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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Willie Madisha, COSATU President on the occasion of COSATU's 15th Anniversary

2 December 2000

Proud of our history, confident of the future!

Former President of the ANC, Comrade Nelson Mandela
Deputy President of the ANC, Comrade Jacob Zuma
General Secretary of the SACP, Comrade Blade Nzimande
Leadership of the alliance present here today
Comrades and friends

Today marks a celebration of fifteen years of militant, working class struggles led by COSATU. We look back at these past fifteen years with great pride, proud of the determination, sacrifices, and achievements of both COSATU, and the working class in this country.

We look back with great admiration at our history as the conscience of the nation-on the shop floor defending the interests of workers, and in society - locating these struggles as an essential component of the national democratic revolution.

More than at any other time in history, COSATU faces major challenges in the important task of transforming our country in the interests of the poor, and the working people. However, more than at any other time in history COSATU boasts of greater strength, cohesion, unity, and confidence.

Strength because it is not only the nearly 2 million members whose interests we champion, but the whole South African working class that have confidence in COSATU. Strength because we remain the largest formation of civil society, with functional democratic structures, policies and a clear programme.

Unity because having brought together 33 unions with different traditions, politics and priorities, we now have nineteen affiliates who are united under the leadership of COSATU. Only in COSATU is a worker moulded into an all-round cadre, who constantly strives to achieve political emancipation, but also actively undermines the class basis of economic oppression.

Unity because COSATU continues to build the broadest possible unity of the working class. From private sector and industry based membership, COSATU now enjoys a dramatic increase in public sector membership, who now accounts for 40% of COSATU membership.

Confident because, despite what our detractors have often said, poor people, the unemployed and working people have confidence in COSATU. They have confidence because they know that when we speak, we do so not only for our members but for the working class as a whole.

We are happy, comrades, with this history of COSATU in mobilising working people behind the National Democratic Revolution, led by the African National Congress. We all remember that, it is the working class, COSATU, and its forerunner, SACTU, which, in the face of political repression, held the banner of the ANC high, and mobilised society against apartheid capitalism.

This giant federation, launched in the middle of the state of emergency, had four hundred thousand members; this has grown into nearly two million members, which, according to the ILO is the fastest unionisation rate in the world.

Indeed we can list numerous achievements. Indeed these victories were achieved by the ANC-led tripartite alliance. These victories are an important record of the ANCís commitment to improving the conditions of working people:

  • From the semi-feudal conditions that African workers faced before the Durban strikes in the early 1970ís to the new constitutionally entrenched labour rights;

  • The extension of worker rights to domestic and farm workers;

  • The democratic right to vote, join unions, free speech, and assembly;

  • The end of legalised racism;

  • Rapid growth in the provision of housing, education, health care, electricity, and water.

We are a principal motive force of the revolution!

It is our duty to fight side by side with all the social forces committed to the political and economic emancipation of all our people. History has charged us with this important role. The division of society into classes, and the evil system of capitalism in our own country means that we should accelerate this struggle.

At all times we seek to change society and achieve better living conditions for all human kind. We have nothing to lose but everything to gain by being part of this ongoing national democratic revolution. After all, it is the working people who, experience and understand best the brutality of capitalism in this country.

It is working people who spend their lives in the dark pits of the mines, the inside of factories, and long hours in the sun on the farms.

It is workers who have made South Africa a so-called powerful, emerging market. Workers build the roads, make the food we eat, build the houses we live in. Yet comrades, because of the hold that capitalism has, as a social system, workers continue to live under conditions of hunger, poverty and inequality.

It is workers in this country, who, having to support large families, live below the poverty line comparable with even the poorest nations, receive low wages, and yet create more, and more wealth and more and more profits for the bosses.

The tasks COSATU has set for itself are difficult- especially when there is so much resistance to change.

The recent tragic death of eleven workers at a factory in Lenasia is a sad testimony of a resistance to change by many employers. It vindicates a long held view by COSATU that, while there is social dialogue at national level between business, labour and government, there is no commitment to change at the shop floor and workplace level on the part of many employers, for whom business claims to be negotiating.

Unfortunately, Lenasia is just the tip of an iceberg. Earlier on we mentioned a number of achievements which have been scored by the working class.

However, there are a number of challenges that face us in the important task of social and economic transformation.

Poverty represents the biggest threat to our people. As a result the gap between the rich and the poor is ever-widening.

The high unemployment is another challenge that the economy must confront.

HIV / AIDSnot only poses a threat to the economy, but to overall human development.

We will continue to challenge and assist government in unearthing these unhealthy, dangerous, and humiliating working conditions endured by workers despite the existence of progressive laws outlawing these practices.

Our unions must intensify the fight to protect workers from these unscrupulous employers, to provide the services we promise them, and be accountable to our members.

We also gather here today to honour all those who played a historic role in building COSATU into the giant that it is today. We honour these comrades who, in their desire to attain fundamental emancipation for all of South Africaís working class; they saw it as their revolutionary duty to build COSATU.

We pay tribute to the trade union stalwarts such as of RD Naidu, Elijah Barayi, Sam Ntuli, Harry Gwala, Sam Ntambane, Dorothy Mokgalo, Bheki Mkhize, and many others

We also salute those who are alive, still seized with the struggles to better the lives of our people in other spheres of social and political life. Comrades such as Billy Nair, Chris Dlamini, Jay Naidoo, Cyril Ramaphosa, John Ehrenson, Sydney Mufamadi, John Gomomo, Mbhazima Shilowa, Connie September and many others

Finally, On behalf of the entire leadership and membership of COSATU, I call on all South Africans, especially the working people and the poor, to take an active part in the continuing struggle to consolidate democracy in this country. We see the forthcoming local government elections as an important opportunity to play that role. We must go and vote. We must vote ANC.

The ANC is the only political organisation whose history and programme sit comfortably with the needs of the poor. As COSATU, we remain fully committed to the tripartite alliance, and we will continue to work with the ANC, and the SACP, to ensure that we speed up change and create a better life for all.

At the same time, we will continue to engage with government, led by the ANC, and at all times defend the interests of our members. We will continue to engage government, conscious that the ANC is the only movement committed to crushing poverty, creating jobs, and promoting better living conditions of workers. COSATU leadership and membership have been visiting workplaces and factories, ensuring that we secure a decisive victory for the African National Congress in the local government election.

We call on workers to vote ANC. It is important that we allow no one to reverse the gains and achievements of the past six years. A vote for the ANC is a vote for worker rights, service delivery and a struggle against poverty and racism.