||UDF Launch Manifesto
Unity and Solidarity Declaration Against Unemployment and Poverty Resources
In the face of catastrophic levels of unemployment, rising poverty and
misery for working people, the unemployed, the rural poor, the homeless,
women and children, we, members of trade unions, peoples movements and
organisation resolve to put our faith in unity and solidarity by launching a United Democratic Front to fight job losses, unemployment and poverty. Through our joint campaigns, movements and struggles we give expression and meaning to our slogan An Injury To One Is An Injury To All.
Our goal is economic and social justice where the dignity and self-respect of our people is attained. We demand:
the redistribution of wealth in ways that will eradicate poverty,
popular control of our economic resources so that corruption and greed will no longer dictate policy and
the exercise of peoples power over and popular participation in all decisions that affect our lives.
Our freedom is incomplete, our democracy crippled until our people have
decent work, a living wage, land and fishing rights, housing and comfort and
access to the basic necessities of life. Our struggle continues until we can
truly declare that all our people can live healthy lives free from disease
and where our children are safe and where education means the freeing of our minds and our abilities. Until the discrimination and abuse of women have been overcome and equality achieved in practice we shall not remain silent.
We join millions of our brothers and sisters around the world by declaring
another world is possible Through building strong organisation, mobilising
our people and through mass action we shall make Unemployment and Poverty
Declaration of the Third COSATU Central Committee
The Third Central Committee of COSATU, the highest decision-making structure after the National Congress, comprising delegates from our 21 affiliates and the COSATU national office bearers, met on 15-18 August. We were joined by representatives of our Allies and civil society formations with whom we have developed close working relationships. Having considered reports from the COSATU Secretariat, and following deliberations, we adopted many measures and strategies to take forward our 2015 Programme, consolidate working class power and build our organisation.
We met in the context of the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter and the 20th Anniversary of COSATU. We also met as our country was marching into the second decade of democracy, and against the backdrop of a wave of strikes for a living wage and militant worker actions against the job-loss bloodbath.
Our meeting was characterised by a buoyant and confident mood as well as robust and frank debates. We are proud of the last 20 years of the Federation and are committed to spare no effort to defend our gains and take our organisation to new heights. On us rests a historic duty to preserve and nurture this movement for future generations.
We reviewed progress on the 2015 Plan adopted at COSATU's Eighth National Congress. On the basis of this assessment we believe that the programme remains relevant but must be taken forward more strongly.
COSATU response to Sunday Independent article by Paul Notyhawa
Media statement: COSATU response to Sunday Independent article - 7 August 2005
The Congress of South African Trade Unions wishes to correct the false
impression created by an article in the Sunday Independent, 7 August 2005,
entitled, New UDF to challenge the ANC. COSATU is not creating an
organization called the United Democratic Front and it is not challenging
The planned collaboration with other civil society groups on unemployment
and policy is a continuation of a strategy which COSATU has pursued
throughout its 20 years of existence. Indeed its constitution contains the
clause, as one of our aims and objectives, that the federation will
Encourage democratic worker organisation and leadership in all spheres of
our society together with other progressive sectors of the community.
The main way in which this clause has been implemented has been through
COSATU's long-standing alliance with the African National Congress, the
South African Communist Party and the South African National Civic
We have however worked with many other progressive organisations, including
the South African Council of Churches, the Treatment Action Campaign, the
South African NGO Coalition, Black Sash, and many others, around such issues
as the People's Budget Campaign and the Basic Income Grant.
The decision to involve these and other groups in COSATU's current Jobs and
Poverty Campaign is therefore a logical continuation of a long-established
policy, since all share a common concern at the high levels of unemployment
and poverty which scar the lives of too many South Africans. These are not
just problems for workers but for every South African and to resolve them we
must build as broad-based a campaign as possible.
While the new organisation may well share some of the aims of the former
UDF, no decision has been taken on using this name.
The decision to form this new grouping is totally compatible with our
continued involvement in the alliance with the ANC, SACP and SANCO. Indeed
we assume that they will all be key players in the forthcoming campaign,
which in no way is intended to challenge the ANC, as the Independent's
article, and particularly its headline, seek to suggest. We shall aim to
work closely together with the ANC to solve the crisis of joblessness and
poverty, about which they share the concerns of all the other civil society
groups who will be involved.
This campaign is emphatically not intending to establish a new political
party, as the article suggests. COSATU remains 100% committed to support the
ANC and that will remain its policy so long as that is the mandate of our
members, the workers.
Paul Notyhawa (Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
1-5 Leyds Cnr Biccard Streets
Cell: 082 491 1591
Tel: +27 11 339-4911/24
Fax: +27 11 339-5080/6940
New UDF to challenge the ANC by Christelle Terreblanche
Unemployed and disenchanted workers hope to revive the extra-parliamentary pressure group
The United Democratic Front (UDF) is set to be revived this month and could be the forerunner to a political movement to the left of the governing ANC.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has joined forces with civil society, religious bodies and social movements to build what it hopes will result in a formidable extra-parliamentary pressure group against poverty and unemployment, based on the 1980s coalition of anti-apartheid organisations.
The first provincial chapter of the new UDF is scheduled to be launched at a mass meeting in Cape Town on August 22, 22 years after the UDF was born in Cape Town on August 20 1983.
Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu's national general secretary, confirmed that other provincial chapters were in the pipeline along with a national coalition between civil society and labour.
This is the working class on the run, said Vavi. We are trying to reverse the economic setbacks of the past 11 years.
He could not be drawn on the future of the movement, but said a coalition against unemployment was the most important immediate objective for Cosatu, which was planning another national stayaway against job losses on August 29.
Plans are afoot to forge a new Freedom Charter-type document of key demands to underpin campaigns. It is also understood that a number of former UDF patrons are to be invited to join. They have not been named, but surviving candidates include clerics the Reverend Allan Boesak, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, now Tshwane's mayor.
Tony Ehrenreich, Cosatu's Western Cape secretary who is spearheading the revival, said the new UDF had grown out of Cosatu's jobs campaign.
It might not have been a stated objective of Cosatu, but once we started working with other organisations to define the programme, one was affected by their aspirations, he said in an interview.
And so ordinary people in landless organisations, churches, social movements, backyard dwellers, the New Women's Movement and a number of NGOs all came on board with cross-cutting issues. So now what you have is
essentially the makings of a UDF against unemployment and poverty.
Ehrenreich said the new UDF aimed to increase pressure on the ANC government to change policies affecting the poor and the working class. It was also expected to up the ante on policy and ideological confrontations between
Cosatu and the ANC over the growth, employment and redistribution policy, Gear, and its consequences. top.
He said a unifying factor among the organisations that met weekly to prepare for the launch was a shared view that economic structures and ownership patterns were left intact after 1994 and that poverty was deepening as a result.
There's an urgent need to confront the economic construct and change it, he said. And so this is going to bring about a much more robust and abrasive engagement, within the alliance and between civil society and the government, and much more pressure by a much more unified people.
The proposed new Freedom Charter demands included a basic income grant, higher spending by the state on transport, education and health care, and changes to other policies that had led to deepening poverty, lack of delivery in public services and increasing levels of inequality.
Said Ehrenreich: If we don't respond to these [poverty] issues within the ANC and alliance, this [movement] has the potential to be the new left party. That's not our objective at this stage, but nobody can say that [a party] won't be a consequence of people with a common interest coming together at a mass level and saying the present construct is not serving their needs.
Peter Dwyer of the Alternative Information and Development Centre, one of the groups prominent in the relaunch, said: It is obvious that we are trying to build on the rich history of the UDF, although we are acutely aware that we cannot be the UDF. It is a different time.
Ehrenreich added: Certainly there are contradictions and differing agendas. But what we want to pull together with this freedom charter-type list of demands is the minimum platform [of demands] to improve the lives of working families.
While Cosatu was one of the new UDF's architects, it was the kind of movement that will grow way beyond itself, way beyond Cosatu, and will have an identity of its own.
At this stage it is uncertain whether the ANC would be asked to join, although Cosatu leaders insisted that all who shared the interests of the
working class would be welcomed.
NUMSA: REPORTS OF NEW UDF SMACK OF SENSATIONALISM.
NUMSA PRESS RELEASE - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
REPORTS OF NEW UDF SMACK OF SENSATIONALISM.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa ( NUMSA) has been
disturbed by a series of distorted articles from weekend and weekly
newspapers on the COSATU jobs campaign. Another article has been
published in The Star (August 23) with a heading Party dubbed new UDF
launched. We want to clarify a plethora of misunderstandings,
confusions and fallacies.
Firstly, the articles confirm what has increasingly become clear over
time , that some journalists write articles without proper research and
investigation. Some journalists have defined themselves as determined
opposition to the labour movement.
