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Shopsteward Volume 27 No. 3

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Willie Madisha, COSATU President, to the SAMWU 6th National Congress

23 August 2000

The International Working Class Fight Against Globalisation and Neo-liberalism:

Comrade President of SAMWU and your National Office Bearers;
Members of the National Executive Committee;
Congress delegates;
Honoured invitees;
Leaders of our Alliance Partners here present

I rise to deliver revolutionary greetings from the Headquarters of your Federation, COSATU.

COSATU, and indeed the 2 million workers it represents wish you and your congress success over the next few days of debates and attempts to (at) better the lives of Municipal workers in our country.

South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) is one of the strongest and better organised affiliates of COSATU. It has grown from strength to strength and I look forward to the day when all municipal workers will be organised under one umbrella and/or as part of a bigger public sector union.

Your congress takes place at an opportune moment. It takes place almost a month before the COSATU Congress - scheduled to take place on the 18-21 September. It therefore, gives you ample opportunity to reflect on the key challenges confronting COSATU and the broader progressive movement. Therefore, one of the tasks of this congress is to discuss these issues in order to influence discussions at the COSATU 7th National Congress.

The Congress also takes place in the context of an unprecedented attack on the gains workers scored in the last six years. It is no secret that government, particularly has come under pressure from capital to re-look at its labour market policy and legislation. The current package of labour law amendments panders to this pressure and veered in a direction which must be opposed by workers. We need to send out a clear message that workers` hard won rights will not be taken away without a fight. This to me represents a local struggle that has global ramifications. It is now fashionable for governments to sacrifice worker`s right in their race to the bottom to attract investors. As I shall argue below, this is one of the eminent products of globalisation which must be resisted strenuously by working people.

COSATU has been accused of over-reacting to the proposed amendments. In my view, such accusations are baseless and not informed by a closer study of the actual proposed amendments. Rather than technically fine-tuning labour legislation, the proposed amendments if they go through will fundamentally alter the architecture of the progressive labour legislation introduced over the last five years. For example, the proposal to grant the Minister powers to vary even the core rights in the BCEA will turn the Act into an empty shell and there will be no minimum floor of basic workers` rights protected in the law.

Secondly, proposals to abolish the Sunday premium on the ground that it will increase employment creation is not only worse than the apartheid BCEA but will have the opposite effect. Comrades must remember that our standpoint is that overtime should be banned. Only then can we see a relative increase in new employment. Removing the premium means that there is no day of rest for workers protected in law. So what will prevent the employer from intensifying exploitation by forcing workers to work longer hours including Sundays.

Thirdly, the proposed amendment to deal with retrenchment fall short of entrenching the right to strike on retrenchments. As a result, the proposal for `facilitated consultation` will actually fast track retrenchments without simultaneously giving workers the right to strike on this matter. Appointment of expert assessors, while welcome in principle, is too late and over-judicialised. To settle a matter in court as we all know is both expensive and can take a long time.

Last, but not least, the proposals around extension of agreements will undermine collective bargaining. First is gives employers, particularly small employers, the incentive to opt out of collective bargaining. In terms of the proposal it would take one maverick employer to claim that he/she has not been consulted for the Minister to refuse to extend collective agreements. This actually flies in the face of studies conducted by the Department of Labour which indicate that 80% of exemptions are granted, especially to small employers. Without strong collective bargaining, the process will translate into `collective begging`.

It is for these reasons that we say that the labour law amendments represent a political crisis for the tripartite alliance. Only a political solution can rescue the situation from descending into a catastrophe. Failure to resolve the matter may actual demand that we think about action to realise our objectives. It is my sincere hope that we find a political solution to this crisis. Further if the alliance does not resolve this matter, workers will raise legitimate concerns about whose interests does the current government serve? We must succeed in our quest to stop these amendments since these amendments are indefensible politically and morally. Nonetheless, we must call on municipal workers to be prepared to use every means in our power to stop the amendments from going through, particularly those that will have a detrimental effect on our constituency.

