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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address of the COSATU General Secretary to the SACP 12th Congress

13 July 2007

General Secretary, Blade Nzimande
Chairperson, Charles Nqakula and members of the CC,Leaders and activists of the SACP at all levels

Distinguished guests from within and outside our shores

Leaders of the Alliance and the rest of the democratic movement

Comrades, delegates and friends

Revolutionary greetings from your trusted ally COSATU and all its 2 million members, who are capably led by the Central Executive Committee. In my entire life as an activist, which goes back 30 years, I have never felt so greatly honoured by an invitation to address such a historic gathering with such profound implications to our revolution and struggle for socialism.

I shall be as frank as possible and as honest as I can be. In doing so I am aware that none of you will doubt COSATU`s sincerity as your ally. After all you are our vanguard – a political insurance of workers and the marginalised.

Firstly l want to use this opportunity on behalf of our members to thank you for being such a reliable ally, for being a true vanguard and for being a friend who has always offered a shoulder for us to cry on, and a shield against our class enemies, during many decades of common struggles between communists and workers in our country.

Believe you me dear comrades, when it has been chilly politically and we faced ridicule, labels and insults from some who found themselves in powerful political positions, thanks to our efforts, the SACP stood steadfastly next to the workers of this country. You offered us comfort and cushioned the blows that if they had been allowed to land clean on workers, they could have floored the workers movement.

We carry scars from numerous battles, be it about HIV and AIDS, jobs, privatisation, poverty and inequality, Zimbabwe, and economic policy debates. These scars are symbols of our tenacity, endurance and our willingness to go to battle in the noble cause of the workers and the poor.

On countless occasions I have interacted with your General Secretary in particular when the going was getting tough. On many occasions the COSATU leadership have been asked to share challenges we face as workers with your Central Committee. On some of these occasions of personal interaction during these chilly winds I have referred to, we shared our deep frustrations and sometimes anger. On occasions we have even felt despondent and helpless in the face of some of the political developments that kept us awake for most parts of the night.

But every time these feelings have visited us, we managed to live to see another day, and struggle on against all odds, inspired by the single thought of what it could have been if there was no SACP, COSATU and mass base of the ANC.

Just close your eyes comrades and imagine how things could have been if there was no voice of the politically conscious working class, the organised voice of millions of workers, and the voice of the people represented by the ANC structures across the length and breath of our country. These organized detachments of our people are the heart and soul of our Alliance!

Secondly I want to congratulate the Communist Party for its resilience in a hostile political environment and for hoisting the flag of socialism very high.

Socialism remains relevant more than ever. The brutality of capitalism meted against humanity on a daily basis cries for a humane social order. The system of social production by the working class and private appropriation by capitalists – the fundamental contradiction of capitalism identified by Marx and Engels - is deepening the chasm between the `haves` and the `have-nots`.

We also salute the Communist Party for its activism when others want it to be a debating society. The Red October Campaign has challenged the edifice of the South African banking and financial system. Banks and the Financial Sector are forced to develop ways to address the needs of the poor, thanks to the SACP Red October Campaign. The Mzanzi account, partial credit blacklisting amnesty and the competition commission inquiry into banks would not have been possible without the Red October Campaign.

Take time and think what could have happened without the ANC mass base, the SACP and COSATU, when there were attempts to transform the liberation movement into a praise singing and election machinery whilst only a small elite makes themselves masters of our destiny. Think about what could have happened if we had allowed domination of our politics by the rampant culture of crass materialism, individualism, careerism, corruption and the winner takes all (`*I did not struggle to be poor` mentality)* that was displayed by some.

Imagine what could have happened if the abuse of power and the use of state resources and institutions to persecute political opponents, was left unchallenged.

Think whether the plight of the poor in Zimbabwe or Swaziland would have been highlighted had you all chosen to join the queue to receive patronage and in the process censor yourselves.

Think whether the watershed five-year programme on AIDS adopted earlier this year would have seen the light of day if we had not steadfastly rebutted the denialism about the crisis.

Think whether the rank-and-file revolt we saw in the 2005 ANC NGC and the recent Policy Conference would have happened if the SACP, COSATU and many others in the ANC did not take a principled stance to say there is something fundamentally wrong with the politics of patronage, back stabbing and elitism.

