People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 11

March 11, 2012



Working Class Struggle Surges Ahead


Swadesh Dev Roye


SOUTH Africa is in terms of natural resources one of the richest countries in the world, gifted with raw materials and minerals including gold, diamond, platinum, coal, iron and aluminium. But it is also advanced in terms of mineral products. Titled as ‘mining-energy complex,’ South Africa is the richest nation in the world by ‘commodity wealth’ according to Citigroup, which estimates its mineral reserves are worth 2.5 trillion dollars. Nevertheless, the policies the ruling classes are pursuing and the onslaught of global economic crisis have posed serious challenges for the working class of the country. These are the challenges of inequity, job losses, production cuts, fall in GDP, shrinking consumer spending, sliding exports, high rate of unemployment, restriction on the right to trade union and right to collective bargaining etc.




South Africa has thus been witnessing more and more militant struggles including strike actions both at the national as well as provincial and sectoral levels. There have been protests on a large scale as a result of anger over the government’s failure to improve the basic services for the poorest. Strike struggles launched by workers including public sector workers, metal workers, chemical, energy and allied workers, and many more led by various federations, have been magnificent and significant.


At the time, the present writer attended a meeting of the WFTU presidential council at Johannesburg in the second week of February 2012, the working class of South Africa was preparing for a powerful nationwide strike on March 7, 2012, to press for a total ban on contract labour system. The target of the trade unions was to bring the country’s economy to a grinding halt on the day. It was highly appreciable that the entire trade union movement of South Africa was united on a single issue that concerned the most inhuman and exploitative issue of contract labour, and was to launch a nationwide strike for the second time. This was a demonstration of their political and organisational maturity and an expression of concern for the most vulnerable section of workers.  


With the rising curve of struggles in the country, however, brutal atrocities on the working class by the administration are going up. The last congress of the COSATU adopted a resolution “Police brutality and state repression during protest actions,” noting the instances of brutality against workers, causing injuries and loss of lives. The resolution condemned in “strongest possible terms the apartheid style of police brutality during lawful and peaceful demonstrations and called upon the police top brass to put effective measures/systems to stop police brutality.”    




According to official records, total membership of trade unions in South Africa is 3.1 million which constitute 25 per cent of the total formal workforce in the country. The three prominent central trade unions in South Africa are COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions), FEDUSA (Federation of Unions of South Africa) and NACTU (National Council of Trade Unions). Among these three, COSATU is the largest one with declared a membership of 1.8 million or 58 per cent of trade union membership in the country.


Significantly, COSATU is a constituent of the Tripartite Alliance of the African National Congress (ANC), South African Communist Party (SACP) and COSATU. This alliance is perceived as strategic to pushing forward the victory of the liberation struggle and accomplish the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). It is based on the vision of the Freedom Charter which “demands that the wealth of the country including its natural resources beneath and above the soil, and water and productive capacity, be restored to the people as a whole (i.e. nationalised).


The COSATU’s perception is that “The Tripartite Alliance was strategically entered into as a revolutionary vehicle to take forward the objectives of our revolution.” However, COSATU is conscious of the class composition of the present state. “From class analysis the current state has been pursuing an agenda that is hostile to the working class..… It represents an alliance with big capital, particularly finance capital and the creation of a black capitalist class” (secretariat report to COSATU Central Committee 2011).

Instances of trade union centres in a country supporting or opposing a ruling alliance is not an uncommon phenomenon in the world. But the case of COSATU is exceptional in the sense that it is a full-fledged constituent of the ruling tripartite political alliance as noted above. It is but natural that COSATU is very much focussed to its political aims and objectives. Ideological propaganda constitutes a major organisational task. The documents presented to the COSATU congresses and meetings give a glimpse of the organisation’s objectives and the path pursued by it.     




It is necessary to note that while being a constituent of the ruling Tripartite Alliance led by the ANC, the COSATU is forthright about the latter’s class character. “Post-apartheid South Africa has seen the development of a small black bourgeoisie largely through patronage of white capital and the state; that the fundamental contradictions of apartheid-capitalism and colonialism of a special type remain in place; despite repeal of some apartheid laws, the basic political, social, racial and gender relations of oppression and exploitation remain intact” (10th Congress Political Resolution).


