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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech delivered by COSATU President Willie Madisha at NUM Congress

8 May 2003

Comrades and friends,

On behalf of the COSATU National Office Bearers and the entire COSATU membership, let me congratulate NUM on your historic Congress. We are indeed honoured to be able to make an input to this critical event in the history of our movement.

From the founding of our federation until today, your union has been a tower of strength within COSATU. Through NUM, some of the most oppressed and vulnerable workers in our country, who stood at the core of the apartheid economy and faced the most repressive labour relations, transformed themselves into a united and powerful bulwark for all our people.

NUM has fought tirelessly to defend its members and advance their living standards in some of the hardest conditions endured by any workers anywhere. It has found innovative and constructive solutions to the vast changes occurring in the mining industry. COSATU's leadership knows that you will keep on fighting and remain the largest and most militant of our affiliates for years to come.

The great victories you have won have not only brought real benefits to your own members but have inspired countless other workers and unions to follow your lead. NUM has contributed leaders to COSATU at every level, from the Deputy President and the General Secretary to shopstewards in our locals. You have shown all workers that solidarity, determination and militancy combined with sophistication and astute political tactics and strategies can defeat the most powerful enemy. Your victories have been victories for the entire working class.

Comrades and friends,

While we meet here to celebrate our victories, we also pay tribute to our comrades and activists who have died recently. We mourn the shopstewards NUM recently lost in a tragic road accident, as well as the victims of the bus accident on May Day. These workers gave their lives to the struggle of today just as so many have died for our cause in the past. We honour their memory as part of our movement. We are grateful for the support provided by COSATU affiliates and members to their families.

We also mourn the death of Walter Sisulu, one of the great leaders of our people. Tata Sisulu exemplified the leaders we still need today: selfless and dedicated to the struggle, and willing to make great sacrifices in order to improve the position of working people and the poor.

This Congress must pay tribute to these heroes we have lost by ensuring that we continue to strengthen our organisations and to struggle for a better life for all working people. Comrades and friends,

This Congress meets at a critical time in terms of international and national developments. Internationally, the world is confronted with the reality of a single superpower that seems intent on reinstalling the imperialism of the 19th Century. The U.S. now feels it can use gunboat diplomacy on any developing country. In the name of protecting the world from terrorism, it is creating the conditions that breed terrorism, as well as inflicting terror on the people of Iraq on a mass scale.

In this context, negotiations at the WTO have bogged down largely because the U.S. and its allies refuse to agree to rules that would permit developing countries to industrialise and address poverty. The U.S. proposals for a free trade agreement with South Africa and SACU parallel the problems we have seen at the WTO. The U.S. wants us to agree to deregulate basic services and foreign investment, and to prevent our government from adhering to the Proudly South African Campaign. At the same time, it wants us to protect the property rights of the big pharmaceutical companies, keeping up the cost of medication for our people.

At this Congress, we also need to take stock of our progress in South Africa. In particular, we need to look at our gains and setbacks since the watershed victory of the transition to democracy in 1994.

The South African working class has scored important successes during the past nine years of freedom. We have gained a voice in government at every level, through democratic structures and negotiations forums like NEDLAC and the Mining Summit. We have won the right to equal treatment under the law, and an end to discrimination in government services. A critical victory was the transformation of the apartheid labour market and the implementation of progressive labour legislation. As a result, all workers have won important rights as workers and as union activists.

But we have only achieved a one-sided freedom, because we have been unable to transform the economy. We have not managed to compel capital to create jobs and ensure greater equity and prosperity. A few huge companies, centred on mining, still dominate the economy. Their power has translated into job losses, the movement of capital overseas, and falling investment in our own South African economy. Last year alone, companies sent R51 billion in profits overseas - much of it from Anglo American, because of its new listing in London.

For us, a critical problem lies in soaring joblessness. Even if we do not count workers too discouraged to seek employment, joblessness rose from 16% of the labour force in 1995 to over 30% today. That is far higher than any other middle-income country reporting to the ILO. During this period, the number of unemployed has grown from around two million to over four million. If we include discouraged workers, unemployment affects seven million people.