It is a common knowledge that the COSATU President rejected the UDF type
formation. Hence there was a Central Committee declaration which
rejected the notion of the re-establishment of the UDF or the creation
of the left party. The Central Committee further emphasized the
centrality of the alliance with the ANC and SACP components.
To put the record straight, the coalition is formed on the basis of
intensifying the COSATU jobs and poverty campaign. It is a tactical
coalition on a specific objectives around jobs and poverty. There is
absolutely no ulterior motive or any political agenda nor neither any
desire to contest the ANC political power. There is nothing wrong in
mobilizing the people on the common purpose around jobs, unemployment
and poverty. This campaign is intended to challenge the power of big
business to stop job losses and invest in eradicating poverty.
This campaign emphasizes the points raised in the ANC manifesto on
eradicating poverty and creating jobs. The coalition plays a
complimentary role to the work of the ANC. It does not take the
political power of the ANC. It is therefore mendacious to say the
campaign will challenge the power of the ANC and strain the alliance. It
is wrong and incongruous to suggest or use a word like UDF type
organization because it gives a perception amongst readers that COSATU
is forming an organization that has its own constitution and policies.
The UDF type scenario creates confusion and panic amongst the readers
and the progressive forces.
Secondly, to clarify further, the COSATU 8th Congress resolved to
establish such a coalition. As a result the COSATU Western Cape is the
first province to formalize and implement such a resolution in a form of
a launch. To be honest, there have been other coalition formed on
similar basis with other structures of civil society like the Peoples
budget campaign, the Basic income grant and the Treatment action
The Western Cape launch has been triggered by the fact that the province
must mobilize all forces for a strike on the 3 October 2005. The launch
which was supported by TAC, SACC and other NGOs stayed with the original
purpose of mobilizing for a strike action. In the launch , many people
raised views, opinions and issues on political and organizational
direction of the alliance structure. It cannot therefore be construed
that such opinions form the basis for a split within the alliance.
Some of the writers sensationalize issues in order to give a false
impression that COSATU is constantly attacking the ANC. It must be
understood that people raise issues to spark debates not to take a
decision. It will be wrong for any coalition to take a decision that
will fundamentally undermine COSATU policies and Congress decisions. To
this end, some writers have helped us to free ourselves from the
illusions we have harboured about the political integrity and ethicality
of the articles they write.
Thirdly, as part of the NUMSA Western Cape Political Discussions Forum
(PDF) Dr Allan Boesak was invited to speak about the history of the UDF
and its ability to mobilize communities across different spectrums in
the struggle against apartheid. In all his text of the speech there was
never a mention of a re-launch of the UDF type formation. He only
engaged about challenges facing the civil society structures and the
political organizations. It is unfortunate that some journalist have
chosen to distort Boesak's speech in order harbour lethal agendas
against the trade union movement. To investigate a topic with an aim of
digging out facts is one thing but sensationalism at best smacks of poor
journalism. Some of the headings on the Western Cape launch are just
unwarranted and mediocrous.
To conclude, facts must be investigated before putting pen to paper. The
problem we have is that some journalists sensationalize the issues with
an aim of getting credibility and honour. Sensationalism is dangerous in
all its forms and it must be avoided in the new South Africa. As the
labour movement, we are sick and tired of bourgeois propaganda. It must
be known that writers do not have an incontestable right to propagate
The writer is Dumisa Ntuli - NUMSA information officer. For more information call 689 1700 or 0829737282
Social Movements, Cosatu and the 'new UDF' by Oupa Lehulere
The launch, by COSATU and some 'civil society organisation', of the 'new United Democratic Front' in the Western Cape on 22 August has already gone the way of many similar announcements in the past. As usual, there were the big headlines in one or more newspapers; followed by excitement among some sections of the left - within and outside the new social movements - that at last COSATU was going to take up the struggle against the neoliberal policies of the ANC. This was followed by the usual denials from COSATU that anything of the sort was going to happen, and by vows from COSATU that it remains forever committed to the Alliance and to the leadership of the ANC.
If this was all that had happened, one could say that there was nothing new, and that we should just continue with the daily life of organising and movement building.
Response to Oupa by Ebrahim Harvey
I try not to respond to issues that come up in this forum because there are
so many and you require time to do so but felt compelled to respond to some
of the issues you raise in your substantial and timely contribution to a
critically important debate. This is a very brief response to only some
issues you raise.
Unfortunately, you are not strategic about the relationship between Cosatu
and the social movements. Cosatu is the Achilles heel of the ANC alliance.
The fact is that the ANC is EXTREMELY concerned and fearful of strong links
developing between Cosatu and social movements, which is why it is
strategically and tactically correct to call for a united front between
them, which I have done for years, especially given the present weakness of
social movements and unchallenged dominance of the ANC. In fact such a
united front - even while Cosatu remains formally in the alliance - will
present these movements with the best prospects to date for rapid growth.
With all the contradictions Cosatu is definitely becoming more open to
prospects of working with social movements and prominent progressive and
leftist activists, academics and writers, even those who have been critical
of them. The fact that I was invited by Vavi to their recent 10-year
conference - who for years resented me because of my columns and articles
which were critical of Cosatu and its alliance with the ANC and blatantly
refused at time to have me interview him - was yet another indication of a
healthy opening up to engaging the left outside the ANC alliance, EVEN IF
'no left social movement were given any space at the Cosatu conference', as
you state. Perhaps at the next one there will be and that will be good in my
Terrible as many of the fundamental compromises they have made I would be much more careful in characterising the ANC as the party of monopoly capital, period. You need a much more sophisticated and refined analysis
than such a conclusion. The ANC's characterisation - though admittedly moving along a path that is fundamentally neo-liberal - is much more complex and contradictory.
Your position on spontaneity in the mass movement seems also contradictory. On the one hand you berate the old left - forgetting that there are and have always been many differences among them - for not paying enough attention to the spontaneous struggles of the masses over the past year but on the other you decry the spontaneity with which Ceruti appears to approach relations between Cosatu and social movements. Here you want various questions to first be addressed - and important ones at that - but you appear uncritically a great supporter of the spontaneous struggles that have emerged over the past year or so. Besides, I don't think ALL these struggles can be described as spontaneous. It appears that in some areas protests were more organised and planned, following admittedly earlier more spontaneous struggles elsewhere in the country. For example, not all the ongoing mass protests in the Free State can be described as spontaneous.
Besides, you seem not to place spontaneous struggles in its proper
perspective and approach it is if it is inherently virtuous. It is nothing but the forceful expression of an accumulated 'gatvol' feeling in the bosom of the unorganised oppressed and exploited and the raw material with which Marxist have to work, wherever it comes from, whoever is involved and whatever forms it takes . But the most powerful of such struggles have dissipated in many countries without organisation, leadership and programme. This is the ABC of lessons of struggles of the 20th century: Don't glorify or fetishise spontaneity. Besides, spontaneity cannot be a substitute for organisation and so can mobilisation not be a substitute for organisation and more organisation. Mobilisation is best and easiest when you are strongly rooted and organised.
But spontaneous mobilisation - which is largely what we seen recently - is a
truly powerful lever, unleashing vital energies and potential for winning
short term gains and a valuable basis for longer term organisation-building.
I don't think you quite grasp the dialectical links between spontaneity and
organisation. You seem too seduced by spontaneity itself, which is often
itself a symptom of lack of organisation, as is the case in SA presently:
The ANC's allies are often not where they should be and the social movements have not been strong enough to always be there: a vacuum spontaneity exploits since, as you know vacuums don't last long. So I think it is also you who do not provide systematic theorisation of this and other issues.
Cosatu is not now giving some space to social movements because of the
present retreat and weaknesses of these movements but much more as a
consequence of the spontaneous but strong mass struggles against poor
services over the past year, which were often not linked to social
movements. In fact it is because Cosatu feels threatened by these struggles
and how they could strengthen social movements and present fertile ground
for their growth. They could also over the coming period outflank Cosatu and
become the fulcrum around which militant anti-neo-liberal struggles -
particularly as it affects basic needs and services - could advance into
what appears a political and organisational inevitability: a mass socialist
or workers party in opposition to the ANC over the next five years or so.
The social contradictions and growing poverty have become too stark for
ordinary people in the townships and squatter settlements: they are indeed
being forced onto the road of struggle by the sheer weight of their burdens,
whether there are social movements around or not.
You are a bit too reckless in some of your statements and certainly mistaken. How can you say that Cosatu was seen as supporting the evictions, the cuts in social spending and so on? I know many a Cosatu member - forget about the top leaders - who would want to lynch you for making such a statement. The necessary analytical depth your approach lacks. On what credible basis and with which information can you substantiate such a statement? Such reckless talk is more damaging when it is directed at an organisation as important and big as Cosatu and can alienate them, when there may be prospects of working together on some issues.