Further, COSATU is very much upfront in its class oriented political vision and mission, and strictly believes in the theory of class struggle and establishment of socialism by an overthrow of capitalism. These commitments are constantly reiterated in COSATU’s various documents and propaganda materials. A noteworthy feature of its style of work is strict adherence to the Leninist principle of linking propaganda with agitation. This reminds one of what the CPI(M) document Task on Trade Union Front said in 1983: “Propaganda comprises constant and continuous, unceasing efforts to educate the working class in the spirit of scientific socialism and its revolutionary responsibilities….. Agitation unaccompanied by propaganda fails to turn the awakening generated by trade union struggles into socialist consciousness.”    


Successive COSATU congresses have reiterated its commitment on ‘National Democratic Revolution and Socialism.’ The COSATU criticised the move to draw a divide between NDR and Socialism and advocacy of the so called ‘Third Way.’ Reiterating its commitment to NDR and Socialism, a COSATU congress resolution noted “The working class must redirect the NDR towards socialism and jealously guard it against opportunistic tendencies that are attempting to wrest it from achieving its logical conclusion, which is socialism. The working class should assert its leadership role of the NDR and not outsource this leadership role to other class forces.”


In his address to the last COSATU congress in September 2009, Blade Nzimande, SACP general secretary and the minister of higher education and training, said, “In our views as the SACP, an NDR that is capitalist oriented ceases to be an NDR, as it is hopelessly incapable to addressing the crises of under development and of widening poverty and inequality in our society.” Further, “The SACP Programme correctly asserts that our national democratic revolution seeks to address three interrelated contradictions, the class, national and gender contradictions and that none of these can be addressed in isolation from the others.”




The COSATU has always stood for concrete steps to strengthen the SACP. In 2006, the 9th COSATU congress resolved that, “COSATU must design a short, medium and long term sequenced political and education programme of action for its members to ensure that by the time of the Fourth Central Committee it has concrete proposals on the way forward towards a socialist South Africa.” But, then, it also resolved to “build a strong, independent SACP as a revolutionary party of vanguards, and to transform trade union consciousness of the working class into socialist consciousness.”


Similarly, in September 2009, the 10th congress of the COSATU adopted a resolution, saying “the proletarian movement has a critical role to play in bringing the capitalist system to its downfall and in executing a socialist revolution.” It was clear that “As part of the revolutionary proletarian movement COSATU must develop its own guide to the struggle for a socialist revolution and this must be in the form of an executable programme based on a Marxist dialectical and historical materialist approach to the analysis of the international and local contexts.”


But the same congress also adopted a resolution titled “Building the SACP.” It said, “as COSATU we are interested in having a strong SACP. While we support increased visibility of communists in legislatures and government at all levels as well as in all other centres of power (the community, the workplace, the ideological terrain the economy and the state in particular), we call on the SACP to carry out, manage and support deployments in a manner that will not compromise the independent identity and impact of the party.”


The 9th congress decision was to chart out a route map as an overarching vision, strategy and conjectural tactics for the journey forward from capitalism to socialism in South Africa. In pursuance of this decision, the 10th congress presented a draft “Workers Manifesto Framework” which, inter alia, identified the points to be elaborated in the final version of the manifesto. These related to various phases and paths of the country’s past struggles and actual achievements, pre-capitalist character of South Africa, different dynamics of capitalism in South Africa, a history of class struggles in the country, an account of the Left forces, history of the struggle for national liberation, the NDR and the struggle for Socialism in South Africa, the 1994 “democratic breakthrough” in South Africa, transitional and long term revolutionary demands of workers for a socialist South Africa.


The document also charted out a Programme of Action to achieve the short term and long term goals. Stressing upon the vanguard role of the working class and the need for workers-peasant alliance, the draft manifesto framework said, “As components of the organised working class, COSATU must assert through practical programmes the role of the working class as the main motive and leading force of the NDR.”




On alliance between the two basic classes, the COSATU quoted from the ‘Freedom Charter’ on the land question. Its congress resolution noted, “All land shall be redivided among those who work on it to banish famine and land hunger and that the state shall help the peasants with implements, seed, tractors and dams to save the soil and assist the tillers.” Certain land related statistics   revealed that only 5.2 per cent of agricultural land was transferred to the black people between 1994 and 2009 and more than 80 per cent of agricultural land remained in the hands of less than 50,000 white farmers and agribusinesses.


