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National Congress  |  COSATU Speeches

Blade Nzimande speaks at COSATU 8th National Congress in Midrand Gallagher Estate

16 September 2003

THIS OCCASION might go down in history as one of the most important congresses in the history of this Federation, this, the 8th Congress of the Congress of South African Trade Unions.


Coming just 7 months before the end of the first decade of our freedom, this Congress comes at a time in which our revolution stands at the cross-roads. Since 1994 there have been many advances for the working class and poor of our country, there have also been defeats and persisting crises for workers and the poor - one million formal sector jobs have been lost in five years, workers have been casualised and informalised, household income inequality and mass poverty have worsened.

Everyday, on the TV, radio and in the print media, there are multiple signs of distress, of creeping bourgeois values, of a sharpening factionalism within our own liberation movement. For the past 10 years we have moved forward collectively, we have notched up victories, we have made significant resource transfers to the poor, but still we remain locked into a ravenous, barbaric capitalist accumulation path. We have to go forward, but we cannot just go forward with hope and good intentions. We have to systematically, consciously, militantly rescue our national democratic revolution from its present imprisonment within a persisting capitalist accumulation path.

Unless, the working class leads, working programmatically and in action with the widest range of the mass of the urban and rural poor, unless this is done, the promise of 1994 will collapse into agendas of narrow self-enrichment, and general confusion. The SACP is prepared to work with all potentially patriotic and progressive forces - but one thing is clear, the bourgeoisie, the emergent bourgeoisie and the emergent bourgeoisies, separately and together are incapable of charting a way out of our persisting crisis of underdevelopment. The working class must lead!


This is a relationship we need to continue to deliberately foster, deepen and consolidate. It is a relationship forged in struggle, and must continued to be fostered through common struggles.

In the first instance in order to understand this relationship properly it is important to locate it within the context of what the relationship should be between communists and the labour movement. The most definitive guideline and approach still remains that enunciated by Lenin in 1900. Allow me to quote from this:

"Social democracy is a combination of the labour movement with socialism. Its task is not passively to serve the labour movement at each of its separate stages, but to represent the interests of the movement as a whole, to point out to this movement its ultimate aims and its political tasks, and to protect its political and ideological independence. Isolated from Social-Democracy, the labour movement becomes petty and inevitably becomes bourgeois: in conducting only the economic struggle, the working class loses its political independence; it becomes the tail of other parties and runs counter to the great slogan: `The emancipation of the workers must be the task of the workers themselves`. In every country there has been a period in which the labour movement existed separately from the socialist movement, each going its own road; and in every country this state of isolation weakened both the socialist movement and the labour movement. Only the combination of socialism with the labour movement in each country created a durable basis for both the one and the other" (Lenin, 1900)

The above approach is as relevant today as it was relevant then. The enemies of the working class everywhere know this, that is why one of their strategies will always be an attempt to drive a wedge between communists and the labour movement, thus aiming to weaken both and strengthen the capitalist character of society. That is where the highly sectarian left works to the agenda of the bourgeoisie when they call for COSATU to split from the Communist Party and the Alliance, and transforms itself into a workers` party. The bourgeoisie would love this as it would isolate organised workers from the Party and the masses and drive it into a cocoon!

Cde President I would like to submit to this Congress that we should consciously see the relationship between our two formations as of a strategic nature. The South African Communist Party is the only credible political voice of the working class, with a proud history of struggle and a clear political theory of the NDR and its relationship to the struggle for socialism. We have a programmatic perspective grounded in advancing the interests of the workers and the poor. COSATU is the largest trade union federation, progressive in its orientation, with a proud history of militant struggle for the workers and embracing the NDR and the struggle for socialism.

What do we mean when we say that we should see our relationship as a strategic relationship? Put simply, the future and fate of South Africa`s working class lies with this relationship. The struggle for socialism is entirely dependent on this relationship. Without understanding the strategic nature of this relationship and consciously giving it this strategic purpose and thrust, the future of the working class, the NDR and indeed socialism is at stake.

Were Lenin writing in South Africa in 2003 what he said in 1900, he would have added that for South Africa, the primary strategic relationship for the future of the working class lies in deepening and consolidating the strategic relationship between the SACP and COSATU.

How should the strategic nature of this relationship manifest itself?

