THE IMPERATIVE OF BUILDING NON-RACIAL WORKING CLASS UNITY: FOR GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT OF OUR COUNTRY

(SACP input to SACP-Solidarity Bilateral, 17 July 2003, Parktonian Hotel, Johannesburg)

  1. INTRODUCTION AND CONTEXT

The South African Communist Party (SACP) appreciates its developing and nascent dialogue with the Solidarity trade union.

Through this input, the SACP seeks to locate its dialogue with Solidarity in the context of the historical evolution of the white section of the working class from its origins at the end of the 19th century, through the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the growth and consolidation of a reactionary form of Afrikaner nationalism which ushered the apartheid state in 1948 right up to its defeat in the historic 1994 election. This historical overview needs to shape how this dialogue can contribute to define and elaborate the position and role of the white worker in South Africa today and in the future in the context of building the unity and capacity of the working class to lead and transform society in working class interests.

The dialogue challenges both black and white workers to reflect deeply and strategically on their common challenges and common future. The dialogue is about how white workers can make the leap of liberating themselves from their past in a manner which builds their confidence about the present and the future. It is also about how the black working class can extend a hand of class friendship and solidarity to its brothers and sisters across the colour line based on a progressive and thorough-going working class vision and agenda which, in the view of the SACP, is central to buttress and facilitate such deep reflection and thus facilitate the leap and solidarity required. The SACP-Solidarity dialogue must also address and discuss the impact of globalisation and the restructuring of the economy as a key determinant on the future of all South Africa’s workers including white workers.

Therefore, from an SACP perspective, this dialogue is also intended to ensure that the SACP and the broad working class and progressive movements, understand and engage with the interests, needs, aspirations, fears and anxieties of the white section of the working class. Could this envisaged understanding and engagement contribute to the location of the white worker as an active and willing agent, in a broader, diverse, progressive and non-racial working class movement, for post-apartheid working class-led transformation? Otherwise, what is the best route for addressing the increasing isolation and anxieties of the white section of the working class? What is the principal enemy of the white section of the working class? Where does its future lie?

This input covers SACP perspectives on the historical evolution of a racially divided South African working class: challenges for the future; globalisation; the economy ; and local transformation.

  1. HISTORICAL EVOLUTION OF A RACIALLY DIVIDED WORKING CLASS: CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE

The current and future role and location of the white worker in a post-apartheid South Africa has to be considered in the context of the historical evolution of a racially divided working class right from its origins during the gold and diamond rush in the last quarter of the 19th century right up to the present period.

Over the last century, the white working class has, broadly speaking, gone through four stages of development.

In the first phase it showed quite a high level of class militancy. Its class postures were not yet so deeply distorted by the race factor. It had a monopoly of skills and jobs in the towns. The Africans had not yet become proletarianised on any scale. During this phase, the white working class engaged in quite a few militant economic struggles against the mining bosses. In fact it was from within its ranks that the beginnings of a socialist movement emerged in South Africa.

At the same time, the majority of white workers were individuals who had once belonged to the landowning class. They could not, within the space of a single generation, complete the transition from their former culture to a proletarian culture. They were flattered by the invitation to consider themselves still "Boers". The fact that they had national grievances in common with the Afrikaner landowners was the decisive factor in securing their support for the 1910 establishment of the Union of South Africa. The economic, political and social privileges of white workers were basically secured by the racist superstructure codified in the establishment of the Union.

The 1910 Union of South Africa was principally a pact between the Afrikaner and British elite with the young white working class occupying a junior position albeit more privileged than the even smaller black working class and rural masses at the time. The main factor which united the South African bourgeiosie and British imperialism was a common desire to secure privileges for the white population through the joint exploitation of the black population.

Broadly speaking this first phase of the white working class covered the first two decades of the 20th century.

After the first world war

The second phase dates generally from the end of the first world war. As a result of the economic development which took place after the war, there was an influx into the towns of a black workforce, the beginnings of a sizeable black urban proletariat.

The immediate cause of the 1922 white mineworkers strike was the attempt by the mine bosses to remove aspects of the colour bar on the mines (for its own profit interests) The dramatic strike foreshadowed the beginning of the retreat of the white working class movement. The 1922 strike was a fight for what white workers eventually achieved in 1926, for their privileges as white workers to be legally entrenched by the State.

