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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi speaks at Galagher Estate - Midrand during the Growth and Development Summit

7 June 2003

Comrades and friends,

We are very pleased finally to be here, at this long-awaited Growth and Development Summit. The GDS reflects the commitment of all the main parties to addressing the pressing problems we face. It reflects the South African spirit of working together to find solutions to seemingly difficult problems.

This is the spirit that has shaped our recent history in ways the rest of the world regards as truly miraculous. This is the spirit of CODESA, which is now embodied in NEDLAC, the Millennium Labour Council and the Presidential Working Groups – all institutions that have played important roles in bringing about this Summit.

The agreements reached over the past month here arise out of our common vision for our society, as well as our recognition of the absolute need for real change and co- operation. Above all, as the agreements insist, we must deal with structural unemployment and low investment. Joblessness is now hovering around 30%,even if we use the narrow definition that does not count those workers too discouraged actively to seek jobs. That means close to five million adults are out of work. If we include workers who no longer actively seek work, this figure runs to seven million.

The levels of poverty run deep even amongst those who are employed. Workers’ incomes have been in the decline even before the dawn of democracy. The workplace remains largely segregated, with power and prestige still in the hands of a minority. Only a few of the historically oppressed have joined that group. There is nothing wrong with the former oppressed residing in the leafy suburbs and enjoying their newfound wealth. What is wrong though is for some to forget where they come from and seek to stand on the carcass of their own. Some lose the sense of solidarity with the majority of black workers, who still face casualisation, informalisation and the ever-present threat of retrenchment.

Our economy remains firmly in white hands and is completely dominated by the few companies in the miningand finance industries. It is geared towards meeting the needs of the previous ruling elite and not the majority. At the same time, investment is far too low, and too focused on capital-intensive sectors, to create employment for all workers.

In short, nine years after the democratic breakthrough our society still shows the scars left by apartheid. Nine years after we attained our freedom, we can still talk broadly of two nations - one relatively rich and white, and the other relatively very poor and black.

The GDS and the process outlined in the agreement that will take place after the summit should thus be seen in the context of the stark economic challenge and crisis facing our country, and in particular its working class. The GDS agreements are not a sum total of what needs to be done to restructure our economy and put it on the path of development and job creation. No single conference can be equal to that challenge. No four weeks of social dialogue can establish a full national consensus on what needs to be done.

Moreover, transformation of our economy will take many years. Much of what needs to be done depends also on the balance of forces outside this summit. To a very large extent the agreement we are signing today recognises this reality. The extent of the commitments by all in particular relates to the reality of the balance of forces. Unlike some of those marching outside, the organised working class understands that it must engage in an active struggle to tilt this balance of forces, and that from time to time there shall be compromises forced on us by the objective political and economic realities we face.

We do not abstain but engage; we understand that we do not change the world under conditions of our choosing. Through the GDS we are saying, collectively, we must find ways to address our economic situation. We are saying, too, that we recognise that we can only define effective solutions through deepening social dialogue and by learning from each other.

We recognise that this type of engagement is never easy. We are not seeking to build friendship amongst ourselves, but a genuine partnership based on accommodation of each other's concerns, fears and aspirations. We agree that in the long term, we must find ways to raise employment and bring about greater equality. But in the short run, our interests do not always coincide.

After all, we represent diverse interests and constituencies. We are here because our own experiences as well as experiences of others inform us that nothing can replace dialogue between the main role players or stakeholders. Unilateralism may look like a solution in the short term, but in the long term it does not guarantee broad buy in and cooperation, and therefore it is counterproductive.

Broadly, organised labour is happy to endorse the outcomes of the GDS. They promise real gains for workers and the poor in general. We welcome the short-run mechanisms to create jobs, such as the investment initiatives and the expanded public works projects. We do believe that these measures will contribute immensely to the long-term effort of finding solutions to our unemployment crisis. We are committed to work towards ensuring that these agreements are translated into a living reality for the unemployed, the youth and women in particular in the rural areas.

Even more important, the agreements lay the basis for long-term processes to restructure the economy toward job-creating growth. Critical proposals include:

  • Stronger sectoral strategies,which are critical for transforming our economy,
  • Strengthening the Proudly South African Campaign,
  • The commitment to building a co-op movement,
  • Improving our communities access to affordable basic services, and
  • Accelerating skills development.

