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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary, to the NUMSA National Bargaining Conference

Address by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary, to the NUMSA National Bargaining Conference

10 April 2001

Collective Bargaining in the Context of Globalisation

Thank you Chairperson President Mthuthezeli Tom, General Secretary Slumko Nondwangu and Members of the National Executive Committee Delegates to this august National Bargaining Conference Comrades and compatriots

Allow me to extend my warmest, heartfelt revolutionary greetings on behalf of the COSATU National Office Bearers and the entire COSATU membership. It is an honour and a privilege to be granted the opportunity to address this important gathering - the natio nal bargaining conference of metal workers. At the centre of this conference is the question of how can we improve the working and living conditions of our members, their families and their communities.

NUMSA has a proud history of combining militancy with a sophisticated engagement strategy. In the past, you have mastered what I normally refer to as the two most important capacities for COSATU as we face the challenges brought by globalisation, the open ing of our economy, and the broader field for influence opened by the transition to democracy. Those two capacities are the ability to engage through the power of the membership as well as in complex economic debates.

Yet again, you are challenged to live up to our expectations. This national bargaining conference must ensure that both these capacities are natured and strengthened. We require our militancy and we want to continue to engage at the collective bargaining table.

For many years, NUMSA has set trends within COSATU on collective bargaining. Your achievements include a well thought out skills development strategy as well as grading and appraisal systems that have contributed immensely to flattening hierarchies in the work place. These changes are now under pressure from the reorganisation of the workplace emanating from global pressures.

The conference takes place at a critical moment in the calendar of the Federation. It takes place on the eve of the Central Executive Committee meeting scheduled to take place towards the end of April. This Central Executive Committee will consider a num ber of political, organisational, and international and policy issues - but the key issue will be the Draft Agreement with business on amendments to labour laws. The CEC will receive feedback from affiliates and regions and how our members feel with the d raft agreement.

I believe we have managed to reverse the worst attacks on hard won workers’ rights. Surely, the agreement is not perfect, and there is scope for improvement. But we should resist the temptation of neglecting to claim our victories, even though we must not be blind to short comings. It is for this reason that the agreement has been referred to our members for consultation.

We are meeting at the time where attacks on workers and their gains at all fronts is under relentless attack. The job-loss bloodbath continues unabated. The quality of jobs is on the decline, with good paying jobs being replaced at an accelerated pace by insecure jobs that only help to create an army of the class of the working poor. Poverty is on the rise. Inequalities are deepening. A new black elite is developing fast, yet overall blacks’ living standards are still nowhere close to those of their whit e counter parts. We still have two worlds in a single country. Racism against workers, in particular in the farms and small enterprises where there is not institutional support, is the same as it was during the apartheid era.

The shift of the national policies to the centre right has not stopped. The rightwing is generally confident since most of its prescriptions have been embraced by the government. As result, the power of capital has increased, its arrogance has doubled, an d now that they control much of the body of government they are demanding its soul.

In this environment, the working class is facing hard challenges. Unless we revise our strategies and practice what we preach, unless we operationalise our slogan - "an injury to one is an injury to all" - and unless we give practical meaning to our princ iple of international worker solidarity, we are all dead in the water.

Collective bargaining is the lifeblood of the trade union movement. Without it no trade union is worth its salt. We have to bargain collectively or perish as individuals under the yoke of capitalist exploitation. One of the remarkable features capitalism is that it concentrates a mass of people under one roof for exploitation by one capitalist, or maybe a handful. However, this mass should be turned into a conscious movement, which is aware of its position and role in society and the production process. Until we achieve this aim of harnessing the working class under a unified movement, we have no hope of improving our lives. It is in this context that we should understand the demand for collective bargaining as a mean to achieve better working and living conditions not only for our members but for the working class as a whole.

Globalisation has a profound impact on collective bargaining - some of the changes are visible, others less tangible. We need to delve into a deeper analysis of the impact of globalisation on collective bargaining in our sectors and industries. Unless we undertake such an analysis we will not know how to respond to the attacks from the bosses.