The foundation for the strategic nature of this relationship must derive from a proper grasp and concrete campaigns around the programmatic slogan of socialism is the future build it now

The public sector as the basis of our growth and development strategies, and a programmatic platform from which to engage private capital

An overarching state led industrial strategy, driving an accumulation regime beneficial to the overwhelming majority of our people

Harmonising and co-ordinating existing working class campaigns on jobs and poverty eradication, transformation of the financial sector in favour of the workers and the poor, a comprehensive social security system, building a progressive working class led women`s movement, fighting against HIV/AIDS and effective worker participation in ANC and SACP structures

The strategy and tactics of the working class in the NDR and transition to socialism must emerge from the programmes and the strategic thrust of the relationship between our two formations!

To pose our relationship in this way is not to elevate it above that of the ANC as the leader of the Alliance. Part of the strategic purpose of our relationship is precisely aimed at strengthening the working class bias of the ANC as the leader of the Alliance and government.

There is also a dialectical relationship between the strategic nature of our two formations and the leading role of the ANC in this period. It is only under an ANC led Alliance, an ANC which safeguards its working class bias, that creates the most favourable conditions for a working class led NDR and the struggle for socialism. Conversely, it is the strategic relationship of the SACP and COSATU that provides the locomotive for the NDR and an ANC with a working class bias. However what holds together this dialectic and the Alliance as a whole is an independent, politically conscious working class capable of acting as a motive force.



Within the context of consolidating and deepening the national democratic revolution, and the emerging medium term vision for the working class, the following are the six key priorities for the working class in the immediate future:

Implementation of the Growth and Development Summit resolutions

Whilst the GDS resolutions do not meet the working class objective of an overarching state led industrial strategy, it nevertheless is an important advance in the following manner:

  • It marks an important shift from a growth and development strategy premised on privatisation, liberalisation and attraction of FDI as the principal locomotive for a growth path
  • Instead it is premised on mobilisation of domestic resources from the financial sector, domestic investible income, increased investment in infrastructure, expanded public works programmes and the building of co-operatives to harness the energies and economic creativity of the ordinary mass of our people.
  • This is a very important shift from some of the GEAR assumptions.
  • It potentially rolls back the notion that there is only one corner that has all the wisdom about how to grow and develop our economy, and a recognition of the need to mobilise the wisdom and organisational muscle of all our people in order to achieve a radically different growth path. Most importantly a recognition, even if on paper, the importance of the working class and the resources under its control

In this way the GDS resolutions provides the most immediate platform to struggle for an accumulation regime in favour of the workers and the poor. However the working class needs to mobilise to ensure that it drives the implementation of these resolutions. In particular, focus should be on the following:

  • Driving convening of sectoral summits towards concrete measure for job creation
  • Building of a co-operative movement
  • The building of a progressive savings and credit co-operative movement to fight against the high indebtedness of the working class to omashonisa
  • Struggling for worker`s control of retirement funds
  • Deepening the struggles in the financial sector, and building on the achievements made thus far
  • Campaigning for labour intensive approaches in the formal sector
  • Driving a public works programme through infrastructure investment
  • Energetically taking up BEE to ensure that concrete measures are developed for the benefit of the mass of our people, rather than an elite. This also calls for an intense and conscious ideological offensive against attempts to hijack BEE only to benefit a small elite
  • Building a caring South African nation based on social solidarity and upliftment of the majority of our people

It is important that the working class be in the forefront of the struggles to address the national question. The national question cannot be effectively addressed unless its class content is properly understood and addressed, just as we need to address the national content of the class question. There is a very real danger that as our transition unfolds, emphasis tends to be placed on the national question devoid of its class content. It is only a politically conscious working class, with independent power that is best capable to lead the struggle to address the national question.

In this respect the working class needs to contest and seek to give direct ion to the moral values upon which the emerging new South African nation is based. This concretely means rolling back the capitalist market, unflinchingly promoting non-racialism and non-sexism, fight corruption and elitism and the "dog-eat-dog" mentalily of capitalism and promote values of social solidarity and upliftment of the overwhelming majority of our people. These values need to be reflected in all sectors of society and is the only platform on which to address the national question. This means the working class being in the forefront of protecting our national sovereignty and in the moral regeneration movement.

New forms of working class organisation

In the light of informalisation, casualisation and stratification of the working class, we need to creatively think about new forms of organising workers. This means new strategies to organise informal sector workers, casual workers, hawkers and a whole range of the new layers of the working class created by the neo-liberal restructuring of the economy. Amongst other things this means creating advice offices, building a co-operative movement, organising new workers through their sites of struggles for sustainable livelihoods - in stokvels, burial societies and other arenas where the informalised, retrenched and casualised working class is to be found. This is where we should concretely seek to merge struggles for jobs with some of the areas that our Party has been organising in.