Taken together, although they sometimes seem vague, cautious and incomprehensibly technical, these agreements go far toward defining a developmental state. That means a state that can, first, transform the formal economy through appropriate economic policies, including a strong industrial strategy. Second, the state must give more people a basis for engaging in the economy, through support for co-ops and small enterprise, land reform, increased access to basic government services, expanded public works programmes and skills development. These are important gains workers have made in the agreement.

But these agreements are just a step on the long road toward effective strategies to deal with the problems of joblessness and poverty. We need to do much more work, both to put in place implementation programmes, and to bring about deeper agreement on key strategies. A particular obstacle to our work for the GDS was that we had little time. One way or another, we only managed to start negotiations at NEDLAC a month ago.

That time constraint made it virtually impossible to include detailed programming or to resolve deep-seated disagreements. As a result, many of these commitments need more work, and some important questions fell off the table. The lack of time also made it almost impossible to mobilise our people outside of NEDLAC. It was challenging to report back to our members beyond our affiliates leadership, much less to other communities.

Yet an elitist process that leaves the masses behind cannot lead to that critical component of social dialogue - buy-in and cooperation. In future, we need to think how we can ensure the active involvement of the majority of our people in this type of transformative process. After all, it took six months to finish the RDP, mostly because of the time needed to ensure broad participation from all parts of our society.

Second, government should position itself to lead through providing the vision and broad strategies, and then be clear what it wants from other constituencies. This should happen within the framework of a spirit of social dialogue that is based on treating partners as equals and with respect. Failure to provide vision and strategic objectives tends to lend itself to a situation where we can only get vague commitments.

For its part, we need business to incorporate the idea of sustainability more consistently into its engagement. Too often, we hear that a long-term solution is impossible because it won't be profitable. Yet the current path of mass unemployment and poverty rules out long-term growth and prosperity for all of us.

Finally, in part because of these problems, the agreements themselves display some big gaps, hence the need to follow up the process with even a more rigorous process in order to operationalise broad commitments and fill up the gaps. The section on basic services is particularly weak. We must express our disappointment that we are not announcing a detailed comprehensive and coherent prevention and treatment strategy to deal with the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

No economic growth and job creation is sustainable in a situation where so many workers die from HIV/AIDS. If social dialogue meant anything to all of us, we should have signed the deal before last year's International AIDS Day. It is now over six months since then and yet, still, we are unable to make a pronouncement on this important issue.

Processes on HIV/AIDS are now taking place increasingly outside NEDLAC, yet the
discussions started here and should be concluded by NEDLAC. Regrettably we are giving a signal not only to our people but also to the whole world that our priorities are very skewed. Labour has run out of patience and intends to place this matter uncompromisingly back on the agenda of NEDLAC.

Comrades and friends,

Despite these weaknesses, the GDS agreements represent an important step forward on the long road to growth and development. But to realise our gains, all the NEDLAC constituencies must dedicate capacity, time and energy to implement them. And we have to mobilise our people to understand and support key processes. Amongst the burdens we have taken on in the post-Summit process are:

  • establishing mechanisms and procedures for public works programmes;
  • developing sectoral strategies to enhance employment and investment;
  • establishing financial mechanisms to support investment in infrastructure and production;
  • developing strategies to strengthen current programmes on housing, land reform and access to education; strengthening the partnership on HIV/AIDS; and
  • developing enabling legislation and support programmes for co-ops.

This is an exhausting list. It requires dedication from all the constituencies at NEDLAC, and that NEDLAC itself manage the process efficiently. Government in particular must take a leading role in ensuring that our efforts have a strategic focus. And all the constituencies must mobilise their members to ensure an inclusive, people-centred and people-driven process.

Finally, I want to thank the people who made the GDS work: the negotiators and leaders from all the constituencies; the NEDLAC staff; the Presidency, which gave critical political support. Above all let me thank the millions of workers who went on strike and had, as one of their key demands the creation of a CODESA-type negotiations to build a national consensus. We are on the way to build that consensus, and with it a better life for all.

Thank you.