Saturday, July 26, 2008

South Africa's Union Movement Responds to the Global Economic Crisis

South Africa'a Labor Movement Responds to Global Economic Crisis

COSATU stages one day strikes, mass demonstrations against price hikes for fuel, energy and fuel

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

While former South African President Nelson Mandela celebrated his 90th birthday on July 18, the struggle for economic justice among the working class and its organizations continued. The largest labor federation known as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), held numerous work stoppages and mass demonstrations on July 16 and July 23 to protest the rising costs of fuel, food and energy services.

Mandela, who is the past president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) was elected as the first head-of-state during the first non-racial, democratic elections inside the country in 1994.

Mandela, who served one five year term between 1994-1999, is still hailed throughout the world as a freedom fighter. He spent over 27 years in prison for his political beliefs while western imperialists benefited from the superexploitation of the majority African population who worked and created the wealth in the mining, manufacturing and agriculture industries in South Africa.

With South Africa having been well integrated into the world capitalist system since the late 19th centuy, when the mining of gold and other resources began, the current economic crisis engendered by the failures within the financial markets worldwide have been felt sharply in this country and throughout the region.

Thousands March in COSATU Protests

Large numbers of workers took over the streets in the Free State, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga on July 16 in opposition to the escalating prices for fuel, electricity services and food.

Demonstrators in the Free State's major city of Bloemfontein demanded that the government not allow working people to pay for the failure of not investing in the power industry during the early days of democratic rule during the 1990s.

COSATU's deputy general-secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali was quoted by the Mail & Guardian of South Africa as saying that: "We cannot afford the 27.5% increase in electricity." The labor official pointed out that any further price hikes would mean that workers would suffer even more, particularly if the current downturn creates even more unemployment.

Demonstrations on July 16 included a march to the Free State Premier Beatrice Marshoff's office where a memorandum was delivered demanding that the electrification program to poor households not be compromised in light of the recent price increases.

At the Beatrix mine of Gold Fields all operations were effected by the one day strike, while the diamond producers DeBeers reported that there was negligible impact on their operations in three of the four mines in the Northern Cape and Free State. However, nearly 80% of the clothing and textile workers in the Free State and Northern Cape participated in the demonstrations according to the South African Clothing and Textile Workers' Union.

In Mpumalanga, COSATU spokesperson Raymond Mnguni stated that 60% of businesses were closed as well as many shops, factories and companies. "Many production industries operated on skeleton staff," he said.

In a statement issued by COSATU on July 16, it states that: "The economy of Mpumalanga ground to a complete halt as thousands of COSATU members supported by the South African National Civics Organization (SANCO), the South African Communist Party (SACP), the Young Communist League (YCL), the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and organizations of Civil Society took to the streets in support of COSATU's call for protected action against the electricity crisis."

This statement continues by claiming that: "Figures collected indicates that the mining sector was the hardest hit with a 100% stay away in the following operations: Delmas coal, Khutala coal, Matla coal, Douglas colliery, Arnot colliery, Middlelburg mining, etc."

The Mpumalanga COSATU statement concludes by giving a breakdown of demonstrations that took place on July 16 where "estimated numbers to the different marches in the province are as follows: Witbank, 18,000 people, Nkomazi 15,000, Nelspruit 15,000 people, KwaMhlanga 10,000 people, Secunda 12,000, Ermelo 7,000 people and Bushbuckridge 5,000 people.

"These actions are but a warm up to the National strike planned for August 6, 2008. We are delighted by the support we received, which is beyond the traditional support base of COSATU. To us this is an indication that COSATU is campaigning on issues that affects the poor majority of this country."

Additional actions were also held on July 23 generating provincial strikes and demonstrations against the electricity crisis in South Africa, with mass protests in the provinces of Gauteng, Eastern Cape, North West and Limpopo.

Recent power-cuts and power shortages have been described by COSATU as a 'national crisis' which is impacting all South Africans.

Global Crisis Underlines Rising Costs in South Africa

This current upsurge in labor actions in South Africa reflects the worsening capitalist economic downturn that has swept through western Europe and the United States. With the decline and failure of major financial institutions stemming from the collapse of the housing markets in the U.S., coupled with runaway military spending to carry on the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the maintenance of hundreds of military bases throughout the world, workers and oppressed people inside the western industrialized states have also been confronted with rising unemployment and a significant decline in living standards.

With the present situation of workers and the oppressed worsening all over the world, the current crisis provides new opportunities for international solidarity. We have recently seen a greater interest among American workers in the situation of labor unions in Colombia.

Also with respect to the revolutionary processes unfolding in Venezuela and other countries in Latin America, workers and oppressed people in the U.S. have begun to see the connection between struggles for self-determination and socialism in this region and the plight of labor in America.

In Africa, many countries are facing food deficits and energy crises. There have been food rebellions in various parts of the continent over the last few months. In Somalia, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Egypt, working people, women and youth have struck back through mass actions against the impact of the failure of world capitalism to meet the elementary needs of the people.

The widespread labor actions in South Africa provides a glimpse into how powerful organized workers can be in a
global recession heading towards the potential of a complete financial meltdown. Joint endeavors by workers and the oppressed throughout the world will strengthen class consciousness and provide a mechanism to effectively challenge the agenda of imperialism which seeks to enhance its control over the labor and resources of the globe.

Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire.

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