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Climate Change and South African Industry. A Challenge for Left Forces.

Started by Richard Mellor, December 17, 2018, 03:01:25 pm

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Richard Mellor

Climate Change and South African Industry. A Challenge for Left Forces.

Here is an article from South Africa's Amandla Magazine focusing on the future, anti-capitalism in the aftermath of the end of Apartheid, the Marikana Massacre and the global environmental crisis that is deeply felt in SA, a country so connected to mining. As has been the case here in the US also, the issue of jobs and the environment often clash with union leaders (and rank and file workers fearing job loss) resisting change on that basis.  But that doesn't have to be. Taking over the mining and energy under democratic workers control and management does not have to mean job losses. Workers can keep their jobs as these industries are transformed in to more environmentally friendly production with workers staying employed as the change occurs.  Transportation for example would be transformed from the extremely wasteful and inefficient production of auto's to other forms of mass transit. Such a transformation would have to be part of the general transformation of society globally and world production based on need and not profits and planned accordingly.

Working hours would be drastically shortened. Focusing on consumption driven by the need to release the surplus value trapped within the commodity would end, and the production of use values would become predominant.  Just a thought. RM

Posted on Greg               

Time to Rebuild, Time to Rethink

Amandla Editorial | Amandla Magazine Issue 61/62 | 7 December 2018


In the aftermath of the Marikana massacre and the mass strike of  mineworkers, a great opportunity emerged for regenerating progressive  and left politics. Thousands of rank and file mineworkers transformed  the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) into a  militant, independent, mass mineworkers union. The National Union of  Metalworkers of South Africa, (Numsa) called a special Congress to  regroup the labour movement, independent of the ANC Alliance, and set in  motion a broad socialist movement. After being expelled from the ANC,  Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu formed the Economic Freedom Fighters  (EFF), as a militant movement to lead the charge for the radical  redistribution of wealth. And just on the heels of these developments  emerged the Fees Must Fall movement, acting as a further catalyst and  detonator of radical change.

These initiatives represented a huge opportunity for renewing radical  politics in South Africa, especially as they were emerging within a  context of intensifying social struggles and deepening class  antagonisms. Each in their own way raised important questions of  perspective, strategy and even tactics or methods of struggle. Most  importantly, taken together, they represented something very  significantly greater than the sum of their parts. They represented the  emergence of an anti-capitalist moment with a real possibility of  building a social-political movement that could fill the vacuum to the  left of the ANC and the exhausted tradition of national liberation  politics.

This moment seemed to be the maturing of an earlier period, marked  also by heightened mass struggles over HIV/AIDS, privatisation,  retrenchments, access to basic services, etc. and the development of new  social movements progressively aligned with the global anti-capitalist /  social justice movement.

The possibility of an alliance of social movements with the labour  movement, sections of the SACP and other left formations, to give  organisational expression to these struggles was sacrificed when this  social anger was channelled into the Zuma project. The 2007 ANC  Congress, which saw Zuma put in power by an alliance of the ANC Youth  League, the SACP and Cosatu, represented a false dawn for new left  politics. It came to represent the toxic rise of crony capitalism,  embedded in a neoliberal state-centred framework. The triumph of a  lumpen bourgeoisie over the state and the ANC. State resources were  liberated to aid the emergence of a predatory elite competing for the  spoils of a stagnating economy with white monopoly capital.

A flash of illumination
It took an event of great significance to recreate the opportunities  of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The mass strike of almost 200,000  mineworkers and the cold-blooded massacre of Lonmin workers in Marikana  gave South Africans the lens to see the callous and toxic dynamic of the  predatory elite?s accumulation path. The political-social impact of the  Marikana massacre is so evocatively and accurately described by Ruth  First, when she wrote about a similar event in our labour history. ?It  was one of those great historic moments,? she wrote after 60,000 black  mineworkers struck for a wage increase of 10 shillings in 1946, ?that in  a flash of illumination educates a nation, reveals what has been  hidden, destroys lies and illusions.?

Marikana, ?in a flash of illumination?, didn?t just educate a nation  into the nature of the Zuma regime. It also provided the food to nurture  a new political moment ? one of popular struggle and anti-capitalist  recomposition.

The moment has gone
Six years later, most of this energy has been dissipated and the left  is more marginal than ever. The EFF?s credibility amongst progressive  forces is collapsing under financial scandals and intolerance and  racialised discourse, especially towards so-called Indians. The Numsa  project of building a movement for socialism has morphed into a narrow  vanguard party initiative and neither Amcu?s narrow syndicalism nor  other parts of the labour movement that split from Cosatu have been able  to construct a dynamic social union oriented labour movement able to  organise the millions of precarious workers.

