SACP message to SADTU NGC, Together Let Us Build Working Class Power in our Society

25 November 2011


On behalf of the Central Committee and about the 140 000 members of the South African Communist Party, I bring fraternal and revolutionary greetings to this important National General Council (NGC). Your NGC is taking place in the midst of a persisting crisis of capitalism globally and all its negative impact on our own country.

It is an NGC that is also taking place against the background of the deepening battle of ideas within our own country about the direction of our revolution, some related but others not related to the current global crisis.

The working class is also faced with intensified capitalist restructuring of the workplace and the working class itself, through casualisation, outsourcing, mechanization, retrenchments and labour brokering as part of the intensification of the exploitation of the working class.

Despite all these challenges, which will further elaborate upon below, this is not a time lamenting, but a time to use such gatherings to analyse both the global and domestic situation, come up with the correct understanding of the key strategic and programmatic tasks of the working class, and seek to discuss ways of further strengthening the organization and ideological capacity of the working class to deepen our own class offensive against capitalism and other enemies and detractors to our revolution.

It is a time through which organised workers themselves need to properly define their ongoing role in consolidating and deepening our national democratic revolution as our most direct route to socialism. It is not a time to become professional critics of what is going wrong or not happening, but for the class itself to seek to make its imprint and seek to direct workers towards the key challenges of the moment.

However, the many challenges we face must also not obscure some of the important advances we have made since your last congress, both as organised workers but also as the working class as a whole. The many resolutions adopted at the ANC’s Polokwane Conference have been translated into government policy and programme of action. For instance the adoption by government of an industrial strategy, commitment to a new growth path to transform the character and direction of our economy, the prioritization of jobs, education, health, rural development and the fight against crime and corruption, are some of the things that the working class have fought for since our democratic breakthrough.

The fact that there is now a concrete proposal on the table about a National Health Insurance Scheme (NHI), a demand placed especially by the SACP through our 2007 Red October Campaign, is an important victory for the workers and the poor of our country. That there is now an expansion of financial assistance to learners from poor backgrounds, both in terms of the increase of no-fee schools to 60%, that the school feeding scheme now reaches some 8 million learners, and that as from this year poor students pursuing trade related programmes in FET colleges are completely exempt from fees, are advances we dare not overlook.

For instance a critical question for a union like SADTU is what opportunities have been created by having education as one of the five priorities of our Alliance and the ANC-led government? Are we fully exploiting the prioritization of education to change the lives of our learners and students, to improve education in our country, and to strengthen the progressive trade union movement in education?

As the SACP we would like to argue that opportunities like these do not require defensive postures, much as we must defend our gains, but to fully exploit such spaces to deepen the struggle for education and training in our country.

The key challenge for the working class therefore is how do we consolidate our gains whilst deepening the struggle to roll back the capitalist system and its barbarism.

Therefore our main message to this NGC includes the following:

Challenges emanating from the current global capitalist crisis The key terrain on which to take forward working class struggles in general and those of the educators in particular Deepening relations between the SACP and the organised working class 1. The global capitalist crisis, South Africa, the African continent and the battle of ideas

The sovereign debt crisis in Europe, the declining economic hegemony of the US, the sluggish or non-existent growth in most of the developed world, the possibility of a "double dip" global recession are all symptoms of a structural and systemic crisis in the global capitalist system. This persisting crisis is having a devastating impact, particularly on our industrial sector. So what can be done? We definitely need to point out how capitalism is ruining the lives of millions of South Africans, but we also need to move beyond analyzing why people are victims and advance an agenda to address these challenges.

What is clear is that global economic dynamism and leadership are shifting to key developing economies – and notably China, India and Brazil. Both India and Brazil have survived the global crisis relatively well, in large measure because both economies have placed considerable emphasis on their domestic (and in the case of Brazil it’s regional) market – they have been less locked into an export-oriented (to the developed North) growth path.

What this all means is that, especially in the face of a persisting global capitalist crisis, the working class has an important role in advancing a different African agenda. The "African Renaissance" and NEPAD initiatives (whatever their partial merits) were too much based on the assumption of a trade-off between the developed North (and particularly the EU) and Africa. The underlying assumption was that in exchange for "good governance" (involving not just multi-party electoralism and the rule of law but also "good" macro-economic governance); the developed North would invest in and trade with Africa.

