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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Press Statements

COSATU end of the year statement

12 - 22 - 06

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has been through one of the most eventful 12 months in its 21-year history.

Congress The highlight of 2006 was the 9th National Congress, a historic event, foreshadowed by predictions of splits and fights, but in the event a triumph that defied the doomsday philosophers. Delegates engaged in constructive discussions on many issues and reac hed consensus on a broad and ambitious programme to transform the lives of the working class.

Congress proved that we are on a growth trajectory, reversing the 1% decline in membership reported to the 8th Congress in 2003, with a 4% increase. COSATU now represents over two-thirds of unionised workers. All surveys points to a high level of member sa tisfaction with our unions' service level and a high degree of convergence between the leaders' and members' political views. We are now on course to double the membership by 2015, though that depends on what we do in the coming years.

We do not deny however that there were divisions - well publicised and grossly exaggerated in the media - fuelled by slander mongering from faceless 'sources'. These were a symptom of bigger debate about the national democratic revolution and how it has be en managed over the last 12 years.

We have emphasised however that there was no major disagreement at the Congress, or other constitutional structures, on any of the policies we adopted. In the congress, not once did we even anticipate a vote as a result of insoluble differences. Not a sing le union or individual requested that its or his/her different view be noted on any matter. Every decision was taken unanimously by all the 21 affiliates with over 2300 delegates. The consensus we see in the constitutional structures has at times been unde rmined by a new phenomenon where some, but very few, leaders contradict agreed positions in the media as anonymous voices.

The CEC felt that maybe the phenomenon of anonymous sources exposes the reality that we may not be at one on a number of policy questions. This is because we may be taking the 100% unity we see in congress floors for granted and do not open space for those who may not be feeling comfortable with some of our positions.

The November Central Executive Committee (CEC) and the new national officer bearers (NOBs) have agreed to open the debate on the role of COSATU, the national democratic revolution and its relationship with the struggle for socialism, the balance of forces both nationally and internationally and the opportunities and threats these impose to the struggle for fundamental transformation of our society and our world. This debate will begin at a political school in February 2007.

But a Congress is only successful if it takes the organisation forward. It has to inspire us to redouble our efforts to recruit new members and provide quality service to our existing members, build strong organisation from the shop floor upwards, ensure v ibrant internal life in our unions and intensify the living wage struggle.

Strikes, jobs and poverty

In response to the challenge of stagnant wages and the ever-increasing wage gap between senior management and ordinary workers, COSATU affiliates in 2006 led a record number of protracted living wage battles, some of which went on for many months before th e bosses were forced to negotiate a settlement.

We salute these historic struggles, in particular the security guards and contract cleaners and workers at Karan Beef, Macro, Shoprite Checkers, Kraft Foods, Lithotec, Kumba Resources, Kwality Biscuits, Rustenburg Hospital, the Mpumalanga Roads Dept, Sun I nternational, CAA and many more.

What is most significant is that all these are among the lowest paid and most exploited workers in our country. They were nearly all exceptionally bitter strikes, a symptom of the gulf that has opened up between these workers and their wealthy employers, i n this, the world's most unequal society.

In part as a result of these strikes, COSATU's Jobs and Poverty Campaign was stepped up and it brought hundreds of thousands of workers out on to the streets on 18 May, in a powerful show of force.

The Campaign has not however come anywhere near to achieving its central goal of creating quality jobs and eradicating poverty.

Although a small number of new jobs were reported in 2006 including a Statistics South Africa report that showed that in a year between March 2005 and March 2006 more than 540 000 new jobs were created, the rate at which jobs are being created is nowhere n ear what we need to achieve even the government's modest target of halving unemployment by 2014.

We are also more and more concerned that a rapidly growing proportion of the minimal new jobs being created are casual, temporary, low-paid and insecure. In addition to this employers have, through every mean possible, destroyed existing secure and better paying jobs and replaced them with insecure and poorly paying jobs that offer no benefits such as provident fund, medical aid, etc. Some pay so little that they do no more than prevent workers and their families from starving.

It is in this context that wages, as a share of the national income, continues to decline and inequalities continue to deepen.

In response to this growing crisis of underdevelopment, poverty and joblessness, the 9th National Congress decided that the Jobs and Poverty campaign should be our main programme for the coming three years. We shall build the broadest possible front of org anisations to join us in a relentless campaign to build a movement for jobs and in opposition to growing inequalities and widespread poverty. Early next year we shall convene provincial jobs and poverty campaign conferences culminating into a national conf erence in June 2007.