The most important issue today for the left in South Africa - hence I
publicly write about it all the time (in the bourgeois press, nogal!) - is
the relationship between Cosatu and the social movements. I will repeat this
a thousand times because it should be evident to any serious political
activist and analyst. If you are serious about building a mass alternative
to the dominance of the ANC you cannot but be aware that this is indeed the
Key Strategic issue today, not because of Cosatu's strengths but in spite of
its many and glaring weaknesses, and in fact partly because of the absence
of an established and formidable left outside the ANC alliance. It is the
same reason why the masses in their millions vote for the ANC. It is NOT
because they happy with the ANC but in spite of their unhappiness with them, because who is there to vote for today. The PAC and BC organisations have little to offer them. The DA nothing really and social movements represent are still small and weak, representing at best the potential rather than the reality of a credible mass alternative to the ANC. Surely, the balance and relationship of forces on the ground - however you characterise their leadership and its policies - must to a considerable degree determine political and strategic perspectives for the future. Hence the orientation to Cosatu, but not a blind one that is ready to place social movements at the service of Cosatu, to do with it what they feel like.
You grossly underestimate the contradictory political, ideological and
programmatic consequences and sharpening of contradictions a united front
between Cosatu and social movements, such as the APF, will present to the
ruling party. It will no doubt be enormous. That is precisely why the ANC is
deeply worried and have sleepless nights about Cosatu working with social
movements which are opposed to the ANC government - not so much the SACP because the fact is that it is relatively a very small party (though we know its ideological, political and programmatic influence upon both the ANC and Cosatu has been totally out of proportion to its limited numerical strength). However, I am confident that the set of contradictions that sharpens and erupts in such a united front as a direct result of common struggle around a common set of demands that strike at the heart of neo-liberalism at critical municipal level (especially if there is mutually-supportive struggle between the factories and townships) will be far more difficult to 'manage' than what we have seen so far. In fact I think Cosatu's leadership itself retreats before the full implications of such a front. That is why it is not just to protect the ANC that they distance themselves from this new UDF-type front but it is to protect themselves too.
I agree with you that a huge problem-risk is that Cosatu could hijack
community struggles to better manage the contradictions and present itself
as the overall leader of struggles it has long neglected, even when these
made news headlines, and not only in this country. But the benefits for a
longer term left project, I believe, far outweigh these risks. Don't forget
too, that such a united front of working class organisations - if indeed it
will be a united front as opposed to a multi-class 'popular front' - will
imminently create a revolutionary momentum that will not be easily managed by Cosatu leaders. The revolutionary possibilities are numerous, from this perspective. It is precisely why I don't think Cosatu will ever really agree to such a front because you don't have to be a political scientist to see that the serious problems in the ANC alliance will be magnified tenfold if Cosatu is part of a united front. In fact, it will programmatically directly contradict the ANC alliance, if its thrust is to challenge neo-liberalism both at the point of production but probably more importantly for the coming
period, at the point of reproduction and consumption: basic services in
townships and informal settlements. This is the new terrain of vitally
important struggles the recent mass resurgence has opened up. The things
that Cosatu would be required to agree to fight for in a united front will
be nothing less than anathema for the ruling party, which is, even if
reluctantly, the bearer of neo-liberal policies, that have deepened black
poverty over the past decade. You will immediately have a combustible
situation, pregnant with the potential and the forces to pose the most
serious and sustained challenge to ANC rule since 1994. But I agree with you
that this perspective and trajectory will have to be very carefully examined
before social movements commit themselves to joint action.
I also certainly agree with you that Desai's talk of Cosatu's more
structural and macro-economic understanding of their oppression is very
problematic and sounds nonsense, as is his attributing a reluctance to fight
by Cosatu members to strategic exhaustion, not ideological confusion. If
Cosatu's members are not confused Desai sounds so. He is also completely
and, might I add, dangerously mistaken about the need for Cosatu to stay in
the Alliance. I have written many articles explaining the necessity for
Cosatu to break from this alliance and make no apology for this consistent
stance. In fact this alliance poses the single biggest obstacle to working
class and even trade union unity. I also think Desai's analysis of Cosatu
workers is badly mistaken. You point to only some of these contradictions
and problems. There are many other examples that point to massive confusion and apathy among the rank and file, far from a class-for-itself consciousness and action, very far in fact.
But place Cosatu in a broader united front and it will be much more
difficult to contain pressures and contradictions, though they will have a
big numerical, political and social advantage over smaller
social-movement-type organisations, such as the APF, but since there has to
be a common programme of action this should not be a huge problem. For
example, Cosatu and social movements are opposed to the privatisation,
commercialisation and commodification of basic services. Just on this basis
alone - the implications of which are massive and far-reaching - a programme of action can be agreed upon.
I think you make a big mistake when you say that Cosatu members are becoming 'labour aristocrats'. I dealt with this question in the SA Labour Bulletin in 2000 and thought I demolished this mythical nonsense. So if you read the SALB why resurrect this nonsense again? This is the same language the bosses use, which becomes an excuse for poor wage increases, when workers should be happy that they have a job in the first place! Your mechanical and schematic assessments of strikes and wages is also fundamentally flawed, though I don't have the time to now elaborate.
The main strategic perspective and strength that a united front between
Cosatu and social movements holds for me is this: It will, like nothing
before, create the climate and conditions that will in theory and practice
make the continuation of the alliance with the ANC untenable and impossible. It will, I believe, therefore, soon end an alliance that has been
artificially sustained, against the real interests of Cosatu members and the broader working class, for over a decade. But because you overestimate the problems Cosatu's presence will have for controlling such a front in the
interests of Cosatu and the ANC, and underestimate the radicalising potential that will inevitably emerge in such a front, under conditions of worsening black poverty, you cannot appreciate this perspective. In fact
what gives credence to this perspective is the fear of the ANC for such a
front because they understand very well what it would mean for their rule,
better than it seems you do. So the emphasis on Cosatu is not one that is
blind to all the problems inherent in such a perspective but it originates
in the fact that they are still the biggest and potentially the most
powerful mass organisation in the country, situated in the most strategic
sectors of the economy, in spite of all that you say. For this reason the
most powerful community struggles will be seriously disadvantaged if they do
not intersect-link up with Cosatu workers. Likewise, on their own, social
movements will not win the big and longer-term struggles, especially if they
don't become a political party. That is why I have for years repeatedly
stated that whether we like it or not - and obviously we don't - Cosatu will
remain key and crucial for any left alternative to the ANC. I know it's not
quite palatable to many but for the foreseeable future that will be the
By the way, it was not Desai who spoke of Cosatu's continued stay in the ANC
alliance being a case of a 'battered wife syndrome but it was I who said
this when I did live political commentary for etv at the 2003 Cosatu
congress in JHB.
Response to Oupa and Ebrahim by Dominic Tweedie
Oupa and Ebrahim,
You guys have got a peculiar idea of alliance. Allow me to offer a different
one to yours.
We educate, organise, and mobilise the masses. We make alliances between
organisations based on the recognition of their distinctness in the first
place, and after that, on common causes.
We do not pursue the sectarian path of only trying to pact similar
organisations together. Alliances are based on common goals.
The broader the alliance for any given goal can be, the more likely will be
the achievement of the common goal.
For the purpose of alliance-building, individuals in other formations who
are willing to talk, to understand, and to negotiate common goals are
essential. Jacob Zuma has been such a person. As a bridge-builder in the
alliance, he has come under attack from those who want to break the
Zuma may theoretically not be indispensible, but a President who will be
able to play the role of bridge-builder is essential. Any other candidate of
this type will be subject to the same attack (even if the tactics may be
different). Therefore we had better fight for Zuma.
Alliance must be on offer all round and on the same basis. Alliance is on
offer to Trevor Manuel and to the Social Movements at the same moment in
history. The SACP, COSATU, and most of the ANC understand the politics of
alliance. To what extent do these others?
If the Social Movements think that by entering alliance with COSATU they are threateneing to replace the ANC, then they have utterly failed to understand our alliance politics. Let us hope they are about to learn, and to embrace, the true nature of alliance.
Similarly, if Trevor Manuel thinks that the formation of a coalition for
full employment is threatening the Tripartite Alliance he is drastically
wrong. What could threaten the Tripartite Alliance is not its extension, but
its restriction. The ANC/SACP/COSATU Alliance must lead the campaign for
full employment and in doing so it must throw the doors wide for the
participation of the whole nation.
The DA has doomed itself with its sectarian politics of opposition for
opposition's sake. It should be an example to all of the folly of this kind
of sectarian politics and the necessity of alliance.
