South Africa

South Africa

Irvin Jim at The Gathering: It is time for the country’s wealth to serve its people

Irvin Jim at The Gathering: It is time for the country’s wealth to serve its people

As parties canvass for votes countrywide, there’s a notable gap in the interests represented: those of the workers. IRVIN JIM ponders the problem in his speech.

This gathering takes place at a highly political time. It’s a time when all manner of political parties are busy campaigning for votes to put them in Parliament.

However, in most of the debate that takes place, we find a big and important gap on their campaign trails when it comes to talking about the interests of the working class. So I want to start by reminding us all of the observation that Lenin made in 1913.

People always have been the foolish victims of deception and self-deception in politics, and they always will be until they have learnt to seek out the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. Champions of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realise that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is kept going by the forces of certain ruling classes. And there is only one way of smashing the resistance of those classes, and that is to find, in the very society which surrounds us, the forces which can – and, owing to their social position, must – constitute the power capable of sweeping away the old and creating the new, and to enlighten and organise those forces for the struggle.

What I have to say in this introduction will not make the same mistake. It is rooted in the interests of the working class and the poor of South Africa.

This year marks 20 years of our democracy.

It is also the 20th anniversary of the brutal murder of Chris Hani. Comrade Chris was not just a leader of our liberation struggle. He was a true, dedicated leader of the working class.

So I think that the right starting point for this discussion is to reflect on the conditions of the working class after two decades. We need to examine the material conditions. And we also need to look at the state of working class organisation.

Let me start with political organisation. There is no political organisation which represents the interests of the working class and the poor in South Africa today.

We have looked at all these political organisations in South Africa. Many of them are in Parliament. More of them are trying to get into Parliament.

We have looked at how these organisations have behaved when they were faced with key issues for the working class:

  • What did they do when the anti-working class National Development Plan was imposed on us?
  • What did they do when we demanded that labour brokers must be banned?
  • What did they do when our interests were threatened by the Youth Wage Subsidy?

Suddenly they all realised that there were other interests. There were interests more important than those of the working class and the poor.

This has led us to one clear political conclusion. And it is the conclusion that our Numsa Special Congress drew. There is no alternative. There is nobody else who can represent the working class and the poor. We must represent ourselves.

We must organise the working class as a class for itself, as Karl Marx understood and explained. Because the working class is the only class which can carry the revolution to its logical conclusion.

But all these organisations in Parliament and in the election campaign say we mustn’t worry. They are looking after us. Look how the conditions of the working class have improved over the last 20 years. We are on the right track, even if we might be going a bit slower than we would like.

We have tested this claim against the facts. And if you look at the facts you cannot escape from the conclusion. The class which has benefited most from the last 20 years has been the capitalist class.

Let’s look at just a few of those facts:

Fact 1: Workers’ share of the national income has gone down over the last 20 years.

  • In 1994 workers received more than 56% of the national income.
  • Today they receive less than 50%.

This is not progress. It is the opposite. We are redistributing from the poor to the rich.

Fact 2: South Africa is more unequal in 2014 than it was in 1994.

  • In 1995, South Africa’s Gini Coefficient was 0.64. In 2008 that had increased to 0.68.
  • Inequality in South Africa has got worse, not better.

Fact 3: The manufacturing sector is smaller now than it was 1994.

  • In 1994 manufacturing contributed 20% of GDP.
  • By last year that had nearly halved – to 11%.

We are not headed slowly in the right direction; exactly the opposite. We are going backwards, far too fast:

  • Now, in 2014, there are more people unemployed than there were in 2004. Not less. Not even the same number. More.
  • Now in 2014, there are more South Africans living below the poverty line than there were in 2004. Not less. Not even the same number. More.
  • Now, in 2014, there are more South African households who do not have enough food than there were in 2009. Nearly 25% now compared to 20%. Not less hungry people. More.
  • Now, in 2014, there are fewer jobs in manufacturing industry than there were in 2009. 271,000 manufacturing jobs were lost between 2009 and 2012. Less jobs, not more.

How can anybody say, in the face of these facts, that we are headed in the right direction?

So we must ask ourselves: why are we in this condition and what can we do to get out of it?

The structure of the South African economy has not changed since 1994. It remains the same as it was under Apartheid….the same dependence on exporting raw minerals, the same enslavement to the Minerals Energy Finance complex.

We have failed to implement the measures that can build our economy. We have failed to implement our most fundamental policy document – the Freedom Charter.

There is only one way to create the number of jobs that are needed in South Africa – the number the NDP can only dream about:

  • We must harness the surplus of the mining and financial sectors;
  • We must place it in the control of the people through democratic state ownership and worker control;
  • And we must use this surplus to build manufacturing industry as the centrepiece of infrastructure and social service delivery.

