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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by John Gomomo to the NUM Special Congress

27 March 1998

Comrade President James Motlatsi
Members of the National Executive Committee
Comrade delegates and officials of the NUM
Distinguished international observers and members of the press

Thank you for the honour of inviting me to address your Special Congress. Thank you for your warm reception.

I am currently in the trenches mobilising locals and members to participate effectively in the COSATU April Mass Recruitment Campaign. Despite this enormous pressure I decided to take time off in order to address Mine and Energy workers. This I had to do because I missed both your National Congress last year and the Gold Summit a few weeks ago.

You should consider yourselves extremely fortunate in that you are having this Special Congress so soon after your Congress. This Congress can not just be about narrow amendments to your constitution or the election of a Secretariat. This Congress gives you an opportunity other COSATU affiliates will not have. This is your opportunity to re-examine the challenges your union faces. These challenges include the continuing massive retrenchment of our members in the mining and manufacturing sectors. The unilateral restructuring of the mining houses by the bosses, using the gold price crisis as a smokescreen, must be challenged effectively from the ground. You will also have an opportunity to assess the broader gains of the National Democratic Revolution, and the threats to our gains and as well as the current balance of forces.

I want to use this opportunity to pay my tribute to your outgoing General Secretary Comrade Kgalema Motlanthe. Thank you once more Mkhuluwa for your unwavering commitment and service to Mine and Energy workers and to COSATU members in general. Thank you for the leadership you have provided, not only to Mine workers but to COSATU in general. Your contribution will not only be missed by the NUM, but by constitutional structures of the federation as a whole. We say goodbye to you, even though we have no doubt in our minds that you will continue to serve the interests of the working people in your new position as the Secretary General of our movement, the African National Congress.

Our struggles and sacrifices have resulted in a situation where our country is politically democratised, but have also unleashed countless opportunists and careerists within our ranks. The gains we have made in democratising the society have also opened spaces to counter-revolutionary forces to use our democratic constitution in order to take forward their agendas.

On a daily basis reactionary forces are involved in deeds and words to frustrate, undermine and derail all attempts of the ANC-led government to deal with the legacy which they themselves created during the apartheid minority dictatorship.

These forces in parliament, civil society and the public service are bent on using the very constitutional provisions meant to improve the lot of ordinary South Africans to entrench their privileges and undermine transformation in South Africa. Just the other day computers with sensitive information on crime syndicates were stolen from police head quarters. Last year a bank machine was removed from the police head quarters. On the budget day (11 March 1998) the leader of DP, Mr Tony Leon called for a snap debate on the "counter revolutionary force – COSATU". This was a desperate attempt to score narrow points and cheap propaganda meant to deflect the legitimate counter-revolutionary label which the DP through its own actions has now earned for itself. To label COSATU as a "counter-revolutionary force" is both ludicrous and childish.

It is the DP and NP and not COSATU that have rejected out of hand the Employment Equity Bill, which is meant to deal with distortions caused by racial segregation at the workplace level by implementing effective affirmative action. It is the DP and NP which has rejected the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which will lead to all workers being treated decently. It is they who opposed the LRA. It is they who attempted to block health bills meant to make medicines and health more accessible to the poor. It is they who want to frustrate land redistribution. It is they who attempted to frustrate restructuring of the education system and doing away with schools for the rich only and for whites only.

It is they who wanted the lock-up clause to be entrenched in the constitution. It is they who on daily basis frustrate any attempt to implement the RDP and to deepen transformation. It is they and their surrogates who want to create an impression that since 1994 there has been an emergence of crime and corruption within the government. It is their surrogates in the form of SARFU who took the President to court over complete nonsense.

The counter-revolutionary forces are hard at work day and night trying to drive a wedge between the partners of the Tripartite Alliance. The strategic goal of counter-revolutionary forces has always been the breaking of the Tripartite Alliance. Whilst we are still working to resolve some disagreements over macro-economic strategy within the alliance, we should at the same time defend this alliance more than we have done before.

This is the context we should situate the coming 1999 elections. We should work for the attainment of a two-thirds majority for the alliance led by the ANC in order to consolidate the gains of our National Democratic Revolution and deepen transformation.

We are not at all surprised by the attacks COSATU has been subjected to by the Holo-Meyer UDM. These forces - which we should avoid giving the status they do not deserve - are calling on COSATU to severe its ties with the ANC. They do this not because they think workers interest will be served better when the alliance no longer exists, but because they want to undermine the strength of the alliance so that they can have a better chance of winning the next elections. This is purely an opportunistic and unprincipled position. Whilst Roelf Meyer has always had a problem with the alliance, Holomisa was a member of the NEC of the ANC and used to preach the need for workers to form strategic alliances with the ANC in order to achieve freedom and democracy. Clearly he only meant this as personal Holomisa vote grabbing.

The coherence, strength and the role NUM played in our struggle for democracy has meant that you will not escape the attention of these counter-revolutionary forces. These forces have unleashed concerted, systematic and calculated attacks on your union. Again using your own gains in the constitution and new LRA, the ‘mafikizolo" unions sprang up like mushrooms after heavy rains claiming to be authentic voices of mine workers. These "Five Madodas" and Mouthpiece encouraged workers to take up quite ridiculous struggles - to demand of payment of death benefits where nobody was dead, to demand payment of sick benefits where no-one was sick and to demand provident fund benefits where no-one was a pensioner. Just the other day, my heart was sour when I saw long queues of mine workers who had been misled by some miracle man who promised them that he can help workers to get their death benefits. As a result of the poverty workers face, they came out in their thousands from all over - including from neighbouring states - to enrol their names for money they will only be entitled to if they have died in the course of their duties whilst in the employ of the mine houses they used to be working for.