Alliance is what has kept this country together for more than a decade and
it is the development of this alliance, and only this, which has
revolutionary potential in South Africa today.
Response to Oupa by Stephen Greenberg
Here are a number of points that I think are being confused (perhaps
deliberately so) in the debate about the social movements and their
relationship to Cosatu and other mass based organisations of the working
First, there seems to be a crude notion of the way political tensions inside
the Alliance are likely to manifest themselves. This is based on the idea
that the only possible way that the Alliance will ever break is through a
formal split between its partners i.e. Cosatu splitting from the Alliance
with the ANC, maybe together with the SACP. But the desire for this kind of
'vertically integrated' split fails to understand the fractures inside the
hegemonic block as class-based rather than organisation-based fractures. The ANC's recent policy conference was an excellent lesson in the dangers of thinking of the ANC as a monolithic bloc with the interests of monopoly capital as its central motivating force. The conference appears (from the outside) as a clear grassroots revolt against the leadership - perhaps
coalescing around the Zuma affair but with significant consequences for
policy proposals around labour market flexibility and others. A view of the
ANC as a monolithic organisation that aims to push through these policies
against its alliance partners would fail to explain this revolt inside the
This means (surprise!) that the ANC actually has its own internal political
tensions, there is a strong class basis to these tensions, and they are
currently manifesting in open conflict between grassroots membership and
dominant sections of the leadership. One can say the same for the SACP and
Cosatu, where some leaders are in favour of pushing the envelope (to the
left) and some are trying to defend the status quo.
Oupa is suggesting that these tensions, in by far the biggest organisations
with active working class membership, are irrelevant to the trajectory of
the class struggle in South Africa and require no tactical or stragetic
reorientations from activists and grassroots organisations outside the
Alliance. Size isn't everything, but it is important. There is no
possibility of the social movements, as they are currently constituted, to
successfully realise their vision and longer term goals on their own
(setting aside the question of how these visions and goals are formulated,
and by whom). They have to coalesce or ally with a far wider base of active
participants in practical action to be successful. The lack of practical
relationships with organised workers is a key weakness of the social
movements and the professional intellectuals that shape these movements.
This doesn't mean making a pact with the ANC or SACP or Cosatu leadership,
but rather to identify points of common interest and work out how to engage
grassroots members and activists in a common programme of action. This often necessitates engagement with leadership. There can't be a principled opposition to that. The path is fraught with dangers. Retaining organisational independence is key. The ability of organisations/movements to continue with their own priogramme, to speak for themselves, and to ensure an independent voice on common platforms are crucial. But it seems
that the extra-Alliance left is afraid to take up these challenges. Is this
because of a desire to entrench their own leadership? Or is it a fear of
being unable to win the political arguments with the possibility of losing
members to 'rival' organisations? As long as we see the working class
divided into separate political organisations with a brick wall between
them, the possibilities of radical change seem slim. The organisational
boundaries have to be porous, especially at the grassroots.
To my mind, there are two strategic battles that must be waged
simultaneously. The one is to widen the hairline fractures within the
hegemonic bloc that Claire talks about, to intensify the class-based
contradictions that have created them because in order for a new class
hegemony to arise, the old hegemony needs to be in crisis. The second task
is to construct an alternative, counter-hegemonic pole of attraction around
which the working class can mobilise. The 'guided' independent community
struggles of 1999-2002 raised the possibility of mass-based, extra-Alliance
politics. Contrary to Oupa however, we can hardly suggest that these guided
(1999-2002) and sponteaneous (2004-5) grassroots struggles permit the
abandonment of the pre-existing array of working class organisations,
whatever their weaknesses. To indicate the possibility of a counter-hegemonic pole of attraction is not the same as to sustain and build
it. Oupa may want to hold onto the SMI as the only possibility for creating a counter-hegemonic pole. But the SMI itself is resting on a base of dissolving, fragmenting or ideologically divergent formations and struggles.
It is part of the answer, but not the whole. Currently disorganised workers must be brought in, but so must organised workers in other formations. And this means the character of the counter-hegemonic pole will be shaped by all
these forces and not just one.
In this context, it seems that the key is how to bridge the gap between
those working 'inside' to widen contradictions in the hegemonic bloc and
those working 'outside' to build an independent counter-hegemonic pole of
attraction. Let me stress that the elements 'inside' cannot be identified as
organisational monoliths. Individuals and groups need to ally across these
boundaries, rather than organisational blocks. Obviously the 'internal' and
'external' struggles are not mutually exclusive, since contradictions in the
hegemonic bloc create spaces for counter-hegemonic mobilisation, just as the possibility (and reality) of an independent working class politics creates fractures in the hegemony. But the two projects are not operating in unity
at present. The Western Cape cross-organisational alliance is a good idea.
But joint practical activity will dictate whether it is a success or not,
not merely a proclamation. This is the hard work ahead.
Response to Oupa by Trevor Ngwane
RESPONSE TO COMRADE OUPA'S PAPER ON COSATU-NEW UDF AND THE SOCIAL MOVEMNTS
Summary of the paper
Oupa Lehulere is the director of Khanya College and a socialist. His paper
is 33 pages long and talks about how we can find a road to socialism in
South Africa. He concentrates on COSATU and its call to form a UDF, that
is, an organization which brings together different community and labour
organizations fighting against capitalist policies. Oupa does not think
that COSATU is genuine in making this call nor does he think anything good
(progressive) can come out of communities heeding this call. Rather, Oupa
thinks the left must concentrate its efforts on linking up with and building
the spontaneous uprisings taking place in the country especially in the Free
State. In the paper Oupa attacks the old left, these are socialists such
as Brian Ashley of AIDC, Ashwin Desai, Keep Left and the Socialist Group. He
thinks this old left is sentimentally (irrationally) still looking to COSATU
for the social force necessary to fight capitalism. For Oupa COSATU is
reactionary and class collaborationist. It is not only COSATU leaders who
have rotten politics but even rank and file COSATU members have become a
labour aristocracy more interested in themselves than taking forward the
struggle of the masses.
Importance of the paper
This paper is important because it is trying to tell us what the way forward
is for the workers' movement in South Africa. The paper is aimed at
influencing the thinking of comrades in the social movements such in the
SECC, APF, Jubilee, LPM etc. It is also aimed at comrades in the trade
unions and in NGOs such as Khanya College and FXI and others. Basically it
is saying that the left in South Africa must stop looking at COSATU as
important and crucial in building a broader and more powerful workers
movement because COSATU is reactionary; rather the left must look at the
spontaneous community uprisings in the country. More importantly the paper
says the leadership of the old leftis misleading the working class and
that in the social movements, as much as in the left generally, leadership
must now be taken over by the new left. This new left is what Oupa
represents and his paper elaborates the position of this left. What Comrade
Oupa seems to be doing is to draw a line inside the left and in the social
movements between the old and new left. He is more or less declaring
war on the old left ideologically and politically. His paper is the
political _expression of the new left's attack on the old. The attack on
SG, on the SECC, on the APF organizer and administrator, all these are, in
my opinion, aspects of this attack of the old left by the new. The new left
claims to be more left than the old left and in fact Oupa's argument is that
the old left is actually reactionary or right-wing.
Main problems with Oupa's paper
There is a something wrong in many sentences and pages of Comrade Oupa's paper. In what follows a few major points of disagreement with Oupa are covered for the purpose of discussion and debate. These views are those of the Socialist Group. There is a plan to write something more systematic in the near future but hopefully this will do for now:
Oupa's analysis of the class struggle in South Africa is not
correct e.g. he does not think there the recent strikes by SAA, SAMWU, NUM and other workers constitutes a strike wave. But there is clear evidence that the strikes influenced other workers to go on strike thus making a
wave. He also dismisses the importance of these strikes because he claims
they were procedural meaning they were legal and followed the Labour
Relations Act. He thinks wild cat strikes are more revolutionary. Of
course, in some circumstances, they can be more militant. In others, they
may not be. But he misses this reality in order to make his point. The SG
is wondering what was procedural about SAMWU members trashing cities and sabotaging services or the disruption caused by striking SAA workers. Or the many workers in essential services who broke the law to join the action.
What Oupa fails to understand is that workers on strike can be driven to fight against procedures while the leadership are the ones who will invoke procedure.
A close reading of his paper shows us that actually Oupa's perspective is not consistently pro-working class e.g. he blames COSATU rank
and file members for the class collaborationist policies of the COSATU leadership. He thus cannot separate the politics of the leadership of
working class mass organizations from that of the rank and file. This failure always leads to blaming the workers instead of organizing with the workers against the class collaborationist politics of their leadership. To further justify his argument in support of sidestepping the job of
confronting theunion leadership Oupa claims that COSATU members are part of the problem because they have become a labour aristocracy. It is very difficult to imagine a worker at Pikitup, paid R1 200 - R2 000 a month with few benefits, being an aristocrat, politically, socially or economically.
