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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Speakers' Notes on Mobilising for a Decisive ANC Victory

1 May 1999

Comrades, friends, fellow workers.

It is with great joy that I greet you on this historic day. Today we both recognise and celebrate the struggles and contributions of workers around the world.

May 1st, International Workers' Day, commemorates the historic struggle of working people throughout the world, and is recognized in every country except the United States and Canada. This despite the fact that the holiday began in the 1880s in the United States, with the fight for an eight-hour work day. In 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions passed a resolution stating that eight hours would constitute a legal day's work from and after May 1, 1886. The resolution called for a general strike to achieve the goal, since legislative methods had already failed. With workers being forced to work ten, twelve, and fourteen hours a day, rank-and-file support for the eight-hour movement grew rapidly, despite the indifference and hostility of many union leaders. By April 1886, 250,000 workers were involved in the May Day movement.

This years May Day celebrations take place in the context of the intensification of the capitalist onslaught against the working class. This war of exploitation which knows no boundaries, no states, is now popularly coined "globalisation". We have seen that trade union movements all over the world are facing issues of exploitation and harassment and at the same time many of them are losing their members due to retrenchments. We ourselves are familiar with this phenomenon.

We especially remember today those workers who face continued harassment and oppression. Workers in Swaziland and Zimbabwe, Colombia and Nicaragua, workers exploited by the American owned multi-nationals who do not allow their workers to join unions, and those who face the most horrendous working conditions in sweat-shops which are famous in Asia but are springing up in many developing countries.

We are aware that all around the world it is the working class who have taken the hardest knocks from the economic crisis of last year. And yet with true heroic spirit they continue to organise and fight for better working conditions and basic human rights.

South African workers are no strangers to this struggle. You played a key role in overthrowing one of the most brutal regimes in the history of the world. You have proved your dedication and commitment to the National Democratic Revolution in the way you have collectively united to bring about fundamental change 1994. It is through your efforts that we can now boast a host of progressive legislation, amongst the most progressive in the world, today!

We have a host of victories to celebrate under the ANC government. These include:


The ANC has ensured that for the first time workers enjoy the following constitutional guarantees:

  • The right to fair labour practices
  • The right to form and job trade unions, strike and picket
  • The right to conclude union security agreements such as closed and agency shop
  • The right to collective bargaining
  • The ANC-led Alliance blocked the inclusion of a lock-out clause in the Constitution
  • The constitution also contains other rights that are important to workers, for instance the right to water, housing and other socio economic rights, the right to access information, accountability of public enterprises and procurement policy for social objectives.

Labour Relations Act

Through your valiant efforts the working class of this country is proud to boast one of the most progressive Labour Relations Act in the world. This legislation benefits workers in that it:

  • Strengthens the organisational rights of workers and their trade unions and protects workers in legal strikes
  • Promotes centralised bargaining and therefore unity of workers into powerful industrial unions
  • Covers all workers including historically excluded public service workers, farm and domestic workers
  • Curtails arbitrary action by employers. The CCMA has had a 65% success in resolving disputes
  • Gives the Federation a right to take up socio economic strikes during which workers cannot be disciplined for their participation
  • Gives workers a right to take solidarity action

Basic Conditions of Employment Act

In addition to this, you have also ensured there is a new floor of minimum rights in terms of working conditions for workers as outlined in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. This Act will radically improve the working conditions of millions of South African workers, particularly the vulnerable workers such as farm and domestic workers who don’t have strong unions to protect their rights.:

  • For the first time domestic and farm workers are covered by law affecting their working conditions
  • Child labour (children under 15) and forced labour are banned
  • Those working overtime receive increased overtime pay and "time and a half" rather than "time and a third"
  • Annual leave is increased to 21 days with increased family responsibility leave
  • Ordinary working hours are reduced to a 45 hour week with the objective of eventually reducing it to a 40 hour working week (this is very significant for security and domestic workers who now work up to 60 hours per week)
  • Four months maternity leave is guaranteed and mechanisms are being put in place to ensure that those who contribute to the UIF will receive some level of payment during the period of their maternity leave
  • Bosses have to give a notice period of four weeks if they intend to terminate the employment of workers who have been working for them for one year or longer. This also applies to domestic and farm workers who have been employed for fours weeks or longer
  • Workers now have a right to severance pay of one week per completely year of service
  • The Employment Conditions Commission is set up to advice the Minister on determination of minimum wages for vulnerable workers especially

These are not the only laws that will benefit workers. There is also the Employment Equity Act, Skills Development Act, legislation around Health and Safety. In addition to this there was the Presidential Jobs Summit held last year which has set up measures to create and protect our jobs and build South African industries. It is significant that we acknowledge these victories and pay tribute to the ANC for its role in bringing about fundamental working class changes.

