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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Zwelinzima Vavi - COSATU Deputy General Secretary to CWIU Bargaining Conference

27 November 1997, Protea Gardens Hotel, Johannesburg

President, Welile Nolingo
General Secretary, Muzi Buthelezi and
Leadership of the CWIU gathered here.

Thank you, for the honour of inviting me to address the Bargaining Conference of your union. I feel honoured in particular because I know that this Bargaining Conference is developing a strategy for the next round of negotiations.

Your conference takes place at a time when the working class movement is facing unprecedented attacks throughout the world. All over the world workers and their families are reeling under the pressures of globalisation. I, together with other COSATU leaders, have just returned from a conference in Brazil hosted by Brazil’s trade union federation, CUT, and also attended by KCTU, the South Korean federation.

In Brazil, thousands of workers are being laid off on a daily basis since the crash of the stock market a few weeks ago. Ford, which employs 27 000 workers, and Volkswagen both closed down, sentencing thousands of their employees to poverty. The government of Brazil follows Margaret Thatcher’s teachings as if they were a Koran or a Bible. Their response to the stock market crash was to double the already extremely high interest rate from 21% to 42%. With interest rates at 42%, no ordinary person can afford to buy a car, a house or anything on hire purchase.

The massive interest rates are also forcing many companies to close down. The economies of Brazil and South Korea are highly dependent on foreign capital and currency speculators. As soon as there was this stock market crash, these speculators moved 5 billion dollars out of the Brazilian economy in one day. As their economy is dependent on this monetarist strategy, the Brazilian government was forced to increase interest rates in order to attract the vultures back to the economy. Brazilian workers have to contend with a conservative, neo-liberal macro-economic policy called REAL, which is the same programme South African workers are facing with another name, GEAR.

In South Africa, workers are being retrenched on a daily basis in their thousands and sentenced to face poverty in the rural areas. This is not because of the effects of the crash of stock markets across the globe but because we want to be the good boys of capital in the new Miss Nice international beauty contest. Big Business, who do not have to campaign and organise peoples or workers forums in order to wield political power, has a unique way of getting those that answer to the electorate to do their dirty work.

Employment has been falling in South Africa since the beginning of the 1980’s. Despite claims to the contrary, the capitalists have not let go of their investment strike as they press for more and more concessions from the government. Their demands throughout the globe are similar. The want governments to create a climate conducive to investor confidence, governments must leave business to business and as a consequence, must privatise, must reduce their deficits, must be slim and small coordinating centers of business interests. They demand that governments must retrench their public sector workers and must abide by the dictates of the IMF and World Bank, etc.

Today thousands of private sector workers go to work praying that they shall not be the next to be called in the managers office and told to look for another job as the company is reducing its staff. Last year alone, more than 171 000 jobs were lost. This year it appears that the figure will be the same, if not more. Today no less than 50 000 so-called temporary teachers are facing the axe and will be thrown into the streets to join the endless queues of the unemployed. Thousands of other public sector workers face the guillotine of the shameless and heartless hangman who, in pursuit of the demand for a slim state, is ready to push for the unscientific cutting of 300 000 workers by the year 2000. All provinces, without exception, face dire problems. They are overspending as they attempt to deliver. This is a direct link to the fact that the provincial total expenditure was cut by 3%, the real cut on non-debt repayment expenditure was between 4,5% to 5% at the national level and a push to reach a 3% deficit in the year 2000.

Many newspaper editors and Gear apologists continue to plead with us to be patient as Gear will initially have an effect of job losses but in the future there will be more jobs for the unemployed. The Gear fanatics are not prepared to put down any timeframes for this "initial" period and they do not tell us when jobs will be created in this future.

While this carnage of job losses continues with the ideologues steadfastly sticking to their ideologies instead of pragmatic solutions to the unemployment crisis, the general living standards of employed workers are going down. Without any real social security system, this means the working class as a whole is on the receiving end of poverty. Over the past few years real wages have been going down. This is a fact that is contrary to the lies that our wage demands are unreasonable and not in the interests of the unemployed.

The question business must answer today is, since they applauded the government’s "pragmatic macro-economic policy" in June 1996 and endorsed its "non negotiability", how many jobs have they created in this perfect climate for investor confidence? They must not tell us about the billions they have invested. We want to know concretely the number of jobs created since Gear was put in place. The opposite will be the answer, instead of job creation there has been more job losses. This proves beyond any reasonable doubt that business can not be trusted. Moreover this proves that without an interventionist role for the state and without an industrial policy centered on job creation; the private sector wholly fails. Monetary policy on its own can not and will never create jobs or improve the living standards of the poor.