His Marxism is questionable e.g. he is opposed to what he calls an
emphasis by Marxists on the point of production (workplace) because he
thinks this makes the left look too much to organized labour. By so saying
he is ignoring the basic strength of workers, namely, that they produce the
wealth and that's why they can go on strike and stop production. Of course,
many workers are not even organized. That is a problem, not a solution.
Under capitalism this is a very important source of strength. Oupa
disagrees with this fact which has been the foundation of the workers'
struggle for socialism for more than a century.
Oupa has written a 33-page letter on COSATU but he chooses not to mention GIWUSA. This is the union which workers joined after a split from CEPPWAW, a COSATU affiliate, involving some lefts close to Oupa. The question is: does Oupa and his comrades actually believe that COSATU is the enemy? If so then does it mean we must work to weaken and defeat COSATU? Is that what Oupa is saying? Workers need unity at the workplace - that is what a union is and any division amongst unions is undermining that unity. Of course there will be political differences inside any union because there is a contest for political ideas amongst the working class and not all
workers have the same politics. But is Oupa saying workers do not need that unity? Is he saying unity must be found without COSATU?
For Oupa the politics of class collaboration of the COSATU
leadership appears to be a discovery. In reality class collaboration is not new in COSATU. It was there during the politics of ungovernability when the COSATU and union leaders could not even connect the NUM and NUMSA strikes of 1987; it was there when the COSATU leadership took the initial RDP and removed demands including a moratorium on retrenchment; when COSATU collaborated in the COSATU/NACTU/SACCOLA Accord, when COSATU leadership supported the new Labour Relations Act, accepted variation downwards in the new Basic Condition of Employment Act, etc etc. Nor is class collaboration politics limited to COSATU - it dominates the SACP which is powerful in COSATU leadership positions.
The action of a riot is an expression of working class anger but it
is not always revolutionary. Just as the strike raises many political issues
and challenges so does a spontaneous community uprising. In opposing the
spontaneous community uprising - the riot - against the strike Oupa fails
to see the strength in the apparent weaknesses of the recent strikes and
fails altogether to see the weaknesses in the drama of the community
uprising. The leadership associated with some of the uprisings has been
shown to be opportunistic and individualistic and their politics can be
narrow and not always pro-working class. Some ANC leaders have
opportunistically exploited some riots. If your politics tells you, like
ours, to orientate to ordinary working class people, then you see and
celebrate the strength, but also critically examine the politics in militant
Oupa speaks for a faction or group inside the South African left and some of the social movements. His arguments are designed to justify and promote the political views of this faction whatever its internal contradictions. Unfortunately unlike Keep Left, the SG and other political
groups, Oupa's group denies that it actually is a group. The SG believes
that the correct thing is for each group and faction to declare itself and
to openly espouse its views. That way each group can give as much as it
receives, it can criticize and be criticized. It is not good politics to
use organizational processes to express and take forward political
differences and contestations as appears to be happening in the APF today.
Let the politics of each group and faction be put on the table and we have a
contest of politics versus politics, not organizational accusations
camouflaging actual political differences between groups.
Oupa bungles together the old left into one camp despite some important differences and distinctions in the politics and practice of the
people and organisations he attributes to this camp. For Oupa AIDC, Keep Left, Ashwin Desai and SG politics are all the same as far as their position on COSATU is concerned. This is not true. We of the SG want to explain our orientation to COSATU: as Marxists we orient to the working class, some members of the working class are employed, and some of these employed workers are members of trade unions, and COSATU happens to be the biggest trade union federation in South Africa. We insist that ordinary working class people who are employed must be organized at that point - this is what a union is. And we insist that maximum unity must be promoted amongst ordinary working class people. We separate between the leaders and the rank and file and as SG we always look to the rank and file, to ordinary workers. We don't just connect to militants but also to the rank and file. When we connect with the militants, we connect also about the politics and method which will take them to mobilize and organize amongst the rank and file. That is how we end up orienting to COSATU - we orient to its rank and file not to its leadership.
The political method preferred by Comrade Oupa and the comrades
around him seems to be that of watching out for incidents of and places
where there is mass action and then to move in and recruit the most active
elements to a workshop at Khanya College. The idea is that mobilization
plus a Khanya political education course makes one to be a 100%
revolutionary activist. We of SG say there is nothing wrong with that but
we would emphasise the need to turn those militants back to the masses so
that they can do political work also in those areas where there is no
immediate action and where the working class seems to be quiet. Some Khanya College graduates (trained militants) can easily turn against their fellow workers, their own organizations and even split their organizations after receiving political education at Khanya. We must not forget that the best political education for workers will more likely come from a worker
participating in a strike rather than from a Khanya College workshop.
SG views on some of the issues raised in Oupa's paper
On the strikes
There was a strike wave, some workers went on strike influenced by previous recent strikes. The strike by its nature is important because it raises the question of power and of who produces and who controls the production process. These strikes were important and should be seen as linked to the 2004 one-day public sector strike which was reputed to be the biggest in South African history. The following brief points can be made about the strikes:
*they happened after years of little strike activity
*they broke through the one-day strike barrier
*they were disruptive
*the workers were fighting to win and not just to get the bosses to negotiate
*the politics of the union leadership neither confronted the LRA and the chains of proceduralism and legalism, nor clearly identified some of the strikes strikes as against the ANC government
*the union leadership failed to connect them to each other
The last bullet point is interesting because Oupa condemns COSATU for building and supporting procedural strikes. We accuse COSATU leaders of
NOT building, supporting and connecting these procedural strikes. It should
be noted that many young workers were involved in strike action for the
first time in their lives and that many people watching saw for the first
time the power of organized labour to disrupt the plans of the bosses.
On workers and COSATU Oupa condemns workers for being loyal to COSATU but we think that the loyalty to COSATU is not as great as Oupa claims e.g. when COSATU calls for a May Day rally workers are not attending in their thousands. Workers are no longer just doing what COSATU tells them to do. When workers look to COSATU and seem willing to obey its calls for action it is because they are looking a power and strength that can take their struggle forward rather than because of blind loyalty. They are looking to COSATU for cover for themselves. What is dismissed as their loyalty often comes if and when they see COSATU doing something which makes sense in struggle.
So for example, thousands of ordinary working class people have been to COSATU meetings in their struggle against pre-paid meters, not because they obey COSATU leaders. Of course the best thing is when workers realize that they are their own cover. We don't celebrate the fact that workers' loyalty to COSATU has been destroyed because of years of betrayal and class collaborationist politics. Because it means that working class strength through organization and mobilization at the workplace has also been
weakened. We also insist that class collaboration is an old, not a new problem. But we can see an advantage in that this loss of loyalty means workers are no longer just doing what COSATU leaders tell them to.
On unions versus social movements
It is wrong to oppose or counterpose the strike to the community uprising. It is also wrong to counterpose the community struggle to the strike as Oupa does. Workers are employees at the workplace and community members at their workplace. The APF, for example, was specifically formed to build unity between employed and unemployed workers, between struggles in the community and at the workplace. In correcting a political mistake he perceives Oupa bends the stick too much the other way. He is arguing for abandoning organized labour to its class collaborationist leadership while all our energies should focus on community struggles. This is undialectical and fails to understand the nature of a workers' movement. A workers' movement consist of all or most sections of the working class. In strikes it has been easier to turn employed workers towards community struggles for example against prepaid meters and evictions. The duty of the left in social movements is to encourage different parts of the workers movement to stand with each other against the common enemy - the bosses and the bosses government.
On collectivism and individualism among the left
We believe that as socialists we have to work collectively to support each
other and help each other conduct disciplined and effective work building
the workers' struggle and the workers' movement. This means we don't think working individually is the strongest way of building. We also believe that as a political organization we need to co-operate with other left forces in
the struggle. This means working in a comradely fashion with other groups in working class mass movements and support organizations. The SG does not hide its existence from anyone and has affiliated to the APF with the aim of building and influencing the politics. We believe that people can and should form groups, factions, caucuses and platforms in working class mass organizations but we think this is best done openly and honestly.
Political conditions allow this in South Africa. We are worried about the tendency to hide organized groups and factions while the same hidden groups speak as individuals and attack other groups such as ours who are open about their existence and accuse them of hidden political agendas. The SG has no hidden agenda, it is fighting for the overthrowal of the capitalist system and deploys its comrades to work in the social movements and trade unions to build the struggle of the workers to achieve this.
The autonomist tendency is not a class approach thus cannot be a consistent working class approach. The SG believes that only a working class politics has any hope of shaking and ultimately overthrowing the power of the bosses.
