The bosses, the capitalist politicians of the ANC and the DA, and the media, are howling at metalworkers and denouncing them for going on strike.
They want to blame metalworkers for the problems of the capitalist economy. The media is full of “experts” who in reality are just spokespersons for capitalism. These “experts” are all saying that the metalworkers strike will “cripple the economy” and bring ruin to South Africa.
Is this true? No. It is nonsense and lies to try to turn people against the strike and against metalworkers and their unions. It is the bosses who are sabotaging the economy.
To soften people up to hear these lies, the strike is portrayed in the media as “violent”. The “experts” like to talk about the “right to work”, by which they mean the right to scab and undermine the strike. The DA even wants to pass legislation saying that if a strike is “excessively” violent it will be declared unprotected, which would allow the bosses to sack striking workers.
The DA’s proposal is a charter for the use of agents provocateurs by the bosses and the capitalist politicians. If such legislation passed to end a strike, all they need (to) do is send in hired thugs to cause trouble so they can declare the strike unprotected and force workers back to the job with the threat of sacking.
But where does any of the wealth in the economy come from? Fundamentally, it comes from the new value added by workers in the process of working – especially in industries like manufacturing.
The “experts” say this strike will be so damaging because manufacturing accounts for 15 percent of the economy. That means that an entire 15 percent of economic output is generated by just 230 000 metalworkers in a country of 52 million.
Why do the “experts” not thank and praise this enormous contribution of such a small number of workers to the total wealth of the country and the profits of the bosses? Metalworkers must be the most generous people in all the land to create 15 percent of the economy but receive such low wages. This just shows the super-exploitation of metalworkers by the bosses who are so greedy that they are fighting tooth and nail against a modest 12 percent to 15 percent pay increase.
As part of the bosses fight against the workers, they try and confuse us with the economic “experts”. They love to talk about “the economy”. But whenever they use this phrase, workers must hear alarm bells.
The “experts” are not really talking about “the economy” but rather the bosses’ interests in the economy. They are not the same as the workers’ interests.
Manufacturing accounts for 15 percent of the economy. After the strike, even if metalworkers win their wage and other demands, manufacturing will still account for 15 percent of the economy. All that will change is that the share of that 15 percent going to manufacturing bosses as profits will be lower and the share going to metalworkers’ wages will be higher.
The only reason the manufacturing sector would shrink as a result of higher wages for metalworkers would be because of sabotage by the bosses. They might decide to retrench workers or close factories so they can restore their profits. In other words, they would seek to undermine the gains of the strike. This would be the bosses’ doing, not a result of the strike.
The usual response of the “experts” is to say that if the bosses have lower profits then they won’t be able to invest and create new jobs. All we can say to this is, what are they waiting for? The share of national wealth going to wages has been steadily decreasing for years. South African businesses have R500 billion of cash stockpiled.
They have more money than they know what to do with. That money could be invested today to create jobs. But for the capitalists, it is more profitable to speculate with that money on the financial markets.
Why is it that the metalworkers’ strike, which started last week, is now the reason that the capitalists can’t invest?
This argument is nonsense. The capitalists have been on an investment strike for years – business investment in South Africa in 2014 is 3 percent lower than it was in 2008. Is this the doing of metalworkers? No. All this time the bosses have been sabotaging the economy.
The “experts” will then say that higher wages for South African metalworkers will make the country “uncompetitive”. They say that manufacturing will move to parts of the world where wages are lower. The “experts” present this outcome as inevitable as the sun rising in the east.
But this is a lie. Again, the bosses are threatening to sabotage any gains from the strike. What they are really saying is that they will close their businesses in South Africa and move them abroad to get higher profits for themselves rather than pay metalworkers a fair wage.
But the capitalists want it both ways. The ANC, supported by South Africa’s big business, has gone along with the dominant neo-liberal ideas of world capitalism that say trade barriers must be removed, services and the state sector privatised, markets opened and competition allowed to rule supreme.
Globally, this has been the strategy of the big capitalists of America and Europe to shift power and wealth away from the working class to themselves. When it suits them, the South African bosses support this; when it doesn’t, they blame the workers.
For workers, neo-liberalism creates a race to the bottom in wages. For example, the factories that moved to China because wages were lower are now moving to even lower-wage countries in south-east Asia.
These are all problems of the capitalist system. That is why workers must be armed with socialist ideas. The capitalists’ problems do not need to be our problems if we have a clear understanding of the socialist alternative. Workers must demand the opening of the books of South African companies that claim they cannot compete with foreign importers. Workers’ committees should then scrutinise their profits, senior pay levels, input costs, the wages they pay their workers and the prices they charge for their goods or services.
But even in those cases where companies can prove they can’t compete, workers should not support capitalist profits by asking the working class to pay high prices for goods and services, or by holding down wages on the capitalist classes’ behalf. If companies genuinely cannot compete, we will demand their nationalisation under workers’ control.
This must be the principle demand of the trade union movement struggling to defend jobs from foreign competition.
But, ultimately, a socialist society is needed to end the race to the bottom and give jobs
As well as being organised in trade unions, workers need to be organised politically in parties like the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp) to complement the struggle in the workplaces with the united struggle of the working class for a socialist society.
* Moses Mayekiso is Wasp president and former National Union of Metalworkers of SA general secretary.