Decisions of leadership meeting convened to prepare for Working Class Summit

A meeting of 40 unions and civil society formations was convened by the South African Federation of Trade Unions on 28–29 June 2018 to broaden participation and to shape of the agenda of the Working Class Summit (WCS) to be held on 21- 22 July 2018 at the University of Johannesburg Soweto Campus.

This group were invited to facilitate the participation of the broadest front of organisations of the working class. A list of the 93 civil society formations and 61 unions which have been invited was circulated and endorsed. More organisations will be included in the list.

While SAFTU has initiated, and been the main driving force behind the WCS, the meeting was seen as the inauguration of a leadership collective, drawn from movements of the working class and poor, progressive NGOs and unions, which will take responsibility for shaping and convening a broader WCS.

An overarching objective of the WCS is to overcome the fragmentation of struggles, which has characterised the movements of working class and poor in the democratic era. The WCS will aim to co-ordinate these struggles at local, regional and national levels.

Central to this objective is to unite workplace and community struggles –  rural and urban, unemployed and employed, informal and formal, women and men, young and old, environmental groups with the unemployed, homeless with the rural poor, etc.

The WCS will bring together progressive forces, who are pro-poor and pro-working class. The gathering must be based on the principles of anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-patriarchy and anti-xenophobia.

It was agreed that papers will be presented at the assembly but should not be prescriptive. They should provide a brief analysis on their respective themes from the vantage point of the interests of the working class and, importantly, be framed in a way to raise questions to generate debate and discussions but more importantly make proposals on how the struggles  of the working class and the poor could be best coordinated.

Papers should also reflect on struggles in particular sectors and propose demands and campaigns that can constitute the basis for co-ordinated struggles.

The papers will mainly be written by activists and movements directly involved, and playing prominent roles, in particular areas of struggle and will be distributed to delegates prior to the assembly.

Our activism and struggle can be better co-ordinated through the use of modern technology, especially if, as it is imperative, we want to involve youth. We should counter the hegemony of the ruling elite through, for example, producing our own national newspaper.

The ruling elite coalescing around Ramaphosa – in business, the state and sections of civil society – is putting its energies behind producing a new compact for the new dawn. The working class and poor must produce its own vision for a new, egalitarian society.

The WCS is not a destination, but should be seen as a an ongoing process of revitalising and revolutionising the struggles of the working class and poor across the country. Delegates to the assembly should include movements involved in various protests on the ground.

Following the national gathering, local assemblies should be organised across the country. These should be organised by local movements to discuss, contribute to and amend documents produced at the WCS. In this sense, the WCS could be seen as a movement to be defined and built from the bottom and must be located where struggles are taking place

The venue allows for ten mini-assemblies to be convened. These will probably meet for most of the first day, followed by reports and discussion on the second day.

Discussion should focus on analyses from working-class perspectives, arming movements with arguments and facts, support for existing struggles and proposals for developing co-ordinated campaigns and developing a set of key demands

Key themes

The meeting agreed on the following main themes for the WCS:
Economic crisis and threats to workers; corruption in the private and public sector, including

1) Profit shifting and mis-pricing.

  • Continuation of state capture, despite claims of a new dawn.
  • State of the economy, deindustrialisation, the underlying causes of unemployment, state of work, poverty and inequality.
  • Casualisation of labour, outsourcing and labour-broking
  • Attack on trade union rights and the state of the organised working class.
  • Building unity of organised workers and more broadly of the working class and poor.

2) Free decolonised, quality public education, including:

  • The crisis of the entire education system, from early learning in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors.
  • Across the board, the system is characterised by a two-tier system: for the elite minority and the majority, with the system for the latter being poorly resourced and inadequate as educational institutions.
  • Student struggles, especially #FMF, is at an impasse, the reasons for which require explanation/analyses.

3) Free National Health Service, including:

  • Like education, health is characterised by a two-tier system, to the disadvantage of the majority poor population. The elite have access to the best health services, while the poor experience chronic dysfunctionality. This system must be inverted.
  • Analyse the causes and manifestations of the broken public health care system.
  • Health problems facing workers and communities that are caused by the mining industry (pollution of the environment – water, soil).

4) Decent and affordable housing and service delivery, including:

  • Campaign against evictions in urban and rural areas.
  • Struggles against gentrification and the commodification of basic services.
  • Campaign against the persistence of apartheid spatial planning and the concomitant problems of transport and the location of working class residential areas on abandoned mines.
  • Consider the occupation of urban areas (with the organisation of poor people’s assemblies?) to advance struggles of the urban poor.
  • Defence of activists threatened by state, as is the case of Abahlali Basemjondolo, 16 of whose comrades have been killed already.

5) The Land Question, including:

  • Land expropriation without compensation. Reversing the legacy of colonialism and apartheid. Restoring people’s dignity.
  • Who should own the land: the state or the people?  What is class character of the state today?
  • Taking account of the interests of poor communities who already have access to land.
  • The land question is inextricably tied to the struggle against hunger, for food sovereignty and the protection of the environment.

6) Struggle for an egalitarian society, including:

  • Need to struggle against patriarchy and violence against women.
  • Child abuse must stop.
  • Sexual harassment, including in progressive organisations, must be overcome.
  • Combatting racism, which continues to rear its head.This should be linked to campaigns for migrant justice.
  • Support for LGTBIQ rights.
  • The rights of the imprisoned population, who are overwhelmingly black and poor, must be considered, an important part of which is to critique the prison-industrial complex.

7) The climate and environment, including:

  • Just transition to a low-carbon economy.
  • Four main areas: water, energy, food and land
  • Water Coalition struggle against shifting the burden of the water crisis onto the poor, who suffer disproportionately from the crisis and are forced to pay for it.
  • Link to struggle of mining affected communities (pollution and contamination of soil, air, water).

8) Mining affected communities, including:

  • Impact of mining depends on the stage of mining, and effects are experienced by various communities (workers, residents)
  • Consider the impact of abandoned mines (approx. 6000 nationally)
  • Support orderly transition to small-scale informal mining (so called Zama Zamas)
  • Demand global equal pay for mine workers.

9) Informal Economy, including:

  • The crisis of the formal economy has resulted in an exponential growth of the informal sector.
  • Largely made up of women, who are involved in survivalist economic activities.
  • Need to account for the many struggles waged by small-scale traders, especially in the face of urban authorities who constantly aim to ‘clean up’ the cities.
  • Eviction of workers from workplaces (such as the threat faced by waste-pickers in Johannesburg) should be addressed.
  • Xenophobia is rife in this sector, as foreign nationals are often perceived as the problem, rather than the system.

10) Two other possible themes came up in the discussion:

  • International solidarity
  • 2019 Elections

The WCS preparatory Organizing Committee (See below) will consider how best
these could be integrated into the existing themes or made separate themes in the context of the reality that the venue will accommodate only 10 themes. For example, the struggles against xenophobia and for migrant justice are necessarily international in character.

Similarly, campaigns for climate and environmental justice, decent work, the rights of workers in the informal economy, among others, require linking with struggles elsewhere on the continent and globally. Our politics must therefore be Pan-African and Global.

A WCS Organising Committee was elected whose tasks will be:


  1. To finalise the invitation list based on the criteria agreed; all other organisations that various constituencies should be submitted not later than Monday 2 July 2018
  2. To finalise the programme and speakers for the Summit
  3. To decide on the size of delegations of all invited organisations
  4. To finalise the dates of the WCS
  5. To fundraise and ensure that the gap is the budget is addressed
  6. To anticipate discussion and debate on the 2019 elections. This has tended to be a divisive issue and the WCS should attempt to propose a framework for how to take the debate on this forward, which can transcend the long-held cherished views by various parts of the left.

We call on all those interested in participating in the WCS to contact us.

Tel: +27 (11) 331 0124
Fax: +27 (11) 331 0176
Twitter: @SAFTU_Media
Facebook: SAFTU

Physical Address, 34 Eloff Street, Johannesburg 2001

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