A key changes initiated by globalisation is around the organisation of work, which has a profound impact on the structure of the working class. In place of ‘Fordist’ forms of work organisation, which was manifest in bigger plants and assembly lines, we are seeing a shift towards ‘leaner’, ‘atomised’ workplaces.

This movement is associated with increasing use of technology to replace workers, and the trend to outsource so-called ‘non-core’ functions or the breaking up of the workplace and business into self-contained business units. This in some ways reverses the concentration of labour associated with the early days of capitalism to a decentralised form of work organisation. Undoubtedly, these changes have profound impact on the conduct of collective bargaining and organising.

Further, it makes it difficult to demarcate the scope for industrial unions. For example, in mining, operations such as drilling, security, cleaning and catering were previously seen as an integral part of the mining process. Now they are now being hived off or outsourced. The question is then, who should organise these workers? The net result of these changes is to weaken union bargaining power by separating and cutting through union membership.

Our response to these challenges is still in embryonic stage. We need to accelerate the pace of re-looking at our unions. For this reason, the shift to super unions/cartels and the re-demarcation of COSATU unions is not an academic debate, but a question of survival of the trade union movement.

Globalisation has increased the mobility of capital. Multinational corporations move from one continent to the next at lightening speed in search of islands where they can exploit workers more freely without any constrains. In South Africa we have seen t his happening. A number of companies have moved to the neighbouring countries and yet eye the South African market for their products. Powerful financial institutions hold the economies of countries to ransom, gambling and attacking national currencies t o make a quick buck. They do not care what damage this may cause to ordinary people’s lives, as demonstrated by the near collapse of several economies of the developing countries during the financial crisis of two years ago.

What does this reality imposes on collective bargaining strategy? What is our protection when companies sideline fair labour standards in one country, and move to the next that pays poverty wage and offers no protection to workers? How do we respond to t he demands that bosses are making that we should compete against fellow workers in a manner that will find us racing to the bottom as we give first our tea time, then our lunch times, work for more hours, give up maternity leave and family responsibility, and so on and on, in the hopes of keeping our companies within our borders, so that we can keep our jobs.

Our union strategy cannot give us full mileage if it remains confined to our traditional big companies without extending to small companies. We shall be short changed if we have no strategy to organise informal sector workers. We cannot be successful if we continue to have fragmented trade union movement in our country. We cannot win if unions within the SADC region remain weak. This extends to our continent and the world. At the centre of a successful collective bargaining strategy is international wor ker solidarity and the need to build a new world where there is decent employment opportunities for all, where poverty, diseases, ignorance and divisions forms the core values of that world.

It is in this context that the campaign led by the ICFTU to globalise worker and human rights finds more relevance and importance. As long as we have Export Processing Zones in our region and continent, our campaign for a living wage is weakened. As long as the neo liberal hegemony is imposed and the state’s role is undermined with capital encroaching on new areas of service delivery traditionally provided for by the state - then our collective bargaining strength is further weakened. As long as South Afr ica is surrounded by a sea of poverty, underdevelopment - then we bargain from a weak position. When increasingly, all over the world, there is an increase use of child labour, forced labour, prison labour -as in Burma, Colombia and in some African and As ian countries - then our strength is further eroded.

Dear comrades, there can be no doubt in our mind that international work is becoming absolutely important. Worker to worker contact is now sacrosanct. Strengthening of SATUCC, SIGTUR, OATUU and ICFTU is extremely important. Our survival is only guarante ed if we appreciate this work, If we campaign against xenophobia in our country, if we build unity amongst all workers and defeat divisions of the past, if we maintain our militancy and if we double our organisational strength.

Globalisation has become a buzzword in contemporary society and is associated with a number of myths, including the notion that state is powerless to do anything in the interest of its citizens. The reality, however, is that states do have power, but the power and role is largely redefined to serve the interest of corporate citizens.

Globalisation is characterised by increasing integration of the world economy, with spectacular developments in information and communication technology, which oils the process of integration. However, it is not a seamless process where all countries part icipate equally. Most developing nations find it extremely hard to participate in the world trade system and if they do they face unfair terms of trade. The dice is heavily loaded against developing societies, which are forced to open their economies wit hout reciprocation from the developing world in Europe and North America. As a result globalisation fuels inequality between and within states as a number of people are adversely affected by liberalisation.

