The working class did not celebrate May Day this year in conditions of its own choosing.
The economy, which was already in crisis before the Covid-19 coronavirus hit us, is now in freefall.
The virus has exposed the brutalities of capitalism in South Africa and internationally.
Around the world workers are facing retrenchments, pay cuts and short time. Millions are going hungry.
The crisis has also exposed the failings of our political leaders.
In our own country, the government intervention is still incoherent.
One leg is striving to do something in the best interests of our people.
The other leg is seeking to please rating agencies, wanting to prove to the world that we will accept austerity measures and right-wing structural reforms – that are about nothing but privatisation – to take the assets of the people and hand them over to a greedy minority.
In the US it is not just shocking but an embarrassment to have a president making a call that those who test positive for the virus should use household disinfectants to cure themselves.
However, despite the rapidly worsening situation, one of the things that we did celebrate on May Day was the heroic, guerrilla, working-class struggles we waged in South Africa and in the world.
In essence, the working class is made up of all those who do not own the means of production and who are politically oppressed, economically marginalised, dispossessed and landless.
Out of their political confidence, and out of their belief that a different world is possible, they have been able to defy the massive propaganda of the dominant, capitalist, exploitative class who are in the minority, but who pursue greed instead of humanity.
The working class have been a motive force of history, not just out of a belief that socialism is the future, but because they firmly believed and unapologetically articulated that the greedy philosophy of capitalism and imperialism have no solutions for humanity.
This failing capitalist agenda is homogenised in the context of the Washington consensus using its key instruments and institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organisation and rating agencies.
When their system crashed the economies of the world in 2008, the bankers were bailed out and the working class was left to suffer.
Now another crash is looming.
Capitalism as a system has no solutions for the problems that confront humanity.
This is the reason we, in the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), have been resolute in taking up the shop-floor struggles of workers and unapologetically fighting for a living wage.
We are a leading detachment that has declared war against the super exploitation of black and African labour as an accumulation strategy of the greedy capitalists, who will opportunistically divide and rule the working class by deploying race, as was the case in South Africa and which continues to be the case today.
Women are vulnerable to triple oppression – they are victims of patriarchy, class and race.
Worst of all, the accumulative effect of this primitive and brutal, systematic nature of capitalism has been at the centre of what has become gender-based violence and femicide and which has become the order of the day.
In some places race, ethnicity and xenophobia are deployed to divide and rule, and elsewhere they divide the working class by manipulating religion.
Faced with this global pandemic of Covid-19, it remains our political posture that we must continue to champion international solidarity, the unity of the African continent and the world, especially in these trying times when it is possible that countries could collapse into backward, inward-looking responses rather than taking a global response to dealing with global challenges and through which we could learn from one another.
This does not mean undermining sovereignty or contextual realities, nor does it undermine physical distancing.
However, sharing experiences and genuine solidarity must cut across the borders of nation states.
We celebrated this May Day with history repeating itself, with socialism standing tall and capitalism crumbling.
Lest we forget, it was the Cuban forces, with the military forces of Umkhonto weSizwe, Zipra and the MPLA that defeated the racist imperialist forces led by the SA Defence Force in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988.
This battle became a turning point in the fight for liberation on the African continent and led to South Africa being the last country to be finally liberated from apartheid and imperial colonialism.
It is a fact that, out of this struggle, Cuba took home only the bodies of its soldiers who died on the battlefront, fighting for our freedom.
They had no material gain, except to advance humanity.
It is once more Cuba, under this global pandemic, who has demonstrated solidarity in action and that solidarity is forever.
It is this beautiful revolutionary island – with its loving people – that has deployed doctors in Italy, South Africa and across the world.
It is amazing that those of us who respect history in a dialectical way, understand the past to interpret the present and to map out the future.
As we celebrated this May Day, we were thrilled in a revolutionary sense by this act of Cuban solidarity, which is so consistent with what commandant Fidel Castro once said: “Our country does not drop bombs on other peoples, nor does it send thousands of planes to bomb cities; our country does not possess nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, or biological weapons. Our country’s tens of thousands of scientists and doctors have been educated in the idea of saving lives.”
Numsa, a prime mass organisation of the working class, celebrated this May Day under the “new normal”, being very clear that as a trade union movement that we have a duty to wrestle with the new attack that has been unleashed by the bosses across all sectors of the economy where we are organised.
Covid-19 has shown us that this category of vulnerable workers, such as security workers, tellers and cashiers, supermarket shelf packers, refuse collectors, delivery drivers, taxi and bus drivers, contract workers, cleaners, domestic workers, and in a completely unacceptable way, nurses, teachers, prison warders, police and traffic officers, construction workers in their various categories, farm workers, seasonal workers, art and culture workers, as well as informal sector workers, are the backbone of our society.
Yet all of these workers are subject to the greed of the capitalist system and, over time, they continue to be victims of austerity measures imposed by this inhumane system, which renders them completely hopeless and turns them into the working poor who cannot take care of themselves or their families and loved ones, yet they constitute the very fabric on which our society stands.
We know that in our country and in the US, and across the globe, that the majority of the victims who lose their lives to Covid-19 are the poor and marginalised and are victims of the very same inequalities.
As Jeremy Corbyn from the UK Labour Party recently said: “We can all now see that the jobs that are not celebrated are absolutely essential to keep our society going. This of the refuse workers, the supermarket shelf-stackers, the delivery drivers, the cleaners. Those grades of work are often dismissed as ‘low-skilled’. Low-skilled. But I ask them this question, who are we least able to do without in a crisis, the refuse collector or the billionaire hedge fund manager? Who is actually doing more for our society at this very moment?”
The greatest challenge in the country at present is the job-loss bloodbath which is driven by greed.
It is our honest take that we have reached a point where we have one of two choices, to submit or to fight.
As Numsa, we have chosen a path for struggle, fighting for civilisation.
What our close comrade and veteran Abdullah El Harif in Morocco has said resonates: “Humanity is at a crossroads: Either we chose barbarism or cooperation and solidarity. The scientific and technological revolution enormously developed the productive forces; it has created the basis for all people to be able to live with dignity; but this is squandered by the immoral accumulation of wealth by a few capitalists. We fight to put human beings at the centre, not capital. This requires building the political power of all forces that oppose imperialism and that wish to build a superior human civilisation that guarantees the development of the capacities of all human beings.”
Jim is general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA