Thursday, March 24, 2011

No Gods, No Masters – All Power to the People

In the build up to the local elections, politicians – whether from the DA, ANC, COPE, or PAC – have been descending on our townships, in their smart suits and fancy cars, calling on us to vote for them. As part of this, they have promised to meet people’s needs, end poverty and serve communities when they are elected. In reality, the stories that all of these politicians are telling us are lies. Politicians don’t give a damn about workers and the poor; all they care about is their own power. They will tell us anything to get nice jobs in the municipality. Indeed, when politicians get into the state – whether at a municipal or national level - all they do is pass laws and put in place policies that benefit themselves and their rich friends. They do this by giving tax breaks to companies; handing out tenders to friends, privatising services, putting in place BEE deals, and giving the rich what they want. This means the state and politicians are not our friends; they rather part of the ruling class; and they protect their own interests and those of their allies in the form of the capitalists. Far from serving us; they wage a war on us.

At a local level this war by politicians – whether from the DA, ANC, COPE or PAC – has involved local governments selling off or outsourcing services like water delivery, healthcare, electricity delivery and housing delivery to private companies, for them to make money from. Even when public services are not fully privatised, they have been commercialised by the state – meaning the state sells these services to us to make a profit. The poor and unemployed who can’t afford what is charged by companies or the state are viewed as bad apples and simply cut-off.

Even when services are provided to townships, these are of an appalling standard. This is due to the reality that the rich and politicians view township residents as simply being voting fodder. Indeed, ANC and DA officials have even admitted that they view providing services to the poor as a burden. It is partially for this reason that the state dramatically reduced funding for public services in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Consequently, most townships are still defined by raw sewerage running down the streets, RDP houses that are often falling apart because they have been built so badly, and uncollected rubbish blowing in the wind. This all happens while the rich suburbs get good services – meaning we live in a shamocracy not a democracy! Voting for politicians - who are part of the ruling class – is not going to change this; only direct actions like protests, strikes and reconnections can improve the lives of workers and the poor.

It is due to the rich and politicians’ war on the poor that South Africa is now the most unequal society in the world. A tiny group of people, mostly whites by now joined by a small group of BEE elites and state officials, control the vast majority of wealth. In our society; they have power, not the people. Under this system of the state and capitalism, we - the workers and the poor - are being forced to live in poverty, our few rights are trampled, and we are subjected to subtle and overt forms abuse on a daily basis.

We cannot continue to live under such an unjust, and unfree, society. It is time to fight for a better life and win services through protests and reconnections. It is also about time we take real power; get rid of the state and capitalism; get rid of all bosses, masters and politicians; and run society ourselves based on direct democracy and, federated worker and community self-management. Only in such a society will we be able to get what we need and end all forms of exploitation and oppression whether based on class, race or gender.

Monday, March 7, 2011

By voting we are only choosing our oppressors

With the local government elections approaching, politicians (whether from the DA, ANC, COPE or PAC) are once again crawling out, like cockroaches, to ask for our votes. As part of this, they are once again promising us houses, jobs and service delivery – the usual old recycled lies. The reality, however, is that we don’t have houses and proper service delivery because we live in a system of total inequality – a system of capitalism and the state. The councillors lying to us know this, but they want our votes so that they too can become comfortable and rich.

In fact, there is such bad housing and service delivery because the politicians from the ANC, COPE, DA and the PAC have cut funding for services for years. In the 1990s, under ANC rule, allocations to municipalities for "service delivery" were cut by an average of 85%. The only way municipalities can raise money, therefore, is through charging the poor. It is the state’s policy, and the policy of all political parties, that municipalities must raise funds from service charges. Services, like water and electricity, are therefore only provided to those who can afford them. The poor can’t pay so under this cruel system our water and electricity are cut. On top of that, the poor are made to pay more for services – precisely because they often can't pay, cost recovery drives councils and utilities to suck every drop they can out of the townships. Township residents pay rates up to 40 percent higher than those in the rich suburbs. And capitalists – the big bosses – have it even easier: industry rates are typically one-sixth of those charged to the suburbs! The poor can't pay much, and the rich don't pay much. The result is that most municipalities in South Africa are bankrupt or indebted and cannot deliver the services we are promised. However, this does not mean that central government does not have money. It simply means that the government rather spends it on infrastructure development, like stadiums, that it hopes will make South Africa look like a good place for foreign investors. This happens while the poor are cut off, evicted and forced to have prepaid meters.

What all this means is that it makes no difference if we elect new councillors. Even the most honest, well meaning and hard working councilor – which are rare - is powerless to make any change. This does not mean we shouldn't resist the councillors and demand the services we need. But it does mean that our resistance is equally against the capitalists, and against the national government. We cannot expect Jacob Zuma to solve our problems: Zuma is part of the problem because his government are the ones pushing these policies! And we cannot expect to solve the problem by electing new councilors: councilors couldn't solve the problem even if they wanted to. The capitalists and the national government could solve it – but they won't, because it's in their interests to make the poor pay, not to pay themselves. They will not give us what we need unless we force them to do so, by the direct action like protests.

Though the workers and the poor are the vast majority, the bosses and rulers control the resources – and they will not allow us to challenge them in parliament and city councils. Parliament and councils are their territory; and when we send our comrades onto enemy territory, our comrades will be lost to us. Sitting with councillors whose interests are tied to the rich rather than the poor and the workers, they will be drawn away from the people and side with the class enemy. 

In previous elections, the Poor People's Alliance has adopted the slogan “No land, no house, no vote!”. It was not supposed to only be the position for that year’s elections, but the official position of the alliance for all elections to come. Working class movements should stick with this slogan instead of being drawn to illusions that voting will help. Voting will not win us land, houses, electricity and water; only direct action can do that. And direct action, by destroying capitalism and the state, can finally win land, housing, water and electricity for all, and ensure that these are never again taken away.