The Nationalist-Labour Pact government of 1924 paid white workers for their betrayal of their class interest. The 1924 Industrial Conciliation Act and the 1926 Mines and Works Act were thus the beginning of the institutionalised compromise between the white working class and the white ruling class marking the progressive co-option of the white working class in support of the white ruling class, politically, economically and in every other way.. The Industrial Conciliation Act recognised white workers as employees with trade union rights whilst black workers were deprived of such rights.

Parallel to this development, the 1930s and 1940s saw the growth of black trade unionism which was separated from its white counter-part even though it had a nascent non-racial outlook, partly because of the influence and role of the CPSA.

During this period, successive governments took legislative steps and economic interventions to address the poor white problem leading to the 1948 electoral victory of the Nationalist Party and the codification of apartheid. The Coordinating Council of SA Trade Unions (Die Ko-Ordinerende Raad van SA Vakvereenigings) helped the Nationalists to power in 1948. That 1948 was a further consolidation of the Afrikaner worker in particular as a necessary part of the ruling bloc was mainly due to an aspirant Afrikaner bourgeioisie which was beginning to taste the fruits of success but still with numerous unfulfilled ambitions. By 1948, many Afrikaner grievances had already been rectified even though Afrikaners were still substantially poorer than the English.

Strains between the white ruling class and the white working class

In the third period, there were once again signs of stress between the white ruling class and the white working class because the traditional privileged position of the white working class began to constitute an obstacle in the way of full economic development in some sectors of the economy.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the post-war growth of the South African economy (with the 1960s referred to as the "golden decade") accompanied by increasing political suppression, repression, and defeat of the liberation movement and black workers’ organisation by an emboldened apartheid state. This period saw the massive promotion and employment of white workers at the expense of black workers. Measures included job reservation (including Coloured preference ad better position for Indian workers), the Group Areas Act, Immorality Act, Population Registration Act, and the intensification of pass laws. The 1956 Industrial Conciliation Act extended job reservation according to colour in all sectors of the economy and forced workers to split their unions along colour lines.

Whites dominated administration, executive and professional positions in both the private and public sectors. The sons of white skilled workers (engineers, artisans, technicians, etc) received higher and technical education and were moving into key positions.

Throughout this period, the white trade union movement worked for the organisation of African workers under the patronage and paternal care of the registered white, Coloured and Indian trade unions. The aim of establishing parallel trade unions fell clearly within the framework of apartheid policies. African trade unions were to be regarded an appendage of white working class interests. African workers were excluded from skilled and semi-skilled jobs through statutory job reservation, industrial agreements, apprenticeship committees and custom.

Blacks were drawn into wage labour at ever-increasing rates by the expansion of industry. This put the colour bar in employment under severe pressure. During this period, there was a shortage of skilled and semi-skilled labour and this could not be filled from the ranks of the white working class. The labour shortage was in the mining, construction, motor, iron and steel and related industries which were experiencing a boom. White immigration did not provide sufficient numbers and therefore employers were calling for a relaxation of the colour bars.

Sections of the ruling class were anxious to water down the colour bar in industry in the interests of profit and expansion. The white working class saw this as a threat to its privileged status. TUCSA and other white trade unions argued that white workers’ privileges could be preserved by keeping the African trade unions under its control thus enabling TUCSA to regulate wages and conditions of work for them.

At the same time, the rebuilding of the black trade union movement began in earnest eventually resulting in the formation of COSATU in 1985.

The Wiehan Commission was appointed in order to consider the poor performance of the economy, the chronic shortage of skilled labour, the high incidence of unemployment among African workers, and the persistent recurrence of strikes amongst Africans in spite of penalties African workers were subjected to. The Commission recommended that job reservation provisions should be repealed whilst it also gave white unions carte blanche to impose restrictions. The Commission recommended that African trade unions must be recognised in order to incorporate them into the state apparatus.

Following this commission, the black trade union movement grew in leaps and bounds fighting for better working conditions for black workers whilst also being a central pillar in challenging apartheid as a political and economic system.