Domestically, this agenda coincided with the class interests of our banking and mining capitalist sector, as well as of parasitic, emergent BEE compradorial strata – to the relative detriment of our manufacturing and agricultural sectors. It was also a paradigm that informed many other things – including the arms procurement package and its assumptions about a European/African strategic alliance, and misguided attempts to steer SADC into an EU style monetary union.

This domestic agenda of narrow BEE is in a crisis and unsustainable. Many of these narrow BEE initiatives are in serious debt, partly also because they are not rooted in an industrial development strategy, but very much on trading with paper money and also characterized by conspicuous consumption and arrogant display of wealth. Whatever proceeds are being derived from such narrow BEE are not being reinvested into the productive sectors of our economy, but are being consumed on flashy lifestyles and opulence.

It is indeed possible that the corruption we see today is not unrelated to the crisis of capitalism itself, that is, the more capitalism recedes into crises, the more corrupt it becomes, seeking short-cut to riches. In such instances the state often becomes the prime target for corrupt activities, both by capitalists and their BEE tentacles. Hence some of the calls for nationalization are not to advance a genuine agenda to empower the workers and the poor of our country, but to save a BEE in crisis.

Indeed we need to ask ourselves as to how genuine are some of these calls for the nationalization of mines, even amongst ourselves as leadership. Could it be that some of us are directly or indirectly associated with battling mining BEE ventures, whose nationalization will provide a windfall for some and not for the benefit of the overwhelming majority of the workers and the poor of our country.

The working class needs to actively advance a DIFFERENT REGIONAL AND AFRICAN AGENDA – that places DEVELOPMENT, inter-regional trade, regional industrial policies, and infrastructure that serves these objectives (and not the continued un-beneficiated export of minerals and agricultural products out of our region/continent).

From a class perspective we should understand that a strategic agenda of this kind will help to consolidate and expand a regional/continental working class. Without being mechanical, the numerical weakness of this class is one of the key factors underpinning the shallow, volatile, often compradorial nature of many African political parties and institutions.

The two critical areas that we need to pay particular attention to are investment into infrastructure, and education and training:

Investment into infrastructure and our productive economy

In the light of the current global capitalist crisis, what are some of the things we need to be doing as a country? There are a number of things we need to do, but let us just to highlight a few critical ones. As part of a developmental growth path for our country we need to pay attention and seek to ensure that we push policies that will revitalize our manufacturing capacity as a country. We need to change the direction of our economy and liberate it from the shackles of the often greedy and speculative financial sector, move away from an economy driven by domestic consumption of imported goods, and create an environment for building our productive capacity.

Related to the above we need to mobilize for government to increase investment into infrastructure. The SACP welcomes government’s indications of its intentions to invest more into infrastructure linked to rural development. It is for this reason, amongst others that the SACP’s Red October Campaign prioritizes the mobilization and building of rural motive forces for comprehensive rural development. We will be going out to build, or strengthen already existing, people’s committees in the rural areas, with a particular focus on women, to ensure that rural infrastructure is biased towards servicing the needs of the poor in the rural areas, and not to enrich a few as has been the case with narrow BEE in the urban areas.

This also means that we need to re-align the mandates of key public sector entities, and focus them away from investments that perpetuates class and race inequalities, reinforcing the urban/rural divide, and towards a developmental agenda.

However, investment into infrastructure and our productive economy will require funds beyond those in the hands of government. This must critically include funds that are in the hands of the working class (e.g. the PIC, private sector pension and provident funds, etc). These funds are now estimated at about R2,5 trillion rands. It is for this reason that, amongst others, the SACP, through its 2011 Red October Campaign, is calling for a second national summit of the financial sector, including both the public and private financial institutions. The key question that needs to be asked is how should we mobilize these resources towards investment into infrastructure and our productive economy, including support for small and medium enterprises as well as co-operatives. This is where the progressive trade union movement also has a critical role to play.

It is for this reason that comrades must critically engage with the New Growth Path released by our government. To reject the growth path simply because it is not a perfect blue print will be suicidal. Indeed one of the key challenges in this regard is to ensure that there is proper alignment between the macro and micro economic aspects of this Growth Path.

It is amateurish, if not suicidal, to expect a blue print for socialism to simply emerge from a multiclass alliance – it actually amounts to adventurism. The progressive implementation of the New Growth Path has got to be struggled for on the ground, and resist the temptation to hope for ready-made solutions in a class society.