Militancy on its own cannot answer questions of class struggle. Class politics tells us that the capitalist state is a force organized by the bosses to suppress the working class and maintain the law and order of profits. The bosses' class uses the state to deal with any serious opposition to its rule. The view that state power is not important for the working class amounts to tying the hands of workers behind their backs by disempowering workers with unrealistic ideas. The autonomists wrongly argue that we can have mass organisations without structures and leaders. This robs rank and file workers of the tools by which they can control their own struggle by controlling their organizations and their leaders. . All human organizations develop a leadership and such a leadership should be openly and regularly elected. An ordinary member needs to be able to participate in a local structure and such a structure should be connected with other structures in the organization so that a voice in one place can be heard in other places.
On building a movement towards a mass workers party
At exactly the moment when communities and workplaces are rising up in struggle it is sad to see some social movements turning inward and spending most of their time looking dealing with internal matters and leadership power struggles. The moment for turning out to the millions and millions is now. The SG believes the way forward is to connect to the existing struggles, build them, promote socialist politics and raise the call for building a movement towards a mass workers party. Such a party will be a party of millions and millions of workers based on existing struggles and fighting to take state power from the bosses. The aim is to get rid of capitalism and to replace it with socialism - a system where production is not for profit but to satisfy human needs.
Some thoughts on the 'new UDF' discussion by Prishani Naidoo
During preparations for the Anti-War Coalition (AWC) march earlier this
year, in the light of discussions focusing quite substantially on the need
for us to develop links with COSATU and 'working class issues', I proposed
that we make one of our key themes, 'An Injury To One Is An Injury To All'.
I thought, at the time, that this was quite a clever way of using an old
struggle slogan, coming from COSATU, to highlight the fact that we see our
individual struggles as movements making up the AWC, and our united front
against the war against Iraq, as part of a common struggle against
neoliberalism and capitalism; COSATU is part of this struggle <#_ftn1> .
In a banner-making session, I started painting the slogan, with a silhouette
of the COSATU logo next to it, onto a piece of yellow fabric. I was joined
by a fellow comrade from the APF, who helped me make sure that the logo
resembled the original quite closely. We worked from an old COSATU poster
and spoke about the problems around prepaid meters that were being faced by members of the APF. With the red and black paint giving the yellow banner a real '80s 'COSATU-feel', the comrade picked up a paintbrush and added to the banner, in green paint, the words 'izinyoka' ('snakes'). Not quite understanding this move, I asked him why he had done this, and explained
that it was my understanding that we were trying to show how common our struggles are with COSATU's. He laughed and shook his head, arguing that he saw COSATU as no more than 'izinyoka'. He said something like, They call us izinyoka when we are reconnecting electricity, but they are really the snakes because they lie to the people telling us we are going to get jobs and free services if we vote for the ANC. But then we are left unemployed and expected to pay for services that we need. How can we say that we are fighting together?
Social Movements, toenaadering with Cosatu and What’s New in the ‘ultra-left’ Heinrich Böhmke
Two papers discussing the formation of the new UDF have been circulated recently; one by Prishani Naidoo and the other by Oupa Lehulere, both of whom are well respected in South African ‘ultra-left’ circles. I think it is fair to say that both Prishani and Oupa are sceptical about the value to be derived by social movements having any dealings with Cosatu. Oupa goes a step further than scepticism and grumbles at great length about those who have had the temerity to suggest a /toenaadering/ with Cosatu or its members, whether on the tactical or strategic plane.
Prishani’s scepticism is historically justified. She remembers many occasions since 1994 when Cosatu opposed and undermined various radical outcomes; insidiously, hackishly, arrogantly. I had forgotten some of these events and my bile was up in the remembering, especially the shameful way Cosatu behaved during the WSSD. Oupa provides Prishani with additional details to fear social movement connection with Cosatu. He quotes a 2003 Cosatu Congress resolution noting the emergence of social movements hostile to the Alliance. This necessitates ‘… the immediate strengthening and consolidating of the political centre, with a view to lead the masses on the issues that have given rise to these single issue based movements’ (3). It is presumably the same resolution in which Cosatu volunteers to ‘lead and mobilise mass campaigns to avoid opportunism and undermining of Alliance organisations’ (3). For Oupa, Cosatu ‘… will act as a Trojan horse facilitating the acceptance of the ANC by the movements’ (15).
With these facts in mind, and to change species, it is indeed hard to miss the canine snout poking out from the woolly coat of the new UDF. But where Prishani and Oupa seem mainly to see some single thing to fear, something that’ll turn on them, I see many things to pity, some of which to turn, even, in those elements that make up Cosatu. We actually come to the same conclusion about whether the new UDF is worth participating in, Prishani and I, but this conclusion (No) rests on a somewhat different understanding of the power and potency of Cosatu as a pro-Alliance, disciplining, political force these days. Perhaps this has to do with my living in Durban where I could not imagine likely Cosatu participants in any future joint campaign or action pulling (off) these moves, whereas I am given to understand that Jo’Burg is another scene altogether. And because, firmly outside the framework of the new UDF, the existence of joint union / social movement actions will soon be feasible, certainly in Durban - it is worth talking through these differing understandings. Do we dare reach out to elements in Cosatu?
Shadow Boxing? Cosatu, Social Movements and the ANC government by Ashwin Desai
On the occasion of Cosatu's 20th anniversary
At the ring-side
I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it. I was
intrigued by how one moved one's body to protect oneself, how one used a
strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match.
A trade union, like a boxer, is only as good as his last fight. There are
few things more pathetic than watching exhibition matches by impoverished
legends of the ring - Max Schmeling, George Foreman, Mike Tyson -
blundering about throwing ineffectual roundhouses at men half their age and
calibre and then, around about the third round, succumbing to a body blow or
And so, forgive me if do not come here to sing Cosatu's praises of a time when it was a fit and fearsome champion - world champion perhaps - of class and national liberation struggle. For the last few years, it has grieved many to see Cosatu, punch drunk, scarcely able to lift its hands against an onslaught of right upper-cuts from lightweight nationalist parliamentarians, bar-room brawlers in the ANC, the rank amateurs of the Youth League and, at the risk of seeming sexist, handbag waving ministers. At the same time, Cosatu's attempts to push back the frontiers of control on the shop-floor have floundered. In fact, the captains of industry have in many cases
managed to re-assert 'managerial prerogative' over corners of the work-place they lost control of in the cauldron of the 1980s.
Luckily a body politic is capable of regeneration. There are signs that the cut-men have stemmed the flow of blood and that some in Cosatu have hauled out that old skipping rope and got back into a training programme again. Beneath the ideological flabbiness of Alliance-speak emerges the six-pack that comes from taking Principled Stands: purging certain politically corrupt officials and office-bearers and decrying the scandals of government's Zimbabwe, HIV/Aids and BEE policy. You know what it takes better than I do to get fighting fit again. You alone know how strong your new opponents are, especially those who used to train with you in the same communist gym. I will not presume to give you advice on how to run your organisation, when to throw punches or get your corner in order. I am no trainer. I come with a few tit-bits of advice for gaining more fans among the lumpen audience, so that the road that lies immediately ahead is a bit shorter. Think of me as a political dietician (no disrespect to Dr. Manto) come to share some of my views, both as a sociologist and activist, about what you need to eat and who you need to eat with as you get back into shape.
It is like a broken CD that just keeps repeating itself. The Alliance,
including COSATU, is generally sidelined from the process of policy
formulation and transformation for most of the ten years of governance.
Then, six months before elections, without even a Summit to formally endorse the elections strategy of the Manifesto, we get drawn into election task teams that work efficiently to mobilise the base and rally the troops. In
the victory celebrations, the public hugging follows. Yet a few months down the line, the reality of being sidelined returns, leading to public disagreements over key policy directions (COSATU, 2004).
The life of a sparring partner can be tough.
To change your lot in life my first advice as a dietician is eat humble pie.
Many within your ranks have held onto the delusion that your association
with the ANC would make a meaningful change to the lives of the broad
working class. Instead you have witnessed the ANC change from an
organisation enunciating policies of collective liberation into one seeking
individual emancipation. The new ethos and morals imposed by crass
materialism have been brought to the fore by the head of ANC Presidency's
defence of his right to make money quickly. He is quoted as having said
that, 'I did not join the struggle to become poor' (COSATU, 2004). Now you
have been reduced to needing the ANC more than it needs you (except during campaigning every election year). I am not here suggesting that your success as a federation needs to be judged by whether a socialist revolution has taken place in Azania or not. No! In the new world order, especially with the impossibility of autarchies and the collapse of the USSR, that was a fight no one would blame you from postponing. Conditions did not pertain for a knock-out blow and perhaps never will. But it was a time for a wearing down of opponents, round by round. Always advancing, and always knowing who is in your corner and who is defecting to the other side of the class struggle.
