ZACF Statement on Cosatu Strike, Electricity Crisis and Food and Fuel Prices

by Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front
Tuesday, Aug 5 2008

The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) expresses its solidarity with the rank and file workers of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), as their national campaign of rolling mass action against the electricity crisis culminates in a national strike and stayaway throughout the country on Wednesday, 6th August.

Mass action on one issue…

We share Cosatu’s concern that Eskom’s 27.5% increase in electricity prices (which can be increased still further by municipalities) as allowed by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa, to help fund Eskom’s R343-billion expansion plans, will be felt most heavily by the poor and working poor. This increase in tariff will put thousands more jobs at risk as, already confronted by large increases in fuel prices and interest rates, companies will try to maintain their profit margins by retrenching workers, and may even be forced to close operations.

The decision by Eskom to reduce electricity supply to the mining and other industries, as well as their threat to oppose any new major construction initiatives, could likewise result in loss of jobs; it is probably already doing so. But as a result of incompetence by the state and Eskom, neo-liberal cost cutting and privatisation and a failure to properly invest in the nineties, these power cuts are probably unavoidable. Without them we would probably still have chronic and unpredictable load shedding hitting industry and consumers, rich and poor alike. Electricity cannot be wished into existence. The shortage is real and can’t be bypassed. What we need is for the working class to take a lead in demanding alternate energy sources be explored and implemented as soon as possible, with a priority on supplying energy to poor communities and to industry to maintain – and increase – the number of jobs.

We therefore support Cosatu, as an organisation of the working class, in its endeavor to find a solution to the current crisis of power-cuts and power shortages, which affects not only all South Africans – as stated by Cosatu – but all people currently residing in South Africa, regardless of their nationality.

We are adamant that government’s programme for providing electricity to poor households, which is insufficient at best, must not be compromised by the electricity crisis and recent price increases and that the costs of the power-cuts not be borne by the poor and working poor.

…no action on others

In his statement of August 1st 2008, in response to accusations that the strike was demanding zero-rating of already zero-rated foodstuffs, Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said that the current protest action is “essentially a protest against the 27% increase in the price of electricity”, and not against rising food and fuel prices and interest-rate hikes. We have to ask ourselves then, if Cosatu is not taking action on these issues, why not? The working class is getting very seriously done in, as Cosatu well knows. Cosatu leaders must know that the market isn’t going to solve this problem, and they certainly know that the interest rate hikes – which are meant to control inflation – aren’t making things any better either. Why isn’t the most powerful working class organisation in the country taking some action on this?

How does Vavi think the “separate processes in Nedlac on some of these issues” are going to deal with the food, fuel and interest-rate crises? What kind of workers’ leader is this who calls for direct action on one issue but just sits and talks to the enemy about other intimately related issues? This confusion on the facts undermines the working class.

The market is the problem…

It is ridiculous that, in a food producing country, South Africa has such high levels of starvation and malnutrition, while big brands make millions on price speculation and starvation. When speaking of rising food prices it is important to acknowledge that the market is the problem. One aspect of the neoliberal era – beginning in the 1970s – is that food prices, along with other commodities and currency exchange rates, were allowed to move a lot more freely and with less regulation. This leads to increased vulnerability for consumers and small farmers, and to the dominance of big capital in the form of agribusiness (notably in the US), food processing companies (Tiger Brands in SA), and retailers. South Africa’s abolition of apartheid-era agricultural marketing boards in the nineties was part of a global trend. While far from ideal, we believe that state regulation of prices and subsidies for farmers are preferable to a “free market” that gives speculators and cartels free rein.

Such regulation will only come about, however, as a result of mass direct action by the popular classes; and if the popular classes force the state to introduce such regulation, perhaps we could to some extent dictate its terms and make it serve the interests of the masses. This would be a campaign for Cosatu which we would fully support. It should be noted that this approach is in stark contrast to the position favoured by leading “third world” governments in the WTO talks, which now appear to have collapsed. Governments of so-called developing nations are attacking first world farm subsidies (which are indeed problematic as they tend to favour giant agribusiness) and, regrettably, pushing for more of a free market, the one thing that won’t help workers and the poor. Perhaps all these complications – notably the need to attack the market directly, and even more the need to speak out against government policy – have something to do with Cosatu’s failure to produce a proper analysis and programme of action.

All these issues tie in to the longer-term problems of the energy crisis and the environmental crisis. The immediate cause of the current disastrous food inflation is the rocketing price of oil – both because of transport and processing costs, and because of the trend towards biofuels. So-called experts differ on whether the oil problem is due to speculation, rent-seeking by Opec, or the approach of peak oil. But even if oil prices settle down for a while, it’s clear that a huge crisis looms, and probably sooner rather than later.

Cosatu is right to call for renewable energy, but we are concerned with the risks of taking biofuels as the solution, and must warn against this.

…popular direct action the answer

We believe that Cosatu is on the right track with their demands, but that they do not go far enough; as the most powerful working class organisation in the country Cosatu should be spearheading a campaign for price-caps on all basic food stuffs, as well as for state regulation on prices and subsidies for smaller farmers.

We call on Cosatu to continue with its mass action until the government concedes to invest properly in alternate and sustainable energy sources, with a emphasis on electrification of poor communities and a proviso that the cost of electricity to those communities not be increased.

We call on Cosatu to support the service delivery campaigns of the popular social movements as a means to ensuring sustainable energy for all, and likewise urge the popular social movements, and the population at large, to actively support the Cosatu workers’ struggle against the electricity crisis.

Workers and unemployed unite!

Fight for and win affordable food and sustainable energy for all with popular direct action!

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