Towards an assessment of the Numsa-led United Front strike of 19th March

The International state of the class struggle

As with other capitalist crises, since 2008-9 the capitalists have attempted to place the full burden of the current round of crisis onto the backs of the working class. After several such recent crises, the 1996-1997 and 2003, on a wide scale, the traditional leaderships of the masses have become discredited as they have been spearheading the attacks on the masses, on behalf of monopoly capital. Thus since 2011 there has broken out a world- wide revolt against the capitalist regimes. From Greece, to Tunisia, to Egypt, Mozambique, Chile, China, Brazil, USA, Turkey, ‘Israel’,Malawi, Sudan, Central African Republic, South Africa, etc.

We have seen the Occupy Wall Street movement, the indignados, the occupation of the squares (Tahrir, Athens, Spain,etc) and the break out of mass strikes. Due to the inexperience of the new forces coming out on the street, some of the uprisings have been hijacked by reactionary forces (Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, CAR). In Lorain County in Ohio, an Independent Labour Party was formed and the masses rejected both  the Democrats and Republicans and won, in a municipal election, 24 out of 26 seats. The first task of the ILP was to restore the gain that all contracts for the city be at union rates and under union conditions.  

With the taking of the masses to the streets marks a strong move of the working class away from parliamentarism, ie there is a loss of faith in parliament and the other capitalist state institutions. The committees springing up in the squares and in the streets unite workers from different parties and from different unions with the unorganised. What has been absent on the streets are real revolutionary working class parties that could have directed the struggle to its conclusion. In the USA, military veterans from the Iraq invasion of 2003, marched in the streets and threw away their medals. Families had received only $12 000 upon their loved ones coming home in body bags while much of the manufacturing industry, except for the military, having been shifted by US companies to slave camps in China. Today only 13% of the masses support either Senate or Congress. When the US tried to invade Syria there was an unprecedented outcry that forced the military to back down- this is a new constraining factor on the world’s major imperialist power, a change in the world’s balance of class forces. The Communist parties such as in Greece, split the workers by calling their own demonstrations during general strikes and have formed human chains to protect parliament from the masses. In Syria, the Communist parties have sided with the Assad regime (and have been in government with him for decades) against the masses. The greater industrialization of China has brought with it the rise of workers’ organization, albeit at a low level- for example in 2012 there were more than 100 000 strikes in China as workers resist slave conditions and attempts at privatization. Although the ex-USSR has been shattered and there has been the restoration of capitalism, there is still a historical memory of nationalization and ongoing resistance against privatization.

The Marikana moment

Over the years, thousands of workers have left Cosatu when they realized that the ANC-SACP in government were the instrument being used by monopoly capital to control the masses. Many more remained in Cosatu but tolerated the leadership, now and then breaking out in open revolt.  On the 16th Aug 2012 was the first time that big capital, the government and a section of the Cosatu leadership worked together to massacre a group of workers who had not only risen in revolt but who had also broken from their control. What followed was the biggest mine workers strike in our history and this was essentially a strike against the ANC-SACP control of the unions. What is often lost sight of is that the majority of the mineworkers on strike were NUM members.  The setting up of independent mine worker committees that united workers irrespective of union or political affiliation together with workers from the surrounding mine workers communities, was the beginning of workers’ power structures last seen in the 1980’s, but at a higher level. In the 1980’s the working class held illusions in the ANC and SACP; by 2012 workers had made their experience with the ANC and SACP and had begun to break from them. The Marikana strike wave was a political strike but the inexperience of the new layers of leadership led to many of the mineworkers leaving NUM and Cosatu and falling into the hands of the opportunist AMCU leaders. The NUM leaders were too glad to see them go as it weakened the resistance in NUM to the leaders and assisted them to maintain control. WIVP raised the call for a special Congress of NUM for the workers to take control of it and to replace the treacherous leaders, but the call was not heard while others on the left supported workers breaking from Cosatu to join Amcu.

Once NUM was split, the capitalists went on the offensive, with mass retrenchments. In Namibia, where the Marikana strike wave was also felt, the biggest union, the teachers union, went on strike  against their own leadership. We made a call for the teachers to remain in NUNW but they chose to split from it and to form an ‘independent’ union. NUNW has been weakened and conversely the grip of the Swapo bureaucracy in it has been strengthened.

