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WIVL position on the VW struggle and outline of the Jan-March 2001


Across the world there are many heroic battles being waged by workers against decadent monopoly capitalism. Giant monopolies rule the world without even the slightest care to life and limb, without bothering even to abide by local bourgeois law, that favours them 99% of the time in any case. This is the real face of "globalisation" that workers fight against daily.

The order of the CCMA of the 23rd January 2001 reinstating the 1400 workers dismissed by VWSA, is a victory for the working class in South Africa and internationally. That the bosses are trying to reverse the court order, opens up a new chapter in this struggle where every step forward comes under threat even before it becomes a reality. The basis of the company`s appeal is to challenge the fundamental right to a hearing, regarding it as a mere technicality that can be sacrificed at will. This is a fundamental attack on the working class, and the entire working class , nationally and internationally needs to mobilised against these plans of the bosses. A defeat of the VWSA workers will effectively mean the end to hearings before dismissals. Mass dismissals will become the order of the day and the right to strike will be severely undermined. It is rare that all the elements of the tripartite alliance and its true role is shown so starkly as in this struggle. For those who doubt the truth of our words, they only need check the record of the case which is open for public scrutiny at the CCMA in Port Elizabeth.

The nature of the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance revealed

In Uitenhage, the heart of an overwhelming ANC stronghold, a class division emerged among the ANC members and supporters. It started as a spontaneous fight over defending workers` gains and benefits that had been won over many years. The Numsa[National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa] leadership and some of the plant leadership agreed with the VWSA bosses over measures to take away many rights that workers had. When workers started to resist, they faced a united front of the Numsa leadership, the VWSA bosses, the ANC and SACP leaders from local to national level and international level. The essence of the tripartite alliance in this matter could be seen from one of the top Human Resources officials of VWSA participating in the meetings of the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance which discussed the fate of the workers long before the dismissal had taken place. On the 29th January 2000, VWSA held a secret meeting with ANC Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe and ex-Cosatu President, John Gomomo, who the bosses argued in their papers, supported their decision to dismiss the workers. [The mass dismissal occurred on the 3rd February 2000] Top leadership of Numsa, their entire NOB`s and national auto sector co-ordinators were at the beck and call of management, while they avoided their own members like the plague.

The working class responds

The working class replied to their democratically elected shopstewards by the simple and fundamental approach of workers’ unity. On the 23rd January a mass meeting of Cosatu [mainly Numsa] workers met and elected 2 delegates per factory to set up the Uitenhage Crisis Committee, in effect a workers` council. This was in effect an embryonic Soviet. This workers` council was quickly weakened by the Numsa and tripartite alliance leadership, through threats of expulsion to any worker leader involved in it. Very quickly this Committee was reduced to little more than VWSA workers. It was after the intervention of the WIVL that the links with the small but significant left in the labour movement developed. Unfortunately this was only after the dismissal had occurred. With all the odds stacked against the workers, the simple basic task of maintaining workers unity outside and building unity with the workers on the inside of VW, was the key foundation of the campaign. No amount of marches, stickers, meetings or pamphlets could take the place of this drive for unity. The German left provided a website for day by day information on the campaign that kept activists all over the world informed and mobilised. They also raised much needed funds for sustaining regular general meetings of the workers that helped to maintain their unity and ward off all attempts at division, by vehicles of all shapes and sizes. There was also the spontaneous development of the women`s group of the VW dismissed workers, that held several marches and helped politicise the wives and partners of the workers on the need to stand united in this fight. The ANC Womens League had died sometime before and played no role in supporting the fight. In the local govt elections in December last year, the VW workers decided to campaign against both ANC and DA. The vast majority did not vote after the ANC failed to revert to them before the 5th December on their demands. Many had indicated they would have voted if there had been a WIVL candidate.

Some lessons
The power to fight monopoly capital lies in the hands of the working class.

The breaking of the tripartite alliance will not be spontaneous but will take place over the life and death issues facing the working class, guided by formations with independent working class perspective. The possibilities of a revolutionary working class party emerging in South Africa has been greatly accelerated and demonstrated in the working class in Uitenhage and surrounding areas. It is out of fights such as these that the new vanguard will emerge and that needs to be politically consolidated.

Revolutionary work needs to be conducted within all unions, be it Cosatu, or independent unions. Without a conscious intervention by politically conscious groups, no matter what principles are on paper these could be undermined by bureaucratic tendencies that develop in apolitical approaches. Cells of workers need to be built in all unions and co-ordinated based on the issues facing the working class.

The basis of workers unity needs to be minimal, merely that the right of minority views to be expressed and circulated without fear be guaranteed, together with the right that only workers from the base have the right to elect or remove shopstewards. This should be the basis for a campaign of one country, one federation.

The bureaucracy, be they in Cosatu or independent unions would not hesitate to sideline workers that threaten their control.

A wide layer of workers, not just shopstewards, need to be politically educated across union barriers to direct the struggle of workers against capitalism-imperialism.

Even if the left is small, their impact on the struggle of the working class in providing crucial direction, can be decisive.

The international left syndicalists, activists and trotskyist-leaning groups can play an important role in providing exposure and in providing material support to crucial struggles of workers in neo-colonial countries.

The working class in South Africa and elsewhere in the world has enormous fighting capacity that needs to be defended and extended.

The urgent discussion of rebuilding the Fourth International needs to be faced.


c/o The Secretary , WIVL
1st Floor, Community House
41 Salt River rd
Salt River
South Africa

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