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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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National Congress  |  COSATU Speeches

Opening address by COSATU President, Comrade Sidumo Dlamini at the COSATU Special National Congress held from the 13th -14th July 2015, Gallagher Estate , Midrand

14 July 2015

Members of the Central Executive Committee,
The delegation of the ANC led by the National Chairperson, Comrade Baleka Mbete
The delegation of the SACP led by the General Secretary, Comrade Blade Nzimande,
The delegation of SANCO led by President of SANCO, Comrade Richard Mdakane
The leadership of the Progressive Youth Alliance present in this Special National Congress
Invited guests from all civil society formations and faith based organisations present here today;
Our long time international friends present here today;

Please accept warm and revolutionary greetings from the National Office Bearers of COSATU and the Central Executive Committee

Comrades, this Special National Congress has been convened based on a request by one third of COSATU affiliates in line with clause 3.3.2 of the constitution which instructs that the President must call a special NC if the CEC passes a resolution calling for the meeting; or if not less than 1/3 of the affiliates in good standing submit a written request to the General Secretary for the attention of the President calling for the meeting.

This is a culmination of a process dating back to the 2013 September CEC when the matter got discussed for the first time up until the 19th of November 2014 CEC which took a decision that the Special National Congress was to be scheduled to commence from the 13th to the 14th July 2015 and it is on the basis of that decision that we meet here today.

In the process of preparations towards this day COSATU unions were mobilised as a parallel organisation to wage a campaign against their own federation including boycotting constitutional meetings such as the CEC to run away from engaging through open internal democratic processes.

Our unions got funded and some received monies as part of patronage to secure their commitment to act against their own federation.

Workers subscription fees were used to attack their federation and not to attack their class enemies.

The Federation was taken to courts, unsuspecting members of our unions were mobilised to march against their federation, the leadership of COSATU was insulted and the name of COSATU was put into disrepute as we remained on the media spotlight for wrong reasons.

All this was done based on a false pretext that the President of COSATU had refused to convene the Special National Congress when everyone knew that the decision had been taken in their presence at the CEC held on the 19th November 2014.

Today we are here to raise the flag of our organisation from the mud in which it was dragged as attacks were launched against it. We have come to this Special National Congress to once again assert and reaffirm the superiority of COSATU, her constitution and our founding principles as standing above all of us.

In this regard let it be made clear that this is a COSATU Special National Congress convened on the basis of a COSATU constitution and not based on some court decision.

This is not a Special Congress for a section of unions. It will therefore be conducted on the basis of the rules laid out by COSATU through our constitution and the guidelines democratically adopted by the meeting.

We must all refuse to reduce this Special National Congress into a debating society session meant only for shouting and clapping of hands in which at the end a winner shall be declared.

This Special National Congress was convened to find lasting and practical solutions to the challenges confronting our federation.

It was convened to provide answers to the workers and the working class in general who are confronted with real poverty and unemployment and those have put their absolute hope and trust to COSATU.

We cannot fail them because of our obsession to win debate and not to find solutions to the burning issues confronting our people.

Comrade delegates your task in this meeting is to come up with solutions because you know better through your practical experiences that there is a massive offensive waged against workers and the working class in general.

This offensive is being waged by a properly coordinated, maximally resourced, ideologically coherent and united capitalist class who are trying to use the workers and the working class to climb out of the sinking ship of capitalism.

We have recently been inspired by latest visit of the Cuban Five Heroes who were victims of the USA led offensive against CUBA.

This visit communicated a message which inspired all of us that if our struggles can force the USA government to release the CUBAN Five comrades from their jails surely the same struggles can force King Mswati to accede to the demands for a genuine democratic Swaziland. There is no doubt that if our government can take a stronger stance against Mswati regime such a posture can accelerate the journey towards a democratic Swaziland.

If our struggles can cause the USA government to declare its intentions to review diplomatic relations with CUBA surely our solidarity struggles can cause the Apartheid Israel to accede to the demand for the freedom and sovereignty of the Palestinian people! The stance taken by our government on the freedom of the Palestinian people is encouraging.

Our focus must now be on intensifying our campaign against the USA blockade against CUBA. This must be linked to our struggle against imperialism in general. We must have a clear solidarity campaign to defeat the regime change agenda which is currently being pursued by the USA against the popular government in Venezuela.

