Reflection on the Cosatu congress
By Irvin Jim
Colonialism of a special type
South African capitalism has flourished and grown on the back of the exploitation of black and African labour; it serves, and is owned and controlled by, a tiny white population.
This was the case in 1910; it became the case in 1948 when the Nationalist party took over. We ended up defining this as colonialism of a special type, because the people who maintained this system of racial economic domination were our white fellow South Africans.
This domination by white monopoly capital and its white complex, through ownership and control of all key strategic sectors of the economy including land, is what is directly responsible for the triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality in our country.
Section 25 of the Constitution is central in maintaining the status quo that ensures that black and white do not have equal access to the economy. The Numsa Congress was clear that we must nationalise all key strategic sectors of the economy, without compensation, in the interest of both black and white. That’s the only way we can deal with the crisis of the past 18 years of the failed willing buyer, willing seller policy.
The essence of section 25 is that the state can nationalise, but first it must do a market evaluation of the strategic sector of the economy or the land to be nationalised, and before expropriating it must compensate the owners.
This means that we must replace value with value to people who took ownership and control of these key strategic sectors of the economy and land using force, through the barrel of a gun.
Independent trade unions and the Alliance
One of the things the oppressors hated the most, and which they still hate the most, was the existence of independent trade unions and the alliance between Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC. Many heroes died for this. We remember, among others, Jabu Ndlovu and Vuyisile Mini, who defied the logic of intimidation and sacrificed their lives for fundamental change in the interests of the whole class.
The alliance today
We are heading once more for an assault on the gains and benefits that we secured during the dark days of apartheid. There is a new force within the Alliance (now open and now hidden) comprising those among us in the movement, such as Trevor Manuel and Pravin Gordon, who have openly committed class suicide by pursuing DA right-wing polices such as the youth wage subsidy.
They don’t care about the working class position on this issue. They are forging ahead with class collaboration that is informed by a right-wing, anti-worker political posture and a renewed union-bashing stance.
The refusal to ban labour brokers is an act of open class war against the working class by government and the capitalist bourgeoisie. It is a violation of the Freedom Charter, which declared that child labour, compound labour, the tot system and contract labour shall be abolished.
The bourgeois state
Marikana has proved once more that in a capitalist mode of production the state will always protect and act in the interests of the dominant, capitalist class in society.
The bottom line is that the role of the state under capitalism is to guarantee the conditions for capitalists to make profit. Without profit there is no capitalism.
The tragic crime of Marikana has shown us how far this protection goes. The forces of the state are capable even of murdering workers if we show signs of revolting against our historical chains of colonialism of a special type, if we are willing to say no to modern slavery.
The role of the Cosatu congress
The Numsa delegation will go to the Cosatu congress with the expectation that it will wake Cosatu up with the understanding that we have experienced the first post-liberation massacre of the working class by the state, in the interests of the minerals, energy and finance complex.
In our view, this calls for the building of a strong, independent, revolutionary federation that speaks in the interests of the working class and does not accept any form of cooptation by Parliament or by the bourgeois state.
Numsa congratulates Cosatu on electing a leadership that derives its ideas and views from its working class perspective, a leadership that is loyal to the Cosatu constitutional structures regardless of its levels of consciousness, that is bound all the time by democratic centralism, so that we don’t have a federation with two voices.
The revolutionary programme for the Cosatu congress
We have taken the revolutionary programme from our 9th Numsa congress to the Cosatu congress, where we fought for its adoption. It included these key components:
• Break the backbone of white monopoly capital and its ownership and control of our resources. In particular, end the dominance of finance capital that is imperialistic in character.
• Take ownership and control of all the key strategic sectors of the economy, including land, through nationalisation under workers’ control. This is to ensure that downstream industries access our minerals cheaply so that beneficiation and diversification can take place.
• As a country, champion manufacturing and industrialisation.
• Dump the failed macro-economic framework called Gear and its toxic sibling, the New Growth Path. They religiously pursue inflation targeting, keep interest rates artificially high and tariffs low, resulting in the dumping of goods in our market, and allow capital flight at a time when we need investment for the productive sectors of our economy.
Above all, they are incapable of bringing manufacturing and industrialisation to South Africa, which is the only way to create sustainable jobs.
• Prevent the crime that Sasol and ArcellorMittal commit when they sell us our own mineral resources higher than import parity prices. It is criminal to allow Sasol to sell polymer chemicals that are critical for the plastic industries above global prices, killing our plastics industry and contributing to deindustrialisation in our country.
We need an ANC leadership that must move decisively to nationalise these key strategic sectors of the economy so that we can use our mineral endowment to champion manufacturing and industrialisation. This is what will create jobs. This is the future for young people, not the inferior youth wage subsidy.
Deindustrialisation supported by the state
Deindustrialisation in our country was permitted, heralded and championed by the former minister of finance, Trevor Manuel, who took a class, neo-liberal position without any conditions by allowing all South Africa’s biggest firms to move offshore.
Many moved after they were voluntarily given permission by Manuel to relist their financial head offices on the London and Melbourne Stock Exchanges.
They did this after taking a decision to withdraw supply-side measures, thereby killing many companies, supported by the state, which created many industries and jobs.
