South Africa: Assembly for working class unity held in Johannesburg

“A journey of a thousand miles begins”

The two-week-long August/September ‘uprising’ in South Africa to demand electricity and housing focused country-wide attention on the Thembelihle community even more than it did in February when a similar protest produced no response from the government. In the face of similar intransigence by the authrorities, this time the Thembelihle community resolved to reach out to other communities, organisations and activists, to call for unity in struggle.

Accordingly, on Saturday 22 October, the “Themebelihle Crisis Committee” hosted an “Assembly for working class unity” to chart the way forward together with other struggling working class communities, workers and socialists. The meeting, at Wits University, Johannesburg, in a very determined and serious spirit, resolved to organise a national “service delivery general strike” at the end of November. It also decided to work for the formation of a new socialist mass workers’ party.

Representatives from the Thembelihle Crisis Committee (TCC) – Thembelihle, Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC), Operation Khanyisa Movement (OKM), Golden Triangle Community Crisis Committee (Golccom) – Freedom Park, Solidarity Economy Education and Communication Cooperative – Ivory Park, Commercial Services and Allied Workers Union (Cosawu), the Mine Line Workers Committee, the Democratic Socialist Movement, the Socialist Group and the Landless People’s Movement – Protea South, participated in the Assembly.

The hopelessness of capitalism – United struggle the answer!

The meeting began with a slide show reflecting the backdrop of intensifying working class struggles worldwide. Seeing, for example, the series of massive general strikes in Greece, militant workers’ protests such as the occupation of the Suzuki-Maruti plant in India, the road to revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, the explosive protests in other African countries such as Burkina Faso and Malawi, and the joint mass protests which were held across the world – even in the ‘bellies of the beasts’, the United States and Britain – was a huge inspiration for comrades.

As comrades from different communities and workplaces told of their experiences and their perspectives on how to take their struggles further, it was clear that there is an iron determination to fight across working class communities and workplaces but also great concern over how to steer struggles towards victory. The discussions were dominated by a burning sense of the need for unity in action and for a new kind of leadership capable of forging this unity.

Outlining how the struggles of his community had been mislead, confused and died down again and again, a representative from Freedom Park, explained how he believed that “this committee will not just be like any other of the various formations that have come and gone without working – with this committee we will win this war!”

Many comrades pointed out how the isolation of community struggles from workplace struggles and those of students and youth, as well as remaining confined to one community at a time, was holding back and demoralising struggles. As a comrade from Ivory Park put it, “in the 1980s, we brought together all the struggles of the working class to topple apartheid. Now I see us in pockets, pockets, pockets…”

In the communities, many struggles have reached the limits of this local isolation and of the lack of clear perspectives on the causes of the various problems fought, leading them to points of crisis. Comrades told of how they are often seen as useful helping hands whenever there is a problem of, say, water cut-offs, but not as a political alternative. The same people who were desperate for assistance in fighting the African National Congress (ANC) government’s policies and actions yesterday will go and vote the same oppressors back into office tommorow. Without a backbone of strong theoretical and ideological understanding, organisations have often lost control of their leaders. This was the case with the Landless People’s Movement in Protea South where the organisation collapsed after key leaders crossed the floor to the neo-liberal Democratic Alliance (the LPM in the area has now been re-launched).

Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa and of the ANC

The hopelessness of capitalism – a future that promises only continued unemployment and degradation – has led many young people in working class communities to try and escape through abusing alcohol and other drugs. Several participants mentioned the devastating effects this is having on their communities and how they are trying to fight it. Beyond the immediate steps reported on, such as campaigning for access to rehab facilities and guarding against and capturing the dealers, there was also recognition that the creation of mass organisations that can take the fight to end capitalism forward will also bring hope to working class youth.

There was a unanimous urge for the organizations to join together to arrange their own political education programme in order to deepen the understanding of what socialism means and how it can be won, as well as drawing the lessons of the many current struggles internationally and in South Africa, including the attempts to contest local government elections.