Abandonment and the 1994 breakthrough

In the fourth and more recent period, the white ruling class increasingly abandoned the white working class and proceeded to negotiate for its own survival. But this did not end its strategy of continued co-option of the white working class through race-based mobilisation against change. But the solution is not for white workers to retreat into a laager, as in essence there is no longer a laager to retreat into.

It is during this period where the white worker is really on their own since they were no longer shielded by legislation. The white worker now had confront and adapt to a deracialising labour market, a restructuring capitalist economy and the overbearing impact of globalisation.

In the post-1994 period, the DA, the NNP and other white political parties are clearly not succeeding to remain as political representatives of white working class. In fact they have taken essentially anti-working class positions in favour of the elite and are trying to model a new form of white working class co-option primarily race-based mobilisation and invocation of fear. They have consistently opposed all laws aimed at improving the conditions of ordinary workers. They have tried to project labour market transformation as if it benefits a section of South Africa’s workers as if white workers do not also need laws that improve their bargaining power with employers, laws that regulate working conditions, laws that outlaw unfair discrimination, etc.

From a black workers’ perspective, the April 1994 democratic breakthrough represented the strategic defeat of white minority rule 1994. In the brief period since 1994, the ANC-led government has spearheaded very significant advances in many areas – restoration of political peace and stability, the marginalisation and defeat of a counter-revolutionary ultra-right, a progressive and democratic constitution, the steady transformation and democratisation of the judiciary; very significant labour market reforms, and major transformation programmes in the provision of health, education and training, electricity, telecommunications, water and sanitation, housing, and the beginnings of land restitution and land reform.

Affirmative action

The SACP actively supports affirmative action as an essential component of national democratic transformation and to redress past racial, gender and class inequalities in the workplace. As a party of the working class we are concerned that the benefits of affirmative action must reach beyond a few individuals and that it means something significant for working people and the poor. In the view of the SACP, affirmative action is not about racism and not about racial exclusion of whites. It is about achieving representivity and harnessing the talents of all.

The SACP is therefore encouraged by the fact that Solidarity accepts the reality of affirmative action.

But does affirmative action and broader change mean white South Africans will have to sacrifice economically? Taking apartheid privileges into account, without doubt pain will be felt since the cushion of privileges is being removed and attempts to distribute scarce resources equitably are made. However, there is insufficient recognition of how the bosses have played off white workers against affirmative action whilst actually undermining transformative affirmative action. Perhaps this is the nub of the issue. This is an expression of reliance on the same old untransformed white capital to grow and develop our economy, with all the consequences of not being able to therefore simultaneously challenge the accumulation regime underway. The capitalist class is currently waging a fierce class struggle against the workers and the poor, albeit under vastly different conditions than during the apartheid period, but with the same objective: the sustenance and reproduction of an accumulation regime favourable to their class interests. One manifestation of this struggle waged by private capital is the job-loss bloodbath underway in our country, the decline share of income by the working class, and the gobbling up of profits arising from rising productivity of the working class in our country. This job loss bloodbath and poverty are the major pains felt by the majority of the working class.

How should white workers then respond to affirmative action without appearing to be opposing change? In the view of the SACP, the position of Solidarity to accept affirmative action is a first step. There are however problems in the implementation of affirmative action and attempts by the bosses to derail thorough-going transformation. Part of the response must be a realisation by white workers that their primary enemy is not affirmative action but capitalist globalisation and the legacy of an enclave economy.

It is a growing and developing economy that must create opportunities for all. But the challenges we face are big and there must be no illusion that we will solve them easily and quickly. But opportunities for all will not come if economic restructuring continues to be driven by profit maximisation.

Is the issue therefore not about increasing working class power over the economy? How far and in what manner can the white working class address its concerns through tackling the class contradiction in our society? Can concerns of the white working class be addressed without changing and transforming the current accumulation regime into one that is oriented towards the workers and the poor?

If approached in this way, then the future of white working class in reality lies with its black brothers and sisters who are workers. Then it becomes possible to understand that there is more that binds SA’s working class together than colour and language. Then the common feature of black and white workers as the backbone of the economy that is exploited can be realised and used as a tool for mobilisation by the working class itself. Then the working class, as a class, is the only force capable of leading genuine national reconciliation and building a new South African nation with its different cultures and language.

  1. GLOBALISATION

The current qualitative changes occurring in the world capitalist system represent a new stage of capitalist "globalisation".

