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VI Presidential Council: Speech of the General Secretary of NUMSA, Irvin Jim

10 February 2012


“The impact of the global crisis of capitalism on the African and South African working class”


Welcome home, WFTU!


Allow me, Comrades and friends, to boldly and without fear of contradiction, state that when we, the affiliated Unions to the WFTU welcome the opening of the WFTU Office on African soil, we do so on behalf of all the progressive trade union movement on the Continent of Africa, and indeed on behalf of all the working class of Africa!


We are confident that, over time, we will win the ideological battle to convince as many affiliates of Cosatu and affiliates of national federations in Africa to join the family of unions in WFTU.


We think that it is time for all Left unions and their federations in the whole world in general, and in Africa and the rest of the Third World in particular, to come together and unite, in opposition to the greatest threat humankind has ever faced – a global capitalism that is threatening to destroy all life on Earth as we know it. There is no time to waste.


We are convinced that WFTU can learn and must learn hard lessons from the great period of the time when the world had many communist governments. We know that we all must learn hard lessons from the mistakes we made during the Cold War. We are convinced that together – as radical and revolutionary Left trade unions under one umbrella, we stand a chance to halt the threat the global capitalist system poses to our lives and to the Earth itself.


We believe that in WFTU we are not just travelling a well known old path. We think in WFTU we are on a new journey in the present state of the world capitalist system.In WFTU, we are certain that the voice of the African trade union will be given a decent and legitimate place. We will demand for a WFTU that will honour the struggle against imperialism in Africa. We will demand a WFTU that will advance the struggle against the world capitalist system that is killing the whole world, literally.


In the WFTU, we will demand a place for rural and urban poor movements to feel its support. WFTU must support the struggles for land, bread and jobs, in the Third World. Continuing upon its founding traditions but in completely new capitalist environments, WFTU must help us in Africa and the rest of the Third World to combat and destroy the misery which the period of neoliberal capitalism has brought upon the working class.


It is time, before we all perish, as the African working class – rich in its racial and geographic composition – to come together in a progressive openly Left world trade union federation – WFTU.

What exactly is the state of the world capitalist system today?


In order to understand the impact of the on-going world crisis of the capitalist system, it is first important to understand capitalism itself. Once we have understood what capitalism is, we will then easily understand why the world is in trouble – because capitalism is permanent crisis itself!


Writing in the Communist Manifesto in 1848, Karl Marx had this to say about the world of capitalism:

“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left no other nexus between people than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.”


The bourgeoisie, the capitalists, have set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation!


Even when the capitalist system appears to be working “well”, it is a system of brutal naked exploitation, based on “Free trade”. Everything is for exchange. No amount of philistine sentimentalism can conceal the profit motive of the capitalist system. We the working class, are merely the labour commodities of the capitalist system – we are bought and sold in exactly the same way that any other commodity is traded.


Thus for human beings, capitalism is itself a crisis because it treats all of us as mere commodities or consumers of commodities, and not as human beings, no matter how well concealed this fact may be. In short, we are not human beings in a capitalist world. We are things – to be bought or to consume commodities. Capitalism dehumanises us all.


Why then do we say that capitalism is in crisis when in fact for the entire human race and the Earth capitalism is crisis? What is actually meant by this is that there now is a crisis within a crisis – that is, the system of turning human beings into commodities and consumers is in trouble!


At periodic moments in time and space, the system of capitalism overheats, overproduces, and there is not enough demand or consumers for the commodities it churns out, and this leads to reduced rates of profits and to recover, the system goes into destructive mode! The world today is in such a deep seated destructive mode!


There is too much science, too much technology, too much production, that the system of making profits from all these developments suddenly finds itself in trouble – it cannot sale its commodities as fast as they are being produced. New markets are needed, cheaper labour must be sourced, and new and better technologies must be produced and so on, all building up to a new and more dangerous crisis!


Hundreds of millions of workers in Africa have no jobs because the system uses technologies and under educates African labour. Millions of African workers and rural populations starve every day not because the world has not enough food, rather, it is because there is too much food and not enough demand at the price the capitalists want to sell their food – mere commodities to them. 


Millions of African children die from preventable and treatable diseases not because there are medicines and there is no medical technology to provide health for all. They die because global pharmaceutical companies must reap profits from the scarcity of medicines in Africa.


We in Africa live shorter lives because the global system of capitalism has placed us at the bottom of the global food chain. We are expendable. We matter but very little. We are not properly skilled, half educated and left to live lives full of disease and hardships.


Africa has suffered slavery, colonialism, Apartheid and neo – colonialism. All these evils were powered by the system of private greed that eventually grew into the global system of capitalism.


Africa has not recovered from slavery, colonialism, Apartheid and neo-colonialism. All these phases in the history of the growth of the global capitalist system have firmly placed Africa at the bottom, as a mere supplier of raw materials and extremely cheap labour.


The on-going global crisis capitalism will thus simply compound, add more, to the already existing crisis of development in Africa.


As for South Africa, the country has already become the most unequal place on Earth, even as the capitalists continue to praise the South African economy as having weathered the 2007/9 economic depression.


Millions of workers in South Africa cannot find work. They continue to live in shacks and compounds designed for inferior labour, and thus a substandard life.


Millions of South African workers rely on inferior public sector education and health facilities, which the Apartheid capitalist system made for black and African labourers and their families.


Today, the global capitalism system refuses to permit the new democratic dispensation in the country to nationalise, to socialise, to democratise the majormeans by which wealth is made, and wealth itself.


Today, millions of workers in South African cannot find work, and their children are threatened with substandard conditions of work and lower wages, as the capitalist system in South Africa salivates at the prospects of the cheap labour the more than 70 percent youth unemployment offers them.


The global changes in production, trade and the World Trade Organisation’s rules have combined to simply make it almost impossible for African countries to compete with the North. This has led to the destruction of local manufacturing, and the usual response from the bosses has been to shed jobs.

The WFTU and the African working class, post the Cold War – a search for meaningful and progressive working class internationalism in this phase of the global crisis of capitalism


The picture painted above, of Africa, cannot be allowed to continue. It is time to examine how the African working class is responding to the challenges of slavery, colonialism, Apartheid, neo-colonialism and now the global crisis of capitalism.


We the African workers cannot but raise our voices against imperialism. It is impossible for authentic African trade unionism to love capitalism. We are its worst and historic victims.


Post-Apartheid South Africa owes the progressive world working class a huge debt of gratitude, and it must do its part, to advance a new world Socialist Agenda, for the world working class in general and the African working class in particular. Anything short of this will be betrayal of all the struggles against Apartheid capitalism.


In the WFTU, we will be looking to build and grow the place of the African trade unions in the world family of trade unions. We are tired of being placed at the bottom, even in global trade unions. It is no longer just the size of our unions that matter; it is the lives of every single member of our unions!


We are confident that the WFTU will assist us to advance a pro African trade union Agenda for the renewal of anti-imperialism and Socialist oriented trade unionism in Africa.


The South African workers as represented by the affiliates of Cosatu who are also Affiliates of the WFTU stand ready to march into the new fields of battle!


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