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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Openning Address by COSATU President, Willie Madisha at the COSATU 8th National Congress

15 September 2003, Gallagher Estate, Midrand

National Chairperson of the ANC comrade Mosioa Lekota,
The General Secretary of the SACP, Comrade Blade Nzimande
Members of the ANC NEC and the CEC of the SACP
Cabinet Ministers and Premiers
Your Excellencies, the Ambassadors here present
Friends of COSATU from national organisations and institutions
International Guests
Members of the media
Leaders of COSATU gathered here in your capacity as delegates to this Congress

I am honoured, on my behalf and on behalf of the leadership of the giant federation COSATU, to greet you delegates and millions of workers across the length and breadth of our country watching and listening to the opening of this congress.

It is 30 years since those gallant fighters of Durban went onto an unprecedented strike. The 1973 strikes, which helped us to revive the democratic and militant trade unions, laid the foundation for the formation of this monumental federation – COSATU. At this crucial moment of our history, we salute the heroes and heroines of the 1973 strikes.

Last month, comrades, we celebrated 20th anniversary of the United Democratic Front. The UDF brought together hundreds of organisations and moulded them into machinery that, working with the ANC, brought the apartheid regime to its knees.

Now, we are seven months away from celebrating the first decade of our freedom. Around the same time we shall be going to the polls only for the third occasion in our lives.

Over the period under review we lost some of the finest revolutionaries and leaders whom our struggle for democracy has produced. We dip our flags to mourn the passing of these giants of our struggle, such as Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Steve Tshwete, Curnich Ndlovu and many others.

We also mourn and salute all the members and leaders of COSATU who died during this period. They include Comrades Pinki Ntsangani and Magwaza Maphalala. As we were preparing for this congress, comrade Sphelele Zuma, the former regional secretary of KwaZulu Natal, died. In May this year we lost 51 of our members, mostly from SAMWU and NEHAWU, in a month that also saw the tragic death of NUM stewards and farm workers. We have just learned that Patrick Cokotho, a shopsteward for 22 years from SACTWU’s NEC died last night. Our condolences go to his family and to the members and leadership of SACTWU. Comrades,

The worker’s parliament now is in session. Our task is to evaluate the programmes of the federation enshrined in the resolutions of the last congress held in 2000. The Secretariat will present reports that analyse the transformation of our society from a workers’ perspective, explore ways to strengthen our organisation, and propose strategies to advance our interests.

We must use this Congress to evaluate our progress as a labour movement and a country in this first decade of freedom, and plot our way forward to our 30th anniversary in 2015. We must be able to look back at this Congress and say: this was a turning point in our work, where we set the strategies that ensured the success of our movement and our country.

To meet these demands, we must ask concisely: What central challenges do we face as a Federation? What must we do here to judge this Congress a success?

To understand the challenges, let us briefly characterise developments in the past three years. I will just go into the key areas, since they are covered in depth in the Secretariat report.

The international context has certainly become more interesting and complex in the past three years. The events of September 11, 2001 have been used by the U.S. to move to direct aggression to protect its dominant position. At the same time, we have seen growing resistance to international capital around the world.

This resistance just won a major success with the refusal to continue the WTO talks at Cancun as long as the concerns of the developing countries are not met. That signals the rising confidence of progressive forces, including the working class, in meeting the challenges of globalisation.

We are proud that as COSATU, through our consistent engagement with the government on trade and development policy as well as by working with the ICFTU, we have made a major contribution to this outcome. At the same time, we recognise the need to work harder to ensure unity of progressive forces and governments internationally, and especially to strengthen the progressive direction of the global labour movement.

The new environment certainly opens some scope for countries like South Africa to adopt stronger development strategies. The fact is that the Washington Consensus, which forced neo-liberal policies as the only solution for all countries, is in disarray. Even the World Bank has raised questions about a pure free-market approach. We must discuss here how we can use this space in our struggle for economic and social policies for working people here in South Africa.