The end of the 19th century and the early 20th century to the 1st World War saw "globalisation" on a scale not matched until recent times. The resurgence of "globalisation" in recent times follows a period of crisis and major restructuring in the world capitalist economy. In addition to the short run cycles of boom and bust intrinsic to capitalist development, global capitalism also develops through "long waves" of expansion and contraction. The period between the end of the 2nd World War and the mid-1970s was a "long wave" of expansion. The mid- to late-1970s saw the system entering into crisis and a "long wave" of contraction. This saw massive destruction of capital followed by a major restructuring of capitalism. It is this restructuring which defines the present phase of capitalist globalisation" which has its roots in a systemic, global capitalist crisis. Underpinning the current phase of capitalist expansion and innovation is a systemic crisis of declining profitability, with its origins in the most developed economies of the North.

The current "globalisation" phase of capitalism is most obviously associated with an extensive and intensive restructuring and transformation of the forces of production. In many respects these advances represent major progress in human civilisation.

Although world capitalism is not about to collapse because of its systemic crisis, it is also incapable of surpassing this crisis within the boundaries of the capitalist system itself. Indeed, over the longer-term, the deep and destructive contradictions of capitalism, driven by profit maximisation, are a threat to human civilisation and the environment on which our civilization depends. In the short and medium-term, the responses of global capitalism to its systemic crisis, all serve, in one way and another, to exacerbate the underlining contradiction. Responses have been varied. The most important of these responses has been the massive increase in military spending,

Each one of these responses, organically linked to the logic of capitalism, deepens, rather than resolves, the crisis facing the whole of humanity. These and other responses from the developed North have, in particular, resulted in high levels of unevenness and growing global inequality.

It is critical to understand that BOTH sides of "capitalist" globalisation – the dramatic and progressive development of the forces of production ("informationalism"), and the often barbaric widening of inequality, deepening poverty and oppression - exist in a dialectical relationship. Both aspects are inter-linked and integral to the same capitalist process. The negative dimension of "globalisation" is not accidental, or the result of "oversight", or merely of "market failure" in an otherwise crisis-free process. Both the rapid development of the forces of production and the deepening of global inequality and misery have their roots in the SAME systemic capitalist crisis.

Given the sheer dominance of the global capitalist system, and given our own economy’s relatively small size, and the extensive dependence of our economy on trade, we cannot aspire to simply avoid, or seal ourselves off from "globalisation". However, given the systemic, crisis-ridden nature of capitalist "globalisation", we cannot aspire simply to "align ourselves with its neo-liberal agenda" and then hope to prosper.

It is for these reasons that, as the SACP, we have argued that, as much as possible, working class and progressive need to pursue strategies that simultaneously engage with, and disengage from the logic of capitalist "globalisation".

No to capitalist "globalisation", yes to the globalisation of solidarity

Given the sheer power of the US, is it possible to stop the imperialist juggernaut? While there is no longer an alternative power bloc in the world system, there are countless challenges to aggressive US unilateralism, more now than just a few years ago. In the first place, there are the obvious strains between key EU states (Germany and France) and the US, and between these states and their EU partners (the UK, Italy and Spain). NATO’s coherence has been badly dented. Governments supporting the war in the developed North find themselves challenged by a very large domestic groundswell of opposition.

Our contemporary reality has also seen increasing possibilities for, and the actual affirmation and re-affirmation of new and old forms of global solidarity and are the result of many struggles, campaigns and initiatives around the need to promote multi-lateralism, defend public goods, protecting the environment and promotion of peace.

  1. RESTRUCTURING OF THE ECONOMY

Notwithstanding the defeat of the apartheid state and many outstanding achievements by the progressive forces since 1994, fundamentally the prevailing growth and accumulation path will not be able to resolve the systemic, structural crises of under-development that continue to beset our society.

The economy is characterised by sluggish growth, continuing formal sector job losses; deepening poverty for many in the midst of persisting high inequality; disappointing levels of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI); significant capital outflows from domestic and foreign multinationals; and vulnerability to speculative movements on currency and capital markets.

Race, class and gender continue to play a determining role in regard to poverty and inequality. South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world, and despite the ending of formal racial discrimination in 1994, racial inequality remains a dominant reality. However, as inequality between races diminishes marginally and as intra-race (within racial groups) inequality grows, increasingly it is class that is the most significant determining factor underpinning poverty and deepening inequality.