That is why we call for the nationalisation of the mines, the financial sector and other monopoly industries. It is not some dogma from the past.

It is an immediate and urgent requirement to save our economy for the majority of South Africans, who are the working class and the poor.

So then we must ask ourselves why this is not happening. What is standing in the way?

There are other class interests standing in the way.

What are these interests? Go and look at all the BEE deals of the last 20 years and you will see them.

Ask yourself a question: if you owned shares in mining companies, would you force those companies to give up some of their profits to beneficiate the minerals they dig from the ground?

Or would you rather invest in improving the rail and port infrastructure? Then you could export even more raw minerals.

But that is our future that is being exported. That is where the jobs are – in manufacturing, not in mining. These are real, sustainable jobs, not job opportunities and employment incentive schemes.

So it is not an accident that we are failing to build our manufacturing industry. It is a question of class interest. It is the class interest of those who have joined forces with global capital against the majority of South Africans, who are the working class and the poor. Some of these individuals are part of the liberation alliance led by the ANC. Their role is to hold back the wheels of history while they make profit for themselves.

BEE shares were not given for nothing. They had a price, and the price is being paid by the working class and the poor of our country. The price is a macro-economic strategy which focuses on profit, not jobs.

We see everywhere the evidence of this alliance with international capital and the growth of imperialism in South Africa.

  • We see it in the massive increase in foreign-ownership of strategic monopolies such as petrochemicals, steel, banks and mines.
  • We see it in the Marikana massacre: the armed forces of the state mowing down workers who were demanding a living wage from an international mining company, Lonmin.
  • We see it in the killing of farmworkers in the Western Cape, killed for demanding what can hardly even be called a living wage – R150 a day.
  • We see it in Mothuthlung and Sebokeng and all the other communities across the country, too many to count: our people are protesting because they have no water. Water. The most basic of necessities. And the State…. that very same state which failed to supply them with water….kills them for their protest.

We also see it in policy:

  • We see it in the liberalisation of trade, allowing the dumping of production in South Africa and destroying our manufacturing capability.
  • We see it in the removal of exchange controls, allowing money that should have been invested in productive industry in South Africa to leave the country.
  • We see it in the privatisation of the state, creating the tenderpreneurs, who have replaced its proper functions. Those who got tenders have got wealthy, at the expense of the working class.
  • We see it in the rejection of export taxes on our minerals and a ban on export of scrap metal. One result is that we have lost seven foundries which were closed, causing the loss of many jobs.
  • We see it in the Reserve Bank continuing to target inflation instead of jobs. Even the US and the UK are not doing this anymore. They use the unemployment rate as the central variable to guide their central bank.
  • We see it in the continuation of the Apartheid colonial wage system, despite the call in the Freedom Charter for a national minimum wage. The super exploitation of black and African labour continues as the key source of profit for South African capitalism. We see it today, as we speak, in the stubborn refusal of the platinum mining bosses to recognise the need of their employees for a living wage. And we ask ourselves why, facing a strike that is nearly three months long, a democratically elected government is failing to use this opportunity to trigger the introduction of a national minimum wage. Are they waiting for capital to starve the workers into defeat?

These are the reasons we called our members out onto the streets on 19 March this year.

These are the reasons that the Numsa Special National Congress at the end of last year resolved to continue with rolling mass action throughout the year.

These are the reasons that our congress also resolved to build a United Front against these neo-liberal policies.

We understand that a class with material interests to protect will not easily give up. So we are building an irresistible force – a united front of community organisations, NGOs and trade unions.

A united front of the working class and the poor whose mission is full implementation of the Freedom Charter and the restructuring of the South African economy in the interests of the majority of South Africans.

These are the reasons why we are also researching for the building of a movement for socialism, an independent political organisation of the working class.

On 19 March, tens of thousands of people marched throughout the country; they were not only Numsa members. They were also members of other unions and activists from community organisations.

The message was clear:

The South African economy is not benefiting the majority of South Africans.

It is time. It is time to fully implement the Freedom Charter. It is time to ensure that the basic wealth of our country is taken into the hands of the people, not to be manipulated by individuals, be they white or black. It is time to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy under workers’ control. It is time to use the surpluses of the mines and the banks to build manufacturing industry that can bring jobs. Real, sustainable jobs, in order to place society on a path to social emancipation.

That is the only viable future for a South African economy. For an economy that will serve the mass of the people, not the interests of a capitalist elite. DM

Photo: Numsa General Secretary Irvin Jim (Sapa)


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