We feel that whilst the labour movement is acutely aware of these challenges there has not been adequate discussion of new ways to organise the vulnerable and peripheralised workers in our country.

Deepening and systematising internationalist and solidarity work

This is a critical area that needs to be addressed as outlined above, prioritising solidarity in the African continent and the South.

ANC victory in the 2004 elections

This constitutes the most immediate priority for the working class and the national democratic revolution as a whole. Workers of our country in general need to ensure an overwhelming majority for the ANC in the elections next year. As workers, it is in our deepest interest to return the ANC government overwhelmingly. The ANC is the best placed organisation to take forward transformation in our country, and the only government best capable of addressing the interests of the overwhelming majority of our people.

It is also important that as a matter of urgency we ensure that workers fully participate in all the ANC election structures. We must also ensure that we participate in the drafting of the election manifesto and ensure that the interests of workers are prominent. The immediate task however is to throw our weight behind the ID campaign. It would be crucial that this Congress adopts specific resolutions on how COSATU is going to be part of this important electoral effort.

There are additional challenges facing our unions in relation to the election campaign. We need to ensure that we reach out to the millions of workers to ensure that they come out and vote. Particular attention needs to paid to the urban African working class, particularly in areas like Durban and Pietermaritzburg in order to ensure that we win that province. Part of the problem is that our people in these areas have in the past not come out in the numbers we need. What is the role of COSATU in this regard?

Another key challenge is that of focusing on the Coloured working class in the Western Cape. If COSATU and its affiliates throw their full weight behind this effort, our job will be half done in the Western Cape.

An important challenge however is that as we draw up the ANC election manifesto we need to ensure that we begin to draw up a joint Alliance programme to make sure that the implementation of the manifesto is driven collectively. We should see the election campaign itself as part of building the Alliance. This will overcome the problem of tensions that sometimes arise out of the interpretation of the implementation of the manifesto. This is also important in order to ensure that joint Alliance work does not only happen during the election campaign and not after it.

Let us get down to work to ensure a convincing victory for the ANC next year!

Forward to Workers` Co-operative Bank and Worker-Controlled Retirement Funds!

When the SACP spoke at your last Congress, it was a few weeks before we launched the Campaign to Make Banks Serve the People. Since then we have witnessed the holding of the NEDLAC Financial Sector Summit in August 2002, the publication of draft regulations to govern Credit Bureaus, the discussion by cabinet of a new Co-operatives` Bill and Community Reinvestment Legislation, initiatives by some banks to introduce a charge-free banking card for recipients of welfare grants, the Financial Services Charter, the AVBOB announcement to remove HIV/AIDS discrimination in its funeral insurance policies, and other important developments. But these developments are not about to change the capitalist character of the financial sector in our country.

The campaign has reached a stage where workers must use their organisational and financial muscle to create worker-owned and worker-controlled financial institutions. We are calling for the formation of savings and credit co-operatives as an important step towards a workers` co-operative bank, providing savings and affordable credit and other services to the workers of our country. As the SACP we are launching the Dora Tamana Savings and Credit Co-operative in October this year.

As the working class, we are already controlling billions of rands through our stokvels, burial societies and retirement funds. Let us ensure that this 8th COSATU Congress passes resolutions to ensure worker control of all retirement funds as part of defeating the mashonisas, private commercial banks, and rolling back business unionism and unilateral control of workers` funds by un-elected and unaccountable asset managers. We call upon all COSATU affiliates to encourage members to form their own savings and credit co-operatives as part of this overall offensive to build the financial muscle of the working class. We are also calling on this COSATU Congress to resolve to build a vibrant, democratic, popular, progressive and independent co-operative movement.

Further, the struggle for workers` control of retirement funds, for the building of SACCOs and a Workers` Co-operative Bank is a clear rejection of the call by sections of business for workers` pension, provident and other savings to be used to promote narrow black elite economic empowerment and to incentivise narrow transformation for the benefit of the Brenthurst group and their cronies.

Finally, we call on COSATU to join us in taking the banks campaign to a higher level by paying attention to the following:

Mass pressure on banks against continuing redlining and for the enactment of community reinvestment legislation
Ensuring that the boardroom-negotiated Financial Services Charter does not promote narrow black elite economic empowerment
Mobilising for a People`s Financial Charter
Implementation of Regulations to govern Credit Bureaux
Mobilisation against HIV/AIDS discrimination in the financial sector as a whole