This sobering reality is partly the result of the burden of the past (entrenched racial, capitalist and patriarchal power), and partly the result of new dynamics and challenges that include – the massive restructuring of the working class, the exposure of South Africa to global capitalist instability and patterns of development and under-development, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Unemployment levels have risen almost without pause over the last decade. By 2001, the official unemployment figure on the expanded definition of the unemployed (i.e. including those who have given up looking for work) was 6,96 million, or 37 per cent of the potentially economically active.

These and other developments have resulted in a working class that is stratified into the following five broad categories:

  • Employed workers in core, mainly ‘full-time’, semi-skilled and skilled jobs in the major sectors of our economy (mining, manufacturing, the public service, parastatal and commercial sectors). This is the main base of the trade union movement.

  • The ‘peripheralised’ working class, principally made up of casual and contract labour in the major sectors of our economy, though concentrated in retail and textile sectors, with the mining sector increasingly employing contract labour.

  • A rightless section of the working class, located mainly in the countryside as farm-workers, and as domestic workers (mainly women) in the urban areas.

  • An informalised working class found in the streets of our major cities, on the sides of the major highways and around tourist centres.

  • Unemployed workers, who cannot find jobs, some coming in and out of the informal sector and others caught in a deep cycle of structural unemployment.

In the context of the SACP-Solidarity dialogue, more attention needs to be paid to the impact of economic restructuring on the white section of the working class.

The restructuring and stratification of the working class in South Africa is closely linked to changes in the structure of capital in South Africa. Various processes associated with "globalisation" are impacting on South African-based conglomerates in several sectors – the focusing on "core-business", accompanied by outsourcing; integration into global networks, etc. In this context, a number of former conglomerates are seeking to transnationalise themselves, including through the relocation of listings and the movement of head-offices to the North. While many of these moves are presented as being "ultimately in the best interests of South Africa", they are, in fact, a major contributing factor to the weak growth, the huge job-loss blood-bath, and the deepening of overall systemic underdevelopment.

A Growth and Development Strategy

The agreement signed at the recent Growth and Development Summit marks an important step forward in the development and implementation of an industrial policy and strategy.

Our emphasis on industrial policy, as a priority focus of economic policy, derives from our conviction that "market forces" are fundamentally incapable of promoting anything other than a highly distorted and stunted development of productive forces in former colonial or semi-colonial countries like our own. Indeed, we are convinced that the central lesson of the experience of the very small number of cases where former colonial or semi-colonial countries have achieved some measure of industrial development is that this can only be achieved by policy-driven interventions directed at extensive "market failures" in the developmental process. These "failures" derive, in reality, from the priorities of profit maximisation under capitalism, and they include:

  • A failure by private capital and profit maximising enterprises, of their own volition, to plan, invest in and lead economic infrastructure projects that are often critical to promoting investment in productive enterprises

  • A failure by both domestic and foreign capital to invest in viable projects to create strategic industrial capacity or otherwise develop productive forces in developing countries or "emerging markets" ahead of a proven record of profitability

  • A failure to initiate and lead strategy development at sectoral or value-chain level

  • A failure to address a broad range of developmental backlogs and introduce work-place transformations to raise the capacities and skills of working people.

The GDS agreement covers some of these aspects but there is still a long way to go.

Privatisation and the role of the state in the economy

In insisting on a pivotal role for SOEs, the SACP is not arguing against restructuring or the potential contribution of the private sector in economic growth and development. Our basic perspective is that the restructuring of publicly-owned assets needs to be located within the following over-arching strategic objectives:

  • Achieving the broad growth and developmental goals of the RDP, especially job creation

  • Building a national democratic state – an active, developmental state with effective strategic capacity within the economy

  • Enhancing national sovereignty at the economic level and policy level in general – an important tool given capitalist globalisation

In the view of the SACP, several problems characterise policy on this important issue. These are:

  • An inferiority complex about public ownership.