We note with concern the increase of invitation of some amongst us to the USA and we want to warn our unions that this close proximity with the USA which is being deliberately created may as well be luring them to regime change agenda.

There is well documented tactic which is used by the USA which include inserting agents into popular organizations, or recruiting from within the popular movement as a way of gaining access and trust at the highest levels. Through this tactic they have been able to destroy popular movements from the inside, breaking them down psychologically and neutralizing them politically.

The other tactic involves they use is funding programmes of NGOs and political parties which can be used as a platform to mobilize popular support for regime change. Similar strategies were employed in countries such Chile and they continue to apply them in Venezuela.

We are calling on our unions and members to be more vigilant and be careful about organizations which promise funding including invitations to countries which leads the regime change agenda. USA is not a friend of workers why should we be attracted to it?

The offensive against the international working class is on all fronts. As we meet here today there is almost consistency in all the research reports showing that more and more of our people are sinking into poverty all over the world. Research conducted in 111 countries, accounting for 88 percent of the world’s population classifies 71 percent of the world population as either poor or low-income, subsisting on less than 10 US dollar per day. It shows that 84 percent of the world’s population lives on less than 20 US dollar per day an income level associated with “deep poverty” in developed countries.

In our country whilst we have made strides in addressing poverty through social grants but a report by OXFAM shows that there is still more that still need to be done. In 2010, South Africa had a Gini coefficient of 0.66, making it one of the most unequal societies in the world. The two richest people in South Africa have the same wealth as the bottom half of the population.

It says that between 1995 and 2006, the proportion of the population living in extreme poverty fell slightly to 17 percent. However, increases in population over the same period meant that the total number of South Africans living in extreme poverty fell by just 102,000.

On the other side the Financial Times reported that CEOs pay at 15 of the world’s major banks shot up by 17 percent last year, according to a survey conducted by Equilar.

The report shows that the typical chief executive at the banks surveyed received 14.5 million US dollars last year, up from 12.4 million US dollars in 2013. Nearly all of the CEOs included on the list head banks that have been the subject of multiple investigations and fines related to the rigging of global interest and foreign exchange rates, mortgage fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and other crimes.

On the other hand the ILO’s World Employment and Social Outlook - Trends 2015 report found that three-quarters of workers are employed on temporary or short-term contracts, in informal jobs often without any contract, under own-account arrangements or in unpaid family jobs.

The report notes that worldwide more than 60 percent of workers do not have any sort of employment contract, with most of them working on family farms and businesses in developing countries. But even among those who earn wages or salaries, less than half - only 42 percent - are employed on a permanent basis.

This is a task in front of us. The question is whether we are ready to confront these challenges. Do we ignore these real challenges and choose to focus on our internal battles or we focus our energies on this task which defines the reasons for the existence of our organisations.
The choice which must be made by this Special National Congress of COSATU should be to unite our federation in a fight against our real class enemies - the employers and white monopoly capital.

Comrades our Special National Congress is taking place at the wake of the release of the report by the Commission of Enquiry chaired by Judge Gordon Farlam who was tasked to conduct an inquiry to investigate matters of public, national and international concern arising out of the tragic incidents at the Lonmin Mine in Marikana, in the North West Province from Saturday 11 August to Thursday 16 August, 2012.

As COSATU we share the pain with the families of at least 60 people killed in the course of the Lonmin and Impala disputes. These include 5 killed at Impala Platinum, 6 at Aquarius Platinum, and 47 at Lonmin Marikana (10 before 16th August, 34 on 16th August, and 3 after the 16th August).

We want to tell all the families of all those who victims before , the 12th August 2012 , during that fateful day and after the 12th August 2012 including those killed during the proceedings of the Farlam Commission.

The findings of the Commission with regard to Lonmin attest to our view as COSATU that Lonmin like all other mining houses and capital in general will always prioritise maximising their profits at the expense of the lives of workers.

The Commission’s findings said on amongst others that “Lonmin did not use its best endeavours to resolve the disputes that arose between itself and its workers who participated in the unprotected strike on the one hand and between the strikers and those workers who did not participate in the strike. It also did not respond appropriately to the threat of, and the outbreak of violence. Lonmin also failed to employ sufficient safeguards and measures to ensure the safety of its employees”.

