Building the working class movement through a Left Popular Front

by Oct 7, 2022All Articles

IN 2017, THE 14TH NATIONAL Congress of the SACP adopted a resolution “SACP and state and popular power” which resolved that: the 14th Congress mandates the Central Committee to establish a Road Map that must be adopted, with clear, indicative time-lines, by the forthcoming Augmented CC. This Road Map must include the following elements: A programme of active engagements with our Alliance partners, and with a wide range of working class and progressive forces to share and test the SACP’s perspectives. Particular, but not exclusive, attention must be paid to Cosatu and its affiliates. These engagements must be at all levels, national, provincial and local. Based on these engagements, the SACP must play a leading role in developing a common platform for a Left Popular Front of working class and progressive forces… 

Amandla! 83 carries a polemical critique of the “SACP’s Left Popular Front”, penned as part of an analysis of the outcomes of the following, i.e. 15th, National Congress of SACP held in July 2022. This article is not a response to that critique – such a response deserves its own space. Rather, it aims to explore possibilities which could be realised by means of a Left Popular Front.

The significance of the above mentioned 14th National SACP Congress resolution was in establishing an important principle and framework for working class activists in the SACP. This was to develop a Left Popular Front built on working class struggles on the ground, as we find ourselves in a context in which the working class and the poor have diminishing influence.

Existing campaigns

Already in October 2002, the SACP had launched the Campaign to Make Banks Serve the People. This was after it had constituted the Financial Sector Campaign Coalition (FSCC) in May 2001. This consisted of 26 civil society organisations which had no shared political alignment, but which did share a common interest in access to financial services for the working poor.

Not all the objectives of this campaign were realised in the ensuing years, but there were significant gains. These included the introduction of accessible Mzansi accounts by all the main commercial banks. This saw over 2 million people, previously labelled “unbankable”(such as street vendors and informal traders)being able to open bank accounts and access other financial services for the first time.

Since the 14th National Congress, many ordinary SACP members on the ground have been steadily working with other working class organisations in their communities, in line with this resolution. As in all branch-based national organisations, this work is uneven. Not all SACP branches are equally active in their implementation of this resolution, nor evenly broad in their approach. But the opportunity is explicitly there for all SACP activists to make use of this framework to build on working class struggles to start a bottom-up process of building a Left Popular Front.

In Mpumalanga, the provincial SACP has been working for many years on the ground in joint campaigns with the liberation movements in Swaziland. They have been campaigning for the unbanning of all political organisations in Swaziland, and the release of political prisoners, including Comrade Amos Mbedzi who was serving 85 years in Mswati’s prison cells until his deportation just prior to his untimely death. SACP and Young Communist League (YCL) activists in Mpumalanga continue to participate alongside Cosatu, Sanco, the Communist Party of Swaziland and the Swaziland Solidarity Network, in border blockades and campaigns in solidarity with the struggle for democracy in Swaziland.

The aim of promoting a Left Popular Front is to rise above inter-organisational squabbles and focus on building or strengthening working class unity – without any grandstanding or insistence on the SACP playing a leading role in such initiatives. More recently, since the 14th National Congress, the SACP has actively associated itself with (but not tried to lead) the People’s Vaccine Campaign (PVC). This was initiated to ensure equitable access to a vaccine against Covid-19 for everyone who needs it.

The SACP has also given consistent support for the demands of the Black Sash campaign for “Basic Income Support for people aged 18 to 59 NOW”. This gathered momentum after the Covid-19 lockdowns devastated the already minimal livelihoods of workers in the informal economy, and of the working poor. They do not qualify for social protection under the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), and therefore were not able to get any relief from the UIF’s TERS fund. Yet they were either completely without incomes or earning lower incomes once they were able to start working again.

Working with trade unions 

Many SACP members have worked patiently and persistently on building relationships with trade union federations, including those outside of the tripartite alliance such as Saftu, which had emerged out of divisions in Cosatu. Accordingly, the SACP threw its weight behind the National Day of Action on 24th August 2022 organised by Cosatu and Saftu, their affiliates and other trade union federations. This called on government to address the cost-ofliving crisis, the energy crisis and persisting high levels of inequality, unemployment and poverty.

The SACP’s call on its members to support the National Day of Action was “Together, let us build a powerful, socialist movement of the workers and the poor”. In joint marches held around the country in all 9 provinces, SACP leaders and members were either leading or participating in many of these. Of all the marches in the country, only one split into two separate marches, which hopefully means we are getting better at acting in unity.

SACP has 339,229 members, as at the 15th National Congress, and many of them have been working on the ground in their communities, some of them in trade unions and other membership-based organisations of workers in the informal economy and precarious workers. All are encouraged to work in alliance with the Left Popular working class organisations in their communities and workplaces in strengthening their struggles as the basis of developing a broader Left Popular Front.

SACP discussion papers

Some of the SACP discussion papers which were under consideration at the 15th National Congress explored some of the most vulnerable, sometimes forgotten, sections of the working class. They need to be seen leading many of the bottom-up struggles in order to ensure the development of a really inclusive Left Popular Front. The following are some extracts from documents of the 15th Congress.

On workers in the informal economy:they work in informal enterprises as well as in informal jobs (jobs that pay no benefits or provide no social protection) thus including own-account workers (e.g. homebased workers, street vendors, or small farmers) and paid workers in informal jobs (e.g. casual workers in unregulated and unprotected work in various enterprises ranging from agriculture to manufacturing services, often with a final employer in the “formal” economy)… for successful joint campaigns, there must be demands set by the workers in the (informal economy) as well as the demands of the formal workers. If the formal workers set all the demands and the agenda, and expect the support of workers in the (informal economy) when there is nothing in it for them, it will not work.” 

On fighting patriarchy in a Left Popular Front:This means looking beyond the (mass) women’s organisations SACP has tended to rely on, which may or may not self-identify as feminist in the sense of fighting patriarchy. For us in the SACP this means that we need to recognize the independent emerging mass feminist selforganisation led by young women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI+) with strong focus on intersectionality – and engage with such organisations/ movements as part of building a left popular front movement of workingclass and progressive forces to which SACP committed in the 14th National Congress in 2017.”

An invitation to the Left

This article is an invitation to working class activists in all leftist organisations, including trade unions and membership-based organisations of workers in the informal economy, to join forces and work together with us on developing a broad-based Left Popular Front. One which could be mobilised at relatively short notice to engage in popular working class campaigns to confront the alliances between capitalists and the neo-liberal state with increasing unity and strategic purpose.

Pat Horn is an SACP Central Committee member and Secretary for Working-Class & Popular Power in Communities. In her day job, she works with organised workers in the informal economy through WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalising & Organising).

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