Every time you consider throwing in the towel, think whether, without the role of the SACP and COSATU the recent policy conference would have adopted the progressive economic policy resolution that calls for an active state-led industrial strategy, developmental fiscal and monetary policy, a free and compulsory education, a comprehensive social security system, etc. Think whether today you expected to be talking about a situation where privatisation has been effectively shelved and replaced by a state led massive infrastructure investment programme to the tune of R400 billion.

On the international front workers and peoples` struggles have defeated the triumphalism of neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism is in crisis and does not have solutions to problems facing humanity. That is why it has been rejected in Latin America and is challenged throughout the world.

Comrades, think about a South Africa without the voice of the SACP. That should be the answer to those endlessly taking a swipe at you by endlessly questioning your role. Tell them that your role is to do exactly the same things that saved our country from becoming another Zimbabwe. Tell them that you seek to ensure that our ANC is not hijacked by the elite. Tell them that your role is to ensure that the ANC of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela remains rooted amongst the masses and maintains its bias towards the working class.

In pointing out these achievements I am not saying that the SACP should therefore be reduced from the vanguard of the working class to become an ANC watchdog. I am not advocating "half a loaf is better than nothing" politics. I am raising all these issues so that in our discussion about the role of the SACP we do not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by committing the mistake of defeatism, triumphalism or short-termism.

We are in this struggle for the long haul and should not pretend that there is a single silver bullet that will miraculously resolve the contradictions in our movement and society. I am trying to show that under the leadership of the SACP the working class has scored countless victories, and that as we meet, the working class is on the upsurge in all the formations of the Alliance.

Comrades and friends

We are in the middle of the biggest wave of worker struggles since the 1980s and 1990s. Workers are on the march. Workers patience is running thin. They have witnessed 13 years of bosses lining their pockets and enjoying this longest period of economic growth in our country. They demand that that benefits of the economy be shared amongst all who have created the wealth.

They are also becoming impatient with the slow pace of change in their material conditions. They have seen their colleagues being subcontracted, casualised and many of their gains being eroded by the neo-liberal economic liberalisation and restructuring. This economic restructuring secured super profits for the bosses through retrenchments and destruction of permanent jobs and by holding down workers` real earnings.

As these class battles intensify, we can expect the attacks by our opponents to become more intensive. We need to multiply our alliances, and marginalise capital`s support in broader society, exposing their narrow, self-serving agenda for what it is - an attempt to defend and expand their ill-gotten gains, regardless off the devastation they wreak on our society and people. The nakedly reactionary response of those attempting to defend capital`s power is nowhere better demonstrated than by an article written two days ago in Business Report (11/7/07) by one Ivor Blumenthal, amazingly enough the CEO of the Services Seta.

Referring to the public service strike he states that organised business has `allowed COSATU to run rampant through the country, trashing every notion of peace, order and civilized behaviour` and that organised labour has `skilfully manipulated government and business into. compliance and conformity with its wishes`. He accuses Busa of `cowering in a corner` hoping that the strike would not spill over into the private sector.

He asks why organised business failed to come out in solidarity with government. He asks, and I quote, "Why no lockouts? Why no heavy-handed advocacy of business`s rights to counter industrial action? For someone in essential services to strike is tantamount to treason and needs a firm hand".

He says that threatened strikes in telecoms and energy need to be approached in this way, and that these industries need to be classified as essential services `under the president`s powers to act in an emergency, where dismissal and criminal action are made mandatory`. He concludes by saying " surely it is time to replace these weak yes-men in `organised business` with people of character and force, who have the backbone to take back what correctly belongs to the business community…"

Now these are not the rantings of any lunatic, but someone in a position of responsibility and power in a key public institution (who needs to be immediately relieved of his duties, as he is clearly unfit to hold such an office) - and we call on workers to ensure that their representatives in the Seta take the appropriate action. Leave aside the fact that if business were to follow his advice, they would plunge the country into chaos. More importantly, he demonstrates the bankruptcy of those defending an economic trajectory (the colonial accumulation path), and the danger posed by those who would defend it at all costs. It also draws attention to the urgent necessity of mobilising society around an alternative development path, in a broad front, on the same scale as when we mobilised to defeat apartheid.

