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Central Exec  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech by Connie September to COSATU Inaugural Central Committee

22 June 1998


Leadership of our revolutionary Federation, COSATU

Distinguished guest from our Alliance Partners and MDM

Former COSATU leaders serving in the National and Provincial Legislatures.

Members of the Press

Today and over the next three days, workers in their own parliament will meet to consider policies that will benefit themselves and the working class. Once more workers of our country led by COSATU will make history and shape the agenda of transformation of our country. This is the challenge we face and this is the challenge we are determined to pull through.

With only 12 years since our launch, we in this Inaugural Central Committee present to you, the leadership of COSATU, a comprehensive strategy to effectively deal with the socio-economic ills our country inherited from capitalism and apartheid misrule.

I still have to hear of a trade union movement that has after a mere 12 years of existence developed such a cohesive socio-economic policy as the one which is to be considered by yourselves, as the leadership of this federation.

We are doing so not with any arrogance. We know we do not have monopoly of ideas on these issues. We are doing so from the practical experience we have about effects of jobs losses, unemployment and poverty.

We are providing alternatives to the current mainstream thinking motivated by our practical experience as part of a broader working class. The proposals we make are informed by our vision for overcoming the bitter experience of life under apartheid and capitalism. This is COSATU`s unique contribution to policy debate in South Africa and it is the most viable vision for truly bringing democracy and equality to post-apartheid South Africa.

Capitalism despite attempts to dress it in a human cloth, will not address the social ills of our society. The growing power and influence of this evil system which depends entirely on exploitation of the majority so that the rich can become richer and the poor poorer, poses new challenges to workers in South Africa and elsewhere in the world to renew their commitments to end its reign of terror. All over the world unemployment is on the rise, homelessness is the order of the day, ignorance is growing, and millions of children are exploited by industries in the name of free market forces.

To us, the struggle continues until all this evil is behind us. International worker solidarity will always be relevant. Militancy and mass struggle will intensify until we defeat this monster and replace it with human system where workers and others marginalised from power, through their organisations and political parties put themselves fully in charge of both political and economic power.

This will be a system that will emphasize on jobs for all, houses for all, education and training for all, food for all and health for all.

The challenge we face in this Inaugural Central Committee is to ensure that the policies we adopt and reaffirm have elements of making us realise our dream of socialism. As we confront this challenge, we remember many of the fallen heroes and heroines and take strength from the fact that if they were still around they would be in this hall together with us.

About a month ago, the world was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs - GATT, now called World Trade Organisation. Many of the third world and developing countries had nothing to celebrate, they were instead mourning the loss of power of democratically elected governments, whose capacity to put in place policies to deal with unemployment and poverty in their countries, has been severely curtailed.

Even today attempts are being made to use institutions, such as the World Trade Organisation, which were meant to regulate trade between nations, to increase the power of multinational corporations and decrease the power of trade unions and democratic governments. This is hypocritical because powerful countries, are trying to prevent developing countries from using the very mechanisms which they used in their own development.

For example, developed countries used procurement policies to develop their local industries and empower indigenous companies, but today they are attempting to put in place measures to outlaw such use of procurement policy by the developing countries trying to develop their local industries. This suggestion, contained in the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investments, will empower historically advantaged multinational companies to challenge any policies aimed at developing domestic enterprises.

This amounts to nothing less than an international bill of rights for multinational corporations. This bill of rights will also give companies a right to claim for damages against governments if they put into place regulations which limit the profit making capacity of investors. Such policies will reduce all governments into induna states, whose main responsibility will be to create environment for multinationals to accumulate more profit without any hindrance.

We are told that "there is no alternative" to this. We are told this is the new reality, and all we must do is to play in this crazy game. But, at this Inaugural Central Committee, COSATU will build on positions taken at last year`s Congress and map out a programme to challenge these and other negative aspects of globalisation. We will commit ourselves to be international campaigners for a new enlightened world-order based on a solid commitment to workers rights, human rights and basic social and environmental standards. We will also commit ourselves to continue pushing our government to play a forthright role in using South Africa`s engagements with our neighbours in SADC, the ILO, WTO, Non Aligned Movement, OAU and United Nations to advance a vision of a democratised new world order.