The productivity of South African workers has steadily been on the increase, despite the fact that South African bosses spend less and less on training of workers. When COSATU makes proposals on how this lack of training can be addressed and makes proposals on a levy on company payrolls or turnovers, the captains of industry turns to their propaganda tools and shout from the top of buildings that these are dangerous proposals which are an additional tax burden that will chase investors away. Of course the power of that propaganda makes some of our leaders turn to the very same workers demanding training and ridicule them as people with no vision and no strategy who do not understand the challenges of this transition.

As workers are told to be more reasonable, business packs a mountain of profits, accumulates more wealth, blames workers for being lazy and unproductive and ship their money to other cheap labour reserves elsewhere in the world without creating a single job in the country.

The wages of top company executives has been increasing dramatically over the past two decades. The wage gap between workers and top executives is widening. Every time you look at the latest statistics on this matter, the situation is getting worse. People that attack us every day remain mum about this apartheid gap. They are not raising a finger on inequalities

The process of creating two worlds in a single country is deepening. In one world, which is the Third World whose citizens are working class and Black, poverty is ruling, unemployment worsening, homelessness increasing, and desperation is the order of the day. On the other world, which is the First World with vast fields of land. The citizens of this world are the capitalists and mainly white and their new friends, wages are increasing, more and more glass buildings are erected. Their swimming pools that can feel the Mississippi River. In this world of the super rich, speculators are cashing in from the high interest rates of iron man Dr Stals. This world is made up of the tiny minority that lives beyond the means of this country. They are armed with immense power of propaganda and have access to political power too! Anybody that comes close to touching their accumulated wealth and privileges do so at own risk. They are brutal in the true sense of the word.

They feed lies with such precision that, if we are not careful, the public may begin to believe them. When everybody in the society starts to believe this bag of lies, then the trade union movement in this country will be in deep hot waters.

It is in this context that we should view the importance of this bargaining conference. This conference will have failed if it can not make an analysis of the challenges we face at the broader macro economic level. You must remain true to the traditions of COSATU. We have always been a broad social movement that represents the interests of the working class as a whole. This we should do without abandoning what we are. We are a trade union movement first and foremost. We represent the interests of our members. We can not and must not allow our enemies to blackmail us into something else. The question of finding a balance between unashamedly representing the interests of our members whilst at the same time representing the interest of the broader working class is the ongoing challenge we face.

COSATU, together with its trade union partners in NEDLAC, as early as April 1996 and two months before Gear was unannounced, put proposals on the table which in the main focused on job creation and infrastructure development. We called this policy document "Social Equity and Job Creation the Key to a Stable Future". We proposed a massive public works programme that would have created hundreds of thousands of jobs whilst at the same time building a million houses in five years. We made other proposals on building a domestic demand instead of relying on exporting all our goods to the external market. We proposed anti-trust measurers to diversify our industries with the view of supporting small micro-enterprises. We called for measures to be taken to build the Southern African economy as a whole. We proposed ways of increasing productivity and dealing with the whole issue of training.

All these proposals were dismissed and rejected at face value. They were labeled dangerous, unrealistic, voluntarist and coming from people who do not understand the challenges the country is facing. They were not even discussed at any forum.

In recent months, in particular since COSATU rejected Gear as a policy not suitable to meet the challenges and structural problems we inherited from the apartheid economy, there has been a concerted effort from some of our political leaders, including from the Alliance to conveniently ignore history. These comrades all of a sudden forget that it was organised labour that put forward a serious policy proposal on how to deal with problems of unemployment. They shout on platforms and write slandering letters to print media editors, lying through their teeth and telling the world that COSATU only criticizes without putting alternative proposals on the table. Some of these Johnny-come-late into the debate may be doing so from a dangerously ignorant position. They may not have read our Social Equity document, as the mainstream media did not give any focus to the proposals made at the time. But others say so, quite aware of the proposals COSATU has made. The only thing is that they do not like these proposals. Instead of making this point, they choose to attempt to convince our members that COSATU has not put forward any alternative proposals.