Side by side with these attacks on workers in respect of labour law is the massive privatisation of key national resources that must help improve lives of South Africans.

Resources that must ensure affordable access to communication, electricity and transport. Privatisation of resources that must ensure a better life for people of South Africa; Privatisation of resources that must ensure long-term and lasting employment of the multitudes of our people. Privatisation of our resources led by Egoli 2002.

These moves by the state directed at rolling back our gains in respect of labour legislation and further ensuring massive privatisation, is not what workers or South Africa, led by Municipal workers fought for from January to the 10th of May.

We, through that struggle fought for the betterment of the legislation we already have, protection of jobs that are in existence and the creation of more jobs. That was a very successful action. To that end we must thank Municipal worker for their support in that action.

I thought it is important to dwell on these issues before I launch into the topic: "international working class fight against globalisation and neo-liberalisation". These local struggles should be understood within the broader international struggles against neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism is in essence anti-workers` rights for it seeks flexible and dual labour market and a docile labour movement. Therefore by opposing these changes we are at the same time directly challenging neo-liberalism. Therefore local struggles are as important as international struggles. In fact, they are a precondition to international battles because we cannot win on the international terrain what we failed to achieve at a national level.

It is important that we understand globalisation in order to fashion proper strategies. Globalisation (the integration of the world economies) is not a new phase of capitalism - despite the fact that this has become the buzzword. It is not a condition or a phenomenon: it is a process that been going on for a long time, in fact ever since capitalism came into the world. Capitalist development naturally creates conditions for the expansion of the market through its natural laws of development and through forcible violent subjugation of nations. The current process is however, distinct from earlier phases of capitalist expansion. It is linked to three most important underlying trends in the recent history of capitalism, the period beginning with the recession of 1974-75: (1) the slowing down of the overall rate of growth, (2) the worldwide proliferation of monopolistic multinational corporations, and (3) what may be called the financialisation of the capital accumulation process. The latter means the mass production of capital most of which is diverted to non-productive speculative activities. This has of course been a period of quickening globalisation, spurred on by the improved means of communication and transportation.

Separating advances in technology from global concentration of economic power, and seeing how their combination has changed class relations, is critical both for analysis and for political strategy. This takes us back to what Marx said over a hundred years ago. That is, capitalist relations of production are such that at a particular advanced stage, the relations of production diverge significantly from the productive forces. What we see today is rapid changes in technology which are however not used for the betterment of all the people but to augment profits and thereby the power of capital. Technology is harnessed by capitalist to increase and concentrate their power. It has been used to change the balance of power between classes. Attention needs to be focused on this, not on the technology itself. In analysing the process of globalisation therefore, we must understand how technological revolution is used to consolidate the power of capital.

Another important dimension in the understanding of globalisation is the myth of the powerless state. The reality is that the importance of state action in enabling the capitalist system of the industrialised world to function is increased, not reduced as that system spreads internationally. If states do not control the movement of capital or of goods, it is not because they cannot but because they will not - it is an abdication of state power, not a lack of that power. In fact, globalisation is driven by a powerful coalition of strong states, transnational companies and international financial institutions. Moreover, what we are seeing is a relentless campaign by capital both international and domestic to force its agenda on the state. In South Africa, this is manifest in the adoption of conservative economic policies.

This powerful coalition imposes a one-size fit all economic dogma known as neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism is premised on the belief in free-markets with minimal state intervention. Its policy prescriptions are a slim state - achieved through privatisation; free trade - through reduction of tariffs and other non-tariff barriers; flexible labour market - including the right to fire at will to adjust to economic conditions; and so forth. Whereas, neo-liberalism is projected as a neutral and rational approach to economic policy, in reality it is an ideology of the dominant fraction of capital. Its chief aim is to expand the frontiers of the market by principally rolling back the state.

