From the 7 to 9 December Unemployed People's Movement, other organisations of the unemployed and the poor, and allies in unions, civil society and other progressive formations will converge on Grahamstown for the first Assembly of the Unemployed.
South Africa's economic crisis, intensified by Zuma’s toxic mixture of neoliberalism, corruption and repression and the global crisis since 2008, has rendered millions of our people as surplus to the needs to the economy, in a manner which traps us in poverty and hopelessness. While the public purse is plundered to build Zuma a palace millions are without work, without houses, without access to decent education and without hope.
South Africa's official unemployment rate remains at over 40%. This is on the same level as countries in the midst of severe economic depression such as Greece and Spain. The youth are worst hit with the youth unemployment being over 60%. Since the recent recession began in 2008 South Africa has lost over a million jobs. This is a serious and potentially very dangerous social crisis. No society can survive unemployment levels like this for ever. If there is not a progressive and democratic resolution of this crisis there is a definite danger that it will be exploited by a form of authoritarian nationalism.
This structural unemployment is the legacy of the racist capitalist system created by apartheid to reduce blacks to a cheap source of labour for white capitalists. This system has been presided over and protected by the ANC since it came to power. The former Bantustans remain undeveloped and the ANC, instead of intervening to create jobs or providing a Basic Income Grant capable of providing for the unemployed, continues to promote the idea that 'entrepreneurship' and foreign investors will give us the economic growth capable of solving the unemployment crisis and creating millions of jobs. Nowhere is this lie sold to us by the capitalists and their apologists in the media more apparent than in the National Development Plan rightly condemned by our comrades on the left of COSATU and particularly in NUMSA. In protests across the country Zuma’s regime are rightly referred to as ‘the black boers’.
Since 1994 all citizens have rights on paper. But in reality citizenship is tied to one's role in the economy. Productive people are considered to be those with access to jobs, while the millions of unemployed are seen as surplus or part of a culture entitlement or dependents on the hardworking tax payers. To put it simply those of us without formal employment are treated as if we just don’t count. The ANC has tried to also render us politically marginal by giving a toy telephone to COSATU and repressing autonomous workers and community struggles.
But as the ongoing rebellion of the poor is showing there is a widespread popular rejection of this economic and political marginalisation. And as it has become clear that the worker's movement in COSATU has been co-opted by the crony capitalists in the ruling party and their allies in the SACP who pretend to care about workers and the poor, but in reality just want our votes - the progressive unions and workers in COSATU are pushing away from the toxic, corrupt and authoritarian politics of the Zuma faction that has seized control of the ANC. At the same time others workers have organised themselves outside of COSATU.
The rebellion that started in communities is now also shaking up the trade unions. This has resulted in a real opening up of political space. There are some attempts by corrupt and demagogic individuals to exploit this opening for their own narrow agendas. But there is also a real possibility that workers in unions like NUMSA and AMCU and poor people organised into social movements and community organisations can come together in a new and democratic formation capable of uniting struggles in workplaces and communities for a truly liberated South Africa.
It is for this reason we are launching the Assembly of the Unemployed to discuss the experiences of the unemployed, the challenges of unemployment, the violent repression of worker and community struggles under Zuma and the new political possibilities for tackling the unemployment crisis. This Assembly is happening at a key political time in South Africa and will create a platform for grassroots activists to push for a new South Africa capable of:
1. Creating decent jobs, getting rid of the exploitative dehumanising low wage regime built by the Apartheid capitalists and protected by the ANC capitalists and providing a guaranteed basic income to all.
2. Achieving radical land reform that puts land, urban and rural, in the hands of the people.
3. Resolving the housing crisis in the cities.
We will also discuss the dangers that xenophobia, ethnic politics, sexism and authoritarian demagoguery pose to our society in this time of crisis.
We call on media outlets and those who support the struggle of workers and the unemployed to join us in Grahamstown.
Keynote speakers will include Aubrey Mokoape, Ronnie Kasrils and Zwelinzima Vavi. Jay Naidoo cannot attend in person but he will send a message that will be read out in his absence. The Black Consciousness Party and the Democratic Left Front will also send messages of support.
Bheki Buthelezi 060 457 8971
Ayanda Kota 078 625 6462