Just like protesters across the world have recognised that they are part of the “99%” working class majority who lose out for the benefit of the “1%” of capitalists, the comrades participating in the Assembly saw that the global capitalist system is the root of the poverty, hardship and repression they suffer. Frustrated with endless “talkshops”, the Assembly was determined to take the first steps to create a new working class leadership which could take on capitalism and end it.

Towards a new party

Comrades present unanimously recognised the need to unite in a mass political party; one that will be different from all the existing parties ranging from the ANC to the DA, including the South African “Communist” Party. Unlike those parties it will base itself on a clear socialist programme, a fighting strategy to end capitalism in which standing for elections is just one of many tactics, and functioning on the basis of no privileges and the right of recall. It was also recognised that such a party will not “fall from heaven like manna” or be “declared” here and now, but will have to be painstakingly built with the comrades present at the Assembly laying the foundation stones.

The Assembly therefore resolved to work for the formation of a new mass workers’ party on a socialist programme – a party that could break the fragmentation and demoralisation of working class struggles by uniting and inspiring fighters from communities, workplaces, schools and campuses in fighting for a socialist alternative.

It was also agreed that the starting point of this campaign to arm the working class politically will be a call for a nation-wide one-day general strike for service delivery, for a living wage, for jobs and for free education. Although this is still a work in progress it was agreed preliminarily to call this day of action at the end of November, after a follow-up assembly has been held to which all communities in struggle should be mobilised along with the grassroots of the trade unions, youth and student organisations.

The comrades gathered also set the targets of organising a conference for the formation of a new mass workers party on a socialist programme before the end of 2012 with the aim of contesting the 2014 elections on a joint platform.

It was agreed that one of the most urgent priorities in this process will be to embark on a mass education programme reaching out to all struggling working class communities and engaging them on the way forward.

A joint declaration, in English and Zulu, committing to the development of a joint, coordinated programme of action, a common platform and the aim of forming a new mass workers party was adopted. It was decided that each organisation present would forward one comrade (and one alternate) to represent them on a coordinating committee, which would start its work within two weeks, including developing the common programme of action and the common platform. The invitation to join the process and this committee remains wide open to those organisations who were unable to attend the Assembly and to those who had not yet been reached by the first invitations. The first meeting of the committee was held on Saturday November 5 at the House of Movements, Johannesburg.

One organisation, the LPM, was unable to sign on to the resolutions of the Assembly as it is bound by its resolution as part of the Poor People’s Alliance to stick by the policy of “no land, no house – no vote” until there is “a mass, socialist party that can be trusted”. The Assembly respectfully accepted this position and invited the LPM to continue participating in meetings and joint action while continuing to discuss these issues. It was also reported that the PPA was meeting in Durban on the same day, discussing similar challenges, and it was agreed that solidarity greeting and a special appeal for discussions on the way forward would be sent to the PPA organisations (which also include Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Anti-Eviction Campaign amongst others).

This is an initiative driven by grass roots working class fighters, called in response to their own experiences of struggle and its challenges. Battling on different fronts – in communities and workplaces – people have come to recognise the limits of the isolation of their struggles from those of other areas, from other spheres of the class struggle (i.e. service delivery protests unlinked to the struggles of organised workers). Striving to overcome this division clearly was a key driving force for the organisations which participated in this first Assembly. But beyond this strive for unity, there was also a clear urge to break out of the confines of protest towards a struggle for victory by coming up with a clear common platform and a strategy for a victorious struggle for socialism. Comrades participated in the recognition that other initiatives aimed at forging greater unity (eg the Anti-Privatisation Forum and the Democratic Left Front) by not addressing this critical issue openly, have disappointed the expectations of those activists looking towards it. The DLF and APF are therefore at risk of being overtaken by events and reduced to mere observers of a mass movement determined to arm itself with a programme to overthrow capitalism and a leadership and organisation capable of leading the struggle for the socialist transformation of society.

The world has entered a new period of revolutionary upheaval. With South Africa already having the world’s highest number of service delivery protests per capita and a rising tide of strikes, it is self-evident that the South Africa’s class struggles will be decisive in this period. This is why there is no more urgent task than for the working class to create the tools for its own liberation. A first step was taken on October 22.

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