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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Zwelinzima Vavi at the National Congress of PPWAWU

27 June 1997

Comrade President National Office Bearers, and Delegates

Your National Congress comes at the time when the class battle lines are clearly drawn both on the National and International front. This congress gives you an opportunity to have a sober look at these challenges and devise strategies to respond effectively.

On the International front, workers are facing the challenges brought about by globalisation. The power of capital has in the past few years, and under the so called "new world order", increased significantly. The prescriptions of unelected institutions like the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organisations are seen as the Bible or Koran that can not be challenged. The sovereignty of democratically elected governments is reduced to conveyor belt for policies of these powerful dictatorships.

This International situation gives rise to the worst forms of exploitation and denial of workers and human rights on a scale worse than the period of the feudal system. The integration of the world economy and the competition that arises from it put pressure on governments to gun for the vulnerable and defenceless sections of the society - the working class. The prescriptions of the international institutions like IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organisation include the following:

  1. Governments have no role in job creation and meeting of basic needs or in the productive sector of the economy - this is the competence of the markets
  2. Governments role is to create an environment conducive for business to do business
  3. The working class must tighten its belts and the market will deliver in life time
  4. In line with the above, all state assets must be privatised
  5. In line with the above, the deficits must be reduced in order to undermine the capacity of governments to deliver the basic needs
  6. There shall be competitiveness which is based on exploitation of workers
  7. The struggles for a living wage frightens investors, workers must accept poverty wages
  8. The should be no law to regulate the labour market and give protection to the vulnerable workers. This will reduce the capacity of the country to compete and will make the labour market rigid and cause unemployment
  9. The power of trade unions must be curtailed, as stronger unions with the capacity to undermine these prescriptions cause of rising unemployment
  10. Reduce and remove trade tariffs and exchange control so that capital can move from one country to another with ease.
  11. Thou shall pay thy debts

These prescriptions apply to all irrespective of the ailments of the different patients. From the richest country to the most poor, the rules remain the same.

The results are there for all with eyes to see - the growing unemployment, poverty and homelessness.

Your congress must help to find a solution to this monster - globalisation. You are presented with the historical opportunity to find alternatives to the "new world order." That solution had to include strategies to unite workers of the world. It has to include a strategy on globalisation of worker and human rights. It must include a social clause in international trade agreements. Most importantly it must include increasing the capacity of the working class formations to act in solidarity with each other and resist one sided globalisation. Worker and human rights must be globalised.

At the national front, we have not escaped this onslaught on worker`s rights. The RDP is the programme of the alliance. The electorate in a decisive fashion mandated the ANC and the alliance as a whole to implement the RDP.

In less than three years, a new programme called GEAR was introduced in line with the prescriptions of the IMF, World Bank and the WTO. Drafted exclusively by white males from one economic school of thought, GEAR was firstly introduced as the government programme, and two months later presented to the ANC which adopted it with all its full stops and commas.

It is now just over a year since this "market friendly" policy was forced down the throats of the majority. We warned then and we continue to warn that GEAR will not deliver to the poor. If any thing GEAR will only distribute poverty from the poor to the poor. We are already vindicated in most areas that we warned the country against. Unemployment is on the rise, there has be no economic growth, government has cut social spending, homelessness is on the rise, government is unable to stick to the terms and spirit of its three year bargaining agreement with the public sector unions, crime the brother/sister of poverty has reached new proportions. GEAR is the Reverse gear of our society indeed.

Your congress has a historic opportunity to develop a programme to resists this anti working class prescription of the unelected institutions and white bureaucrats of the old order. The alternative to GEAR remains the RDP. There is no other alternative. The RDP was relevant in 1994, is relevant now and will be relevant in future.

We reiterate that COSATU shall not co-operate with GEAR. Those GEAR fanatics must implement it on their own. Instead of co-operating with a policy that we have such fundamental differences with, your congress and the coming COSATU congress is called upon by history to adopt strategies to undermine GEAR. Those who are calling for a jobs summit in order to implement GEAR must leave us alone and go ahead and have it. We insist that there should be a tripartite alliance and SANCO jobs summit first to look at the unemployment situation in South Africa. Once an agreement is found, a jobs summit involving other forces can be called.

Comrades, in my opening statement I said that the battle lines are drawn between the working class forces and the capitalist class here and abroad. The local big business now joined by the so called "patriotic black bourgeoisie` has decided to use the Basic Conditions of Employment Bill to launch a war for acceptance of neoliberal prescription. They (business) have the support of Chris Stals`s Reserve Bank and most of the print media. These forces are determined to halt any further transformation of the labour market. They know that if they lose this battle they may lose the war. They hate the green paper on human resource development, in particular the proposal for a training levy from the bottom of their hearts. They also do not like the green paper on equity or affirmative action. They are determined to oppose any fundamental transformation of the labour market contained in the Department of Labour`s five year programme.