Vote ANC

This time next month you will be preparing to go to the voting stations to vote in a government for the next five years. COSATU has resolved to support and campaign for the African National Congress. While we realise there may be some workers in our ranks who support other parties, we would urge you to vote as workers, for the party who best serves the interest of the working class. We believe the victories of the past five years which were mentioned earlier bear true testimony to the working class bias of the ANC.

It is also clear that no other political party can advance the interests of workers in this country. The National Party and Democratic Party fought hard to exclude your right to strike from the Constitution. The IFP has raised, as one of its four key demands, the need to reduce the power of workers and their trade unions in the constitution. The DP has proposed a system where bosses are allowed to ill-treat and dismiss workers in the first year of service, with no right to fair labour practices. The NP, DP and FF have all been highly critical of the Employment Equity Act, clearly because it doesn’t serve the interests of their supporters who are largely rich employers. The opposition parties strongly opposed most of the labour legislation such as the Employment Equity Act, the LRA and the BCEA, thereby condemning workers to a future of unsafe, unhealthy working conditions.

Comrades, our alliance with the African National Congress is not based on sentiment but rather on a clear working class analysis of the balance of forces in our country today. The ANC is the only party who can protect and advance your rights as workers. You have come this far in creating a democratic state. It is your future - protect it!

COSATU believes it is the revolutionary duty of all workers to go out and campaign for the African National Congress. To spread the message of hope, to inform your friends, families, fellow workers of what the ANC has done for you over the past five years. To make sure people understand the anti-working class politics of the opposition parties. To ensure that through a decisive ANC victory the victories of the National Democratic Revolution are protected and the goals and sentiment of the Reconstruction and Development Programme are realised.

COSATU salutes you. Your strength, your vision, your commitment to fundamentally transforming our country serves as a constant reminder of the strength of the united working class. We should remember however that we are not operating in a vacuum, and that our duty is to build solidarity with workers around the world. We must take this day to remember our sisters and brothers who face state repression, inhuman working conditions and constant exploitation. COSATU must continue to play a decisive role in building the sub-region and the continent as a whole. There are many struggles ahead in building up the African continent. Colonialism and capitalism have raped and ravaged this region for so long that the future will be a difficult one.


It would be unprogressive to give an address on this occasion and not mention the issue of HIV / AIDS. HIV / AIDS is destroying Africa. This virus has reached crisis state on the continent generally and in South Africa specifically. Our members are dying comrades. 1600 people are affected with this virus every single day. COSATU calls on every worker to become an HIV / AIDS activist. We owe it to ourselves and to those we love to practice safe sex and ensure our partners are not at risk. We cannot ignore this virus anymore comrades. Let us be responsible and progressive in our attitude to HIV / AIDS.

Job Creation

There are many challenges still facing us. For COSATU the most daunting challenge is job creation and job retention. We salute all of you that have agreed to have their salaries deducted so that we can help to create more jobs for the unemployed. Whilst many of you still have to effect these deductions we are happy to announce that the fund has already grown to close to R10 million. We shall continue to do this because as revolutionaries we have a responsibility to build a culture of solidarity amongst workers and the poor.

We must say that COSATU can no longer afford to fold its arms in the face of bosses' rampaging retrenchments, casualisation, sub contracting, outsourcing and generally persistent attacks on our jobs and living standards. We are preparing for a special national congress that will be held in August 1999. From this congress we shall launch a massive campaign against each and every boss that retrench workers or who are attacking our decent jobs. Coupled to this is the need to move in speed and amend section 189 of the LRA so that retrenchment can be made a mandatory negotiations matter instead of currently being a consultation issue. We therefore want to give a clear message to the bosses and their political representatives that the time for us to defend our jobs has come and we intend leaving up to the challenge.

You have never shied away from challenges to bring about a better life for workers. You have played a fundamental role in building South Africa into what it is today. We salute you for that and call on you to continue the heroic struggle to bring about a better life for all. These struggles take place in your factories, in your international solidarity campaigns, in your vote for the African National Congress.

Let us do this in memory of our heroes Chris Hani, Mbuyi Ngwenda, He Giver, Rosa Luxemburg, Elijah Barayi, Sam Ntuli, Sam Ntambane, Jabu Ndlovu, Oliver Tambo and all those who dedicated their lives to advancing the working class revolution.