In this regard as COSATU we maintain our position that at the centre of the tragic events which unfolded in Marikana was cooperate greed which put profits before people.

The fact of the matter is that the tragic events happened under conditions of high inequality and poverty in which , chief executives in the economy were earning annual packages of approximately R15m including benefits, which was then about 700 times the minimum wage in some sectors.

By 2014, the packages of the same chief executives had risen to an average of R49m. A survey of 296 executive directors in 83 companies across 14 sectors found the average remuneration of executives in 2012 at around R7.7m, while the earnings of chief executives climbed to an average of R11m.

This means that a low-wage earner would have to work 15 years to make what the average non-executive director would make in a year, but he would have to work 174 years to match the earnings of the executive director and 267 years to earn what the average chief executive is earning in a year.

This was coupled with prioritisation of shareholder returns which came at the cost of both labour and long-term investment strategies. .

It is against this backdrop of super-profits, from which labour - and indeed the South African public more broadly - gained too little, that the tragic incident in Marikana arose. Mining bosses must take responsibility about the tragic events which unfolded in Marikana. Were it not for their greed the Marikana tragedy would not have happened.

As we speak the recent Mining Charter Assessment Report shows that 61% of right holders failed to invest 5% of their payroll on skills development that only 45% of mining companies have complied with the conversion of hostels into single and family units and that 64% of mining right holders failed to contribute and comply with Mine Community Development. This explains the obsession of mining bosses with profit at the expense of development.

We must not make a mistake of using the report to deepen divisions amongst workers but we should instead call for unity now that the truth has come out.

With regard to the action by the police we reiterate the position expressed in a resolution taken at the our 11th National Congress that we abhor the use of unnecessary force by the police against workers in all labour disputes, and believe that police officers are unfairly placed in situations which they are untrained and ill equipped to deal with. We also renew our call for the demilitarisation of SAPS.

We call for the immediate implementation of the recommendations by the commission and that all those found by the commission to have been responsible for the killings should be prosecuted and be sentenced to longer years in prison as a lesson for others who may want to use violence against fellow workers.

We also call on our government and the Mining bosses to provide material support to all the victims.

Lonmin and all those mining houses which continue to refuse to invest in the development of our communities who like Lonmin have been found to be complicit on the violence meted against workers should have their mining licences taken away by government.

As COSATU we call on workers in the mines to unite against employers under the leadership of the NUM. The best way of paying tribute to those who passed away must be to take war to the employers and teach them a lesson never to attempt to divide workers in the future.

Comrades, this Special National Congress is centrally about working to lay the basis to achieve genuine unity but the real fundamental question which must guide us is Unity for what?

“If you must unite, Marx wrote to the party leaders, then enter into agreements to satisfy the practical aims of the movement, but do not allow any bargaining over principles, do not make theoretical “concessions”.

Taking this advice from comrade Karl Marx let it be said as we enter into discussions about the unity and cohesion of COSATU we must bargain about the character of COSATU as a federation of trade unions.

We must not bargain about whether COSATU can be a political party or not. We are not and we can never be a political organisation unless we destroy ourselves and be reconstructed into a new entity.

We are in alliance with the ANC and the SACP but that does not make us a political party. We accept the leadership of the ANC in the National Democratic Revolution which whose strategic objective is the creation of a united, democratic, non-racial and prosperous South Africa as articulated in the Freedom Charter.

As a federation our ultimate objective is the transfer of political and economic power to the working class. But we accept and acknowledge that no trade union movement can on its own fight and win socialism. The struggle for socialism should be led by a working class political party and as COSATU we accept the leadership of the South African Community party as our political party in our struggle to realise the vision of a Socialist South Africa. This is who we are and this character was shaped not just by the struggle against employers but it was also shaped in the struggle which rendered apartheid South Africa ungovernable and apartheid institutions unworkable leading to the 1994 democratic breakthrough.

We must never bargain about the founding principles of COSATU.

The first thing therefore should be that the unity we have come to talk about here should be unity to build COSATU into a strong organisation that is trusted by workers, an organisation that is forever present in the workplace struggles working shoulder to shoulder with workers and not unity which is based on elevating individuals or individual unions above COSATU.

We want a COSATU which is a home to all workers including women workers.

It must be unity which is intended to build a COSATU that is based on the traditions of strong shop - floor organisation and a militant struggle for worker rights. We must have unity that will result to an active democratic organisation controlled by workers and based on campaigns and mobilisation.