But, measured with even this far more modest and reformist tape, Cosatu has failed to win even moderate levels of hegemony in post-apartheid South Africa. Even within the paradigm of what is regarded as sound, free-market policies, you have failed to exert yourself within the Alliance for the better of your constituency. Even while keeping the budget-deficit within the preferred range of the Washington Consensus', you could have done far more to ensure pro-worker policies in respect of:
1.) the strength of the rand;
2.) inflation targeting;
3.) excessive and unaccountable military spending at the
expense of social welfare and education;
4.) a proper and functional national skills development
5.) a basic income grant;
6.) a meaningful public works programme;
7.) a comprehensive roll-out of HIV/Aids medication;
8.) tariff-barrier reductions;
9.) ameliorative industrial strategy measures in the collapsing
clothing and textile industry or does the 2010 Soccer World Cup count; and
10.) broad-based black economic empowerment as opposed to
Whatever concessions might have been made around privatisation recently
flow, I would suggest, from a government anxious about previously botched
listings, too much foreign control of key-parastatals and an over-exposed
pool of ANC-aligned BEE partners. Cosatu should claim no easy victories, as
if in response to two sparring sessions that ensured the 'big guy' never
really got hurt, Cabinet has genuinely gone southpaw, made a so-called left
To me, these failures are not only the result of ideological confusion.
There is, in my contact with many ordinary officials and shopstewards in
affiliates of Cosatu, a genuine will to class struggle. I have detected
relatively few Mbeki-sycophants in the rank and file. It's hard to be a
sycophant from a position of insecurity about your job, low wages, deaths
from Aids all around, while a small black elite join the whites at the
trough of corruption and profiteering where they make out that its your own
individual failing that you're not driving an X5 and winning tenders right
However, reluctance to buy the SA success story myth does not translate into
sufficient confidence to attack the myth, or the ruling party that makes
them poor. Among the rank and file, there is a reluctance to challenge this
state of affairs mainly because there is a sense of strategic exhaustion not
ideological confusion. Ordinary people remain remarkably clear about what
is to be done, but how, remains the question.
This question arises because acts of popular illegality, insurrectionary
acts, are deemed to be out of order in the new democratic order. There are
some interesting ideas floating around as to why this is. Even in social
movements that have no connection or alliance to the ruling party in
government, an uncanny commitment to the rule of law exists. I will not
deal with the reason for this here. I recognise that these inhibitions
exist. Because they do, it is far harder to mount effective counter-power
than in the past.
But let's face it. You get nowhere staying within the boundaries of the law. Whatever else it does, the law protects the status quo, it only permits conduct that is safe in substance and form for those who made the laws. Of course, the law permits changes that are in the interest of the powers that be, but the discourse of transformation has limits that are quite severe once one tries to go beyond their template. And it is because they sense the limitations of the power that they can legally muster that many members of Cosatu have let themselves and their organisation go. What are these traditional and legal forms of exercise of power that no longer work:-
1. The protected wage strike has had its teeth pulled. First
there is an expanding army of the skilled unemployed, the desperately
unemployed, to act as scabs during strikes. Strike rules, moreover, have
made of the once proud toyi-toyi, a tame and symbolic thing. The moment it
no longer gently persuades, it is interdicted with costs and ringleaders
get fired when the strike is over.
2. Workplace forums were a fraud, a joke, a trick from day
one. The exercise of worker control through these mechanisms is absent in
over 80% of South African firms;
3. Labour law jurisprudence is on a steady rightward slide.
At the back of every Judge's mind in collective disputes is what is the
effect of my ruling going to be on investor confidence and thereby Gear?
4. The courts have adopted dogmatically severe positions in
individual misconduct matters and, like the Anglican Church under Henry VIII
did with his wives, our courts find any servile excuse to bless the bosses
discarding of chattels they no longer want through retrenchments and
5. Lobbying government has got you nowhere. You are held in
contempt by the presidency and Nedlac is routinely by-passed on matters of
6. Socio-economic protest action has been sparingly used,
partly because of legal impediments. When it has been used it too has been
symbolic and its demands framed in a narrow workerist manner.
I believe that if a more effective mechanism for the exercise of power was
to be imagined, Cosatu leadership would find a rank and file only too ready
for class struggle, as long as it was not just another damp-squib strike and
A left hook?
Whereas traditional trade unions defend the economic interests of a limited
category of workers, we need to create labour organisations that can
represent the entire network of singularities that collaboratively produce
wealth. One modest proposal that points in this direction, for example,
involves opening up trade unions to other segments of society by merging
them with the powerful social movements that have emerged in recent years.
(Hardt and Negri, 2004, 137).
As your dietician, after humble pie, I would recommend the olive branch. This needs to be extended to community movements that some in Cosatu were fond of labelling ultra-leftist in 1999 when they began to emerge in Durban, Soweto and Cape Town. Having become the new ultra-leftists yourselves and groggy from the right upper-cuts of those who so crudely and stupidly lash out with these words, Cosatu needs to begin extending the hand of friendship - if not complete ideological agreement - to the Anti Privatisation Forum's (APF), eThekweni Social Forum's and Anti-Eviction Campaigns of South Africa. Progressive civil society in South Africa is not limited to legal NGO's like the TAC. Here you will not only find potential allies but also thousands of former members, many of whom make up the leadership of what you have derisively referred to 'single issue' and 'particularistic' movements in SA. While these labels have veracity, it is
pretty rich coming from a federation whose unions have been signing onto
productivity and outsourcing agreements that entrench 'managerial
prerogative' as long as the 'single issue' of the annual wage increase is
In their interaction with community movements and indeed all social struggles outside the workplace, Cosatu must bear in mind that efforts to assume control over these struggles will be warded off. Classical notions of leadership, vanguardism and organisation that informed the struggles of the past have been transcended by these new social movements who will not be content to give up their autonomy in broad fronts, displaying revolutionary discipline and backing down every time the President becomes piqued at what they do.
You must also not expect traditional meeting procedures or constitutions and
membership lists. Many of these organisations are nebulous. This does not
mean they are weak or ineffective. Unlike the leviathan's of national labour
bureaucracies, they move 'like butterflies and sting like bees'. They are
indeed as you have called them a motley crew acting in a side-show
(COSATU, 2000b). But when under attack by municipalities trying to evict, or
cut water they have shown themselves to be tough, brave and composed of
thousands. But these same thousands are grannies and kids, single mothers
and the unemployed, priests and sometimes even gangsters who disappear into their normal lives after the crisis is over leaving a relatively small core of two dozen or so trusted people to tend to the affairs of the movement. And because of the immediately conflictual and episodic nature of relationships, uncontrolled by corporatist scripts, community activists are not prone to 'taking a dive' unlike many unionists if Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana is to believed: Unionists are too busy drinking tea with management instead of listening and attending to workers' complaints
(Business Report, January 31, 2005).
Do not expect ideological purity from these movements. Do not expect that
even the leadership will know about the WTO or the World Bank. This is not
entirely their fault. But they know their enemies. It is the mayor, local
councillor (whatever his or her party) and their armed henchmen, most
immediately. And in the distance, they probably can see Pretoria's hand, and
know that in turn, the councillors are also pawns in the game, with budgets
tightened and Municipal Financial Management Act threats made by Trevor
Manuel and his treasury enforcers. This is unlike the ideological
flabbiness rampant in unions: We are not there to fight management, we are there to support our families.We are part and parcel of management, not officially, but according to our constitution as a union.To be a leader, you are supposed to see both sides. (NUMSA shop-steward, quoted in Von Holdt, 2003, 184). Do not undermine the social movements immediate choice of targets for it is their closeness to their foe that makes them so strong. But I am sure they could benefit from a more structural and macro-economic understanding of their oppression that you could bring to them. Social movements also need to recognise the limitations of a 'go it alone' strategy. Many of the 'community movements' are parochial and insular, seemingly unable or unwilling to breach the boundaries of inherited 'group areas'. These community movements especially will benefit from Cosatu's national linkages, resources and legitimacy and it is incumbent on them to reach out to their class allies.