The Marikana massacre is part of the world wide response of the imperialist-capitalists, namely that when the traditional leaderships of the masses are discredited, there is an increasing reliance on brute force to maintain control.

The Numsa moment

According to the research report of the Forum for Public Dialogue, more than 60% of Cosatu shopstewards would support a new workers party if Cosatu were to form one. This is a reflection of how far the base of Cosatu has moved from the ANC and SACP. So far it is only Numsa that has been bold enough to call a special congress to evaluate the role of the alliance and to decisively break from the ANC and SACP. But even within Numsa there is the left wing and the right wing, but for now the left wing and centre holds sway.

Why is the United Front necessary?

A United front is one of the tactics to win the majority of the masses  to the revolution.  Unless the revolutionary party has the support of the masses, the revolution will not succeed. In revolutionary times, we find that the masses are to the left of the shopstewards and local leaders  while the shopstewards and local leaders are to the left of the national leaders. Many of the national leaderships are in the hands of the conservative ANC and SACP. The United front is one of the tactics to try to win the masses away from the support of the ANC and SACP and other capitalist leaderships and towards the revolutionary Socialist forces. For the moment, the active revolutionary core is centred around Numsa and the worker base of Amcu (albeit for the moment, captured behind the reactionary Amcu leaders), while the key revolutionary forces in Samwu, Fawu, Sactwu, Saccawu, etc, are for the moment, held back by the conservatism of their leaders . To a lesser extent a revolutionary core also extends to Giwusa and Csaawu and the grassroots social movements.

But the key in any workers United Front is for the revolutionary party, and in its absence, the revolutionary forces, in this case Numsa, to clearly define its programme, while retaining at all times its right to criticize any of the leaderships of any of the groups in the Front.

The difficulties in organizing the strike

The entire capitalist apparatus, the state, the mass media, the Cosatu leaders are all trying to focus the masses’ minds on the elections. Although the Numsa-led strike was formally on a socio-economic basis, it was in reality a political strike against the capitalist state. Thus the approximately 20 000 who marched in the streets and the approximately 20 000 who stayed at home on that day (these are conservative estimates) is a reflection of the class consciousness of the active revolutionary core who realize that they have to stand up and oppose the state. The Fawu, Saccawu, Samwu and the Cosatu leaders did not mobilise for the strike (and we can be sure that the ANC, SACP and Cosatu leaders were actively organizing against the strike). In fact in Boiketlong (Sebokeng) the mayor organised to be there at 9am to address the masses- this was to consciously sway the masses from attending the march. The masses did not go in large numbers to the march from this area. In Cape Town the MJC appeared to be under instruction (likely from the ANC) to not join up with the Numsa march- the Numsa committee even offered that the MJC march on Palestine and Egypt be at the head, but still the leaders refused. We spoke to the MJC marshalls who all supported the joining of the marches- they criticised the MJC as weak and stupid for their refusal. As the MJC march passed the Numsa-led march , the workers still saluted the march and thereby expressed their desire to unity- this further exposed the MJC leaders. Some Numsa members marched with the MJC march and then returned to the worker march. We are sure there were similar attempts around the country to weaken and destabilise the Numsa-led marches. The march was a consciously organised protest against the alliance and its policies, this march was not for direct and immediate benefit to the workers. Thus the less advanced workers did not see the need to go out on strike. The base of the EFF did not attend and thus it is clear that their leaders did not actively organise for the marches. 

What are the strengths and some of the lessons emerging from the strike?

The Numsa-led strike has given the entire working class greater confidence to stand up against the policies of the capitalist regime. It has provided a beacon from which to provide leadership to the rest of the working class, not only locally but regionally and internationally. It provides the basis for Numsa to challenge other affiliates of Cosatu to hold their own special Congresses so that the militancy of their base can begin to be reflected in their leadership and policy directions.

