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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by COSATU President John Gomomo to the World Economic Forum

23 May 1996, Cape Town

Distinguished and honourable guests,
Comrades and friends,

I am honoured to be one of the speakers in this gathering. On behalf of COSATU members, I wish to thank the organisers for the honour to workers of South Africa.

The topic I have been asked to focus on is more relevant now than it has been for many years. It is now relevant because just a few years ago it would have made no sense to talk about the role of trade unions in the economic development of the Southern African region.

I am saying it would not have been relevant, not because I'm not interested in economic stability, but the conditions which existed in those dark years made many of us realise that short of a complete destruction of Apartheid in South Africa, nothing and nothing else was relevant. South Africa had to be liberated first in order to guarantee peace and stability in the region.

Today we can say, without any fear of contradiction, that the liberation of the region from violence and destruction was only achieved when Apartheid and its destabilisation policies were defeated.

Unfortunately, we now have a responsibility to face challenges confronting us left by the legacy of the economic and political domination of the region by apartheid South Africa. That legacy manifests itself through the destruction of buildings in Angola, Mozambique and Botswana, and other neighbouring states, the thousands of children and women who continue to be maimed by landmines in Angola, the abject poverty that the entire region is subjected to, and the problems of migration that the region is facing.


I know that this conference has been organised to brainstorm solutions to the legacy left by our ugly history. However, I think that these facts have to be mentioned. As we are searching for solutions, we can not ignore the background to our problems.

The role of COSATU in the economic development of the region.

Workers and their families throughout the region dream of a region free from unemployment, homelessness, illiteracy and disease. They have been crying for policies that will help to create jobs. Workers and their class are going through hell presently, as the region faces these hardships.

COSATU has been calling for a Southern African Summit of heads of states and trade unions. Today, in the presence of some of our political leaders from the region, I wish to reiterate the call made by the COSATU International Policy conference. We are calling for a Summit of the region that will look at issues of development in the region. We need an economy that creates jobs, that helps the poor to have access to health, education, water, houses and other basic needs. We need a plan that will ensure the development of infrastructure in every rural area and township in the region. We are calling for the development of a Southern African Reconstruction and Development plan. Chairperson, it must be a Summit on reconstruction and development, because that is what the poor needs, a reconstruction of the region from the ashes left by Apartheid destruction.

This region has a proud history of solidarity, of appreciating problems faced by one another, and most importantly, of making sacrifices for the sake of one another. In the past most of us made supreme sacrifices, these include sacrificing our lives and freedom. With the same vigour and determination, the region must now confront unemployment and its ugly twins - poverty and homelessness.

The South African Trade union Co-ordinating Committee - SATUCC, is ready to make suggestions to this Summit we are calling for. As workers played a historic role in the development of the South African RDP, workers in the region as a whole stand ready to once again play a role in the development of a reconstruction and development plan for the region.

Economy versus Development

Narrow economic growth based purely on percentages of GDP growth is not what we, as workers, are interested in. The fact that there was a 3,5% growth in the economy in South Africa in 1995 has not made the slightest impact on the lives of the unemployed, the homeless and those faced with poverty. The beneficiaries are the few shareholders. The facts are that very few jobs were created, and very few jobs are being created now.

The region must therefore find a dynamic link between economic growth and development. Economic growth not rooted in development cannot makes any difference in the lives of the working people.

Economic growth can also not be divorced from the rights of workers, women, children and other sections of society. Economic growth which is based on cheap labour, the denial of rights and dictatorship, will also not succeed in this period. Workers in the region through the Southern African Trade Union Co-ordinating Committee have drafted a charter on workers rights for the region. We note with disappointment that some governments, whilst showing support on these rights in forums like the SALC and SADC, are hostile to the mere mention of trade unions in their countries.

Social Equity Document

COSATU has this year developed another set of proposals as part of its contribution to the economic debate in South Africa - "The social equity and job creation, the key to a stable future". We must state on record that we were the first partner in NEDLAC to table a proposal, thus we can not understand this attack in parliament saying that we are delaying progress. The sixth pillar of our Social equity and job creation document focusses on the championing of economic development and workers rights internationally.

In this document we specifically call for the development of the region through technical and financial assistance. We are calling for ways to be found to help the region's economy to grow, to build a strong industrial base and the expansion of living standards.

This, chairperson, is a recognition that development of South Africa alone is not in the best interest of workers. No country can ever grow and develop when it is surrounded by the sea of poverty.

Chairperson, we either find solutions to our economic problems as a region or we will all slide into anarchy and crime. It can not happen any other way.

Africa as a whole is known for its natural resources. This region is not an exception. What we have simply not been able to do is to use this to our advantage and as a springboard to grow our economies and improve living standards of our people.

We did not find a right connection between these natural resources and beneficiation of our raw materials, human resource development, technology and competitiveness. We allowed conglomerates to simply exploit these natural resources without forcing them to invest in our countries, and to develop other industries.

Today we are being used as the only route or conduit of materials produced by other countries who have found this connection. Asian countries who have forced their companies to develop the human resource potential of workers are able to make deals which simply run rings around our governments in the search for markets for goods manufactured by their countries.

In this process workers who seek to resist this may end up accusing other workers and government of selfishness, whilst workers from these Asian countries that found the right connection, continue to be employed. I am speaking of these semi factories in the region who, for example, just put buttons and a label on a shirt, made in Malaysia.

Chairperson, the Southern African record on worker rights is not something you can boast about. The IMF and World Bank's Structural Adjustment Programmes have had a devastating impact on the lives of working people. The Export Processing Zones mushrooming all over the region should be seen as an indictment of the political leadership of the region. They have fallen prey to the nonsense that says production can only happen when you create islands to exploit workers.

Chairperson, we also argue for a social clause to be part of all trade agreements our country will sign with its partners. The social clause should in the least, contain the following basic rights:

  1. The right of workers to associate and bargain collectively.
  2. Freedom from forced labour, prison labour and child labour.
  3. No discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender.

Special market access should be based on the rights, beyond the rights contained in the social clause.

Co-operation in the region can not only be based on narrow economic priorities. In the recognition of the history of oppression, human and worker rights must be a cornerstone of our economic development strategy.

Trade and competition between countries must be fair. There can be no fair competition when workers from other countries are not allowed to join trade unions and to collective bargaining. There can be no fair competition if some countries use child and prison labour, when they ban the right to strike, when they harass and arrest trade unionists. Competition between countries, industries and companies should be based on the advancement of technology, levels of workers training, sound labour relations and freedom.

COSATU and I believe workers in the region have a major contribution to make. The region as a whole must realise that time to shout slogans and to complain about the past is over, we need practical solutions. We needed these solutions yesterday.

I thank you.