There was the time when in South African manufacturing mattered and was prioritised as a sector over the banking sector. Of course Manuel at the time represented the 1996 class project, whose interests he is still furthering using the National Planning Commission.
They didn’t care. They went ahead, allowing foreign listing of companies such as Anglo American, DeBeers, Old Mutual, SA Breweries and Didata (following Gencor and Liberty Life).
Somebody could ask what the big fuss is about, given that we operate in a competitive global environment that has liberalised trade. What should be made clear is that many countries, including South Africa, became victims of right-wing, neo-liberal priests who have absolutely no faith in the role of the state to intervene and to regulate capital. They championed this position religiously in the context of globalisation.
So the real ideological right-wing capitalist agenda of the market was imposed in South Africa. But other countries, which believed that the state has a role to play and that manufacturing is the key to development of their countries, only allowed capital to list after imposing serious conditions that prevent their country’s manufacturing base from being undermined. China, which has become a global competitive threat, has shown how this encourages the building of its own domestic economy.
In our country, Sasol has been allowed to take money out of the country to invest in countries such as China and Malaysia, where strong developmental states do not allow such profiteering and have strong regulations and state-owned companies. In China, Sasol has even written off R1-billion which could have grown South African business.
Our response must be nationalisation
Correctly and genuinely, Numsa, Cosatu and the ANC Youth League have called for the nationalisation of key strategic sectors of the economy, taking forward implementation of the Freedom Charter which demands that mineral wealth, banks and monopoly industries must be restored to the people as a whole.
Some of our leaders have argued, ignorantly and incorrectly in our view, that because the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act empowers the minister to grant mining rights, this is the equivalent of nationalisation. Of course, Numsa has rejected such a view as an attempt to send the nation to sleep.
Why does the Minister not exercise her powers?
But what is shocking is why the minister fails to exercise her powers in this very Act to prevent companies from looting the country and making huge profits using our minerals without benefiting the people of our country.
A good example is a company like Sasol, which is allowed to embark on an investment strike, sitting on over R17-billion in profits and refusing to invest that money. Meanwhile, Sasol has among the lowest costs in the world, while continuing to price fuel as if it is imported.
What Numsa cannot understand and accept is the fact that the current Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act has provisions to meet objectives of promoting employment and advancing the social and economic welfare of all South Africans.
The provisions (s26) empower the Minister of Mineral Resources to promote the beneficiation of minerals, subject to terms and conditions that the Minister may determine.
This can only mean that companies like Sasol and ArcellorMittal, as well as mining houses, when granted mineral rights to mine our minerals, must make sure that they meet the strict conditions as clearly stated by this Act. If they fail to do so, those rights must be claimed back in the interests of the country.
Sasol makes its products from coal, which the country has in abundance. How is the government enforcing the provisions of the mining rights? Numsa demands to know. It believes that Sasol cannot be complying with the terms of existing mining legislation and that government should remove their rights.
Numsa is pursuing it revolutionary agenda
Numsa has taken a firm decision to negotiate with government to take measures to reverse these high levels of de-industrialisation in our country.
Everybody knows that all over the world, if a country allows jobs to be destroyed through this kind of de-industrialisation and the country loses its manufacturing capability, it will never recover the manufacturing and the jobs that have been lost.
We have been mandated by the Numsa central committee to persuade Cosatu and its affiliates to endorse this Numsa programme of action to pressurise government. The Numsa central committee believes that that the government, and in particular the National Treasury, is not clear about all these issues that destroy jobs.
So the central committee was clear that we must serve a section 77 notice, whilst carrying on with dialogue with a view to finding a lasting solution for manufacturing.
This is the only future for young people in our country, not a youth wage subsidy which is a grant demanded by DA for business, supported by both the National Treasury and the NPC, as well as by some among us within the alliance who have become settled spokespersons or shop stewards of the bosses.
Numsa may be left with no option but to embark on rolling mass action. Our wish is that Cosatu and the rest of its affiliates should endorse this campaign and lead us, in the interests of the country.
But we might have to carry the mantle ourselves in the interests of our country and in particular our own industries. Obviously we shall call on the Alliance, the SACP, and all organisations of young people led by the NYA, to take the front line in such a rolling mass action to be pursued by Numsa.
The balance of forces in Cosatu
We know that the Cosatu congress was a struggle for Numsa and the revolutionary programme we brought. We can see that there is a clear attempt to capture Cosatu by political forces that are embedded in government.
They want our federation to cease to be the militant federation of Elijah Barayi and instead become a silent partner of government.
As metalworkers, we have never been afraid to fight for our political positions. We see a very stark choice. Over the last 18 years we have seen what happens when we leave the commanding heights of the economy in the hands of private capital.
The economy de-industrialises and Numsa members lose their jobs. So we have no choice but to go to the congress of our federation and fight for the only policies that will bring back manufacturing industry to South Africa and create jobs.
Cosatu must call for the nationalisation of the mines, of the banks and finance houses, of all key sectors of the economy so that South African workers can go back to work. That nationalisation must be under workers’ control and it can only take place without compensation.
That is our struggle. It may not make us popular with all the forces in our Alliance, or even in our federation, but we cannot shy away from the struggle for the interests of our members and the South Africa working class as a whole.
A luta continua 2010. Forward with the struggle for socialist transformation, forward!
Irvin Jim is Numsa's general secretary.