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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi to a Demonstration on Jobs and Poverty

27 June 2005

Dear Comrades and Friends,

It is moving to see this massive demonstration of our people. This action gives voice to our people, gives us power and hope.

We particularly want to note the support from civil society - from the SACP and the young communists, the ANC Youth League, the South African Council of Churches and SANGOCO, the student movement, and many more, too many to mention. This broad-based support for the campaign for economic justice points to the urgency and importance of these issues for all our people.

Comrades and friends,

We are here today to highlight the plight of those millions trapped in poverty that takes away their dignity and our hope for the future.

We are here to protest the thousands of jobs lost and the slow decline in the core of our economy. We are here to demand a development strategy to ensure that growth in the economy benefits all our people, creating jobs and overcoming poverty on a massive scale.

Today there are four million unemployed in our country. Two out of five workers cannot find paid jobs - twice as many as ten years ago. Most of the unemployed are young people who have never had a job since leaving school. Unemployment destroys their dreams and our future.

Millions more workers struggle in low-wage and casual jobs. They suffer the daily grind of deprivation, worrying how to feed their children and pay for school fees and services. Meanwhile the threat of losing their jobs is always over their heads. One in four workers in the formal sector, and two thirds of workers in informal, domestic and agricultural work, still earns under R1000. How can one raise a family in decent conditions at that level of pay?

Millions of workers still face racism on the job. Most of our people still have no chance of training or promotion. Many face daily abuse, long hours and unsafe conditions. For too many people, apartheid has ended in the government, on television and radio - but not at the workplace.

We are also here to draw a line against the threat to end workers' ability to demand better conditions and to defend themselves. This threat can be seen in SEIFSA's demand that small enterprises be able to ignore agreements. It is even there in some proposals for the ANC's National General Council this week, which would limit protection and organising, rights for young and rural workers and for workers in key sectors like clothing and construction.

Some people try to reduce unemployment to a question of statistics - are 40% of workers unemployed, or "only" 30%? This demonstration shows that the problem is not about data; it is about our lives and our experiences. It is about the challenges we face daily on the job, in our townships, in union offices across the country.

The problem is that unemployment and poverty are still largely hidden from the leafy suburbs where the bosses live. Even some of our political leaders can't see any unemployed people from behind their high security walls and heavily tinted chauffer-driven luxury sedans. We need to remind them of the realities facing ordinary people today. We cannot let the problems of our people be pushed to the margins of our cities, so that the powerful can simply ignore them.

Comrades and friends,

Yesterday we commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter. What does that mean for our action today?

These days, everyone says they support the Freedom Charter. But are we coming closer to its economic goals? Let me remind you of two key clauses.

  • There shall be work and security for all! In fact, we face both soaring unemployment and casualisation.
  • The people shall share in the country's wealth!
  • The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people;
  • The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole;
  • All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the well being of the people...

What do we see in fact, 11 years after liberation? Both the data and our own experiences point to growing inequalities, despite improvements in government services and grants for the poor. A tiny minority still controls the wealth of our country. The current policies on Black Economic Empowerment effectively exclude workers. We need strategies to transform the country toward equitable growth, not just to redistribute a bit through the tax system.

The Freedom Charter also says "All who work shall be free to form trade unions, to elect their officers and to make wage agreements with their employers." It emphasises that all workers, including domestic and farm workers, shall have equal rights.

This has also been a tenet of our democratic system until today - but it is threatened by employers and even by the proposals to the ANC NGC, which would re-establish the dual labour market last seen under apartheid. These proposals would undermine everything for which we fought so many years. They would give the lie to the leaders who made the Freedom Charter the core policy of the democratic movement some 50 years ago.

Comrades and friends,

This strike action follows months of engagement with employers and government at NEDLAC, where we tabled disputes under Section 77 of the LRA. It kicks off rolling mass action for the rest of the year. We will continue with this action until we see a genuine commitment to action on the part of employers and the state.

We have been pleased by the enthusiasm displayed by the new Deputy President Comrade Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka to work with us to address issues we are raising in this protest march. But we must continue to exercise our power until we get firm commitments from government and employers to sign agreements at the appropriate forum, which is NEDLAC.

The next phase of our plan of action covers July and August. We will see pickets and lunch-hour demonstrations in every province, starting in the week of July 4 in the Western Cape. In the last week of August, we will have demonstrations and pickets across the country. That will set the stage for half-day provincial and sectoral stayaways in September.

We cannot afford to let our lives go by in poverty, joblessness and despair. We cannot afford to see our children and grandchildren excluded from the workplace and hope. We must use this process of rolling mass action to tell the bosses and our own political leaders that much more must be done to address the crisis of jobs and poverty.