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Media Centre | COSATU Speeches
Address by Willie Madisha, COSATU President, on COSATU May Day 2000 message dedicated to the Memory of Elijah Barayi
1 May 2000
May Day in the context of the new millennium
Today, on the first May Day in the new millennium, we gather to pay tribute to the heroes and heroines who sacrificed their lives in the struggle to free workers from the bondage of oppression and exploitation. May Day is the day when workers across the world gather to celebrate their victories and redouble their efforts to fight for better working and living conditions.
South African workers fought bitter struggles to get May 1 recognised as a paid public holiday. For this we paid dearly, as thousands were dismissed and tear-gassed, and many were imprisoned, even killed. Through this intense struggles May Day was recognised as Workers Day - a paid public holiday. The first to crumble were the bosses, followed by the stubborn Botha regime. This is an important day on the calendar of South African workers indeed!
Looking back, we can say, without fear of contradiction, that we are proud of our achievements as the working class. Here, in South Africa, this year marks the sixth anniversary of our fledging democracy. Workers fought tirelessly for a free, non-racial and democratic South Africa. We were in the forefront of the struggle to dismantle apartheid and to build a new nation. We shall continue to be on the forefront to fight for a just international order.
Over the last six years the workers' conditions have markedly improved due to the transformative legislation enacted by the democratic movement. We must now fight to ensure that workers' new rights are put into practice in all workplaces. That includes the farms, where in some cases time seems to have stood still since before 1994. It is unacceptable when farmers think they can still beat and abuse farmworkers in our new democracy. This must stop. We support the call to hold a national conference on racism. This conference should have a focus debate on how this rural violence against the vulnerable farm workers can be stopped.
On the socio-economic front, government has begun to provide basic services to those who were historically denied access. We still have far to go, but for the first time in our history our Constitution and our government have made a commitment to ensure that all South Africans have equal access to water, energy, shelter, education and health.
Challenges of Poverty and Unemployment
Despite massive reprioritisation and allocation of resources to eliminate poverty and deal with the apartheid legacy, inequalities that largely depict apartheid racial divisions remain firmly in place.
Over half of all workers earn less than the household subsistence level for a family of six. Meanwhile, the richest 10 per cent of households still get almost half the national income.
We must now accept that those inequalities are increasingly taking a class dimension. The gap amongst Africans themselves is on the rise.
Poverty has devastating effects on our society and our economy. It leads directly to crime and the spread of disease like tuberculosis and AIDS. It undermines the productivity of our workers by hindering education and skills development. It cuts back economic growth by limiting domestic sales of goods and services.
Increasingly, unemployment and poor quality jobs lie at the root of poverty. Between 30 and 40 per cent of our economically active people are unemployed. The number of jobs in South Africa has shrunk by 500 000 since 1994, and it is still declining. Employers have begun to replace quality jobs with worse-paid, less secure sweatshop work. In these conditions, improving government services can never be been enough to raise living standards for most South Africans.
Macroeconomic stability will remain fragile if these issues are not addressed. This is recognised by leading international investment advisors like Standard and Poor.
COSATU calls not only for continued reprioritisation of spending to deal with poverty and inequalities but also that far more resources should be released to fight the scourge of poverty. Since 1997, government has spent less in real terms every year, with the cuts in particular in the major social services - health, education, welfare and policing - and in the provision of water, electricity and roads.
All government policies must be reformulated to address South Africa's pressing problems: unemployment, poverty and inequality. We can no longer build our economic policy around making business happy, in the hopes that they will then invest more. We need government to actively encourage the restructuring of the economy and the society in order to make it better able to meet the needs of our people and to generate jobs.
In this context, we shall continue to campaign for the reviewal of the current programme of reducing the fiscal deficit in order to concentrate more on solving the growing social deficit. In particular, with the support of public service unions, we call for the restructuring of the Government Employees Pension Fund in order to release more resources to fight poverty and rebuild the economy.