A number of NUM shop stewards and members have been murdered in the Rustenburg area by forces who claim that the ANC is a sell-out formation. These "new Revolutionaries" never raised a finger against apartheid that destroyed their dignity. They are now stocking weapons of destruction and killing ordinary union members and mobilising against the very ANC that fought to regain their lost dignity.

Our task as revolutionaries is to isolate this fringe group conniving with the most reactionary white right-wing forces. We must penetrate ordinary workers in order to point out the dangers of following abo Thele-Weni.

We should use the COSATU Autumn Offensive to camp in the hostels of the platinum mines and recruit workers back to the democratic fold. In doing so we should ensure that we train our shop stewards to provide service to members and to give them basic political education. Our members should be able to know the differences between policies of political parties. They should be in a position to say we support this party because its policies are meant to shift the power relations in favour of workers and the working class. They should be able to say we don’t support that party because its policies are meant to perpetuate the status quo and shift the power relations in favour of employers and the capitalist class.

I want to salute NUM for its dynamic initiative in convening the Gold Crisis Summit. I hope the example you have set will be followed by other COSATU affiliates. We hope that your representatives will ensure that the huge gains you have made in the Summit will be consolidated in the Gold Crisis Committee.

Your initiative in convening the Summit has dispelled this nonsense fed to the media by right wing forces that unions are unpatriotic and represent the interest of some elite. Unlike the bosses, workers can not emigrate if there are problems in this country. They can only be loyal citizens in both good and bad times. They support extended families and therefore are a lifeline to millions of the unemployed. Had it not been for the meagre wages of workers there would be starvation in South Africa, in particular in the former bantustan states where in some cases unemployment is close to 100%.

Your Congress has also helped to dispel the notion that workers, in particular black workers, are unable to think strategically or are inherently short-sighted and lacking vision and pragmatism. All your leaders are former shop stewards; almost all your union officials are former members. This notion of linking ability to think strategically with race should be rejected. There has been a consistent campaign by some in the press to the effect that there has been a brain drain in COSATU. But when they list the people that have left to justify this statement, they do not count Godfrey Oliphant, Chris Dlamini, Moses Mayekiso or any of the African trade unionist who have joined parliament.

The continuing job losses in the mining and other sectors of the economy is the worse crisis we have to face as democratic forces. Throwing 500 mine workers a day into the street smacks of a deliberate strategy to cause political instability for the democratic government. Retrenching more than 116 000 workers in a year and then threatening to retrench even bigger numbers in the future sounds more like political sabotage to me. Pressurising government to retrench thousands of its own employees looks to me as more like a strategy to cause chaos.

The time has come for COSATU to say "Enough is Enough". We can no longer afford the luxury of folding our arms and watching helplessly as thousands of workers are thrown into the streets to face poverty and starvation. We must do whatever we can to stop this tide and save the jobs of our members.

Let us use the month of Recruitment not only to recruit new members, but to highlight through visible campaigning this carnage of retrenchments. Let us use this Autumn Offensive to say "No to retrenchments!" Let our voices be heard by the bosses and the government. We can no longer afford to stand by while they are taking us down the path to political instability in the country.

The Job Summit later in the year will not be fruitful, if in its run-up so many workers are sentenced to unemployment. The call made by NUMSA for a moratorium on retrenchment until the Job Summit has been held should be taken up by your congress. We are prepared to act firmly on this question.

I want to issue a public warming to the government, to the mine bosses and to all other employers: the retrenchment of workers from any quarter shall from now on be resisted by all available means!

Your Congress theme "Save jobs; create new jobs" is therefore appropriate. The economy has been experiencing jobless growth since 1985. The Reserve Bank says the number of people employed today is the same as it was in 1981. What the Reserve Bank is not saying is that it has been a major contributor to this crisis through its conservative monetary policy. The extremely high interest rate policy of the Reserve Bank has been used to push down the rate of inflation irrespective of the consequences, and has cost our economy dearly.

We need more frankness from our political leaders. The indisputable fact is that GEAR has failed workers in relation to issues that matters most to us – creation of jobs and redistribution of income and wealth. As long as there is no admission of this fact, as long as there are no attempts to put in place alternative and appropriate mechanisms to address these issues, our country will slowly slide into chaos. There are careerists out there, who have now began to launch attacks on us within the democratic movement. These forces find a quick way of silencing any reasonable criticism of the policies of government by labelling those who speak out as counter-revolutionaries, uneducated, extreme leftists and so on. COSATU and its leaders will not be blackmailed into toeing a line with which it has fundamental problems. Whilst we are in the alliance, we retain our independence and the right to articulate the concerns of our members without seeking permission from anybody.

COSATU has developed a set of proposals we intend to present to the Jobs Summit. These need further work and refinement. We should use the Autumn Offensive to debate these proposals, to strengthen them so that we can adopt them at our the Central Committee meeting in June 1998.

In conclusion: may your congress be fruitful and live up to the expectation of your membership.

Thank you