The General Secretary will later present to you the current political and economic situation. It is not my intention to repeat what is contained in the report, but I must take up few issues covered in the report.

Our rejection of GEAR is not narrow ideological stance or as just playing oppositional role as some of our distracters would like the country to believe. It is not a position to just show the country that we are independent from our Alliance partners. There is mounting evidence for all who still have eyes to see, pointing to the correctness of the position we took on GEAR.

On 14 June the Captains of Industry celebrated the 2nd birthday of GEAR. They had reason to celebrate. Almost all the issues they have been asking for have been met - exchange controls are being eased, government expenditure has been cut back, there has been accelerated tariff liberalisation, tax holidays have been put into place and privatisation is picking up pace. Based on this track-record, the Captains of Industry - and their political parties - know that they are lying when they say GEAR has failed because it has not been implemented properly. GEAR has failed because it is an inappropriate growth model for our economy, focused not on the interests of the majority, but on the selfish short-term interests of certain sections of the business community.

Two years into GEAR workers and their families are really beginning to feel its pinch. GEAR`s rigid deficit and revenue targets have meant a very limited implementation of the RDP. Despite the RDP`s promise, job crisis is worsening and many of us face job loss or fear that we will never be able to find a good job, education, housing and social services have not been expanded sufficiently to overcome our apartheid legacy, and many working in the public service find themselves with the axe of retrenchment hanging over their heads.

GEAR must go, and it must go now, so that we can see the full implementation of the RDP.

At this Central Committee, we present to yourselves concrete proposals to deal with unemployment and elimination of poverty. On fiscal policy we have concrete proposals to deal with the debt. These proposals should be fully discussed, and where appropriate amended, and finally endorsed, so that COSATU can - with confidence - advance its positions for the world to hear.

Comrade chairperson and delegates, what will be different this time and from now on is that we are not going to make our position through press statements and speeches. We have made speeches on GEAR for two years, we have tried to reason for two years, we have tried to persuade for two years.

What we got in return has been utter arrogance, refusal to listen and engage, and implementation of GEAR in all fronts. Our jobs are on the line. Last year alone the economy shed more than 120 000 jobs. Wages of blue collar workers has been going down whilst productivity of workers has been on the rise since 1992. Profits of most companies are breaking records. Wage gap is increasing. No significant steps have been taken to shift the tax burden from the poor to the rich.

This time around we cannot afford the luxury of writing more speeches. Our members have had enough of speeches they now demand a clear programme of action that will help them defend their jobs. They are calling on this Central Committee to make a clear call on them to occupy the streets in demand of an equitable tax policy. They want decent houses and public transport. They are in demand of an industrial policy that will help protect their jobs and create more jobs for their unemployed family members. Our members who carry the burden of providing social security net for the unemployed demand that this role be shifted to the state. Our distracters are not listening but their arrogance is growing. Our members cannot be expected to fold their arms and believe this nonsense that the economy will initially lose jobs and then 15 years down we will see more jobs being created.

We have a responsibility not only to our members but to all South Africa`s poor and working people, employed and unemployed, to take up these issues and build mass campaigns around them. The days of militant struggles led by our shop stewards are now needed. Lets issue a notice to all those clinging to an unworking, unworkable and failed GEAR that COSATU has run out of patience.

This Central Committee must draw a concrete programme of action to take up this issues at the street level as the boardroom has clearly failed to deliver. We must in particular campaign for:


  1. Job creation and against the carnage of job losses.


  2. Redistribution of wealth through


    • increased government spending on education, housing delivery, health and other social needs,


    • equitable tax policy that will shift the tax burden from the poor to the rich.

This campaign, whilst it should have a clear focus, at the same time should help us to raise all issues negatively affecting our members now. It should shift the balance of forces in favour of the working class and create space for an engagement on issues we are raising.