Unity must seek to build a COSATU which incorporates broader social issues and interests into its programme, thus building alliances with community organisations under the leadership of the tripartite alliance.

We want a COSATU whose programmes also focuses on the rejection of capitalism and support for non-racialism, a struggle for democracy and social justice and commitment to development and growth in the democratic South Africa -

Secondly it must be unity which seeks to reinforce the fact that the golden rule in a political struggle is always to isolate the most dangerous enemy, while at the same time strengthening to the maximum the progressive camp. It must not be unity which is based on moving us away from an understanding that in South African conditions, the broad strategy of national democratic struggle is the route to the most far-reaching and rapid changes in our country. It is not an unfortunate or delaying tactic; it is a broad strategy that we consider with the utmost seriousness.

Therefore the unity we have come to discuss here must be about strengthening the Alliance which includes strengthening each of the alliance partners in line with our existing policy as contained in our 2015 Plan. It must be unity which seeks to have COSATU that can assert working class leadership working with the South African Communist Party.

We want a federation that consistently seek to work with all alliance structures and with the SACP to assert working class leadership based on strengthening the voice, organisation and programme of the working class at all levels of society and winning broad social support for its vision and perspectives. We want unity that can strengthen COSATU’s capacity to assert and building a culture of community and solidarity. We want unity that can strengthen COSATU to campaign for the implementation of economic policies that ensure redistribution as a means to promote growth, equity and social justice. We want unity that can allow COSATU to unite the Alliance behind a progressive programme for transformation and build an ANC-led Alliance with working-class leadership and with a working-class bias. We want unity that can allow COSATU to have capacity to build and strengthen the SACP as a party of the working-class build alliances with the churches, NGOs, other formations and progressive intellectuals to struggle against poverty and inequality. We want unity that can allow COSATU to ensure that the democratic institutions of our country work and extend democracy to all social and economic spheres.

Thirdly the unity which we must achieve should be unity to assert and affirm the founding principles of COSATU which includes the principle of One Country- One Federation , One Union - One Industry , Internal democracy and Workers Control , non racialism , paid up membership and international Solidarity based on our slogan An injury to One is an Injury to All . It must not be unity which promotes general unions who give themselves a right to organise and recruit members from other COSATU unions.

It cannot be unity in which individual leaders, members and unions participate in democratic decision making processes and when the outcomes of such a process goes against their wish then choose to go out and challenge those decisions in the media or choose to boycott the very democratic processes which is the life blood of the organisation. It must be genuine unity.

It must not be unity where the principle of paid up membership which is essentially about self sufficiency of unions gets compromised where bigger unions with more money uses their size and bank accounts including money from investment companies to patronise smaller unions and even pay their subscription fees . That approach will kill unions. It must be principled unity

The unity we have come to discuss here cannot have as a condition that unless NUMSA is back or unless the former general secretary is back then there can be no unity. No! This Special National Congress must refuse to be blackmailed to a point of undermining its own constitution.

Please allow me to spend some time on this matter. NUMSA was not expelled because they went to a Special National Congress and took decisions which were against COSATU policy.

They were expelled because after taking such decisions they refused to have them subjected to democratic scrutiny in a COSATU congress.

It is not the first time that a union take decisions which either not exist or stand contrary to the existing policy.

When the NUM for an example took a decision on the Freedom Charter they first subjected it as a proposal to a COSATU congress.

It got debated and finally got adopted by a COSATU congress.

Every time when we prepare for our congresses unions submit draft resolutions to influence congress. NUMSA did not follow this discipline instead they went to the media and pronounced that they were pushing forward with their resolution to be a general union whose scope allows them to organise in sectors where other unions were organising .

The CEC which was convened from the 26th - to 28th May as part of taking forward the decision on the cessation of hostilities called on NUMSA not to implement its resolution to encroach on the scope of SATAWU or NUM. In addition to this, all unions across the Federation were called upon not to embark on activities that will undermine the spirit of this resolution relation to poaching. The CEC said a failure to get this commitment by 2 June 2014 should lead to the calling of the Special CEC to discuss the way forward. Instead of respecting this decision of the highest decision making organ in between congresses NUMSA went ahead with organising beyond its scope.

