Bolivia, South Africa and Cuba – three victories for the left & labour movements

9 Jan

“Cuban Five” together again after final three released

Three events in December mark high points for the international socialist and working class movement in the struggle to free humanity from the interlinked scourges of capitalism and climate change.

Firstly we have the leadership shown by President of Bolivia Evo Morale’s speech to the COP20 summit on climate change in Lima, Peru. He explained clearly that environmental destruction is a result of the capitalist system when he declared: “Sisters and brothers, we cannot have a climate agreement that condemns Mother Earth and humanity to death in order to favour Capital, the enrichment of a few and predatory consumerist growth. We are here to develop a climate agreement for life, and not for business and capitalist commercialism.”

The COP20 declaration at the end of the summit was condemned by the climate justice movement as failing humanity and the planet. Immediately following the COP20 gathering Bolivia and it’s allies in ALBA – the Bolivarian Alliance for the peoples of Our America – Trade Treaty of the Peoples (ALBA-TCP)[1] met in Havana for a summit.

Addressing the ALBA Summit in Havana, Evo Morales proposed that “faced with the failure in Lima” ALBA’s environment minsters should work to organise a “world encounter of social movements” that would develop “a proposal to save life and humanity.” This proposal was endorsed and is a profound and radical step that will energise the climate justice movement internationally. It continues Bolivia’s leadership role on this question over the past decade.

The second important development is is the declaration by a united front of organisations brought together by the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA). In the words of the final declaration:

“From December 13-14, 2014, in Johannesburg, 350 delegates from around the country representing a diverse range of trade unions, social movements, popular organisations, faith-based organisations, NGOs and anti-capitalist formations assembled to lay the foundation of a united movement of the poor majority to challenge the system that has made South Africa the most unequal country on Earth. The cry of the Preparatory Assembly of the United Front is KWANELE, KWANELE, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, GENOEG IS GENOEG.”

NUMSA, which is the largest union in South Africa with 350,000 members, was recently bureaucratically expelled from the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the national union federation in a 33-24 vote of the central executive committee. The COSATU exec had refused NUMSA’s request for a special national conference because they knew they would lose.

This split in COSATU and the establishment by NUMSA of a movement towards a new mass socialist working class party has arisen because the ANC and it’s ally the Stalinist Communist party of South Africa had been pursuing a pro-capitalist economic programme against the interests of the vast majority of South African people. As the United Front’s declaration explains, in South Africa “post-apartheid capitalism is leaving a trail of inequality, hunger, poverty and misery. The wealthy elite and the bosses – white and black – refuse to concede a single inch to the urgent needs of the majority. They view even the most basic reforms as a potential threat to their profit margins. The African National Congress (ANC) government now consistently echoes these views. Every progressive program, strategy and intention is either abandoned or rejected by the government in the face of the brutal logic of managing a capitalist state. The ANC government has refused to confront capital and white privilege and instead become an enabler of white monopoly capital and their junior BEE [Black Economic Empowerment] partners. This is the source of the political crises facing our country.”

It has been two decades since the end of apartheid and the election of the first ANC-led government. Two decades of mass struggles, class conflict and political differentiation has produces new working class leaders from within the SACP and ANC who have the courage to look for a new way forward. This must fill us all with hope.

Finally just yesterday, the US empire was forced to establish normal diplomatic relations with the revolutionary government of Cuba and release the final three of the five Cubans imprisoned in the US 16 years ago for trying to spy on groups in the US carrying out terrorist attacks on their homeland.

The breaking of diplomatic relations and the imposition of sanctions has continued for over half a century. The US rulers deeply resented the loss of their semi-colonial possession when the guerrilla fighters led by Fidel Castro overthrew the US-backed dictator in 1959. A massive land reform saw the expropriation of major US sugar corporations. Hostile acts from the US were met by even more revolutionary mobilisations and nationalisations of US and other foreign capital. Cuba achieved is true independence for the first time. The only piece of territory in Cuba still under US control is the torture centre known as Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp which the US refuses to relinquish control of.

The US maintained a virtual blockade of Cuba for the last 50 years. No US money could be spent in Cuba. No US company could trade with Cuba. No US bank could send money. Ships that docked in Cuba couldn’t dock in the US for six months.

Although diplomatic relations will be established many of the economic sanctions will remain in place because they are products of legislation in congress not just executive actions by the president. Essentially the US government has now accepted that they cannot continue their hostility to Cuba in the old way. Again and again the blockade was condemned in the UN in virtually unanimous votes in the General Assembly. But they will continue to seek ways to undermine the revolutionary character of the Cuban people and leaders.

This was approach was explained in a New York Times editorial calling for the diplomatic relations to be restored by arguing that the US could look for ways to “empower the reformist camp by making it easier for Cuban entrepreneurs to get external financing and business training. That type of engagement is unlikely to succeed unless the United States abandons its policy of regime change. Cuba’s economic transformation may be proceeding slowly, but it could well lead to a more open society. For now, continued antagonism from Washington is only helping the old guard.”

Cuba is looking to renovate and revitalise its economy. But they have never sold out on their principles despite five decades of unremitting economic warfare backed up by continuous military threats (including one invasion in 1961) and thousands of terrorist attacks. Today Cuba is not alone. The politics of Latin America have been transformed. Left wing governments throughout Latin America stand solidly with Cuba and its example. Some of those governments and leaders like those on Bolivia and Venezuela have made it clear that they too want to join Cuba in building a socialist alternative for humanity.

[1] ALBA comprises nine Latin American and Caribbean countries: Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam and Venezuela. Haiti, Iran, Syria, Honduras and El Salvador are observer states. The Summit admitted two new members to the Alliance: Grenada and St. Kitts-Nevis.

(Unite National Director Mike Treen has a blog hosted on The Daily Blog website. The site is sponsored by several unions and hosts some of New Zealand’s leading progressive commentators. Mike’s blog will be covering union news and general political comment but the views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of Unite Union.)


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