The Guardian August 29, 2001

South African roundup

South African workers on the offensive

Anti-privatisation campaign off to flying start

The opening day of COSATU's campaign of mass action against 
privatisation proved that working people are determined to resist the 
government's plans to sell off public assets to the private sector.

In Johannesburg more than 50, 000 COSATU workers marched to the offices of 
Eskom and Spoornet, giving a clear message to the government of the 
strength of feeling on the issue.

COSATU President Willy Madisha said workers and the South African general 
public would not rest until privatisation was halted. The action (August 
16) was only the beginning of a struggle against this killer government 
policy, he said.

Speakers from the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the South 
African National Civics Organisation (SANCO) agreed with COSATU that the 
government should focus on job creation instead of policies that would shed 
yet more jobs than it had already through its ineffective macro-economic 
policies such as GEAR. The country cannot afford privatised services.

In Cape Town 10, 000 workers marched and in Pretoria, another 10, 000.

COSATU General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi hammered home the message that the 
workers would not tolerate measures that would increase the gap between 
rich and poor. "Our struggle is going to assume a class character", he 
said, "We did not fight for liberation so that we can sell everything we 
won to the highest bidder!"

He promised that the working class was going to use its power to crush 
privatisation and that the struggle would go on and on until the government 
was convinced that it needed to change course and stop privatising basic 
services and national infrastructure.

The Pretoria march proceeded to the US Embassy where a joint memorandum 
from COSATU, the SACP and SANCO was handed to an embassy official. It 
deplored the US Government's attempts to blackmail the world community into 
removing the issues of reparations for slavery and Zionism from the agenda 
of the World Conference Against Racism.