Contrary to popularly held views globalisation is not a natural process but is driven by a powerful coalition of developed countries, international financial institutions and multinational companies. It is the interest of these forces that drives the agen da of global institutions such as United Nations, World Bank, IMF.

These forces have managed to hijack international institutions and fashion them in their image to serve their own goals. The rules of the world trading system are heavily loaded in favour of the developed nations. The IMF and the World Bank are used peri odically to whip straying nations into line through various strategies embodied in the structural adjustment programmes.

At the core of globalisation is the ideology of neo-liberalism, which believes in the supremacy of the market. Neo-liberalism is the belief that markets work best if their left to themselves and the role of the state is to maintain law and order, protect property rights and create a favourable climate for business to prosper. At a policy level, this manifests itself in austerity programmes and liberalisation strategies, which underpin our macro-economic framework. Competitiveness has become the imperative for economic policy and companies are undergoing restructuring to compete on the global market. In most instances liberalisation is not well managed resulting in deindustrialisation and massive job losses.

There is no denying the reality of globalisation, but this reality is manipulated to blackmail nations to adopt market-friendly policies. States are now being forced to join an international beauty contest to compete for foreign investment and to place the interest of the citizens second to the interest of global capital. Whenever a government adopts austerity measures, it invokes globalisation to justify its actions. This overemphasis on the realities of world power overstates the case and acts largely a s an excuse to avoid looking at alternatives.

Politically, most erstwhile social democratic parties in Europe have shifted to the ‘centre right’. They now implement austerity measures and retreat from the social democratic programmes for which they were elected. In developing societies, including Sou th Africa, we see a similar pattern of governments imposing austerity and liberalisation measures, blaming either a structural adjustment programme imposed by the IMF or, as in South Africa, international markets. Inflation-targeting is yet another exampl e of pressure imposed on developing nations to prioritise the interest of international and fractions of domestic capital above the interest of their population. To meet its target, the Reserve Bank will be forced to maintain or even increase the current high level of interest rates. This will come at the cost of growth, employment and investment, pushing the country into a vicious cycle of underdevelopment.

The apparent dominance and hegemony of capital have led many to believe in TINA - ‘There Is No Alternative’. A political scientist named Adam Preworzski went as far as to say that "capitalism is chaotic but socialism is not feasible," meaning that we are stuck. This reflects a general weakness within the left - that is, we have not succeeded to assert the working class hegemony to counter the neo-liberal onslaught. Reality however is very different than the "no alternative" school of thought wants us to believe.

The East Asian model is one such alternative developed within the belly of capitalism. These societies opted for a different route to develop their societies, which focused on internal industrialisation. This model became undone once these societies adopt ed neo-liberal programmes.

For labour in South Africa, the sector job summits form a critical response to the neo-liberal challenge and to the impact of globalisation. We must use the sector summits to ensure that our economy increasingly protects and creates jobs, meets the basic n eeds of our people, and supports greater equality both in South African and throughout the region. NUMSA has a leading role in two of these summits, for auto and engineering.

The sector summit process gives us a way both to develop alternative industrial strategies, and to ensure that these strategies are increasingly reflected in government policy. Moreover, the summits give us a platform to challenge the hegemony of neo-liber al ideas in the state and in society as a whole.

The democratic forces have access to state power that we have not used to its fullest potential to change the situation in favour of the progressive forces. It is absolutely important that we use access to state power to challenge the neo- liberal offensi ve and to address the legacy of racial-capitalism. We must use state power to better the lives of our people and the working conditions for the exploited masses. I believe that we can build a counter-offensive based on partnerships between the labour mov ement, NGO’s progressive governments to fight for the restructuring of the international agencies such as IMF, WTO and to redefine the rules of the game to suit the interest of the working people.

In short we must assert working class hegemony by ensuring people-centred, people driven development for decent work, a better life for all and freedom from exploitation. This is the agenda that should drive our collective bargaining struggles, in compani es, in bargaining councils and in the sector job summits. We must see these struggles as an integral component of defending and advancing the workers’ cause.

I thank you