The revolutionary militancy of Numsa was not enough to get millions out on to the street yet, but provides a reality check of the forces that have already been won to working class independence and the magnitude of the task that lies ahead. Considering that most union meetings for the year would have started only from the end of January, the achievement of a national strike, with several marches, considering the inexperience of the Numsa organisers and worker leaders in organising a strike and genuinely trying to involve community based movements, is remarkable. Despite all the technical hiccups, a new layer of workers and organisers have gained experience from which future battles can be prepared. Given the short time to mobilise, it may have been better to combine the strike with lunch time pickets and pickets at municipal offices to enable more workers to participate in industrial areas and in communities.  

In the Cape Town march the Fawu speaker felt he had to raise the slogan of ‘Viva ANC, Viva SACP’ – this was met with a lukewarm response but given that hardly any Fawu members attended, shows the need to build a ‘united front from below’.

One of the ways of building the ‘united front from below’ is to revive the Cosatu industrial and residential locals around future campaigns. For example, in the recent struggle of Boiketlong (Sebokeng) where the community barricaded the roads in support of their demand that the state buy the land and start building houses, a demand they had been fighting for, for more than 5 years, the community and Numsa members combined- when the community blockaded the entrance to the neighbouring industrial area, the workers (many of them from Numsa) joined the protest and within 2 days the state was forced into agreement, stating they had bought the land and already dispatching surveyors. With revived residential locals it would bring the organised working class into local struggles and give them a more thorough-going solidity. These links would then also strengthen struggles on a broader political level.

No working class can remain permanently on the march; after the 1984-1990 the masses began to tire and this allowed a bureaucracy to gain control over the unions. The Marikana moment and the current rising tide of working class revolt once again provides the basis for breaking the hold of the bureaucracy over working class organization. Various tactics are needed to win the masses over to the revolutionary Socialist forces.

The small but significant support from about 60 Nehawu members at CPUT, who not only came out to picket at lunch time in support of the Numsa strike, shows what is possible if the message of Numsa reaches the base of Cosatu. This group also raised their own demands for an end to labour broking as well as supporting the demand for a Special Congress (They signed a petition in support of Numsa and the Special Congress). This is something that should be built on.

As the masses begin to break from the ANC-SACP there has been a temporary vacuum. Politics however does not allow vacuums and a host of opportunist forces have reared their heads that have won space within the masses, chief among them being the EFF. Thus it was correct to invite them although it is necessary to make a sharp critique of them on issues such as nationalization and their half-way position. The EFF has a fascistic trend within it (for example its claiming that the police are our friends; also in Sebokeng, when a community member was killed by one of the ANC members, the EFF took over the funeral and even the community, under threat of guns, were not even allowed to attend the actual burial- the community has developed the tactic of allowing all political parties active in the community to raise their positions but once a decision has been reached in a general meeting, it is binding on everyone).

Drawing on international experience, in Ukraine the left combined with some fascist groups and allowed a coup against a democratic govt (with all its shortcomings) which has now resulted in a fascist regime- workers organizations are now being smashed, etc. So we need to be careful how we relate to groups that have a different programme.

A concrete action programme is what will unite workers and take workers through the experience of where their leaderships really stand.  But the assumption is then that Numsa and the working class has already clearly defined its own programme.

What is the main class struggle at the moment and how can the United Front intervene?

Undoubtedly the main struggle of the moment is the strike of the 80 000 Platinum workers. Although Numsa members on these mines are on strike, the question remains as to how to build further support while starting to gain the ear of these workers and begin the process of exposing their leaders.

Drawing on the past strike, it is important to develop a process that is slower but that brings more and more sectors of the working class on board. The central demand of R12 500 could be a good base line for a minimum wage. Thus a possible way forward could be to call a press conference to outline a programme of action if the bosses do not meet their demands- steps could include calling general meetings for one week, the setting up of broad factory committees which unite all unions and even non-union workers around a campaign to support the Platinum miners and a minimum wage of R12 500, daily lunch time pickets the next week and if the strike is not settled by this Monday, that notice of strike action (solidarity strike 7 days) could be given. The strike could take the form of extending lunch times by 5 min every day in 2 weeks time. [This draws on the experience of the Norwegian railway workers who stopped their trains for 2 minutes in 2009 when Gaza was being bombed- every day they stopped 2 minutes longer.] Here is an opportunity to raise the call for action against Anglo American and other monopolies over transfer pricing and the trillions that they stole over the years- the call can be raised for the expropriation of the mines, without compensation, to be placed under workers’ control.(for example the article by Ben Fine and others state that R700bn was stolen by the mines in 2007 alone).  Just the propaganda value of it will be great, at the same time it takes account that at the moment we need to do more work to win workers out to strike and takes account of the economic climate; of course, these mine workers will then forever be won to supporting Numsa and in future we may even win them back to Cosatu to kick the butts of the NUM bureaucracy. A similar process could be called for in communities and this campaign could be used as a basis to revive the community locals with a backbone of Numsa and Cosatu shopstewards.