The victories the working class has scored have not yet combined to counter the trajectory identified by the SACP and COSATU, that the main beneficiaries of economic transformation has been white monopoly capital. As we have said the post-apartheid socio-economic order can be characterised as one in which there is positive economic growth, and opportunities for amassing wealth for a few. This growth is not equitably shared and many have not tasted its benefits and are desperately poor.

While there is a formal break with the apartheid racial ordering of society, the dualistic development path continues, albeit with new features. Fundamentally the accumulation regime has not changed, so that development and under-development continues to coexist. Cheap labour is reproduced under different circumstances, including through casualisation, sub-contracting, and increased use of women labour and through exploitation of undocumented migrant workers, especially Zimbabweans.

Even the so-called black middle class, despite their illusions to the contrary, still suffer the consequences of a colonial, racist capitalist system. In class terms, they remain second-class citizens, as the glass ceiling has floated upwards. The bosses have reserved `induna` roles for the black middle class - as supervisors, human resource managers and public relations and community outreach project managers. In a word, comrades, they remain oppressed as the white oligarchy remains firmly entrenched in power.

They are suffered under the heavy burden of credit, which has been worsened by recent interest rate hikes. Despite their growth and ambition, black small businesses are trapped in the ghetto, due to the stranglehold of white monopoly capital. The national democratic revolution is therefore far from reaching its goals if the conditions of the working class and the middle strata remain as deplorable as they are.

So what does this all mean to a political party that is a vanguard of the working class? Everyone agrees that this is not the gathering of an NGO and or a political education desk on socialist affairs in the liberation movement. This is the party that understands that the time will come when the struggle for socialism, and therefore the attainment of political and state power by the working class, will be central to its programme. This would mean dislodging the bourgeoisie and defeating and changing the accumulation regime so that it serves primarily the working class that constitutes the majority of our society.

This congress is going to ask a central question and seek to give answers as to when that moment will come. Linked to that is to answer a question is what is central challenge we are facing today?

I will continue to argue that our central challenge is to defeat the agenda of the 1996 class project and to ensure that the ANC retains its key character as a left-wing liberation movement that leads all classes for a radical transformation, informed by the perspectives of the Morogoro conference. We should also build the confidence and power of the working class and its organised formation to take the battle forward. That also requires us to wage struggles at all fronts to defeat the agenda of the capitalists.

Our task is to build a counter-hegemonic bloc to the agenda of monopoly capital. This should be translated into a challenge to the dominant discourse and the fight for policy shifts in areas of fiscal and monetary policy, social development and employment and industrial strategies.

Secondly we need to build the unity of the liberation movement around the Freedom Charter vision.

We too, both the SACP and COSATU, need to be more aggressive in advancing and popularising our policy alternatives. If one relied on certain media commentators for one`s analysis, one could easily come to the conclusion we are just empty vessels without substance.

Now what I know is that COSATU has policies coming out of its ears. We have put forward detailed policy proposals on everything from housing, social security, industrial policy, macro-economic policy, energy, etc etc. Of course the problem is that those who need to hear these policy proposals are unable to, because they have blocked ears, for the simple reason that we are putting forward proposals which they do not want to hear.

Despite claims to the contrary the Policy Conference was not a status quo conference. It adopted far-reaching resolutions, which, if adopted by the Conference in December and implemented by government, will signal a significant shift in policy and emphasis. To illustrate the point I want to spend some time comparing the original document and the resolutions adopted at the policy conference.

Because of limitations of space, I only outline the following 7 significant shifts from the ETC document:

Firstly, while the original document focused excessively on the rate of growth, tended to regard the growth path of the `1st economy` as only requiring some modification, and focused its attention on the so-called` 2ndeconomy`, the final resolution called for a fundamentally different growth path, and made it clear that faster growth along the current trajectory was not a solution to society`s key problems.

Secondly, while the original document placed excessive focus on competitiveness and the market, the final resolution emphasises the role of the state in driving the economy, a state-led industrial strategy, and an expanded role for state ownership, including the proposal for a state-owned bank, state pharmaceutical company, and a more interventionist approach to use of mineral resources.

Thirdly, while the original document endorsed existing macro-economic policy and the fiscal surplus, the conference questioned the appropriateness of this policy, given the huge needs facing the country, and called for a more developmental monetary policy. On this last point, contrary to press reports, delegates questioned the appropriateness of current monetary policy, including the use of inflation targeting and high interest rates.