  • Weak corporate governance – the failure of boards and senior management to take seriously their public mandate

  • Assuming that privatisation is the only way to mobilise private sector (including foreign) investment

  • The assumption that government should "steer but not row"

  • The need to develop a more differentiated appreciation of different modes of private participation

  • The conflation of black economic empowerment with the restructuring process

  • Flawed processes at the expense of worker and broader public consultation

In the view of the SACP, the working class should busy itself with the building of a national democratic, developmental state which must be a state of a popular bloc of forces aligned to the historically oppressed and the working class, and around a thorough-going transformation agenda. Already since the 1994 breakthrough, the new state has attempted to deal with the crime problem, social security, land reform, housing delivery, education transformation, skills development and economic policy interventions. But for the state to increasingly play its developmental role it needs to be fostered through mobilising popular power, defence and extension of the public sector, and through a consistent struggle against the neo-liberal dogma.

The state requires ongoing transformation propelled by empowered popular forces. In this way, the national democratic, developmental state we talk about can be different from the centralist and commandist state of the Soviet era.

The logic of private capital clearly needs to be challenged. In the restructuring process the emphasis should be placed on extension of services to those who need them the most, to public control of enterprises and services that are essential to development. These include water, electricity, transport, health, education, postal services and telecommunications.

The financial sector

Over the past few years, the SACP has played an active leadership role in a national campaign to transform the financial sector in our country. This campaign has highlighted the extent to which the existing financial system is manifestly failing either to contribute to promoting development orientated growth, or even to providing basic banking services to the majority of our people. Yet again we believe we are encountering a challenge of "market failure" in which state intervention and leadership will be critical.

The existing formal banking and financial system in our country emerged under colonialism and apartheid to serve the needs of conglomerate capital (with which it was closely connected), and secondarily to provide personal banking services to higher income (mainly white) individuals. The majority of working people and the poor were marginalised from this system, although alternative institutions like stokvels developed among our people. Regulation of the financial sector by government was largely prudential regulation, aimed at guaranteeing the integrity of the system and protecting investor funds.

The liberalisation of the sector in the 1990s tended to reinforce and indeed exacerbate these patterns. A number of foreign banking institutions entered the South African market, most seeking to provide niche services as corporate or merchant bankers. At the same time, on-line banking and computerised services were introduced, requiring significant investments by banks. Both of these developments unleashed competitive pressures, leading established South African banks increasingly to re-position themselves with a greater focus on more lucrative corporate services and to embark on aggressive cost cutting. This led, in turn, to increasing service charges, the ending of "cross subsidies" and cutting of less profitable services to lower income clients.

A major, working class and state-led project is needed to transform the financial architecture of the country in ways that will make the sector more supportive of development oriented growth. Among the key strategic areas that the SACP believes financial sector transformation must include are:

  • the fostering of co-operative banking

  • community re-investment legislation and Compulsory disclosure of performance around a range of specified development and community related activities

  • prescribed asset requirements which would require insurance companies and other funds to hold a certain percentage of their assets in the form of investments in prescribed development oriented activities.

  • effective regulation and transformation of Credit Bureaux and micro-lenders

  • consolidating the developmental role and orientation of public/parastatal financial institutions

  • halting capital flight

The financial sector campaign could be an important avenue for a common working class programme of action bringing about the unity in action of black and white workers in challenging private finance capital.

  1. LOCAL DEMOCRACY AND TRANSFORMATION

Our approach to local economic development is guided by our strategic objectives and, in particular, our commitment to a growth and development strategy that is both people-centred and people-driven. It is, precisely, at the local level that it is often most possible to develop a people-centred and people-driven approach.

However, the SACP recognises that there is no prospect, within any foreseeable future, of the existing formal sector making a serious dent into the high levels of unemployment. We need, therefore, to look at alternative means to secure sustainable livelihoods through, amongst other things, building sustainable communities through local economic development.

One of the important constitutional and legislative achievements of the post-1994 period is a relatively unique, and remarkably progressive legal framework for community participation in local governance. In our new local government system, a municipality is legally defined as comprising not just the councillors and administration, but the local community as well. Among the objects of local government in the Constitution are "to provide democratic and accountable government for local communities" and "to encourage the involvement of communities and community organisations in matters of local government".

