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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech by Sam Shilowa, General Secretary of COSATU, at the SACP 75th Anniversary Rally

28 July 1996, Cape Town

The General Secretary of the SACP, comrade Charles Nqakula;
President Mandela;
Members of the PB and CC of the SACP;
Leadership of the ANC and COSATU;
Distinguished guests;

I bring you revolutionary greetings from COSATU. As a Federation, we are more than aware of the party's role and commitment to a strong independent trade union movement. Comrades such as Ray Alexander, John Nkadimeng and Billy Nair played an important role in the unity talks leading to the formation of COSATU. The same applies to a host of underground cadres of the SACP some of whom were already in the trade union movement.

Of course this was not the first time that the SACP got involved in trade union work. This was a follow-up to the party's earlier role in the labour movement. Indeed it was uncle JB Marks, who led the first ever organised strike against the mine bosses. The NUM as we know it today follows in the footsteps of this tradition. Communists were also involved in unions in the Railways, Food industry, Laundry etc.

As a federation and as workers, our association with the SACP is not based on old times sake. Ours is a conviction that together we stand for total emancipation of the working class. We are committed not to some utopian socialist agenda, but to one in which South Africa and all of its citizens particularly the working class can benefit. One in which exploitation of workers is eliminated. Our vision of socialism is based on the South African realities - Poverty, unemployment, disparity in levels of income, domination by big capital of the ownership and control of the means of productions.

In order to succeed and to remain relevant, the Party will have to place before workers concrete programmes based on a carefully thought out socialist vision. Together we need not fear, to publicly expose the failures of capitalisation in our country. I've heard many self appointed critics of socialism pointing to what happened in the USSR and the former Eastern Bloc. What they have failed to acknowledge, is that it is not socialism that have failed South African workers. It is Apartheid and Capitalism.

Anglo American and the rest of the mining houses refuse to pay equal wages to workers regardless of race or gender up-to this day. It is Goldfields who give black workers an inferior pension compared to that of white workers. It is the clothing employers who pay women with families R146-00 as Christmas bonus at the end of the year. It is capitalism that makes the poor, poorer while the rich get richer. The huge gap between CEO's and workers is not a result of some Marxist - Leninist theory, but capitalist greed. It is capitalism that denied blacks water, electricity, telecommunications, houses, and better health care.

Employers will indicate that it was apartheid which forced them to go this route. That's fine. Now that we have a new democracy, where is equity on the shopfloor, where is investment in the productive sector of the economy. Since there is no apartheid, what propels their greed? Capitalism of course.

Comrade Chairperson, I am happy that President Mandela is here today representing the ANC. This will send a clear signal that our alliance is not about to break-up. Not because we say so, but due to our commitment as a movement to the transformation of South Africa. When as COSATU we criticise the ANC or the government we do so not based on malice, but on the need to find solutions to our problems which benefit the working class be they employed or not. When the housing policy is unworkable or not capable of delivering houses to the working class, it can not be the sole prerogative of Nigel Bruce of the Financial Mail and the rest of the press to say so; while those of us who represent those who have no homes remain quiet. This will be a betrayal of the national liberation struggle.

When a Macro-Economic plan is placed on the table, with no prospect of negotiations while calling on our members to make certain commitments, we will be weakening the ANC by keeping quiet. In actual fact we will be handing victory to the IMF, World Bank and Reserve Bank economists. We will be tacitly accepting a neo-liberal agenda. This we cannot do. Our members and the community can never forgive us. Our criticism of the plan are not a rejection of the difficulties faced by the government and the country. It is a way of saying, that just as nobody expects the government to trample over the right-wing, but to work with it, the same should apply to workers.

I've already said to comrade President that COSATU is working on a comprehensive response to the plan. This will not merely be a critique but also have proposals on the need for a housing parastatals, role of the state in the productive sector of the economy; managing the deficit in a way that doesn't turn the black electorate and workers against us, lower interest rate etc.

A few critics have labelled COSATU a representative of the elite, the privileged and the employed. We do not apologise for taking up the struggle for employed workers. After all in any society where there are employers, workers must be organised. One thing these critics ignore is that a domestic worker who earns R160-00 per month is no elite or privileged. The same goes for a farm worker, security guard, cleaner, mine worker etc.

Their pay levels are too low, by any comparison. The majority of workers wages that are in collective bargaining ranges from between R365,89 per month to R873,40 per month. This in comparison to senior management who pay themselves in excess of R67000 per month must be a joke.

We are all concerned about unemployment. We will however not eradicate it by asking a domestic worker to accept less that R160-00 per month in order to create jobs, or by asking the poor to share their wages. The best way of creating jobs, is by engaging in massive public works programmes for roads, houses, infrastructure etc. By investing in the productive sector rather than speculate in the JSE.

There has been a call on the ANC to severe its ties with COSATU and the SACP. All of these calls come from people who for the rest of their life have been against the ANC and its allies. Some of them were working with the regime. We have to ask why, they want an end to an alliance. It is because they fear our winning combination. They fear our electoral victories. They want to weaken the movement for democracy in our country. That we can not allow. Being in alliance doesn't make us one organisation. This is healthy. I concur with the words of President Mandela who said in an interview for the COSATU Shopsteward Journal: We want strong independent allies. Who can say to the ANC, now your are right, now you are wrong. This will ensure that when we take decisions, we are armed with rich input from the alliance. Those who want to end the alliance Comrade President, will be rooting for the opposition in 1999. They will pointing to the ANC's mistakes. We must not listen to them. Neither should we sweep differences aside. We should resolve them in the interest of democracy in our country. By the way, we are trade unionists. The word non-negotiable doesn't exist in our vocabulary.

In conclusion, as the SACP flies its red flag high, we must also lower it in honour of those of our colleagues who were killed by the regime and its agents. We look to the party to increasingly raise economic issues for debate. We need to redefine the role of the state in the transformation process. In that way, we will avoid the dogmatic pro and anti privatisation on debate and focus on areas that the state should be involved in defence of the revolution.

The SACP has a important role to play in our country. Not as a conscious against capitalism, but in defence of democracy, peace and transformation.

Long live the SACP
Long live the ANC
Long live COSATU
Long live the alliance