The ANC government has set a target to transfer 30 per cent of agricultural land to the ‘historically dispossessed black people’ by 2014. The COSATU termed the decision as far from adequate but in fulfilment of its class responsibility and in order to mount pressure on the government, it decided to conduct propaganda and agitation to mobilise the people and other progressive social forces “to push the state in addressing agrarian and land reform on an anti-capitalist basis. Among others, this requires a comprehensive industrial strategy that will promote agro-processing democratic forms of production organisation. Land reform and agrarian transformation must be directed at ensuring sustainable livelihood for the rural poor, in particular the empowerment of women.”




The  COSATU was formed in 1985 through a process of unification of trade unions. It was then not affiliated with any of the international trade union organisations. It is rather incomprehensible why the COSATU fell prey to the trap of the then ICFTU (now ITUC), despite the colonial loot and exploitation South Africa suffered and despite its the rich experience of fighting the imperialist forces during its liberation struggle, despite its clear vision and mission to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism,. Using certain vested interests within the COSATU and utilising its money power, the ICFTU succeeded in creating a split situation in the COSATU. On their part, the then COSATU leadership moved closer to the so-called ‘natural’ allies of the South and decided in the mid-1990s to affiliate with the ICFTU.

Here it is important to note that during the struggle for liberation and fight against apartheid, South African trade union movement had very close relations with the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), mainly through the then South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). Also, several legendry trade union leaders of South Africa played an important role during the formative years of the WFTU, and two of its stalwarts (outstanding communist leaders Nkadimeng and Mtshali) worked fulltime for WFTU when its headquarters were still in Prague. The WFTU extended all kinds support to the working class of South Africa in their liberation struggle. On the other hand, true to their class collaborationist character, the ITUC (then ICFTU) sided with the imperialist forces and apartheid regime.


However, a trade union committed to socialism and pursuing the path of class struggle could not remain affiliated to the class collaborationist ITUC for long. Now the question being pondered is of affiliation of the country’s largest trade union, with a class outlook, with the WFTU. Armed with ideological commitment and determination, the Left forces have launched a powerful political-organisational campaign to muster support in favour of affiliation with the WFTU.  As a further step forward, four major constituents of the COSATU hosted a meeting of the WFTU presidential council was at Johannesburg in February 2012.


A significant development is that four major industry-based unions of South Africa have already affiliated with the WFTU. These are National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU), Police, Prisons and Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) and Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union (CAPPWAWU).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


The joint media statement issued by these four sectoral unions on occasion of the WFTU presidential council meeting significantly noted,  “WFTU enjoys a special relationship and honour amongst the trade union movement in South Africa developed over many years of our struggle for national liberation, freedom and struggle for a socialist South Africa. It was owing to the WFTU’s close relations with the then SACTU and SACP that the liberation movement was able to establish contacts or received material support from the Left-leaning countries of the world, such as the Soviet Union, Vietnam, China, Cuba and other countries.”


On occasion of the recent WFTU presidential council meeting, these four unions organised a meeting of several hundred shop stewards of all the four sectors. The theme paper presented by Fikile Majola (general secretary, NEHAWU) on behalf all the four unions analysed from working class angle the current structural crisis of capitalism, ongoing struggle of the toiling masses all over the world, need for overthrow of capitalism, socialism as the alternative and leading role of the working class. “Despite its relatively small size, as a socio-political force the working class remains the most revolutionary and advanced social force. And that only the working class (of course, in alliance with the large mass of poor peasants) is capable of deepening the democratic revolution into socialist revolution. We are convinced that the solution is the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.”


The above statement further said, “we will be putting on the 11th national congress of COSATU agenda for all its affiliates and the federation to affiliate to the WFTU for the sole purpose of forging unity and close links with other like-minded class oriented and revolutionary trade unions led by WFTU.” Thus various trade unions in South Africa, committed to the class struggle doctrine, are determined to affiliate COSATU with the WFTU, in its next congress due in September 2012. If it happens, it would be a historical event not only for the working class of South Africa, but the international working class movement as a whole.