The anti-capitalist moment has gone. Can it be regenerated? This is  not so easy to answer, especially in a context in which globally there  is a shift to the right. This is a consequence of progressive forces,  when in power, entrenching neoliberalism and extractivism, regardless of  the social and environmental consequences. This is certainly the  experience of Latin America, and in particular Brazil. Does this  experience have lessons for South Africa?

In the immediate term, it is likely that the underwhelming Cyril  Ramaphosa will lead the ANC to electoral victory in the 2019 elections.  It will be an electoral victory won more by default than by belief. The  two main opposition parties have shot themselves in the foot. Scandals  and internal divisions will cost the EFF and DA respectively. The ANC  will win back some voters now that Zuma is gone. The working class will  vote defensively to keep the DA at bay, but not with much illusion in  what the Ramaphosa ? Gordhan ? Mboweni axis represents. The increase in  VAT to 15%, the miserly minimum wage and shallowness of Ramaphosa?s  social dialogue agenda are not lost on the majority of workers and the  poor.

Towards the fire next time
At best, Ramaphosa?s ANC is a case of back to Mbekism but under less  favourable economic circumstances. Conservative economic policies such  as austerity, privatisation and even the weakening of labour regulations  will be widely applied. They will be presented as the only alternative  to attract foreign investment and get the economy working again. Yet,  the combativity of the working class and popular movement will resist  and give rise to new social explosions that will pose the need for  anti-capitalist alternatives.

On this, there is much to be learnt from the Amadiba Crisis  Committee?s struggle against mining in Xolobeni. After 15 years of  struggle, the Pretoria High Court confirmed that communities have the  right to say no to mining and other projects that affect their enjoyment  and control of their land. For this local community and hundreds of  others, mining does not represent a livelihood strategy. They see mining  as entailing the loss of land, cultural alienation, environmental  destruction and a fulltime source of cheap casual labour. The jobs will  be only for a few.

The need for a left alternative is illustrated so dramatically when  we see Chairman Mantashe advance the interests of the corrupt mining  lobby and the Australian corporation, MRC, at the expense of poor  people. For him and his government, mining and extractivism (digging up  our natural resources and exporting them) represent development. This  flies in the face of all the evidence of its social and environmental  impact.

Unfortunately, none of the components that constituted our  anti-capitalist moment are prepared to contemplate an alternative.  Amcu?s president, Joseph Mathunjwa came closest when, in an an oped for  Daily Maverick, he wrote:

?AMCU is a trade union representing mine workers and construction  workers. These workers are embedded in the very industrial processes  that are at the centre of contributing to global warming and other  environmental problems. It is inescapable that, if we are going to move  decisively to a low carbon, less polluting economy, it is going to be at  the cost of coal mining, coal-fired energy plants, coal to liquid gas,  etc. Unless jobs are offered to our members in clean industries, they  would never voluntarily agree to the shutting down of mining and energy  industries. It would be like asking them to commit suicide.?

An alternative to extractivism and the Minerals Energy Complex is of  course not just an economic and social imperative. It is an ecological  necessity in the face of all the evidence on climate change, including  the most recent special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate  Change (IPCC) Global warming of 1.5°C. There simply is no more time  left to continue spewing out carbon into the atmosphere without dramatic  and quite probably irreversible consequences. There are three articles  in this issue which dig deeper into that.

The left, and not just environmentalists, needs to acknowledge that  an extractivist strategy is simply incompatible with both our  development needs and the imperative to repair the ecological damage of  the legacy of racial patriarchal capitalism. The economic, social and  political crisis that we experience in South Africa, almost 25 years  after Apartheid, is that successive governments have tried to reproduce  the MEC rather than implement a just transition to a wage led low carbon  alternative.

This alternative rests on three pillars: a state-driven mass housing  programme, agrarian reform and low carbon development. Convincing  research shows that millions of jobs lie in socially owned renewable  energy, massive expansion of electrified public transport, protecting  and enhancing our water resources amongst other critical programmes.

We will need to put together a new political block drawn from  organised labour and small and medium-sized enterprises with strong  roots in the local economy, with community-based social movements,  representing landless and mining affected communities, unemployed  sectors of our society, enlightened and radical environmentalists and  the potentially new organic intellectuals of the radicalising student  movement. This will constitute a new anti-capitalist moment, hopefully  drawing lessons from the previous cycle of struggle. 

Source: Climate Change and South African Industry. A Challenge for Left Forces.