The small increase in jobs has sadly not meant that we no longer have to fight against job losses. This year has seen several bitter disputes against retrenchments in Transnet, SAA, De Beers, and others. We extend our hand of solidarity to these workers an d their families who will face a black Christmas and a bleak 2007. Their pain and suffering will spur us into ensuring that in future our society does not ignore the plight of the many, whilst celebrating the triumph of the a few.

We have however scored one important victory. Following the resolution passed at the last Alliance Summit, the government has negotiated an agreement with the Chinese government to impose quotas on the imports of cheap clothing. This has infuriated our unp atriotic retailers but could save many hundreds of jobs and even create new ones in this industry which has been hardest hit by retrenchments over the last five years.

We also welcome the finalisation at Nedlac of the code defining who is an employee, which has already been gazetted. This will provide guidelines to the courts when they determine circumstances under which a person can be regarded as an employee. This is a historic and a major victory for workers. It will help deal with the employers who try to disguise the employment relationship and dodge their responsibilities as employers.

Nedlac has also commenced work on the important matter of regulating atypical forms of work, with a view of stopping the extreme exploitation of workers we have referred to above. For the sake of the millions of workers who find themselves employed in the atypical forms of work we call on all Nedlac parties to ensure that this work is finalised early in 2007.

Socio-economic issues

The critical question that COSATU asked in 2006 is whether democracy has failed workers and the poor. We asked whether we have reached a tipping point where the post-apartheid state could be defined as one that acts on behalf of the affluent in our society ?

The mainstream media and conservative economists daily inform us that there is an economic boom. We are told that the growth is propelled by huge demand, including for credit. This is the world as it exists in the minds of the elite - black and white - whe re there is a consensus that the economy is doing well. You can't blame them if you visit their houses and see the cars they drive - indeed things are going well in their small planet.

Contrast this with the world where workers are coming from. It is a picture of complete hopelessness. Unemployment is hovering at just below 40%. Latest figures from the last quarter indicate a 2, 7% growth of job opportunities, translating to 72 000 new j obs. This is far too low and will not help us to reach even the modest objective of cutting unemployment by half in 2014.

Unemployment discriminates according to gender, race and age, and has an urban and rural divide. Of the unemployed over 70% are under 35 - mostly African women. Rural areas fare worse than urban areas. Statistics show that two of every three African childr en under 35 are unemployed. This is a ticking bomb - another 1976 waiting to happen.

Income inequality is also high and growing. Yet inequalities have long been identified as one of the key impediments to faster economic growth. These inequalities have national, gender and class dimensions. There is realignment that is propelled by this si tuation. Class contradictions are on the rise and they have affected the Alliance.

The national question is slowly taking a backseat as class contradictions move to the fore. One of the measures of these inequalities is the fact that the workers' share in the national income has been on the decline since 1981 and has continued to decline in the first 12 years of democracy. The share of profits continues to rise.

According to the Labour Force Survey figures 16.7% of all officially employed people in South Africa earn less than R500 a month, 34.3% earn under R1000 a month and a total of 60% of all workers earn less than R2500 a month. Many of these workers are sole income earners in their households.

Poverty remains the reality of 40-50% of the population. There is a debate on whether it has decreased, but there is no doubt that poverty remains extremely high.

This is the reality for the many but it did not have to be. It was not inevitable. When the other side talk of an economic boom and relentless expenditure and therefore accept the logic of interest rates hikes, we ask them what they are talking about. When we marched in the streets, the irritated elite asked us which world are we living in for us not to take advantage of the opportunities that have opened up over the past twelve years. But there are no such opportunities for the poor majority that we speak for.

COSATU is aware that 300 years of colonial legacy cannot be rooted out in 12 years and that workers have made many gains, in particular in social services. These gains stand between abject poverty and a better life for all.

Had it not been for the government's interventions - in particular if the government had swallowed all the neoliberal self-serving propaganda that it must leave matters to the markets - the situation facing workers and the poor would have been even worse t han what they are facing.

We have celebrated, and will continue to celebrate, these advances. But only those from the other planet we have referred to would argue that what is taking place is entirely in line with the National Democratic Revolution, as historically conceived by the liberation movement.

The ANC's 1969 Morogoro Strategy warned against the danger of superficial change. It is a cold reality that most of the gains arising out of the transformation of our economy accrued more to capital than to workers and the poor, and that our economy remain s firmly in white hands, dominated by the capital-intensive sectors such as mining, heavy chemicals and auto.

Unemployment, poverty and inequalities have not been defeated and indications are that they have worsened over the past twelve years. There has been no aggressive and conscious effort to move to a more developmental path, underpinned by an industrial strat egy to shift production to more labour intensive industries whilst meeting the basic needs of our people.

