SAMWU strike a challenge to the ANC PDF Print E-mail
Trade Unions and Socialism - Trade Unions and Socialism
Sunday, 01 May 2011 09:02

SAMWU strike a challenge to the ANC

By Weizmann Hamilton

The South African Municipal Workers Union’s decision to embark on a rolling mass action campaign to commence in different provinces building up towards a national strike in May, 2011 – days before the ANC’s planned 100 000-strong final election rally – represents the most serious breach in Cosatu (and the Tripartite Alliance) since the ANC came to power. The strike will go ahead despite accusations of sabotage by the ANC. The SAMWU decision follows a public announcement by its general secretary that it was no longer possible to call upon their members to vote ANC. SAMWU has taken this stance despite once again, along with Cosatu, pledging its support for the ANC in these elections.

Open challenge to ANC

Not since the resolution by the Wits region of the Chemical, Paper, Wood, and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU) in 2002 calling for a referendum on the whether the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) should remain in the Tripartite Alliance, has the African National Congress (ANC) faced such an open challenge by a Cosatu-affiliated trade union. The Ceppawu Wits region resolution led to a vicious witch-hunt, the beheading of the Wits regional leadership and the resignation of 6000 Ceppawu members who followed their leaders into the General Industrial Workers Union (GIWUSA) – an independent union. In the face of what is in reality a revolt against the ANC, there is absolutely no possibility of such a witch-hunt against SAMWU. Any such action would threaten the unity of the federation itself. In fact SAMWU claims that Cosatu is supporting its action.

As ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu intimated in despair, the demands of SAMWU’s action – opposition to the Municipal Systems Amendment Bill, the sacking of Corporate Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Shiceka, and the abolition of provinces, an end to political dismissals, an end to privatization and the transfer of municipal functions to povinces – are not typical trade union demands; they are political.

The ANC has, until now, always been confident that no matter how bitter its disputes with Cosatu may appear to be in public, in the final analysis the union leaders would always capitulate to the ANC, at the expense of their own members, as has happened repeatedly in the public sector.

Class collaborationist prison

For all Cosatu’s insistence that it is an autonomous body within the Alliance, the reality is that it has long surrendered its political, and therefore class independence. As the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) has pointed out before, because the ANC is a party of capital, and remains, for now, the main vehicle for the maintenance of the capitalist order, the Tripartite Alliance is a coalition of incompatible class forces which acts as a class collaborationist prison for Cosatu members. The Cosatu leadership’s role is to defend the ANC from the wrath of the working class.

Political strike

Despite the leadership’s denials that the strike is aimed at disrupting the elections, it is a strike against the ANC government by a Cosatu-affiliated union in support of consciously political demands in critical stages of an election campaign. Even if some in the leadership may not be aware of it, this is an embryonic political challenge to the ANC’s rule, pointing to the need for the Cosatu workers to break out of the Alliance prison and thereby show the way for the working class as a whole, in other federations. The repercussions of SAMWU’s action will be enormous; especially if the ANC vote suffers markedly in these elections, as seems likely. The recriminations that will follow are likely to place further, increasingly unbearable strains on the Tripartite Alliance.

It is no accident that it is through the actions of SAMWU that this breach in the Tripartite Alliance has occurred. SAMWU is at the coalface of the incompetence, nepotism and corruption in local government. Over the recent period, relations with the ANC have deteriorated sharply with local government leaders taking draconian action through victimisation of whistleblowers, sackings of workers and shop stewards as was the case recently in Ekhurhuleni. More than any other Cosatu affiliate, Samwu has had direct experience of the increasingly brutal manner in which service delivery protests have been suppressed with a SAMWU member killed by police in a recent strike in Tshwane. Although hitherto loyal to the Alliance, SAMWU has always sharply criticised ANC’s capitalist policies, and was the first to question support for Zuma.

Reclaim Cosatu’s class independence!

No doubt, with the South African Communist Party (SACP) in the forefront, strenuous efforts will be made to rein SAMWU in, and to prevent the logic inherent in its action from threatening the Alliance. But, even if not immediately, such efforts are bound to fail in the end. A rank and file network organising to reclaim the class independence of Cosatu should be set up as soon as possible, to counter any such attempts to stop the workers of SAMWU and elsewhere in the labour movement from drawing the political conclusions of their action.


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