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For up-to-date press statements, visit COSATU's web site at:
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SACP statement
South African CP supports strikes against privatisation
The leadership of the South African Communist Party (SACP) fully supports the COSATU-led strike action against privatisation. As a party of socialism the SACP is both ideologically opposed to privatisation in principle, and practically and programmatically we are concerned about many features of the current restructuring of state assets. While the general strike is obviously political in character (it is about seeking to influence and change aspects of current policy), the Party understands that the strike is not about challenging or undermining the legitimacy of our ANC-led Government, with its massive two-thirds democratic mandate. We are seeking to defend and build a much stronger public and state sector. We want to broaden the public sphere and limit the space in our society that is dominated by unelected, undemocratic profit-driven forces. We want to strengthen and not weaken the capacity of our democratic state because we want efficient and improved service delivery to all our people. Public better In our country it has been the public sector and not the private sector which has led. For example, a comparison of the delivery of water, phones and electricity (publicly owned) to the delivery of housing (private) shows that water, phones and electricity have been delivered in a faster, more effective and efficient way than houses. Housing is held to ransom by the private sector and, in particular, the banks and other financial institutions which are not willing to provide finance for housing. This is also why the SACP has identified the financial sector as in need of fundamental transformation and diversification through the SACP-led Campaign to Make Banks Serve the People. We are seeking to strengthen national sovereignty, to broaden the scope for national self-determination, especially in regard to the capacity of our own state. Many of the aspects of the present restructuring have the unintended consequence of drastically limiting national sovereignty and capacity. They expose policy-making to the inordinate influence of transnational-aligned consultancies and to comprador forces in our own society that seek to benefit from TNC domination of our economy. The big challenge is to mobilise our people behind the building of a people's economy oriented towards poor and working people. We cannot simply rely on government alone, given the power and pressure of capital on our government. We need a counter-balance to strengthen our government and that is the organised power of the working class and the mass of ordinary people. This means that in our opposition to privatisation, we must mobilise, acting together with our allies, organised workers, hawkers, the unemployed, farm and domestic workers behind a program to defend and extend the public sector. Broader working class struggles The struggle against privatisation is part of the escalating working class struggles rooted in the fact that the working class has borne the brunt of neo-liberal restructuring of our economy over the last decade. As the SACP has said, this kind of economic restructuring and its outcome are neither desirable nor inevitable. Through these struggles, organised workers, as the leading detachment of the broader working class are seriously contesting the terms of economic restructuring. Important as these struggles are, it is also important that they are extended into an offensive against capitalism itself and as building blocks for a bigger war to build working class power. We will fight to build a state-led economic growth and development path based on the mobilisation of domestic capital resources to meet our people's basic needs, create jobs and build infrastructure. To the capitalist vultures waiting to devour our publicly owned assets we say, keep out! The Alliance process The SACP calls for an ANC-SACP-COSATU Alliance process to comprehensively review the restructuring of state assets which has taken place so far. The SACP welcomes the ANC-SACP-COSATU Alliance plus SANCO commitment to make sufficient time in the coming period to engage in intensive discussions to systematically deal with areas of disagreement. Hopefully, areas of disagreement will be debated and a common way forward will emerge.
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Abridged from the website of the SACP:
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Joint statement by SACP, COSATU, SANCO A joint media statement issued by the SACP, COSATU and the South African National Civics Organisation (SANCO) on August 23 says that the three organisations "are pleased that the campaign [against privatisation] is gaining momentum day by day [and that] the working class will come out in their numbers on August 29-30 to make a clear statement against privatisation and to demand that their government respond to their demands." The statement continues: In particular, we are excited by the growing support for the campaign from a number of quarters. (Solidarity messages have come from the organisations of municipal workers, teachers and many others.) This broad alliance of working class formations will make the statement that the working class should not bear the cost of the transition through job losses, denial of access of basic services and so forth. The three organisations wish to warn the elite which is campaigning for privatisation so that it can push its interests, that the working class is united behind its demand for the strengthening of the state's role and building of a strong public sector capable of making necessary interventions to improve the living standards of the working class and the poor. The general strike is therefore a welcomed intervention by the working class to ensure that the state does not lose its capacity to intervene in the economy using among others its own enterprises that it controls. The general strike does not signal an end to the alliance led by the ANC nor is it a vote of no confidence in the government. All these organisations continue to participate in the conference preparations [of the Alliance] to ensure its success and are playing a pivotal role to ensure its success.
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Victorious car manufacturing strike South African workers in the motor vehicle industry have won a nine percent wage increase and are pushing for 10 per cent. The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) re-opened negotiations with the Automobile Manufacturing Employers organisation (AMEO) to improve the wage offer. The strike action will continue until all workers are consulted. In addition to the wage increase, NUMSA wants a two-year wage agreement; the right to make claims and demands at plant level and be able to strike for them and an upgrade for some categories of workers. The strike was a resounding success, taking into account that they managed to push employers to the current nine percent increase which is above the current inflation rate, NUMSA said in a statement. "The strike is still biting on the employers because they failed to break workers' unity by making threats to shift production outside South Africa." "Through strike action we showed employers that we are a strong and united union committed to workers' struggle and fair collective bargaining processes. Our primary aim is to fight for the legitimate rights of workers." The strike has been very peaceful and well supported by workers in the component manufacturing sectors and we extend our appreciation to the International Metalworkers' Federation and sister unions in Germany, Canada, Japan, USA and Mexico." The strike demonstrates that workers have power to change their wages and working conditions. Employers must increase the capacity of workers to purchase goods and services in the local economy. In that way the economy will grow. If workers receive better wages that will collectively empower workers to take a stake in the industry and absorb the consequences of wage-cuts. That will also bring social and economic justice for all workers in the industry, the NUMSA statement said. "We hope that car employers and other employers in the metal industry will learn a lesson from this crippling strike action in the motor vehicle sector and move swiftly to address wage disparities." Petrol station attendants In another dispute, NUMSA won an eight percent wage increase for petrol station attendants. This is the first time in the history of the industry that the Retail Motor Industry Organisation has agreed to such a wage increase. The agreement will benefit about 50, 000 workers. The union says that despite the wage increase, the wages of petrol attendants are still a national disgrace. We need a quantum leap forward to address the legacy of apartheid wages. Clothing workers A strike by 33,000 Western Cape clothing workers was averted at the last minute when employers agreed to a wage increase that lifted pay rates by 6.47 per cent over the next 10 months. More than 90 per cent of clothing workers in the region had voted in favour of strike action. An important part of the settlement was agreement to stamp out sweat-shop conditions. Homeworkers are covered by an agreement that establishes appropriate earning levels and provides them with access to retirement and healthcare benefits by January 2002.

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