Not only did NUMSA adopt opposing resolutions but openly went out to mount a campaign that directly undermined and oppose the policies of the federation.

All these constituted and open defiance against clause 3.2 of our constitution as amended by the 9th National Congress which says that “Affiliates, including affiliates that are being orientated about the Federation, remain autonomous bodies governed by their own constitution but they must abide by this Constitution and the policies of the Federation”

When the campaign by NUMSA is to be seen in its totality it can be concluded that NUMSA has not just been defying the constitution but has actually launched a political programme which is intended to completely weaken and destroy the federation.

When they declared that they will push forward with their resolution to launch the United Front and form a Socialist movement it became clear that it was just more than poaching members of other unions but that such poaching was being used to create a platform to pursue a political agenda which stood against COSATU policy which is contained in many of our congress resolutions including in the 2015 Plan.

Specific examples of this campaign can be highlighted and on amongst others these include a trip INkandla to lobby that the Former General Secretary becomes the ANC Deputy President undermining the decision of COSATU.

Both NUMSA and the former general Secretary did not deny this. All we know is that when this did not happen, the president of the ANC comrade Jacob Zuma became a new enemy. Actually the mobilisation of our unions to attack the federation and to form a new federation and a new political party is based on these shattered dreams.

The second example of NUMSA’s campaign include their attempt to sabotage a COSATU decision to go on strike against e-tolls and labour brokers, on the 7 March 2012 and yet NUMSA was part of the democratic process which took that decision and was amongst those unions which were putting pressure on the federation calling for such an action.

Comrades we want genuine unity and not unity based on elevating individuals above the organisation. Let us also deal with matters which relate to the General Secretary.

The former general secretary was not dismissed for sleeping with a married junior staff member in COSATU offices. We had concluded an investigation by an independent chairperson which further revealed many other things including not following procedure when employing the staff member in question and allegations of abusing COSATU money as part of entertaining the staff member in question. This is a matter which is still pending. Neither was he dismissed for allegations of corruption regarding the selling of the old COSATU House and the purchasing of the new building. There is a forensic report which provides more information on this matter including allegations of the conflict of interests involving family members. This matter is still pending.

The former general secretary was expelled for failure to execute his duties , undermining COSATU constituition and its code of conduct.

He was dismissed based on clause 10.4 on the removal of officials which says that the CEC may suspend or dismiss the General Secretary or any other official, if in the opinion of the CEC the official has committed misconduct; has neglected his / her duties; has acted in a manner detrimental to the Federation; or has acted in a manner which conflicts with this Constitution. The CEC or the NC may suspend or dismiss the General Secretary or any other official for any other reason deemed sufficient.

These misconducts included publicly opposing decisions of our constitutional structures ,attacking the federation and refusing to come to a various constitutional meetings to explain his behaviour.

The CEC said enough was enough!

But still both the former general secretary and NUMSA can still table their appeal before the ordinary congress to be convened at the end of November this year.

We want to emphasise that the unity we have come to discuss here cannot be about accommodating ill discipline and flagrant undermining of our policies and constitution.

COSATU must be allowed to exist independent of individuals and our members and unions must not be used to fight for individuals who expect to be given rewards for participating in the struggle. No one has denied attempts to lobby for the position of being the Deputy President of the ANC and the country. Our unions and members must be careful not to be used to advance agendas which have nothing to do with their interests but aimed at protecting egos of individuals.

Our unions must come out to the open and say that we should condone ill discipline and allow individuals to undermine the organisation and render all of us to be followers to these individuals whose agenda is about themselves and nothing else.

Our unions must tell us in the congress and not hide behind boycotting the CEC whether they want the alliance to break and that we must now work with such splinter organisations as the EFF, COPE, UDM and even the DA.

We want our unions to come out to the open and tell us if COSATU must now stop working with the ANC, SACP and SANCO and be part of building the united front and a socialist movement which are meant to replace these formations.

Our unions and you delegates to this special national congress must tell us if asserting COSATU’s independence means disconnecting from the alliance partners and declaring the ANC and SACP as our enemies?

We must remind each other that all the decisions we took about the alliance were taken at a Congress and they can only be changed at congress and not at press conferences.

This Special National Congress has one single responsibility and that is to unite COSATU based on our own founding principles.

The Special National Congress is now open and let the journey towards genuine and principled class unity begin.