Poverty can only be successfully fought if every South African has an income - a job. But we need short-term measures to lift our people out of absolute poverty. For that reason, COSATU calls for a social safety net, as envisaged in the Constitution, based on a comprehensive social security system including a universal basic income grant.
Our campaign goes on - Forward to May 10, 2000!
We salute workers - employed and unemployed, young and old, women and men, rural and urban - who have come out in millions to support our campaign since its launch on the 31 January 2000.
Our campaign for job creation and job retention is a campaign for all South Africans, against poverty. There can be no separation between the struggles of the employed workers and unemployed. We cannot accept that our only choice is between starvation level jobs and no jobs at all. That will not help working people. The key to ending poverty is to restructure the economy to create more jobs at decent pay.
Business and their friends like to blame worker action for all economic problems. But it is not workers that are the problem. It is first and foremost, the investment strike by business, and secondly the failure of government to come up with effective measures to overcome it. Only capital profits from job losses. Poor living standards and high unemployment create a pool of unemployed people desperate for any job, no matter how insecure or poorly paid.
In contrast, workers have already put their money where their mouth is. In March 1999, COSATU, together with NACTU and FEDUSA, called on workers to donate a day's pay to the job-creation fund. So far, R25 million has been collected. In June, the contributions of public-service workers will further swell the fund. We thank every worker who has contributed. We have shown that we are serious about investment to create jobs.
In light of this situation, we have entered into this campaign because we have no other way to bring about a constructive and strong response to rising unemployment and poverty. We must together find new strategies to address this crisis.
We demand that the LRA be changed to force employers to negotiate retrenchments with workers and their unions. The Insolvency Act must be changed to protect workers when a company goes bankrupt. Tariff reductions must not be carried out faster than our commitments to world trade agreements require. The National Framework Agreement must be renegotiated to halt unilateral restructuring of state-owned enterprise.
In the long term, we call for the structural reorganisation of our economy so that it is geared towards meeting the needs of the majority. A new debate, infused with new urgency, should lead to an agreement negotiated on the scale of our Constitution. It should ensure a deal that everyone can live with, which will gear all our efforts to expanding quality employment. The only condition for participating in this new CODESA should be that you are prepared to reconsider your views if your prescription has been proven to work only for the minority instead of the majority.
None of our demands have been met, and the carnage of job losses continues. For that reason, we are prepared to make a further sacrifice in support of our short-term demands.
We call on all patriots to join us on the 10 May 2000. We call for a national general strike in support of our demands.
Our campaign shall not end on the 10 May 2000. No war is fought and won over a period of six months! We see our current programme as phase one of a protracted and sustainable campaign. As we discuss issues of the Seventh National Congress scheduled for September 2000, we will plan how to sustain the campaign over the next three years, if need be.
The Emancipation of Women
Six years after the liberation, our women are still to be free. Whilst strides are being made daily, we are still far from proclaiming that our women folk are free. In O.R. Tambo's words, No nation can be free until its women are also free.
We dedicate ourselves to a campaign to end all forms of discrimination at the workplace and in the society as a whole.
A Just World Economic Order and the Struggle for Socialism
The one size fits all developmental stricture of the IMF and World Bank has failed the working class of the world. The orthodox and neo liberal macro economic policy imposed on many developing countries has led to the widening gap between the developed and developing nations, between the rich and poor. Even in rich countries, the working class is often left behind - trapped in poverty and unemployment.
The global economic crisis witnessed over the last two years underscores the fact that the capitalist system is highly unstable. Pressures for unbridled markets have produced a volatile economic system teetering from crisis to crisis, which now and then threatens to implode. Together with our international friends we should struggle for a restructured economic order that will, amongst other things, regulate the footloose speculative capital, which operates like a wrecking ball rather than a force of development.
In the long term, the system based on exploitation of the majority by a small powerful minority has no future. Development based on this brutal system is unsustainable as it only serves to widen the gap between the rich and poor. The challenge we face is not just to put a human face to capitalism but uproot and replace it with a human system based on social ownership of the means of production - socialism!