Mayday campaign and a draft Workers Manifesto

But Numsa is not a workers party and the aim of the United front has to be to lay the basis for a future workers party. The ANC has 300 000 members but gets over 10 million votes. Thus the party represents the most active members of those who support its programme. Thus the workers party needs to gather a few thousand  of an active core around a revolutionary programme.

So how to combine this process of developing a programme and to intervene in the election process? It is rather obvious that Cosatu will use Mayday to campaign for the ANC. What Numsa and the broad front can do is develop a DRAFT Workers manifesto. You could even have general meetings in April at factory and in communities. Reach out to all organizations of the working class, even to NUM and AMCU  to ask what the workers demands are. Numsa could prepare a draft for circulation. If the process is based on grassroots general meetings then it would be a form of a ‘united front from below’. Numsa could then go to all the Cosatu rallies and circulate thousands of copies of its draft Workers Manifesto, insisting on speaking rights. The issue of a 40 hour week, won in 1886 but workers in SA are still fighting for it, the Freedom Charter promises it- how can the leaders argue with that? The process could lead up to a conference of the left which can be combined (or followed by) a workers summit to work out concrete steps to a programme of action to achieve the Workers manifesto. The process should involve communities also gathering their demands for inclusion in the Workers manifesto and the workers summit should also involve representatives from the communities.

24.3.2014

Report on mass meeting at UWC 27.3.2014

Numsa Regional Secretary was at UWC tonight with a houseful of mostly youth and some workers of Nehawu. There was not a single voice that supported the Cosatu national's position (as much as the delegate tried his best to give the position) - everyone supported the Numsa position, ably spelt out by cde Vuyo.

cde Vuyo was clear and to the point that the SACP, which was supposed to be the voice an...d vanguard for Socialism was in fact the defender of the ANC's capitalist policies and indeed part of govt and left their socialism outside the gates of parliament.

Even the Sasco speakers were calling for the breaking of the alliance as too were the Nehawu members and community members and Equal Education.

It was also raised from the floor that unless the United Front prepares the way for the programme for a real Communist party, our struggles will come to nothing. The working class needs to wield political power in its hands to ensure nationalization without compensation and under workers control, takes place. This is as opposed to the halfway 60-40 wishy washy position of the EFF. This position was also supported in the meeting

The Numsa position was criticised as concentrating too much on an individual and not so much on the issues. The Numsa cdes answered by giving a clear stand on the building of the United Front in struggle. Cdes from the floor raised the question why Numsa was not doing more to stand by the Platinum strikers. Good question- why be scared of labels when at the end of the day, it is our class brothers and sisters who are on strike for the historic R12 500- surely here is a base line for the national minimum wage? The workers at Marikana were NUM members, Amcu was not leading the strike- in fact the workers formed committees against both unions and uniting all workers. The 80 000 workers on strike can only be won back to Cosatu by the organised working class taking concrete steps to support them- their fight is political. Anglo American is on record for stealing through transfer pricing of over R200bn every year- surely they should be investigated for looting. surely this is much bigger than the Nkandla?

Everyone in the meeting, except the Cosatu speaker, supported the Special Congress of Cosatu and that it should have been called within 14 days.

All in all Numsa spoke, the masses in the meeting heard and after all was said and done, the masses supported Numsa. What a historic step forward. Viva Numsa

This is why the Cosatu leaders try to block discussion bureaucratically- they know their position is indefensible.