From this situation no one can contract Letta Mbuli when she sings "not yet uhuru". We still have a long hard road to travel before the dignity of working class is fully returned.

COSATU, as always, has refused to confine its activities to bread-and-butter issues, though the earlier paragraphs on strikes, jobs and poverty clearly prove that we have not neglected our members' everyday problems. But we have also been campaigning on a range of important socio-economic issues, the most important being:

HIV/AIDS: COSATU played its part in the historic civil society congress, which united government, labour and civil society into a new drive to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS. We also made HIV/AIDS a special theme at the May Day rallies and the National Con gress. COSATU and its allies in TAC, SACC, SANGOCO, and etc. claim credit for the renewed focus government is giving to the epidemic. Thanks to unwaveringly sticking to principles, 2006 is coming to an end with greater unity between government and civil so ciety formations on this matter. Gone are the days of mixed messages and denialism. People's Budget: We have once again collaborated with the SACC and SANGOCO to propose a radical alternative budget in the interests of the poor majority of South Africans. Again thanks to the unwavering commitment to advance the cause of the poor, 2006 wil l go down as the year when there was a greater interaction between the Treasury and the People's Budget. Even within a framework of conservatism, the budget has grown, providing government with new possibilities to increase expenditure targeting the poor.

Interest rates: COSATU has vociferously opposed the Reserve Bank's increases in base lending rates, which are totally inappropriate in a country with high unemployment, mass poverty and sluggish growth. These rises have already slowed down and economic gro wth and sabotaged prospects of halving unemployment and poverty by 2014. Basic Income Grant: we closed the year encouraged by Social Development Minister, Zola Skweyiya's support for a reform that COSATU has been campaigning for over many years. This opens up space for a more rational debate on BIG and will certainly take forwa rd the call made by the ANC Stellenbosch national conference for debates within the ANC on the matter. We hope these debates will start in earnest and culminate in the adoption of the policy at the ANC policy conference in June 2007. There is wide support for the introduction of BIG. Already COSATU, SACC, SANGOCO and countless other progressive formations have come out in full support of it.

16 Days of activism: COSATU, as always, supported this campaign against the abuse of women and children and will continue to campaign over the remaining 349 days of the year. South Africa remains a country with unacceptably high levels of incidents of wome n and children abuse. Overall we remain an extremely patriarchal society, which is the root of social ills such as violence, including the rape of children and the abuse and sexual molestation of minors. Our society cannot claim to be free until this strug gle for total emancipation of women has been won.

Labour laws: We have been vigorously resisting pressure from business to weaken the country's labour laws. With the growth of casualisation we feel these laws need strengthening to give casual workers the same rights as permanent staff, and for the laws to be implemented more efficiently. We are currently appealing to the Constitutional Court to overturn a judgement of the Supreme Court of Appeal which could seriously reduce the powers of the CCMA to prevent unfair dismissals. SABC: COSATU has been demanding that the SABC respond to allegations in the Sunday Sun that at an "off-the-record" media briefing, "the chief propagandist of the SABC" spoke about "isolating and neutralising COSATU's Zweli Vavi". We have also been vocal in condemning the attempt to ban political analysts from SABC programmes and the threat to discipline John Perlman for exposing an untruthful statement by the SABC spokesperson. We shall continue to defend the role of SABC as a public broadcaster, not as a p layer in the political wars that are happening in the Alliance and in society as some of its senior executives want it to be.

Police violence: We have made several protests at the gross overreaction of the police during COSATU and other civil society formations' demonstrations, including arrest of union leaders who were trying to maintain order, most notably at the Swaziland bord er posts on 12 April and the security guards' march in Cape Town on 16 May. We are pleased that most of the charges have been dropped but remain extremely concerned that our rights enshrined in the constitution are seriously being reversed by police brutal ity and lack of training in crowd control. Despite this COSATU remain in full support of the police as they confront armed criminals hell-bent on making our hard-won freedoms hollow. We shall early in 2007 pursue a meeting with the Minister of Safety and S ecurity for an indaba on crime with workers so that we can look at ways of supporting the government's endeavours to defeat the scourge of criminality in our society.

Service delivery and transformation of the state: throughout the year our affiliate NEHAWU has been waging an excellent campaign for better service delivery in the public sector. COSATU calls on all other public sector unions, including those outside our r anks, to join the campaign for improved service delivery by civil servants. As part of the Jobs and Poverty campaign we shall continue to put pressure on our government to create a better environment that will allow civil servants to provide a quality serv ice to the public. We shall continue to hold government to account on its stated goals to employ more police, teachers, nurses, doctors and other health workers. We shall continue to work with our communities to ensure that government invests in the infras tructure, in particular in the public hospitals, so that the working class are not subjected to inferior health care, whilst the rich continue to enjoy better health care in private wards in the public hospitals and in the expensive private health care.