They are not only happy with the status quo but are also eager to reverse some of our gains from the apartheid`s legislation such as double payment for Sunday work.

If this surprises you, you better relook at the history of our oppression of black people and workers. The pass laws and taxes such as hut tax were introduced as part of the NP`s election manifesto and a promise to mine and farm bosses. The migrant labour system was introduced as part of this package. The single sex and tribally segregated hostel system which, the mine bosses operated and are still operating like concentration camps, were part of this package. The stoking of tribal divisions and tribal wars that resulted in the death of thousands, the promotion of sweet-heart unions, the collaborations with security forces etc resulted in close co-operation between the bosses and their government. All these were acceptable in the name of global competitiveness.

If these are not gross human rights violation then I don`t know what is! Big business should without delay set an appointment with Bishop Desmond Tutu and the TRC and ask for amnesty for these horrendous human rights violations. COSATU intends to ask the TRC to hold special hearings on the role of business during apartheid. Their participation and collaboration with the system declared by the international community as a crime against humanity should be investigated. We know that their response will be similar to other hyenas and hypocrites who all of a sudden never supported apartheid. They will claim that they never voted National Party. They will say they never supported gross human rights violations and have always liked blacks.

Now we wish to give notice to big business and its blue eyed boys in parliament that workers are equally if not more determined to ensure that the South African labour market is transformed. We are determined to ensure that the structural deficiencies of the labour market are dealt with. We are determined to ensure that the changes being brought about at other fronts also benefit workers. We understand and accept the challenges of business for a class battle. We are ready to fight that war. We shall never abdicate from our responsibility. Worker`s rights and the National Democratic Revolution are like two sides of the same coin to us. We are not stepping back even an inch. We shall not blink.

The EXCO held on the 24 - 25 June 1997 adopted another programme of action in order to force business to accede to the reasonable demands of the workers

  • Monday 04 August 1997: On this day, there shall be a one hour work stoppage by all workers between 10h00 and 11h00.
  • Monday 18 August 1997: All workers in the COSATU Eastern Cape Region will embark on a 24 hour strike coupled with rallies and marches to BSA offices or their affiliates.
  • Tuesday 19 August 1997: All workers in the COSATU Regions of KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga will embark on a 24 hour strike coupled with rallies and marches to BSA offices or their affiliates.
  • Wednesday 20 August 1997: All workers in COSATU Regions of Northern Cape/OFS and Western Cape will embark on a 24 hour strike coupled with rallies and marches to BSA offices or their affiliates.
  • Thursday 21 August 1997: All workers in the COSATU Regions of Wits, Northern Transvaal and Western Transvaal will embark on a 24 hour strike coupled with rallies and marches to BSA or their affiliates.

The above actions will be followed by a 24 hour strike on the days that Business and Labour make their submissions respectively.

Comrades, we are moving closely to the COSATU national congress. That Congress faces countless challenges. I think that it will be proper to list some of the issues that have emerged in the past few years where we need to develop policies.

i) Demarcation of COSATU

COSATU`s current demarcation was decided in 1985. Industries have changed resulting in the blurring of scopes of unions. This has led to intense poaching amongst our affiliates and unnecessary tensions. A proposal is available with several options that will be discussed and decided upon.

ii) Investment strategies

In the recent years many unions established investment companies. There is no common strategy about what we want to use these companies for. A discussion paper was commissioned by EXCO. This paper will form part of the discussions at the congress.

iii) Collective Bargaining Strategies

The last congress and the recent policy conference agreed in principle to have COSATU playing a more direct role in the collective bargaining of wages and other conditions of employment. A discussion paper is being drafted in preparation for the congress debates

iv) Alliance programme discussion paper

A discussion paper of the on the alliance programme has been circulated and printed in the shop steward magazine. The paper is an attempt to address the current weaknesses of the alliance. It contains a proposal for an accord to be agreed to within the alliance. This should be discussed at the congress

v) September Commission Recommendations

The commission has circulated its draft report to the congress. This covers a range of fundamental proposals on socio-economic strategy, organisational restructuring, collective bargaining, etc. This shall be discussed at congress as well

vi) Contributions to the RDP

The discussion paper on how, as workers, we should contribute to the RDP has been drafted. This was referred to Congress by the last EXCO.

vii) Constitutional Amendments

A number of issues have arisen which may require reformulation of certain clauses of our constitution. This includes the quorum of EXCO, how FINCOM is structured and functions to mentioned just the two.

These are some of the issues that PPWAWU must prepare it resolutions on and lead COSATU as the whole.

I wish you a fruitful and successful National Congress.