South Africa General Strike Shows Power of Workers

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA, Aug. 6 — A massive general strike shut down this country’s economy today as tens of thousands of workers marched against rising fuel and food prices. Today’s nationwide strike, which followed several regional ones, was called by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), under pressure from nearly two million members.

The Mail and Guardian (8/7) said, “The South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union…reported that 93% of its members had not gone to work….Gold mining operations…were affected substantially, with AngloGold Ashanti saying no shafts were operating while Harmony and Gold Fields said its operations were limited. Volkswagen’s…factory in Uitenhage…halted production, and Toyota South Africa closed its Durban plant for the day, as did Mercedes-Benz…in East London. Many…schools had been closed…”

Masses marched in many cities. In Pretoria, thousands marched to the Union Buildings, giving a memorandum of grievance against soaring electricity prices to Labor Minister Membathisi Mdladlana. Some 6,000 workers marched in East London, while about 5,000 took to the streets in Mthatha. The closure of Mercedes-Benz’s East London plant and other automotive factories in the province had the most obvious impact on the Eastern Cape economy.

This massive strike again showed the power workers have to shut down any modern economy. It is the road workers and their allies worldwide must follow to fight the bosses’ growing attacks in this age of economic meltdown and wars. Such an action is also one way to counter the recent racist pogrom fueled by lies blaming immigrant workers from Zimbawe, Mozambique, and elsewhere for the rise in prices and lack of jobs for all.

But much more is needed. The plight of workers won’t be solved by changing one politician or union misleader for another. For many years the COSATU leadership supported the African National Congress (ANC) government led by Mbeki and whose IMF-imposed austerity measures worsened workers’ lives here. COSATU, along with its allies in the “Communist” Party, which also supported Mbeki, are now backing the presidency of Jacob Zuma, who until 2005 was one of Mbeki’s deputy vice-presidents.

Zuma supported the privatization of Eskom, the government-owned electric utility. The recent electricity price rises are supposed to help Eskom, whose failing system has caused blackouts affecting capitalist operations like the gold mines. Privatization didn’t go through because investors realized that Eskom’s current sad state won’t be profitable.

The power struggle between different factions of the ruling ANC for control of state power, and the fruits of their being the main servants of local and international capitalists, again show that workers’ fight-back cannot limit itself to backing one set of bosses (such as African nationalists like the ANC) as the past militant anti-apartheid struggle did.

Many workers and youth in South Africa consider themselves pro-communist and revolutionary, but they must realize that the ANC-“C”P-COSATU leaders are far from that. The best lesson to draw from general strikes like today’s is to turn them into schools for communism, and rebuild a red-led workers movement. But this time it must break with all capitalists and fight for the only society capable of freeing workers from capitalism and its racism — communism.

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