Soccer crisis: COSATU has added its voice to the cries for drastic action to improve the standard of South African soccer so that we are not humiliated in 2010.

Next year, COSATU will move to new levels of campaigning on all these social and economic demands to levels not seen before. It cannot be business as usual when our freedom is in a danger of being a freedom for far too few, whilst the majority is trapped i n poverty and unemployment. We shall like never before point out that economic policies and strategies pursued thus far have failed the majority.

Political issues

There is no doubt that 2006 will go down as one of the most eventful years in the history of the liberation movement and our country. COSATU has listed a number of issues that are beginning to firm up its characterisation of the post apartheid state. These issues are:

1. Political power resides with the Presidency. This results from the fact that the Constitution gives the President the prerogative to appoint the Deputy President and Cabinet Ministers. Above this the ANC internal processes, including the deployment poli cy, gives the Presidency the power to appoint Director Generals and Premiers. Further the ANC deployment committee centralises the power to appoint metropolitan and strategic municipal Mayors.

2. The ANC and its Alliance formations, outside periodic influence on the deployment of cadres and through development of policy in national conferences, national general councils and policy conferences, is itself largely sidelined. Most of the important p olicies arise from the state and conservative economists from the universities some of which even from abroad. ASGISA is a typical example. The ANC has no 'independent' instrument to effectively monitor compliance of government with policy directives of it s constitutional meetings or to effectively monitor progress. This has led to a situation where those in the executive basically monitor their own performance and defend their policy shifts.

3. Whilst South Africa remains a fairly democratic society that allows for open contests for power and the separation of power between the executive and the judiciary, and is governed on the basis of a democratic constitution, COSATU has throughout the rec ent past argued that this democracy is undermined by unequal access to power and resources, as the rich have an unfair advantage over the poor. It is also important to caution against developments that if not addressed will diminish and ultimately erode de mocracy.

4. We have repeatedly raised our serious concerns that some in the executive appear to have on occasions manipulated independent institutions such as the NPA and SABC. The NPA collaborates with elements in the media to launch media trials and assassinate t he character of targeted individuals. The SABC is largely seen as an instrument deployed to fight factional battles with the democratic movement. Of equal concern has been how sections and elements in the print media in particular has been manipulated thro ugh a wining and dining strategy to take part in the factional fights in the democratic movement.

5. We have pointed out that floor-crossing subverts the political process and undermines the will of the people. It fosters a new culture where people position themselves to advance their careers instead of serving the people.

6. We have called for the introduction of a strong constituency element in the electoral process at national and provincial level. The current PR system undermines democracy and inevitably leads to a situation where deployees lick the boots of the leaders rather than serve the movement.

7. We have called for an end to chequebook politics that clearly subverts the will of the people exercised through the vote. We have supported the resolution of the ANC National General Council that the ANC should proactively disclose its donors. This must be backed by reforms of the entire political funding system to make it more transparent.

Lastly and linked to this we have consistently raised our concern at the growing number of the ANC leaders who are members of the NEC, and down to the lower structures, who have business interests. We have pointed out that this presents a danger of transfo rming the ANC from its current stance of being pro-worker and pro-poor to supporting business and capital's ideology.

We have linked this specific issue to a more general concern that leaders of our movement are abandoning the traditional culture of self-sacrifice and service to the people in favour of a culture of get-rich-quick crass materialism. Despite the many speech es from our country's icons Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu as well as from both President Thabo Mbeki and Secretary-General Kgalema Motlanthe condemning those who join the movement to enrich themselves, it seems to be an unstoppable cancer, eat ing away at the organs of our political body.

We have expressed our disgust that when we raised this matter that we have raised for decades, the ANC President suddenly changed tune and accused us and others of being racists.

COSATU will be campaigning on these issues throughout next year. In April we shall hold a constitutional review conference for civil society and our allies to debate these issues with the view of proposing policies and constitutional amendments to address these new threats to our democracy.

One of the big political events of 2006 was the local government elections, in which COSATU members once again played a pivotal role in getting a massive turnout of voters for the ANC.

We have also continued to campaign for justice for ANC Deputy President Jacob Zuma in face of the conspiracy to frame him on corruption charges. Our demand for the charges to be dropped and for him to be reinstated as national Deputy President was unanimou sly reaffirmed by the National Congress.