When the former COSATU General Secretary joins this choir and sings this song, it is rather disappointing. Worst of all is the implication that COSATU is no different from disgruntled whites. If this was Tony Leon addressing a DP meeting in the affluent suburbs, I would understand. But this time around it is a former COSATU leader. This is indeed a huge stab at the back by a workers hero. This comrade may have not realised how he played into the right-wing agenda, which seeks to isolate COSATU before dumping it as a useless dog.

Basic Conditions of Employment Bill

The Basic Conditions of employment is now an act waiting to be promulgated by the President, hopefully early next year. Let us reiterate that the Basic Conditions represents a major break with the conditions of slavery associated with the national oppression of Blacks. It is going to shift relationships between workers in the vulnerable sectors of our economy and their employers. It contains protections and rights consistent with the provisions of the RDP. This legislation passed by the ANC government is indeed progressive in the true sense of the word.

This however does not mean that we have no problems with this legislation. Firstly, we had to compromise on all our demands in order to induce a settlement. Secondly, even those areas where we made adjustments and found a political agreement at the level of the Alliance were not captured in the final bill that was passed into law.

These areas agreed to in the Alliance but not properly captured in the bill include the important matter of variations. The Alliance National Office Bearers have since agreed that an amendment bill must be developed to effect these agreements. This will be done before the bill is made operational. Secondly, a process to resolve other outstanding matters will be dealt with by the technical committee of the Alliance. Once this process takes its course an amendment bill will be referred to the Alliance structures for endorsement.

Congress Resolutions

The importance of the 6th National Congress can not be understated. This congress took place at a critical moment of our history. We believe that the congress did rise to the occasion as expected and gave a clear way forward on organisational, political and international challenges. The Central Committee to discuss the details of the economic and social policy is scheduled to take place in June 1998.

In the meantime, the COSATU national Office Bearers produced a three-year programme that will guide our work until the next congress in the year 2000. The most important elements of this programme that has since been adopted by the CEC are the following:


  • Developing clear guidelines on how the federation should intervene in affiliates internal problems by the March 1998 CEC.
  • Move on and establish broadly defined sectors and conduct research to look into how this can be taken forward without undermining the principle of worker control. The broad approach will be finalised by September 1998.
  • Build women leadership, promote the election of women shop stewards, conduct a survey on the level of women representation in each union and develop timeframes to deal with under-representation of women in political structures of the movement.
  • Campaign for parental rights and take up issues related to health, safety and environment affecting women, including cervical cancer, Aids and working conditions of pregnant women.
  • In conjunction with the Alliance, launch women’s movement that campaigns around working class women issues.
  • Strengthen federation structures and launch a recruitment campaign to ensure that we increase representation of our affiliates to at least 50% of the industries in which they organise. To this effect the CEC agreed that April 1998 will be known as the recruitment month.


  • Launch a thorough debate on socialism and involve our members in the discussion. Translate our commitment to socialism into a practical and understandable programme. Such a programme should outline in detail the nature and type of socialism we are fighting for.
  • Strengthen the SACP and other organs of people’s power.
  • Restructure local government into institutions to deliver basic services to our people.
  • Build the tripartite alliance and consolidate the gains made thus far. Develop a clear programme for the alliance and ensure that the ANC wins the next round of elections decisively.
  • Launch a mass campaign against crime and violence and ensure popular participation of ordinary people in this campaign.


    • Subsidy cuts
    • Privatisation
    • High interest rates
    • Defend jobs and fight for job creation
    • Transform the public service
    • Call for a people’s budget
    • Strengthen the role of the state in economic activity
    • Continue to engage with the Alliance on the alternatives to Gear, etc
  • Embark on the campaign to resist the negative impact of Gear. In particular fight against and for the following:


  • Build SATUCC and OATUU into viable trade union coordinating centers that are capable of taking up campaigns at sub regional and continental levels.
  • Affiliate to ICFTU and help to transform it into a worker’s shield that can defend their interests and coordinate their fights across the globe.

This programme is a summary of a detailed programme that we must discuss in detail in all our constitutional structures. Each one of us and not only COSATU office bearers should define a specific role for ourselves to ensure successful implementation of this programme. At the next congress we can not afford to make a statement that we are rich in policies but poor on implementation.

COSATU is facing countless challenges. It is your duty and mine to ensure that this federation lives up to its historical mandate and help transform this country into a better society for all.

The strategy you will develop at this congress should assist all our affiliates in the struggle to confront poverty, unemployment, lack of training, apartheid wage gaps, and poverty wages.

I wish you a very successful conference.

Thank you!