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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

COSATU Media Monitor COSATU Media Monitor COSATU Media Monitor


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Media Centre  |  COSATU Press Statements

COSATU's New Year message


The Congress of South African Trade Unions sends New Year greetings to the workers of the world and the people of South Africa. We wish everyone a very happy, successful and revolutionary 2008.

We congratulate learners who have passed their Matric and encourage the others never to give up trying.

This is the time to take stock of what we have achieved in 2007 and look at the problems, opportunities and challenges we face in 2008.

For South African workers there were major victories, highlighted by the united and heroic public sector workers' strike. This massive mobilisation of workers from many unions and federations forced the government to back down from its arrogant intransigen ce and won significant improvements in wages and working conditions. It also brought us closer to the goal of one united public service trade union.

Their victory opened the door for other workers to negotiate better settlements than they would otherwise have been able to achieve. One important result of the increasing workers' militancy was that COSATU's membership broke the 1.9 million mark and raise d the real possibility of reaching two million in 2008.

Yet virtually none of the workers who won these wage increases ended the year any better off than at the beginning, as runaway increases in the price of food, fuel, interest rates and other daily costs, rapidly cancelled out the gains they had made earlier .

The judgement against Tiger Brands for fixing the price of bread only confirmed what COSATU had long suspected  that these price hikes were not just the unavoidable consequence of global trends, but theft by businesses who were cashing in on the inflation ary trend. We shall be raising again our demand for a broader investigation into price increases to unveil the extent of price-fixing.

If workers who had won significant wage increases were hit hard by these rocketing prices, then it was far worse for the unemployed and the growing numbers of unorganised casual workers, whose living standards plummeted during 2007. They can expect no reli ef in 2008, especially since electricity tariffs are now also set to rise by 14.2%, way above the levels on inflation.

The levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality remained our biggest problem in 2007. The number, and quality, of new jobs being created are nowhere near enough to meet the ASGI-SA target of halving the 2004 levels of unemployment and poverty by 2014, a nd the rate of new job creation is actually slowing down.

One of the main reasons for this has been the Reserve Bank's insane policy of constantly raising interest rates, which, as well as fuelling inflation still further, acts as a huge disincentive to job creation and retention, as employers face higher and hig her loan repayments and it harder for new businesses to get the capital to get started. We insist that the Bank's inflation-targeting strategy must be replaced by an employment-targeting strategy.

There were other successes for the workers. Government policies were beginning to shift to the left, at least in words, as both the President's State of the Nation speech and the Finance Minister's budget speech promised a more interventionist role for the state in tackling the problems of unemployment and poverty, though words have yet to be turned into deeds.

There was a historic legal victory in the courts, in the case of Rustenburg Platinum versus the CCMA, when the Constitutional Court reaffirmed the CCMA's right to change a sanction handed down in a disciplinary hearing at arbitration in cases of unfair dis missal.

We continued to make progress as a nation in the fight against HIV/Aids, through the implementation of the National Strategic Plan, though far more still needs to be done to prevent and treat the deadly pandemic.

But without any doubt 2007 will be remembered most for the series of crucial political events  the ANC Policy Conference, the SACP National Congress, the COSATU Central Committee and finally the ANC National Conference  which transformed the political la ndscape.

It would be impossible to overestimate the importance of the Polokwane conference. This was not a clash of individual leaders or 'camps'. It was a revolutionary mass movement from the grass roots, which brought about a seismic shift in the political landsc ape.

It was a tsunami, which aimed not just to replace one set of leaders with another but to transform the way our national democratic revolution is being led. The media focussed almost exclusively on the leadership contests, but the delegates were just as det ermined to change policies as to replace leaders.

This was a rebellion by the representatives of millions of workers, the unemployed and the poor against their exclusion from the economic boom they kept hearing about for the past five years. They were sick of being told that we were all getting richer, wh en they knew from their own lives that only a tiny minority was benefiting - and benefiting massively -from economic growth, while the majority remained stuck in poverty and despair.

The delegates spoke for those who had been raising their concerns about government policies, and were fed up with being lectured about not being properly educated, of not understanding the traditions of the ANC, or of being unwittingly used by enemies of t he revolution. They knew that their criticisms of government's pro-business and pro-rich policies were right and wanted a new leadership to bring about a change of policy.

This was clearly spelled out at the June Policy Conference, which saw much more progressive policies over a wide range of issues.

Comrade Jacob Zuma became the symbol of this mass movement. His victory was a victory for the people of South Africa and a triumph for democracy. The ANC delegates made it clear that they are sovereign and will not tolerate any leaders who think they have a divine right to remain in power.

The new 'top six' and the many new faces on the NEC now open up the way for a new start, based the ANC uniting behind the progressive policies adopted by the conference. Unemployment, poverty and inequality are truly at the top of the political agenda and 2008 must see a much more serious national effort to deal with them.

In particular this conference should open the way to the re-emergence of the Tripartite Alliance as a central player in the political process. We look forward to the Alliance Summit which will take place within the next three months and hope to see an end to top-down governance, where policies are not evolved through democratic consultation but handed down by government ministers, technocrats and 'experts'. We look forward to the ANC and alliance parties taking centre stage in the running of the country.

As we enter 2008 however we must not drop our guard for one minute. Important though the victories at Polokwane were, we cannot rest until they are translated into real improvements in the lives of the workers and the poor. COSATU will never abandon its ro le as an independent defender of workers' rights. It will never sign a blank cheque for any political leadership.

A warning sign that the former leadership has not given up the struggle was the government's ratification, within days of the conference ending, of the SABC's new Board of Governors. The list of names, with no trade unionists or working journalists but hea vily weighted in favour of business people who supported the outgoing ANC leadership, will now have another five years to try and manipulate public opinion through the public broadcaster.

It was a deliberate slap in the face not only for COSATU, and the many other civil society organisations who shared our concerns, but also for the ANC delegates and the new leadership they elected. This Board must be referred back to Parliament and there m ust be no more such unilateral decisions by government. The delegates made it clear that while the ANC government must serve out its full term until 2009, it has a clear mandate from the conference to adopt the new policies that conference adopted and work in consultation with the new ANC leadership.

Internationally the working class face enormous challenges. 2008 could be our last chance to negotiate a world trade agreement which levels the playing field and ends the domination of the imperialist powers of the developed Northern world. The signs are n ot encouraging however, as the USA and European Union try to play divide-and-rule by signing trade agreements with individual countries that perpetuate their neo-colonial domination of the world economy and will wreck the prospects of the poor southern cou ntries developing manufacturing industry and escaping from their economic subservience.

One ray of hope is that 2008 will see elections in the USA, which could see a change from the warmongering policies of the Bush administration and a withdrawal of imperialist forces from Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries where they are trying to assert their world dominance under the disguise of 'peace-keeping'. Let us hope the new administration will at long last end the brutal economic blockade of Cuba and free the Cuban Five patriots still languishing in US jails.

Elections are also scheduled for Zimbabwe. Provided they are not once again rigged to ensure a victory for ZANU-PF, this could be a victory for people and lead to the restoration of human rights, an independent media and trade union freedom.

COSATU will continue to fight for the rights of workers under attack  in Palestine, Swaziland, Pakistan, Burma and many other countries where workers are under attack. We rededicate ourselves to the great trade union principles of An injury to one is an injury to all! and Workers of the world unite!

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)