COSATU condemned the five Supreme Court of Appeal judges who quoted the reference to a "generally corrupt relationship" which they now admit was "incorrectly attributed" to Judge Hillary Squires. We reiterate that it is inexcusable for such senior judges n ot to have studied the transcript of the original trial, but repeated media editorial comments about what the judge is supposed to have said, and then tried to cover this up by inventing a new 'crime' of "mutually beneficial symbiosis" to keep alive smears against Jacob Zuma.

We have also spent the year trying to convince the media that COSATU has not taken any decision to support Jacob Zuma, or anyone else, as the next president of the ANC and South Africa, and that there are no Pro-Zuma or Pro-Mbeki 'camps' within our ranks. The leadership of the ANC is a decision for the ANC members and no one else. COSATU naturally have a keen interest on this matter and we hope that it will be resolved by members of the ANC not just as some beauty contest divorced from class issues that we are raising in this statement.

We have also expressed concern at the role of the Scorpions and the manner in which they go about their business.

The ANC has still to recover from divisions caused by the dismissal of Jacob Zuma and so we anticipate all the dirty tricks and scandal-mongering we saw in the build-up to our own congress playing itself out in both the ANC and SACP elective congresses in 2007. Accordingly we call on members of the ANC and SACP to be vigilant and defend their organisations including their traditions that are clearly threatened.

International issues

The two big events were the launch of the new International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the failed World Trade Organisation talks.

Founded on 1 November, the ITUC represents 168 million workers in 153 countries and territories and has 304 national affiliates. COSATU is proud that it is part of this family of unions.

COSATU played a significant role in highlighting the intransigence of the US and European Union governments that led to collapse of the WTO negotiations. We shall continue to mobilise the entire trade union family and civil society, in particular from the South, to continue to resist attempts by the super powers to use the WTO to entrench inequalities created by colonialism and imperialism.

International solidarity campaigns this year have focussed on:

Palestine: We were honoured with a visit by liberation struggle heroine, Leila Khalid, and have taken part in all the demonstrations against the Israeli government's brutal attacks on the people of Palestine and Lebanon.

Swaziland: On 12 April, COSATU members blockaded all the border posts between South Africa and Swaziland in a show of solidarity with the Swazi people who live under the jackboot of a ruthless absolute monarchy. We are confident that the struggle for human rights and democracy will be won.

Zimbabwe: Our campaign of support for the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions has continued, with a novel form of solidarity - the delivery of thousands of sanitary pads for poor women for whom they have become unobtainable. Our leadership remain banned from visiting Zimbabwe. The COSATU General Secretary has now been declared persona-non-grata by that regime. The ZCTU is pursuing this matter in the courts.

Cuba: We have sent our best wishes to Comrade President Fidel Castro and thrown our weight behind the global campaign to free the Cuban Five activists unjustly jailed in the US and for the lifting of the economic blockade. We will continue to work with the Friends of Cuba to pursue justice for the people of Cuba.

Tragedies and deaths This year has seen a number of tragedies, including the murder of dry cleaning workers in Vereeniging, the death of mineworkers at Tautona and Blyvoor, and of 24 workers being transported to work on open trucks in Mankweng and Firgrove in November. These t ragedies occurred as we were commemorating the 20th anniversary of the death of 177 mineworkers in the Kinross tragedy of 1986

The other major anniversary was the 60th anniversary of the historic 1946 mineworker's strike, which the NUM marked with a march to the Chamber of Mines.

The year saw the passing away of many of our stalwarts, including: John Zikhali the President of SACTWU, Thozamile Gqwetha the former President of SAAWU and a pioneer of the militant and democratic trade unions, Juda Tsotetsi the POPCRU activist and the SA CP Mpumalanga Provincial Secretary, Dan Mohapi, ANC Gauteng MPL and former COSATU Provincial Secretary, Frank Boshielo, Uriah Maleka, Elias Mulaudzi, Vincent Mabuyakhulu, Sipho Binda, Jabu Khanyile and many others. We send our condolences to their families and comrades.

We also lost two sympathetic journalists - Jimmy Seepe of the City Press and Rob Amato of the Sunday Independent, who died on his way home from the COSATU Gauteng Provincial Congress.

We also take the opportunity to extend the hand of friendship and solidarity to workers and their families who lost their loved ones to the HIV and AIDS epidemic that kills an estimated 900 people a day in our country, and those who died through other dise ases and accidents whether in the workplaces or on the roads.

Conclusion In COSATU we have an extraordinarily powerful organisation of workers. Its strengths enable it to honestly and robustly engage with its weaknesses. Many weaker organisations would rather not face up so honestly to their problems. This is the tradition we m ust defend moving forward.

We wish all our members and every South African an enjoyable holiday, a well-earned break and a happy and successful new year