What we will be doing in this Central Committee is in part preparation for the Presidential Jobs Summit. As we are doing so, more workers are being called into the managers offices to be told that they are retrenched and their services are no longer required. The new LRA is not helping us to stop this tide as it makes the retrenchment not a negotiations issues but a mere consultation matter. An environment conducive to real negotiations to take place in the run up to the Jobs Summit must be created. We are calling on the employers to do declare a cease fire on the war that they declared against workers. We are calling for an immediate moratorium on all retrenchments. The LRA must be amended to allow unions to bargain over retrenchments. A campaign targeting companies that defy this call must be initiated from this Central Committee. This will require a tighter coordination and supply of information by affiliates to the federation.

One of the elements of our campaign should be to consolidate and defend the gains which we have made over the past four years. COSATU and its affiliates must take the responsibility of ensuring that where advances have been made on paper - in the statute books - these come to have a real impact on the lives of workers and their families. For example, we must equip each other to be able to effectively use our rights under the new Labour Relations Act, empower newly appointed trustees and members of our pension funds to properly represent working class interests, and work in our communities to realise the fruits of land redistribution procedures and democratised structures of schools governance.

We must also actively support progressive interventions that have been made by our government Ministers as we often leave the space to reactionary elements who are attempting to curb the transformative potential of our democratically elected government.

For example, the Minister of Labour`s five year programme is about the progressive transformation of the inherited apartheid labour market. Even though COSATU has correctly mobilised workers in favour of further improved conditions, comrade Tito Mboweni`s programme is a slap in the face to those advocating a neo-liberal agenda of stripping workers of their rights.

For this reason, Mboweni is coming under increasing attacks from big business. Through their proposals to the Jobs Summit, big business is calling for the scrapping of all legislation that they negotiated in NEDLAC. This will include the LRA, BCEA, Skills Bill and Employment Equity Bill.

SACOB is now calling for the indefinite postponement of the Jobs Summit because, as they put it, the climate is not right as the country is having elections next year. These parasites clearly know that their prescriptions for exploitation are simply unpopular with the working class which have a clear voting power in the country. They want political parties to lie to the electorate about their elections manifestos, and later in secret they will pressurise the government to adopt their poisonous policies.

Above all, these major beneficiaries of the evil apartheid system, are showing a lack of commitment to transformation in a manner that will address the mess created by the apartheid. At the time when the entire country is looking forward to a succesful Jobs Summit these shameless blood suckers are calling for its indefinate postponement.

COSATU will, under no circumstances, allow a reversal of the gains which workers have made through recent labour legislation. Neither will we allow the new attempts to delay the Presidential Jobs Summit to succeed. Business must form a new political party, or ask the DP and UDM to adopt their policies, so that they can put these prescription to the electorate. The ANC is not their party and they should stop attempting to use the ANC to do their dirty work.

The health Minister and the President are soon going to be called into court to defend a decision a sovereign and democratically elected parliament has taken on Pharmacy Amendments Act. The pharmaceutical companies have approached courts so that they can thwart attempts to make medicines cheap and accessible to rural communities. The Minister of Health comrade Nkosazana Zuma is the most attacked Minister in the world today. Demands on her resignation fill newspapers everyday. The real reason why she is attacked is because she has stuck to the RDP and the promises she made to the electorate.

COSATU and the entire MDM has remain largely silent throughout the process. Not a single occasion did we take to the streets in defense of her Ministries policies. This weakness must be a thing of the past, from now on COSATU and its members should not be found wanting on the issue of defending progressive policies. This Central Committee must develop a special programme on this including targeting those pharmaceutical companies that are attempting to undermine the sovereignty of parliament by holding demonstrations in their office and at the court that will hear the case.

At the political level, many challenges are outlined in the Secretariat Report. It is clear to all who follow the country`s events that we have made significant gains through the political power attained through the 1994 elections. We did not use the transition to only consolidate and deepen political power but also to deepen social transformation.

With elections in a years time, contradictions between parties in parliament are there for all to see. There is no party on earth that does not represent certain class interests. Parties are lining up to secure as many concessions for their class and race interest as possible.

The DP has now officially replaced the NP as the most effective spokesperson of conservative white and big business interests. Their so called liberal values have been exchanged for naked and aggressive protection of the racial privileges accumulated during apartheid misrule.