In South Africa itself, the past three years have seen a consolidation of democracy. At the same time, workers have continued to suffer job losses and high prices for basic services and food. In this context, we welcome the government’s renewed commitment, as expressed in the Growth and Development Summit, to dealing with unemployment, poverty and HIV as key challenges facing our people.

It is appropriate for us to thank you as members of all our affiliates for making sure the Growth and Development Summit was held. It was a result of the struggles we undertook, the sacrifice of wages by workers, that led to the Summit. It was your struggle and achievement, and your victory.

The transition to democracy ended legal racism, sexism and other forms of unfair discrimination, and gave us, as workers, the chance to influence government through the vote and through engagement on policies at a variety of levels. We must never take these gains for granted.

But we cannot ignore the problems we face – rising joblessness, growing poverty, HIV/AIDS and high food prices. The fact is that unemployment is now higher than in any other comparable country – that five million South Africans now go without jobs. We believe this is a scandal. The unemployment crisis hits Africans, women and young people hardest. It goes hand in hand with falling pay and rising informalisation, casualisation and contracting out.

Unemployment is a problem for workers as a class. But it is also a problem for our organisation, since it undermines our traditional centres of strength, particularly in the big manufacturing companies and parastatals. It poses organisational and managerial challenges for all of us.

The decisions of big business underlie rising unemployment. Their strategies to deal with the globalisation of the economy have largely involved capital flight, low investment and unstable growth. This was made possible in part by the adoption of GEAR policies in 1996.

Like much of post-colonial Africa, we face the dilemma that, while we have transformed political power and government, the economy remains in the hands of a few big white companies, which as a whole do not show sufficient dedication to transforming our economy to benefit all our people and bring about sustainable growth.

The current programmes of BEE are too narrow to address this problem. They seek above all to enrich a small minority, without ensuring broader overall ownership or empowerment for workers. We must emphasise that our understanding of BEE is not fighting over government tenders, but a situation where the majority of our people can engage with and benefit from the economy. We don’t believe the few must be enriched at the cost of the majority.

In this context, COSATU has called for a far-reaching transformation of the economy, based on improved basic services for all our people, broader ownership of productive assets and improved education and skills development, and sector strategies that can restructure the economy toward job-creating growth.

Government’s failure to carry out these policies vigorously, in part because of spending cuts imposed by the GEAR, mean we have failed to meet many of our expectations from democracy. Still, we have to welcome the slow shift in government policies over the past three years away from the free-market approach endorsed in GEAR.

We need to ask about the argument that the fundamentals and place and that there is a turnaround in the economy. If this is true, why do we see a growing gap between those in the first world and in the third world economy within our country? Why do we see worse poverty and unemployment?

The shift in government policy today appears in rising government spending, pressure to hold down interest rates, and a renewed commitment to sector strategies. From this standpoint, the outcomes of the Growth and Development Summit, while by no means meeting all our expectations, still signalled a major victory for workers. In the Growth and Development Summit, we concentrated on what we can do using our own resources to create jobs and meet our people’s needs, where GEAR focused only on foreign investment and growing exports.

But the change in government policy is only tentative. We will only see social and economic policies in favour of the working class and the poor in general if we continue to engage systematically. As always, that means we have to think about how we combine negotiations and power, technical inputs and our members’ actions. We must emphasise that we as the working class must take leadership. No matter what others say, in South Africa and overseas, it is only when the working class leads that we can make progress. It is only pressure from workers that can drive the national democratic revolution.

The Seventh Congress reaffirmed our commitment to the Alliance, and no major COSATU meeting has ever questioned this far-reaching decision. We need the Alliance as the historic bloc that brings together the progressive forces in our society, and as the only realistic way to mobilise our people for transformation.

Nonetheless, in the past three years, we have seen deep tensions in the Alliance over these policy issues. The reaction of our Alliance partner to our national strikes in 2001 and 2002 for jobs and against privatisation can only be described as venomous. I have never seen such a reaction. We saw attacks on individual leaders, ridiculing our demands, and labelling our organisation.