It is incumbent upon the working class to defeat all forms of adventurism, as this has always posed the greatest danger to the struggle for socialism. If we are to commit a mistake and follow adventurist calls for economic transformation, like the opportunistic and self-serving calls from some quarters on nationalization, we run the risk of our people rejecting socialism, the Party and all what we stand for, for many years to come.

2. The struggles of the working class in the education sector: Peoples Education for People’s Power

Intensifying the struggle for access to decent education as well as training and skills development is a very important imperative in cushioning our economy from the occasional ravages of the multiple capitalist crises. Education and training is also central in realizing the objectives of development through investment into infrastructure and our productive economy. We can never achieve sustainable economic growth and development, without access to decent education and training.

Education and training is very important in uplifting and empowering the working class. But we must also bear in mind that when we talk about education and the working class, we are not only talking about educators as part of the working class, but also the fact that you are the educators of the children of the working class as a whole!

One of the key focus areas of our 2011 Red October Campaign is on education. This is a campaign that has also been adopted by the Alliance as a whole, as well as joint commitments made by all the social partners at NEDLAC.

One of the most critical challenges in education is that of mobilizing the working class and society as a whole, including our local communities, to ensure that our schools are functional. The Department of Basic Education has provided us with a list of all dysfunctional schools in our country. We call upon SADTU, our school governing bodies, our progressive student organizations, government, to engage with all our communities to make sure that effective teaching and learning does take place in our schools.

It is completely unacceptable that 17 years into our democracy, we still have so many dysfunctional schools in our country. Virtually all the dysfunctional schools are those serving the children of the black working class. SADTU, working together with our alliance and all other progressive formations have an important role to play in making sure that all our schools are functional and offer quality education. This is one of the most important revolutionary duties facing the working class in our country.

Through our Red October Campaign we are also campaigning for safe, habitable and learner-centred schools, including the protection of the girl-child. We need to ensure that we end the abuse of girl-children by some of the teachers, and also campaign against teenage pregnancies.

It is also important that we take up the issue of unspent funds that are earmarked for schools infrastructure. Millions of rands each year are returned to the Treasury because of the failure of provinces to spend this money so that we can for instance wipe out mud-schools and provide proper infrastructure in our schools. Sometimes failure to spend these funds has a lot to do with corrupt practices in some instances.

The SACP also calls for the de-tenderisation of the school nutrition programme, such that this is ring-fenced to be provided for by co-operatives and communities, rather than be given to individual businessmen and women, who often exploit workers because of the narrow profit margins in this area for those who want to make big bucks.

In waging a campaign to make our schools functional, it is important that we do not just focus on high schools and matric, important as this may be, but also to pay particular attention to primary schools, especially the provision of quality foundational learning. Often what has not been attended to in the early years of schooling cannot be fixed in secondary school.

We call upon SADTU to be in the forefront of the struggle to make our schools functional! Just as we call upon government officials to provide the necessary support to our education system!

An area of our education and training system that has largely been neglected is that of vocational education and training, especially our Further Education and Training Colleges (FET). Government has correctly prioritized this area, in order to strengthen it and build quality, as a critical area to address skills shortages in our country, especially access to skills by our youth. There are numerous challenges in this regard.

Firstly, we need to invert the current ratio of 3 university students per 1 FET college student. This will require a huge effort from all the critical stakeholders, not least SADTU itself. It will require a campaign to change attitudes towards vocational education and training in society. It will require a closer alignment between FET colleges with employers, community needs and the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs). It will also require the upgrading of college lecturers, with both universities and employers having an important role to play in this regard. It will also require strong organization of college lecturers.

It is incumbent upon all of us to exploit opportunities created by government to strengthen the FET colleges, including the fact that government has for the first time as from this year exempted all poor students pursuing trade and occupational programmes in colleges from paying fees. FET college education for the poor is now free! It is therefore incumbent upon all of us to ensure that these students are provided with quality education and to drastically improve the pass rates.

In addition government has committed to transfer all full time staff in FET colleges back to the employ of the state. This will go a long way in stabilizing the FET college sector. As highlighted before, the key question for a union like SADTU is what role should it play to exploit these opportunities so that the children of the working class access quality vocational education and training.

It is also important to point out that the Department of Higher Education and Training has appointed a task team to investigate and make recommendations on how Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is mainstreamed throughout the post-school education and training system. This is a direct response to the calls made by the trade union movement over many years for RPL to play an important role in our education system.