Neo-liberalism triumph coincided with the collapse of the post-war boom (1950-1970). The golden age of capitalism came to an end in the recession of 1974-75 and was followed by the reassertion and intensification of the trends dating back to the run of the century: retarded growth, increasing monopolisation, and the financialisation of the accumulation process. In addition, the Cold War ended with the restoration and triumph of capitalism on a truly global scale. As a result the end of the twentieth century had come to be associated with "endism": the end of class struggle, the end of revolution, the end of imperialism, the end of dissent - even the end of history. We were now supposed to look forward to a new capitalist paradise of infinite progress. The underlying assumption is that there is no alternative to the present world economic order - or, in other words, capitalism itself (as distinguished from globalisation) is no longer in question, and socialism no longer a possibility.

Globalisation far from being a force of development, has actually worsened the situation for many poor people. Inequality within and between states is on the rise. Unemployment is equally on the rise particularly in the developing countries. World output is also stagnant or grows at a slow pace. What we are actually witnessing is the twin process of jobless and job loss growth. The 1997 global economic crisis was a rude awakening moment for those who believed in the triumph of capitalism. Suddenly, the world economy was plunged into a major turmoil - something that the pundits of globalisation have suggested that we have now outlived. The system was exposed as inherently unstable and that the causes could be directly linked to the economic strictures imposed by the World Bank and the IMF. There was an all-round questioning of the dogma sponsored by World Bank and the IMF.

One thing that this ought to tell us is that there is a relation of globalisation of economic activity to the globalisation of crisis. Increased transnational economic activity does not mean that the laws of motion of the system have been dispensed with and that capitalism has transcended its contradictions. Rather, it reveals that the more globalised the system, the greater the danger of global waves of crisis as illustrated quite dramatically as recently as July 1997.

More importantly, the period of neo-liberal economic restructuring in response to decades of stagnation has undermined the living conditions of workers everywhere and has provided the objective basis for a renewal of internationalism. Workers are faced with a greater necessity and at, the same time, a greater possibility of building international solidarity than at any time since the Second World War. The battle of Seattle was therefore a turning point and reflects the rising confidence within the progressive movement and the international working class movement. Further, it has demonstrated that globalisation as a system is challengeable by targeting the institutions and multinational corporations that drive it. This removed the veil that globalisation is a supernatural event to which all nations must succumb or alternatively compete or bust.

The Seattle protest brought the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meetings to a halt. Since then major meeting of international institutions and of capital have also been targets of social protest. However, these struggles lack a coherent programme and leader to sustain them. While the international trade union movement represent the most organised of the formations that protested in Seattle, its major weakness is that it lacks a sustainable programme of action. In addition, we need a common progressive consensus on reforms and alternatives to the international economic system. These are the challenges that your Congress and the forthcoming COSATU Congress should grapple with.

Let us emphasise that globalisation is not a supernatural phenomenon beyond the reach of popular struggles. Capitalism has always been a globalising system. As pointed out by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, it has a tendency to penetrate every nook and cranny of the globe. Secondly, rather than representing a force for development, untrammelled markets operate like a wrecking ball destroying jobs and livelihoods for working people thereby worsening poverty and inequality between and within states. Thirdly, there is a visible rise in confidence within the working class movement and the broader progressive forces to challenge global capitalism. This is manifest in national struggles such as COSATU`s jobs and poverty campaign and international campaigns to restructure the world economy, pronounced more dramatically by the Seattle protest.

Nonetheless, the challenges confronting us are momentous. We have to fight to ensure that the South African state adopts progressive economic policies. Linked to this we must defend our gains from the offensive launched by capital. Further we must defend the state from the slash and burn approach to privatise and outsource everything on sight. It is in this context that we should solidify local, public sector workers` struggles. On the international front we must build the progressive movement and develop a coherent alternative framework for the international economic system.

I have no doubt that we will rise to meet these challenges with the vigour and commitment we displayed in the fight against apartheid. A precondition to meet these challenges is to build strong organisations and build broad coalitions with progressive civil society formations, the liberation movement and the party of the working class.

I thank you

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