We have to thank the workers, both members of COSATU and non-members, for remaining united and standing firm in protection of our leaders and our resolutions. In large part as a result of this united and consistent stance, the worst tensions in the Alliance have been somewhat resolved in the past six months. Still, the underlying problems have certainly not disappeared.

In our 2015 programme, we make proposals for a more strategic approach to dealing with the challenge of building the Alliance. We must talk about how to take the national democratic revolution forward as the working class. We cannot talk about leaving the Alliance. But we must talk about how we mobilise when our Alliance partner is in power.

But this Congress must also bear constantly in mind that in the next few months we face another national election. The task is clear: we must ensure an overwhelming victory for the ANC, not just overall, but especially in KwaZulu Natal and the Western Cape.

We cannot let apathy or disappointed expectations lead us to ignore the importance of the elections, which would undermine the very base of popular power in our country. Those elections must be won by the ANC in all provinces of our country.
We want to emphasise that as workers, we have been disappointed by job losses, privatisation and so on. But we must not let apathy take over. We call on you as workers to get your family members, communities and comrades to go vote. And after the elections, we will go to the ANC and engage, and if they refuse we can still take to the streets.

These political and economic developments pose great challenges for the labour movement. We find ourselves in a state of change, which requires that we consciously analyse our circumstances and develop strategies to address them. Otherwise we risk being left behind, and gradually losing our ability to give workers a voice and to defend the working class as a whole.
For this reason, the Seventh Congress resolved on a systematic organisational review process, building on the September Commission reports. We report here on the results of this review, in the Secretariat Report, the Organisational Review Report and the 2015 programme.

This is the core of our work here at this Congress: to build our organisation. We must leave here with a programme of action that not only points to key areas for political and economic engagement, but even more important defines how we can build our organisation in the face of the loss of jobs, which can undermine the working class as a whole.

Above all, in the past three years, for the first time COSATU experienced a loss of membership. The losses are not large – they come to 34 000 members, or less than 2% of our total membership. Still, they constitute a warning signal. Moreover, the levelling out of growth has introduced new strains on our financial and management systems.

The financial problems emerged strongly in the problems at NEHAWU. But, in part thanks to solidarity shown by all our affiliates through the COSATU CEC Commission, the union has now turned the corner and is making huge progress. Again, we want to rise and thank the affiliates of COSATU for their support, and we are sure that in the coming months NEHAWU will fully recover.

Our analysis in the Organisational Review Report shows that the main source of membership losses for COSATU were job losses in manufacturing, construction and the parastatals. As a result, some unions have lost many members. In contrast, the public service unions have continued to grow slowly, somewhat offsetting the loss in other sectors.

The analysis also shows that there is considerable scope for growth in the formal as well as the informal sector, especially in the private sector. COSATU unions now represent a third of formal private-sector workers outside of domestic labour and agriculture, and two thirds of those in the public sector.

That points to huge space for recruitment. We have to ask why we have failed to organise the unorganised in every industry where we operate.
We can pinpoint the areas that we are particularly weak. In particular, many unions remain comfortable with domination in a few big companies, and have not managed to penetrate smaller ones. Thus, organisation in smaller firms is only about half as high as in large ones.

Moreover, we have not managed to organise younger workers. Only about a fifth of workers aged under 30 belong to unions – far lower than for older ones. We need to talk about this and come up with ways and means for dealing with it. In the elections campaigns, we also see that young people are outside our political organisations, although they belong to other organisations like churches. You as shopstewards must find ways to go into these organisations and get young people to vote.

In addition, union density varies greatly by sector. We have long had only a toehold in domestic labour and agriculture – sectors that are particularly important for women. In addition, in manufacturing we are weak in chemical, and we must find ways to penetrate retail, private services and tourism, all of which are growing sectors.