Rising joblessness has been accompanied by a shift to poorly paid, insecure survival strategies. As a result, the average income from work declined sharply between 1995 and 2002. In 1995, 35% of workers earned under R1000 a month. By 2002, 39% earned under R1000 a month - and in real terms, their incomes had fallen by a third. We as unions have defended our members' conditions as best we could under these difficult circumstances. Especially in the mid-1990s, we made huge gains especially for less skilled workers. You know the record better than anyone in this area.

But our gains cannot be sustained unless we tackle the problem of mass joblessness. High unemployment always makes it harder to negotiate a good deal. If there are millions of desperate people outside wanting your jobs, no matter how skilled your negotiators are, no matter how militant and united your members, the employer has the upper hand. He can resist your demands because he knows that he can find unemployed people to replace your members. We have seen this process take place daily in the shift to informal and casual labour. In mining in particular, we have seen a growing reliance on labour brokers to divide workers and take some workers outside of collective agreements.

The overall impact of rising unemployment on workers emerges graphically in the fact that workers' share in the national income has fallen, while profits have increased. Workers' share in the national income dropped from 58% in 1992 to 51% last year. This forms part of a long-term trend from the early 1980s. These conditions have forced the labour movement to engage on policy issues going beyond the traditional area of the workplace. We see three key areas of engagement in the next few months.

First, we have begun to work on the Growth and Development Summit. COSATU has developed a set of claims that aims to restructure the economy, above all to ensure the creation of decent work on a mass scale. We have run into resistance from government and business to proposals for a strategic redirection of policies and investment to create jobs. Nonetheless, we will certainly make some victories, even if we do not win everything we want. We have asked every COSATU local and every affiliate to circulate our demands and discuss them as broadly as possible.

Second, we are engaging increasingly at sectoral and even at company level to see how each industry can do more to create to jobs, equity and growth. These are crucial engagements for challenging the hegemony of capital. The mining sector paved the way for this process, and all our sectors engagements have learned tremendously from your experiences. The Mining Sector Summit and the Minerals Development Act represent key steps in the reconstruction of our economy - and there is no doubt that NUM played a central role in both. NUM is now managing the build up to a summit on the construction industry, which we hope will make important strides toward reversing the casualisation of the industry as well as to ensuring job creation on a large scale.

Like mining and energy, the construction sector is very critical organisational area for the NUM. Construction Workers are among the most vulnerable in the SA Labour Market. According to Statistics SA 214 169 people were employed in construction in December 2002; The trend in employment contracts is a shift from permanent to contract or part-time work; According to statistics gathered by the SETA about 92 000 workers in the sector are employed part-time (this would mean that about 40% of the industry is employed part-time. This is worked out using the official statistics - the amount may be much higher which including informal businesses etc}; Employment levels have halved since the 1980s according to the SETA.

Working conditions Working conditions are difficult including long hours, physical demands on employees, location of construction sites, and poor facilities. Health and safety are also a major cause for concern.

Industrial policy considerations The construction sector plays a key role in SA ' economy in a number of ways, namely that: It is a direct employer; It provides infrastructure, housing etc and is thus critical to development and meeting basic needs; It provides demand for other related sectors such as plastic pipes, paints, steel etc, so a growth in construction that can be met by local industry would create jobs and growth in related industries in SA;

A sector summit is planned for the construction sector. This should be encouraged since it with both assist in creating jobs directly and indirectly, but it will also contribute to meeting basic needs.

KEY ISSUES IN THE RESTRUCTURING OF THE ELECTRICITY SUPPLY INDUSTRY AND IMPLICATIONS FOR NUM The government has identified the Electricity Supply Industry (ESI) amongst other "input sectors" such as water, telecommunications, and transport in its Micro-economic Reform Strategy for "restructuring". This reform programme is pushed as a mechanism through which the low and job-loss growth of the South African economy will be broken as industries benefit from the cheaper input costs, thus becoming competitive as the economy creates jobs and reduces inequalities by 2014.