Given the crisis of capitalism, one of the fronts through which a capitalist system that is in crisis is trying to revitalize itself is through restructurig of education. Teachers, and their unions, are being demonised by the right wing and liberals. Schools are seen as nothing else but areas to produce obedience and conformity to a system of exploitation, rather than being active citizens in the development of society.

Learners are nothing else but commodities that must be produced and be sold to the job market. This is where education is held hostage to the human capital theory. When the system is unable, due to its own weakness to absorb learners into employment, the blame is solely placed on education but not on the capitalist system as well.

This is the context within which the rising anger directed against SADTU and the teachers belonging to SADTU.

However, comrades, we must also be self-critical as whether our own conduct and omissions do not feed into this criticism. Let us use this NGC to commit SADTU to deal with lazy teachers in its own ranks; to deal with teachers who abuse girl children; to deal firmly with teachers who absent themselves from school; and to deal with all of its members whose behaviour lead to dysfunctional schools, thus tarnishing the image of SADTU as a whole and the teaching profession. Our goal should be that every school organised by SADTU must be an excellent school!

Similarly we must not, because we properly understand the neo-liberal offensive, rest and do nothing about transforming our education system. Ours is to transform the education system so that it can serve the working class and the poor. We have to struggle for an education system that produces graduates who understand that theirs is to serve society and not just strive to enrich themselves all the time. Our education system must reverse the mentality of getting rich at all costs, it must teach our youth not to be corrupt and mobilise them to rise against the corrupting practices of capitalism. We need educators who understand their revolutionary duty in producing an army of cadres for the National Democratic revolution.

Building hegemony on the ideological front

We need to more consistently reclaim the moral high ground for a radical NDR perspective. Our association (real or assumed) with the "new tendency" in the run-up to Polokwane and in its immediate aftermath, has enabled a whole range of anti-majoritarian liberals (from Afriforum through to the DA) to present themselves as the "defenders of our Constitution and Bill of Rights", of non-racialism, gender sensitivity, and of general moral decency. They have even sought to present themselves as the true defenders of Nelson Mandela’s, and of late the UDF’s, legacy. The demagoguery of the populists has played directly into this agenda – but so, too, has the anti-people behavior of sections of the trade union movement in the course of some of the strikes.

Now that the lines between a principled left perspective and the right-wing demagogy are being more clearly drawn, it is important that we consolidate this by presenting the working class as defenders of our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the rule of law. We have allowed anti-majoritarian liberals to appropriate and re-interpret this terrain. What they have done is to REDUCE the Constitution and Bill of Rights to ONE dimension – namely those (necessary but limited) aspects of the Constitution that involve checks and balances on the executive (and to a lesser extent on Parliament); but with very little being said about the socio-economic rights of the majority of our people.

We have also allowed liberals to exploit the current Protection of State Information Bill as a new front on which to wage an assault on government. The whole media saga about this Bill has less to do with what is contained in the Bill, than being another platform for an ideological offensive against the national democratic revolution.

Let us clarify the SACP’s position in this regard. The SACP initially raised a lot of concerns about the original version of this Bill, that it had, amongst others, the potential to undermine the fight against corruption. We are now satisfied that with the many amendments introduced to this Bill, it is now an acceptable piece of legislation. The print media has embarked on a huge disinformation campaign, even lying that the Bill allows all government departments and other state organs to classify information. The Bill is restricted only to security organs of the state (eg. defence, police and intelligence).

What the liberals now want is what they call a ‘public interest’ clause. What this means is that if you come across classified information you can publicise it if it is in the "public interest", without any penalties or action taken by government. In the case of the media, it means that this is a decision that is made by the editor of a paper that such information is in the public interest!

Every country in the world has laws to legitimately protect state secrets that are in the interests of the security of the state and the country as a whole. What the liberal offensive wants is a naked state, where information is going to be used as a tool to undermine majority rule. It is going to be important that workers thoroughly discuss this piece of legislation and avoid being swayed by the disinformation campaign of the media. The SACP is ready to engage with SADTU, and indeed with the entire progressive trade union movement on this matter.

In conclusion comrades, let us use this NGC to further cement the very strong relations between SADTU and the SACP. Let us intensify joint political schools between our two formations. Let us deepen joint campaigns around the transformation of education. Let us intensify the struggle against populist demagoguery and tenderpreneurship. Let us intensify our struggle against corruption. Let us deepen the unity of the progressive labour and communist movements in our country, as the only platform to defeat capitalism and achieve a socialist South Africa!

We wish you a successful NGC!