We cannot organise the unorganised unless we can also ensure good service for members. We recognise that the challenges facing our shopstewards and organisers have intensified. Both the public and private sectors have seen far-reaching restructuring processes, which place huge technical and organisational burdens on unions trying to defend the workers affected. Moreover, while the new labour laws brought us great benefits, they also mean we have to understand complex legal issues to manage grievances and disputes.

These developments mean that we have to vastly increase our support for shopstewards. We need to ensure that they have access to education and organisational support and resourcing. COSATU in particular must help by developing guidelines and education for dealing with complex restructuring and dispute processes.

Finally, all of us face a context of political scepticism and demobilisation outside of COSATU itself. That increases the burdens on us all. As the strongest organisation in civil society, we have a responsibility to give the working class a voice.

This situation points to the key task facing this conference – to move our organisational development process from analysis to action. We must act. It was easy to run the labour movement when we could assume huge growth in membership. Now we have to grapple with the challenge of ensuring more efficient and effective organisation while maintaining our traditions of worker control, service to members, and organising the unorganised.

A key element in this process is to improve support for shopstewards. That means we have to strengthen our organisational support for shopstewards and our education processes. We must emphasise this point.

At the same time, we must ensure that improved service goes hand in hand with organising the unorganised. The Second Central Committee in April this year adopted a comprehensive resolution on recruitment, which targeted 10% growth a year. That is an ambitious aim. We must use this Congress to mobilise all our shopstewards and members to achieve it.

In short, comrades, the challenges we face as a labour movement set the theme for this Congress. The theme unites our two challenges: to ensure employment creation based on a stronger labour movement by the time of our 30th Anniversary. If we do not achieve these aims, the worst-case scenario painted by the September Commission, where we as workers are increasingly powerless and isolated, will become a reality.

As the 2015 programme points out, we cannot rely on sloganeering or short-term solutions. Rather, we need here to develop systematic strategies and programmes to transform our organisation and our society.

The 2015 programme as it stands now represents mostly a list of priorities. We must come out of this Congress with more concrete strategies and benchmarks in a realistic programme of action.

The key priorities in the 2015 programme are:

· To build our organisation, based on improved education, service to members and recruitment. COSATU as a Federation, in particular, must do more to link policy engagement, job creation and defending workers on the shop floor.

· To build the Alliance, above all by ensuring that every COSATU activist is also an activist in the ANC and the SACP

· To focus our social and political actions on protecting and expanding quality jobs in the context of deepening democracy. That in turn requires greater engagement with workplace and sectoral restructuring by both the Federation and our affiliates.

All of these measures must build the confidence and organisation of the working class, not only to withstand the current economic and political attacks, but to continue to take a leading role in transforming our society. Comrades,

We expect this Congress, above all, to review the Organisational Review proposals and the programme to 2015 and to improve them. On that basis, we must discuss consistently how we can take these strategies forward in a programme of action, in particular over the next three years to our Ninth Congress. Our programme of action must take into account the lessons we learned over years of struggle against apartheid and in the past nine years of democratic rule.

In developing our programme of action, we need to find ways to integrate the resolutions from affiliates consistently into our 2015 programme. Moreover, we must ensure that COSATU’s programme of action, arising out of this Congress, is systematically included in the plans and programmes of every affiliate. We cannot afford any longer to take resolutions that should bind us all, without thinking consistently about how they affect our own unions.

When we leave here, we must have a programme to guide us consistently in the years ahead. Every Congress from now must use the programme to assess our progress systematically and make corrections as needed.

Comrades, this Congress must not shirk the hard questions. But we must also recognise and build on our strengths. We remain the strongest labour movement in South Africa, one of the strongest in the world – united, dynamic and democratic. Our strength comes from you, seated there, and all our members in the workplace. It comes from our shopstewards and activists, NOBs and, again, the members of each affiliate, the owners of our organisation. With this power behind us, we cannot fail. This organisation of Elijah Barayi must be built. You comrades are here to do just that.