Accordingly, this restructuring will lead to: privatisation of 30% of Eskom over the next two-three years, creation of six countrywide wall-to-wall Regional Electricity Distributors (REDs). This means that municipalities would cease distributing electricity as the REDs fall under national EDI Holdings. Establishment of a new regulator the National Electricity Regulatory Authority and the introduction of cost -plus pricing through the Wholesale Electricity Pricing System. Challenges and Implications for NUM

    The fact that the Department of Minerals and energy and Department of Public Enterprise are hell-bent on steam-rolling this process outside the National Framework Agreement. The DME has already introduced the Electricity Regulation Bill (to form NERA) even before there is an agreement on the policy that is supposed to guide such measures.
    The retrenchments that may occur as a result of the formation of six REDs from about 230 municipality electricity distributing agencies (this may relate to SAMWU as well)
    Retrenchments likely to occur as a result of the 30% privatisation of Eskom. We therefore call of the Congress to express itself on this area, given the fact that this will both affect jobs and make electricity expensive to acquire by the ordinary people of SA.

Finally, we are approaching the 2004 national elections. We must discuss how we can protect our democratic gains so far. At the same time, we need to build the democratic movement and make the Alliance function better. We need to analyse the weaknesses in these areas and find ways to remedy them. Otherwise our election victory may turn out to be hollow, as we cannot ensure that the majority of our people see their needs and desires reflected in strong government policies to bring about job creation and development.

In this context, the failure of the Alliance to function well remains a major concern. Virtually every agreement we reached at the Ekurhuleni Summit has not been fulfilled, largely because the ANC lacks capacity to engage. As a result, we have been unable to resolve key differences over national economic policy - and the jobs bloodbath continues.

In effect, the processes around the GDS, the sector summits and the elections give us a chance to shift the balance of power nationally. But we will not have a simple once-off victory. Rather, we are in a long-term struggle. Still, it is only by increasing the power of the working class overall that we can create conditions that will allow us to improve our wages and working conditions at the workplace and overall in our industries.

COSATU's Eighth National Congress in September must also review these processes and define how we engage better in the future. Your Congress here must contribute to the COSATU Congress. In particular, we look to NUM, as always, to submit powerful resolutions that will strengthen COSATU as a whole.

Comrades and friends,

We can succeed in meeting the overall challenge of shifting the balance of power in our favour only if we reinforce our strength as unions. The key question for us today is how unions can adapt their structures and methods to win this new struggle. That is why COSATU's Central Committee last month concentrated on the Organisational Review Process. Only by building our organisations to meet changing conditions and challenges can we maintain our gains in the workplace and ultimately reverse the job-loss bloodbath.

Again, NUM has largely led the way in the organisational review. Your union has been exemplary in its recruitment campaign, service to members and financial and managerial controls. Still, this Congress must seriously and honestly consider the challenges you face and the demands it places on your organisation. Only honest assessment of our victories and reverses can lay the base for even stronger unions in the future.

At COSATU's Central Commission, we agreed that the crucial areas for discussion are:

    Recruitment and service to members
    Support for shopstewards and organisers
    Financial and personnel management, and HRD within the union.

One of the CC's most important decisions was that we must make recruitment not a once-off campaign but a mainstream, ongoing activity, aiming for an annual growth rate of 10%. We must ensure that every formal worker is a COSATU member, and that we organise increasing numbers of informal and casual workers. To back up recruitment, there must be a more systematic programme of education, especially for young recruits who are not familiar with union policies and structures.

One lesson about the death of the TUCSA unions is that workers do not like sweetheart unions. Our militancy attracted in the past those wearing the smallest shoe, which is blue-collar workers. That is our base. But we must now ensure that we find ways to organise white collar and white workers into our ranks. We must organise more women and young workers by taking up their issues as well. If we are to truly be a home for all workers, then our demands must strike the correct balance between these often conflicting interests.

Comrades and friends,

We wish you all the best in your deliberations here today. We know they will help solidify the position of NUM as South Africa's largest union, as part of the vanguard of COSATU and indeed the working class as a whole.