Fourthly, the original document had repeated references to the `correctness` of government economic policy`, its continuity, and denied the need for any shifts. All these references were removed from the final resolution.

Fifthly, the original document endorsed government`s minimalist approach to rural development and land reform, and promoted the toilets-in-the-veld approach to the former Bantustan areas and a perspective of concentrating economic development in the urban areas. The resolution rejected this approach and called for a coherent rural development strategy, and a shift in approach to land reform.

Sixthly, the ETC document, together with the Strategy and Tactics document, suggested that there is no need to go beyond the proposed retirement reforms in addressing the gaps in social security. In contrast, the Conference clearly recognised the massive gap in social security for unemployed adults, and agreed that ways need to be debated to address this gap, including but not limited to the proposal for a basic income grant.

Seventhly, the ETC document had attempted to smuggle in the debate around a dual labour market through the back door, and proposed the need to promote sectors in which vulnerable workers were being employed, and to `do nothing` (i.e. not protect those workers) if it would undermine growth of those sectors. In contrast the Conference resolution not only removes all such references, but has repeated references to the need to create decent work, and in fact argues that, I quote: "our most effective weapon in the campaign against poverty is the creation of decent work..". The Conference resolution also introduces an emphasis on fighting inequality, which was muted in the ETC document.

If in the eyes of some media commentators this package of changes doesn`t constitute a significant leftward shift, I don`t know what would! It may not contain everything a COSATU or SACP Resolution would, but I don`t think anyone who has a basic grasp of the political situation would expect it to. This reflects the poverty of the South African journalists. They do not do their homework; they have contempt for studying details and are interested in petty squabbles and salacious stories. Democracy is in peril in the hands of the current crop of biased, uncritical and embedded lap dogs.

An issue which was raised at the ANC policy conference was the relationship of the NDR to monopoly capital. ANC Delegates who attempted to argue that monopoly capital is the enemy of the NDR were ridiculed when they were told, " you want to say to monopoly capital that you are the enemy, but we want you to invest". No matter how much we may try to undermine the intelligence of those delegates, or silence them, a sober analysis of our history and the current period will reveal that they were correct. South African monopoly capital is opposed to fundamental transformation of our society.

Rather monopoly capital is interested in cosmetic changes that leave their power and privilege intact. What they need is a `black buffer` to maintain the legitimacy of capitalism and white privilege. Big capital sponsored economic models which were later incorporated into GEAR, and their spin-doctors routinely reject anything smacking of deviation from that path. Already we can see a shallow scarecrow type analysis of the notion of a developmental state – which aims to sow panic in the markets.

We may not have won this debate in the Policy Conference, but the structural reality is that monopoly capital will resist, and on several occasions has resisted, fundamental change.

These changes were not only the result of engagement by the SACP and COSATU delegates, but reflected a comprehensive critique of policy positions in the document by ANC provinces, and was driven by ANC delegates, despite the attempt by some technocrats to block them.

We must galvanise a progressive movement made up of the liberation movement, working with progressive elements of civil society. In this regard the aim will be to marshal social forces to buttress a progressive state in a way that tilts power in favour of the working class. As such, mass mobilisation will be important to counter the power of capital, defend the revolution and expand the envelope of the possible.

The ANC remains an important progressive formation for the working class. The challenge is how we consolidate, retain, and deepen its progressive posture and working class leadership, under the current conditions of intense contestation. As ANC members we need to defend the progressive strand in ANC policy and its continued bias towards the working class.

This will require an examination of how the ANC is affected by current developments and in what way it reflects working-class bias in its policy and leadership structures. Without doubt we know that leadership contests can either place an organisation on a higher growth path or lead to paralysis and disintegration.

For that reason, as we approach the ANC conference we need to exercise maximum caution not to destroy the movement due to narrow factionalist positions. Neither should we allow a sense of paralysis or helplessness to creep in as we tackle leadership questions. We must shift debate from personalities to what collective will take the ANC forward and retain its progressive working-class bias.

The SACP will debate how it positions itself in the political landscape. We remain unshaken in our belief that a strong Party rooted among workers is our insurance to advance the struggle towards socialism. It is in this context that we have called on the SACP to unite the left and convene a conference of the left.