We must define the type of socialism we are fighting for. The Socialist Commission established between COSATU and SACP as well as the Activist Forums and Socialist Forums at the local level must input in this debate.
COSATU supports the call for African Renaissance
We support the call by many African leaders to make the 21st century the African century. We played our role on April 12, 2000, in our factories and cities to demonstrate our support of the call made by the OAU that military dictatorships come to an end by June 2000. We shall continue to do so in the future.
However, Africa's rebirth shall not be realised purely through conference after conference with high level intellectual debate amongst intellectuals. African Renaissance will only be realised if it is an inclusive process involving ordinary working people. It requires both political and economic democracy. Political pluralism must be supported by a just economic order geared to meet Africa's pressing problems and not the dictates of international finance. At the same time Africa can only flourish if the world economic order is restructured in favour of the poor.
Issues of class must be at the center stage of African renewal. It cannot just return us to a situation where ordinary people fought so hard against colonialism only to find out later that only a new corrupt elite enjoys that freedom.
We take this opportunity to call for and end of military dictatorships in the countries listed below: Chad, Ivory Cost, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo - Brazzaville, Togo, Gambia, Chad, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Comoros, Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi, Eritrea, Liberia, Ethiopia AND Niger.
We also call for the end of absolute monarchy in Swaziland and call for an inclusive process to shape a new political order in which the system of traditional rule coexists with the democracy that respects human and trade union rights. We call on the Zimbabwe government to stop meddling in the affairs of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. We also urge that government to ensure that free and fair elections are held soon and that the current lawlessness is halted. We however strongly support the need to redistribute land in Zimbabwe and basically all countries where that are still land hunger as a result of our colonial history.
We are dismayed at the inaction of the United Nations at the face of human misery the people of Angola continue to be subjected to. We call for a decisive intervention on the part of the UN and all world leaders to end this carnage that has led into untold famine in Angola.
In solidarity with our comrades around the world
We send out solidarity greetings to our comrades around the world who continue to be brutally oppressed by military juntas, dictatorships and the capitalist system. These include workers in sweatshops and millions of children employed under horrendous conditions as cheap labour. It includes millions of women forced to accept low wages, poor working conditions and sexual harassment just to survive.
COSATU salutes all workers of the world, and supports their struggles to free themselves from this carnage.
We are in particular extend our solidarity to workers in Burma, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Chad, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Burundi, Niger, Togo, Eritrea, Congo Brazzaville, Swaziland, and Liberia,
Local Government Elections
Six months down the line, we shall be facing a second round of democratic local government elections. Local governments are central to development of our society. It is at the local level that we can best put in practice our ideal of people-centered and people-driven development. For this reason, we must put all our efforts to ensuring that we are ruled by the people we trust and believe in.
COSATU will leave no stone unturned as it mobilises every worker and every citizen to vote ANC in the local government elections. We do this with clear conscious that similar calls made in the past have helped our people to take the challenges they face.
At the same time, we must collectively reflect on the experience of the last five years in order to correct mistakes and build on the foundations laid over the last five years. Our support for the ANC must rest on a concrete programme to ensure local governments fulfill their mandate to provide basic services to those who lacked them historically. The programme must entail measure to transform municipalities in order to ensure participatory democracy and provide services to the people, while creating quality jobs both directly and indirectly.
Strengthen the Alliance and the Mass Democratic Movement
The Revolutionary Alliance between ANC/SACP/ COSATU and SANCO remains the only vehicle capable of effecting thoroughgoing transformation of our society. It can fulfill its historic mission, however, only if all our formations are strong and active.
We must build on our current strengths to reposition our organisations. The litmus test of our strength is our ability to meet the challenges thrown by economic restructuring and globalisation.
That means we must all work to strengthen the structures of COSATU and its affiliated unions at all levels. We must also rededicate ourselves to rebuild the ANC, the SACP and the rest of the Democratic Movement.