As the transition unfolds it is becoming increasingly clear that it does not
make sense to confront the challenges facing the working class only in
power-play in the workplace. Witness in this regard Karl von Holdt's study
of Highveld Steel, the 2000 strike at Volkswagen and the ongoing struggles
at Rainbow Chicken. There has to be a turn into communities. An association with community movements, such as the much vilified APF would, present great strategic options for Cosatu. It would allow both public and private sector trade unions, in slightly different ways, to pursue the tactically sensible route in interest dispute resolution with their employer. At present private sector wage strikes deliver little above inflation. In places like the retail sector, employers have been on the offensive over the last few years actually securing a reduction in terms and conditions of employment, through a wage and benefit squeeze and mass casualisation (Kenny, 2003). Secondary strikes are almost impossible to pull-off. I do not have time to go into the legal ins and outs of it at present, but strikes in the private sector are becoming increasingly difficult to conduct successfully. Labour law jurisprudence is awash with:-
1.) appallingly easily granted strike interdicts which even if they are not
confirmed so interfere in the interim with the exercise of power-play, that
the strike is lost;
2.) dismissals for minor misconduct during strikes;
3.) chillingly punitive costs orders and at least two damages awards against unions for unprotected strike action;
4.) ridiculously servile strike rules and expansive definitions of essential and maintenance services;
5.) judgments that effectively render offensive lock-outs by employers unnecessary;
6.) judgments that enable dismissals for the failure to agree to what are really mutual interest demands; and
7.) restrictions placed on the idea of secondary strikes that disable intra and inter affiliate solidarity.
If you want to do better against an opponent several weight divisions ahead
of you, you've got to bend the Queensbury rules, you've got to use your head
a bit, if you know what I mean.
The political marginalisation of labour reflects a social marginalisation
of work as a source of stability, identity and emancipatory visions for an
expanding section of the working class. On the other hand, the everyday
lives of working class communities are continuously affected by the
detrimental impact of neoliberal economic policies on social reproduction.
Faced with these uncomfortable realities, popular responses to neoliberalism
are forced to experiment with innovative methods. (Barchesi, 2004, 23).
As already indicated, Cosatu campaigns cannot be simply about wages and the workplace. The campaign needs to be linked to broader issues of redistribution and macro-economic policy-making. For example, Gill in her fascinating book, Disabling Globalisation (2002) found that workers in northern KZN labouring in Taiwanese owned factories were earning wages mush higher than workers in similar Taiwanese factories in mainland China. Off course, the immediate response would be to cut wages. But what Hart found was that the South African workers had much less buying power. This was because the Chinese workers had access to small plots of land and public transport. So the struggle cannot be just about wages. It has to be about land, which requires an alliance with the Landless People's Movement (LPM), it requires a challenge to the policy of 'willing buyer, willing seller' and the notion of building a large black commercial farming class. It also requires a struggle against privatization of transport and the commodification of basic services. Surely, this is a more fruitful struggle to wage than the gimmicky Buy South African campaign.
So more practically, instead of attempting exclusively to extract value
directly from employers on, at best an industry by industry basis and at
worst, site by site, in the form of annual, unco-ordinated wage strikes, it
would make sense to link the struggle for wage increases with a co-ordinated
huge annual income strike. In order to make sense of this, it is necessary
briefly to look at the difference between the terms wages and income as
I intend to use them here. Wages issue from an employer and flow, in
remuneration and benefits, in recognition of work performed. For most
blue-collar workers, wages are the cash they receive every fortnight coupled
with medical aid contributions perhaps or an employer contribution to a
pension scheme. Statutory deductions in lieu of UIF, although administered
by the State, would also be included in the idea of wage.
Income, on the other hand, issues from government and is usually available to citizens as a whole. In dealing with income, the unit of analysis is no longer what the individual worker gets ex contractu, but what value or wealth the household gets in the form of social services, subsidies, pensions, grants or other welfare instruments. While the strictures of labour law make it hard to approach a recalcitrant boss for a raise in wages, protest action to obtain a raise from government is, if done properly, far easier. One of the reasons for this is that a boss does not rely on workers voting for him. Income struggles are also potentially more massive and can be co-ordinated in a manner maximally disruptive to society not only one store or industry. Not only are the people employed at a particular factory activated, but grandparents, schoolchildren, the unemployed and workers wherever they work, are thrown into action. An income strike benefits the working members of a family because the pressure is taken off their wage to purchase the commodities necessary to sustain life for the month. There is literally more money in a workers pocket after a successful income strike.
And what sort of value can be added to the overall wealth of a family or community from income struggles? Well, recent reports put the average price of water and electricity services in townships at R120 per household per month. If the demand was for half of that to be subsidised by government, that would come down to the equivalent of a 3% wage increase for any worker in that house earning R2000.00 per month. The list of plausible income demands include:-
1. transport subsidies;
2. genuinely free education;
3. increase in pension;
5. exemption from VAT of certain consumables;
6. free water and electricity;
7. free HIV/Aids medication; and
8. food coupons.
It would then fall to government to raise the funds for these measures; facing the test all governments should be facing: losing the next election or either raising taxes on the rich, cutting arms spending or properly dealing with corruption and waste. In other words, one doesn't only try to force extra wages out of your boss. One forces extra income from the state.
It's up to the ruling party to then tax the rich if it wants to, or else seriously deal with corruption and waste. Does it want to do any of these things?
These kinds of struggle would take place when public service struggles
should take place, months before the annual budget is announced. Although
public sector unions may argue that they already target government in their
wage disputes, the problem is they do so at the wrong time and focus on the
wrong minister. The budget and Trevor Manuel are the entities to apply
pressure to, not Fraser-Moelikheid and various provincial ministers who must apportion an already fixed gross amount of money.
In struggling in tandem with the rhythm of the annual budget, one will avoid
the bi-annual farce (and inevitable sell-out) of public sector strikes that
are ultimately fought about the allocation of a fixed amount of money. In
framing demands that include the broad working class, one will win the
support for working class struggles of the majority of people in this
country - the unemployed - millions of whom are former trade union members.
Legally speaking, it is a walk in the park compared with wage strikes. A proper income strike would take no more than a week for a result to be achieved. Since most of the people participating would not be losing wages during its persistence, it would make little sense for government to stall and hum and haw and hope for no-work-no-pay to moderate the demands put. Union members need not take part in the strike by staying away from work at all. The protest action that they are part of, during non-working hours, such as Sundays, or after work, or during maternity leave, even lunch time or, dare I say, annual leave - does not have to be processed via the debilitating and complicated mechanisms of the LRA. It is the far less restrictive Constitution and the Gatherings Act that would be at play. If the union wishes, for a few days, to officially join the strike, then the facility of section 77 of the LRA could be invoked, as long as this is planned well in advance, because it is a procedurally complex affair. But what we are talking about here is using the considerable union organisational muscle and resources to co-ordinate the pursuance of demands that affect more than just card-carrying union members.
People like to see miracles. People like to see underdogs that do it.
People like to be there when history is made. Muhammad Ali on the Rumble in the Jungle
I can already hear some people arguing that this is an ultra-left plot to
destroy the Alliance with the ruling party. Not so. I don't believe Cosatu
should leave the Alliance with the ANC. You're far too weak to go it alone
at this stage. Frankly what is called for is not a symbolic act like
breaking the alliance, but a practical act in support of the ideas that
historically underpinned that Alliance. There is nothing incompatible with
an Alliance with the ANC in challenging local or national government to
remain, in its social spending, true to the Freedom Charter or RDP, if you
like a more modern touchstone. Let them chuck you out if they don't want
popular participation in setting the budget, but you don't have to go, in
order to pursue this new orientation.
I suspect that you will not only provide leadership to your own members and
to members of fledgling community movements, but also to many who would
consider themselves ANC stalwarts. My firm belief is that many of these
comrades are not sell-outs as much as they are caught up in a kind of
strategic inertia. No-one likes to start a fight that they feel they are
not equipped to win. The leadership of the ANC and black and white business
interests give the impression that they have everything sewn up. Legally
and institutionally speaking, they've got any fight in this country rigged.
But give the silent majority who are disgusted with the direction our
liberation is taking just a sniff of blood, and you will bring out the class
fighter in them again.
Barchiesi, F (2004) 'Classes, Multitudes and the Politics of Community
Movements in Post-apartheid South Africa', Centre for Civil Society Research
Report No. 20.
COSATU (2000a) 'Accelerating Social Transformation. COSATU's Engagement with Policy and Legislative Processes during South Africa's First Term of Democratic Governance', The Shopsteward, 9, 3.
COSATU (2000b) Advancing Social Transformation in the Era of Globalisation, Political discussion document for the 7th National Congress.
COSATU (2004) Assessment of the past Fourteen Months since the Eight
National Congress held in September 2004.
Kenny, B (2003) 'Labour Market Flexibility in the Retail Sector:
Possibilities for Resistance' in Bramble, T and Barchiesi (eds), Rethinking
the Labour Movement in the 'New South Africa' Ashgate Publishing, England
Hardt, M and Negri, A (2004) Multitude, The Penguin Press, New York.
Von Holdt, K (2003) Transition from Below: Forging Trade Unionism and
Workplace Change in South Africa, University of Natal Press,
Hart, G (2002) Disabling Globalisation: places of power in post-apartheid
South Africa. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg, University of
California Press, Berkley.