be active in our organisations, in our communities, at work and in political life unless at community level, we provide what women need for our unique life cycle as potential child bearers. This includes day care centres in the community and in the workplace - one hopes to see cooperatives being set up and supported by the Council to provide quality child care facilities.

The economic activity that we have heard of from our ally in Metsimaholo where we have been told of Metsimaholo blind women building coops and supporting each other is tremendously exciting. We are encouraged by the challenge that these women have thrown out to other women in Metsimaholo. The Party has also identified that women must also be employed in all job creations programmes, and these women must be organised into trade unions.

The Congress also focused on the need for women to be able to access land, and not be robbed of this land by patriarchal traditions that land and assets should be inherited by men, even when the man is the brother of the deceased father or the son of the deceased father. The expropriation of land without compensation, the land reform programme and the agrarian revolution must be programmes that empower women to have greater access to land.

The education of girl children and the provision of appropriate sanitary pads, and sanitary bins and running water in schools is vital for women to take their part in society. Let us work with our Communist lead municipality to ensure that for those girls and women who cannot afford sanitary pads, they are provided by the state. Working class families cannot have to face the harsh decision of whether to put food on the table or provide the girls and women in the family with sanitary pads!

Mass organising of women in our communicates - progressive mass women's movement

All government services must be made accessible to women, but over and above that there are specific services specific to the unique needs for women that government must provide. These obviously relate to women's sexual and reproductive health rights, but also the right to be safe in homes, streets, workplaces and in our organisations. The partnership between working women and the municipality should be taken forward, not by the SACP and the Congress Alliance alone, but as you have shown the way in Metsimaholo, through broad fronts that unite all women in this community behind a common programme that will improve the quality of lives in the this community.

As we close this meeting in the socialist republic of Metsimaholo, let us turn to the people sitting next to us and say I love you, as we know that if we love respect ourselves, it is easier to love one another, and then we will begin to respect and protect each other, and not fight against and undermine each other. This will enable us to join hands to contribute to changing in local conditions in this area.

This is a very strategic area because of the presence of Sasol, a global company rooted in South Africa and in this area. We are committed as the SACP to conscious investment in the work of this municipality. Success here needs the SACP, the Alliance, and the partnerships with all progressive organisations in our community.

The Alliance is being reconfigured here. An alliance is alive if it's active on the ground. The Alliance is the unity of communities, of different community-based organisations as well as the ANC, SACP, COSATU and SANCO.

Going forward building the unity of the community of Metsimaholo is paramount. Service delivery to community cannot be compromised. We need to deal with challenges and keep the community united.

Development does not fall from the sky. We must get out in Metsimaholo to create opportunities for development. Why do we take the money of Zamdela and spend it in Sasolburg and not here in Zamdela? Let's develop the enterprises and co-operatives here to be able to buy what we need here in Zamdela. Let us not go to Sasolburg to buy school uniform; let us have co-operatives that can make our children's uniforms. The Metsimaholo community, and the community in the Fezile Dabi District, must explore how to change the status quo in these townships so that we can drive down unemployment, drive down poverty and increase education for our children. The SACP Know your neighbourhood campaign must be taken forward here as a SACP programme working closely with the community and community organisations.

The struggle is not a holiday. It is a daily struggle. We are not free while a woman is not safe to walk, while crime is prevalent. It is not yet Uhuru!

Only socialism can fully free women from the triple oppression of exploitation, national oppression and patriarchy!

Socialism is the future! Build it now!


Umsebenzi Online is an online voice of the South African working class