The input by Solidarity to this dialogue also emphasises the concept of a local community. But what is a community? Is it a local white working class community isolated in Vereeniging and suffering from the opportunism of SASOL which now refuses to donate a bag of coal to the local Afrikaner working class school under the pretence of other priorities? Correctly, the Solidarity trade union argues that language, culture and religion are central in defining local communities and in arguing for the building of autonomous local communities. But are these the only factors determining and defining what a local community is? To which community do white workers belong? To a volkstaat or all of South Africa? Geography is not the only determinant of what a local community is. A rugby club, a school choir, a church, etc. are communities. And so are trade unions. And thus we can also talk about global communities, metropolitan communities, national communities, and communities based on common interests and in a manner different from reinforcing apartheid geography.

Large and external forces can and will wipe out small and isolated communities. Transformation of the spatial patterns of settlement and of productive and commercial activity is therefore central in building sustainable and integrated local communities as part of a common economic and territorial entity. Deliberate strategic attention needs to be paid to the densification of housing construction and renewal, to building multi-income settlements, and to ensuring integration (rather than dispersal) of settlements, work and shopping. Urban and transport planning needs to be improved in order to facilitate social mobility.

There is a still a long way to go to realise the vision of sustainable and integrated local communities. In addition to the above tasks, other critical tasks would also include the mobilisation of residents, building of ward committees, building of co-operatives,

  1. CONCLUSION AND WAY FORWARD

Deepening the progressive outlook, consciousness and unity of the working class

In many important ways, the relevance and absolute necessity of working class strategy and organisation rests on the extent to which the South African working class is united and has a strong progressive outlook and consciousness.

In this context, the SACP considers its role as that of ensuring that the working class is aware that its tasks include exerting its influence and power over all of society. The working class must dare to become the hegemonic class force in our society. The working class must even endeavour to provide leadership to the bourgeoisie.

Practically, this means consistent and bold engagement in all sites of influence and power in society. The full potential of this will not be realised until the working class is united across racial, political, sectoral and other barriers.

The SACP has a special responsibility to work closely with the organised formations of the working class. The SACP's role on this front is directed to developing the class confidence, the political, strategic and leadership capacity of workers. In other words, the SACP approaches its dialogue with Solidarity with the intention to consciously and actively elevate and consolidate working class perspectives, strategy and organisation.

In this context, the SACP has paid significant attention to the role of the trade union movement and the current situation of the working class on the factory floor. Global capitalist trends towards the intensification of exploitation, and related mass lay-offs, increasing capital intensity, contracting out and other practices have had a devastating impact on the South African working class over the past decade. Shop-floor attitudes from the side of management have, in our experience, been marked in the recent period by growing arrogance, unilateralism and high-handedness. Central tasks for the trade union movement remain being the improved provision of services to union members, advancing workers’ rights and workplace transformation through increasing the power and influence of workers over the production process. In the current period, trade unions also need to develop sustainable responses to economic restructuring beyond desperate defensive measures and struggles. Trade unions also have an important role to advance broader socio-economic transformation in society beyond the workplace.

The next steps

Points of convergence, divergence and further dialogue between the SACP and Solidarity need to be openly identified, debated and discussed.

Some of the practical tasks in developing a way forward include debate and discussion on the call by Solidarity for a Workers’ Pact to Promote Economic Growth and Development. The SACP responded by welcoming this call and identified the following as critical aspects in such a pact:

  • Control and Investment of workers’ Financial Resources, including pension, provident funds and insurance savings

  • The Labour Job Creation Trust Fund is a first step in this regard and must be consolidated and taken forward.

  • Utilising and harnessing the buying power of trade unions as a crucial leverage in the hands of the working class to advance growth and development and the interests of trade union members and broader society

  • Using the GDS agreement as a basis for worker-initiated projects

Other issues for the way forward discussion must include:

  • debate on the call by Solidarity for an accord on affirmative action

  • debate on Workers’ Unity (One Country, One Federation)

  • fostering co-operation between black and white working class communities on local democracy and transformation including co-operation on co-operatives (re-skilling of white workers towards contributing to building f sustainable communities, fund for co-operatives, etc)

  • addressing the reality of racism and disrcimination in the workplace

  • building a sustainable working class response to workplace and economic restructuring

  • In conclusion, the SACP believes that this dialogue is an important stepping stone towards the realisation of the long-term vision where there is one South African working class – neither white nor black – united in vision, principle, aims and action!