SA Working Class Summit to unite workplace and community struggles


A NEW chapter in the history of the South African working class was opened in Soweto on 21st-22nd July 2018, when representatives from over 147 South African working-class formations represented by 1,000 delegates assembled to unite workplace and community struggles.

It made huge strides forward to lay the foundations for building a new, independent, democratic and militant mass working class movement, to turn the tide against the attacks on jobs and living standards which are pushing more and more South Africans into poverty and despair.

This assembly of the working class, rural poor, the downtrodden and marginalised brought together formations that have never met under the same roof before. It was historic and unprecedented that 147 formations of the working class would meet as equals with mutual respect of one another and in search of a common ground.

This Working-Class Summit was characterised by a commitment to unite working class formations, the employed and unemployed workers, those in the informal sector and in more secure work, the students and the landless, the homeless and those fighting against the water crisis and the scourge of violence against women and children, into mass campaigns to struggle for a truly free, just, democratic and equal society.

As South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) President Mac Chavalala said in his rousing keynote speech: ‘As the working class we have been on a junk status for far too long. We are not here to moan but to announce a radical and revolutionary programme that will unite ourselves behind common demands and mass programme of mobilisation. Our warning to all those who seek to keep the status quo is simple – the holiday is over! From now going forward, we will engage you in the streets and the boardrooms.’

The Working Class Summit not only endorsed the binding principles around which it will unite such as anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-patriarchy and anti-xenophobia, but unanimously agreed that capitalism is the common cause of the misery experienced by the majority.

There was unanimous agreement that the working class movement must be independent and adopt a bottom up approach democracy. In that regard the Working Class Summit agreed to build the working class power in every workplace, in every community and society in general to defeat the logic of capitalist accumulation that has not only pauperised workers across the continent but that has caused the widest inequality and deepest poverty ever recorded in the history of humankind.

It was resolved to convene working class assemblies across the country, in cities and towns, factories and farms, townships and informal settlements to deliberate on how to unite struggles of the poor. South Africa is the protest capital of the world but these struggles have tended to remain localised and movements fragmented. A special appeal was made for trade unionists to become active in these struggles because they are members of communities before they are unionists. In this way, the foundations of the all-important unity of the working class can be established.

The Working Class Summit recognised that the crisis of the system, in which the working class and poor are the primary victims, is caused by capitalism and the policies implemented by the ANC government since 1994. The working class and poor do not have representatives in government. In the 2019 elections, we must have alternatives to the existing parties who govern on behalf of the ruling class. The working class and poor need their own representatives.

The Summit broke into commissions, which debated all the main issues affecting the lives of the majority of our people and adopted a programme to take the struggle forward. The leadership of all 147 formations who formed part of the Working Class Summit will be convene soon to finalise a programme that will carry forward the decisions of the Summit.

The main points from each commission are:

• The economy, jobs, poverty, inequality and corruption

The capitalist crisis has deepened since 2008. This marks the failure of neoliberalism implemented since 1980s, including privatisation, casualisation attacks on labour.

Deindustrialisation, especially in labour intensive sectors such as textiles, proves that capitalism is not capable of solving the plight of the working class.

Africa has been consigned to the periphery of the international economy, as a provider of primary products – minerals and food. Thus solidarity across the continent and global south, including BRICS, is essential. But we should not be uncritical in our engagement with BRICS, especially where sub-imperialism is manifest. The Chinese model of development cannot be followed uncritically.

Working-class unity is essential if we are to fight back against this crisis. This unity should be on four main planes of struggle: workplace, ideology, political and social. Neoliberalism divides workers, which should be overcome through working class solidarity.

It was agreed that we must draw on experiences of the 1980s and work hard to overcome divisions within the revolutionary left, accept unity in diversity and acknowledge the existence of different tendencies.

Unemployment is the most pressing condition of the working class. In the short-term we demand:

Reduction of working hours to share work (possibly a 35-hour working week). Endorse support for the creation of 5 million jobs over the next 5 years.

Five million young people to be placed in education institutions or internships. Oppose recent poverty minimum wage and amendments to labour laws.

Support the three-day general strike and mass occupation of the main cities.

Strengthen community struggles.

Reintroduce the demand for Basic Income Grant.

Social ownership of land.

• Free, quality and decolonised education

Education is in crisis. The death of a schoolchild who fell into a pit latrine epitomises this neglect. Access to education for the working class is not guaranteed. Thousands of students still cannot register at universities despite the policy of so-called free education.

Quality education remains unequally distributed along social class, racial and spatial lines. Private schools are better resourced and managed. Public schools do not even receive the same amount of resources from the state across provinces, areas and schools.

There is a strong legacy of colonialism in the South African education system, a problem which was highlighted by the #FeesMustFall and #OutsourcingMustFall movements at the universities in 2015 and 2016. The content, curriculum and methods still reflect a past we want to leave behind.

Privatisation is not the solution to the crisis of the public education system. We see the proliferation of ‘affordable’ or ‘low cost’ private schools, but the control of education by business or the adoption of business principles in state education leads to the commodification of education. Education must be accessible to all not just to those with the money to pay.

We demand that the state release all students in jail (amnesty) and drop all charges aimed at the #FeesMustFall movement. These students were fighting for free, quality decolonised education for all. This is a legitimate struggle. They are not criminals, they are heroes.

Our fight must go beyond reforms. We must build revolutionary educational institutions run by the working class and informed by a working class pedagogy and not by the capitalist state. We must point to the future by preparing for it and giving a glimpse of what it will look like.

• The national health crisis

The Summit acknowledged the collapse of the public health system and the crisis in the private health system. The commission calls for the immediate strengthening of the public health system so that it meets the accreditation criteria of the NHI and warns against further privatisation of the health system. The priority focus should be on primary levels of care from households, to clinics to district hospitals in a district health system. . .

• Land, affordable housing and service delivery

There must be expropriation without compensation of land, both commercial and farming land, and it must include minerals and agricultural land. The Summit agreed to mobilise and agitate community members to take up their struggles, with the working class movement playing a leading role. A militant radical minimum programme of action is needed to link all these class struggles, which includes:

Demand a moratorium on farm evictions.

An audit on land occupation must continue.

All evictions that have taken place over the past 25 years should be audited as much as government delivered houses are audited.

Trade unions should play a pivotal role in community struggles.

Decent housing and demand better houses than the RDP.

• Equality – the struggle for an egalitarian society

We agree that discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, nationality or identity emanates from the unfolding crisis of capitalism in the country and globally and that the struggle for an egalitarian society is a struggle to overturn capitalism and all its oppressive manifestations and for a socialist society.

The unity of the working class is the best possible way of fighting against entrenched norms of patriarchy and violence against women, children and the LGBTIQ community.

• Climate and the environment

The meaning of ‘a just transition’ to a clean environment will be a product of struggle, and it is important for the working class to actively pursue our interests and shape the transition. Capitalist accumulation is the underlying cause of excessive greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

• Mining industry and mining-affected communities

Working class communities want the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy including mining. Mines should be expropriated without compensation and co-managed by mineworkers and near mine communities as part of a working class revolution. In this process no company should be allowed to do asset stripping in order to subvert or spite the revolutionary process.


Our message hundreds of working class activists across the length and breath of our country is that the time has come to fight for the second liberation to win economic liberation for the working class and unshackle ourselves from the chains and our bondages under which we suffer.

The workers united will never be defeated!

Issued by Patrick Craven, SAFTU Acting Spokesperson, 23 July 2018.