Whatever positions we take, as formations of the working class, we need to advance our hegemony in society, and avoid marginalising ourselves as some left sect. We are the social mainstream (South Africa is overwhelmingly working class in character) and need to assert our rightful place in the centre of the political stage.

This Congress faces many organisational and political challenges that have the potential to undermine its unity. In my view the SACP`s first challenge in this period is to maintain maximum unity of the organisation and not be distracted from its programme.

Second, we welcome the debate taking place around the working class and state power and the path to socialism introduced by the SACP. We may not share some of the propositions but we must defend the right of the Party to open these thorny but important issues for debate.

The SACP congress should outline a vision to build socialism in the contemporary world order. The current world order is in flux, opening new possibilities that were absent in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We expect the Party to articulate how we must pursue the struggle for socialism in South Africa and globally, given the historical circumstances in which we find ourselves, and this changing balance of forces.

The third challenge facing the Party is to draw workers to the ideals of socialism. In that regard we have a duty to deepen class-consciousness among our members and urge them to become active members of the SACP and the ANC. Ultimately, class-consciousness is built and deepened in the course of struggles and not through bookish learning alone.

The trade union movement and the SACP must work hard to deepen working-class consciousness in the current conjuncture. We must arm the working class with theoretical and programmatic tools to challenge the hegemony of capital in the NDR. Linked to this we must strongly agitate for socialist alternatives and build the necessary momentum for the attainment of socialism.

We must be conscious that we are in this struggle for the long haul and avoid the temptation of taking short cuts, or abstracting our socialist struggles from the material realities facing our people, or the challenge of fighting the battle for socialism on the terrain of the NDR. The task facing socialists in the current period is to deepen the NDR, consolidate working-class solidarity and action and agitate for socialist transformation of the current world order.

A further challenge which in my view the Party needs to address is to focus more centrally on core questions relating to production - the strategic challenge of confronting capital in its `own domain`. The Party has tended in recent years to concentrate on what can be called issue of `reproduction` - areas such as land, transport, access to finance and so on.

This needs in our humble view to be complemented with a sharper focus on capital, and transformation of the productive sector. The Party must, as the vanguard of the working class, have a strategic role in confronting and engaging capital directly.

A key challenge which arises in this regard is to define the relationship of the labour movement and the party in taking forward this process. Careful consideration needs to be given to both organisational and political approaches and options, to avoid unintended consequences of such a drive. We need to reflect both on our own and international experiences in this regard.

But what is clear is that we cannot afford to neglect this challenge. Trade unions post 1994 have been grappling with the challenges of restructuring, casualisation, retrenchments etc, which have placed us to some extent on the defensive, in the workplace and at industrial level. Therefore a proactive strategy to transform the apartheid workplace, and worker-led industrial restructuring has not materialised to the extent we had hoped. We are aware of this weakness, and have identified it in our organizational review as an area, which requires more attention.

The question is whether the party should not have a more active role in industrial policy issues, workplace transformation and advancing the power of workers to push back the managerial prerogative. This raises strategic and tactical questions, for example, about how to engage in debates around workplace democratisation, workplace forums etc, and to engage all organised workers, without undermining the cohesion of the trade union movement, and COSATU in particular.

The recent public-sector strike, and recent developments in the manufacturing sector, have also shown growing potential for the forging of non-racial working class unity. What is the party`s role in this regard? We do note that in the SA Road to Socialism (2007) there is a welcome shift in this direction, with greater focus on the need to engage with workplace issues, transformation of the agricultural sector, etc. We look forward to dynamic discussions with the Party on these issues.

Organisationally our wish is that the Party should multiply its current organisational strength. This means more vibrancy, more strong branches, districts and provinces and Central Committee. In that regard leadership cohesion is important, especially to ensure that more leaders defend the Party and socialist cause in public. I am worried that there the Party relies disproportionately on the Secretariat to conduct these important battles, while other leaders remain quiet.

The fundamental reason behind this is power of patronage and the fact that the alliance is not driving transformation together, which creates divided loyalties. It is from this that COSATU congress has called for the restructuring of the alliance so that no single component or individual in the alliance determine strategy and deployments.

COSATU is weaker without a strong SACP that is independent, that is capable of uniting all socialists, and indeed all those seeking to build a better life for all in particular. This is the central challenge workers give you at this congress. You cannot afford to fail them. We wish you all the luck.