The NP, like a wounded animal in a corner, has become a desperate and endangered species fighting for its political survival. Completely outclassed by the DP on the protection of the whites and business wealth, the NP with its boyish leader has been attempting to establish a block of anti ANC parties in order to fight the next general elections. This will help hide the fact that the core of racists who voted for the NP in 1994 have now shifted their allegiance to the DP.

The DP and NP are caught between two hard rocks. On one hand they want to articulate conservative whites and big business`s fears who do not want any change, and on the other they want to attract sections of the black population who want transformation.

During the last 1994 elections, the NP manage to do this perfectly. Their strategy of shifting the focus away from the RDP into race, worked for them in the Western Cape. The Swart-gevaar tactic was the most effective strategy the NP used to woe the so called coloured votes. COSATU must not again allow sections of its members to be used in the manner in which they were used in the 1994 in Western Cape and Northern Cape.

From the decomposing body of apartheid emerged two worms - called Roelf Meyer and Bantu Holomisa. These worms, because they came form the same decomposing apartheid body, have now merged to establish UDM. We cannot agree more with the statement made by comrade Kgalema Montlante.

These forces who claim that they are the only non-racial forces. They say they are the only force that have no baggage from the past. They have apparently forgotten that Meyer was once an apartheid Minister of Constitutional affairs and the old SADF. Bantu Holomisa rose quickly and mysteriously to the rank of a general in an apartheid Bantustan army.

Joining these two worms is a third worm, Nkabinde who can only rejoice at the untransformed judiciary that allowed him to get out of the corner he had painted himself into.

Both the PAC and IFP are so confused by this transition that they do not know whether it is daylight or midnight.

There is however one thing in common with all these forces. All of them support the RDP and condemn "betrayal of the electorate" and "lack of housing and job creation delivery" when they canvass votes in the townships. In Parliament where legislation is passed to give effect to the goals of the RDP, all of them sing a different tune. In addition they put immense pressure on the ANC to adopt neo-liberal policies. They argue for meeting deficit reduction target, they do not want to hear a word - "progressive tax policy".

They call for the reduction of the size of the public service and therefore retrenchment of thousands of workers. Even though the public service should be expanded if it is to provide historically under-serviced communities with adequate education, infrastructure and municipal services. It is only parties of the privileged such as the DP, which would be so arrogant and so ignorant as to believe that they can win votes by promising people reduced services for the majority and improved services for the privileged minority.

These same forces are calling for privatisation of all state assets and put pressure on the government to withdraw from the productive economy. They blame unemployment on the ANC in particular on comrade Tito Mboweni who have pioneered legislation to level the playing field at the workplace level. They attack Nkosazana Zuma and demand that she be dismissed for making health more accessible to the poor. They attack Minister Kader Asmal for legislation aimed at eroding historically advantaged access to our nation`s water resources. They are calling for more federal powers beyond what is provided for in the constitution.

How ironic it is, that it is these same people who advocate policies which will further entrench inequality and racial privilege, go on TV and say that the ANC is failing the people that elected them.

To COSATU, its 2 million members and their families, these parties simply do not represent our interests. Despite weaknesses pointed out in this address and in the Secretariat report, the ANC remains the only force capable of winning the elections which together with its Alliance Partners can bring about fundamental transformation of our society in the manner that will benefit the working class.

The call of our 6th National Congress for all our members to mobilise for a decisive victory of the ANC in the elections is not based on blind and religious loyalty. It is based on concrete analysis of the current political condition and from a conviction that the ANC and the Alliance present to workers and the country the only vehicle towards a truly free, nonracial, non sexist and democratic society.

This Central Committee has to emerge with a programme of action to give effect to the National Congress resolution on the Alliance. Together with this, there should be a thorough discussion on the need for the Alliance to agree on a workable programme to carry-out our joint commitment to fundamental transformation. Weaknesses in the Alliance must be addressed. The postponed Alliance Summit must be held as soon as the technical committees have considered all issues of the agenda.

Comrade delegates to this historic Central Committee, as you go through your business, remember that you owe it to Elijah Barayi, Pheneas Sibiya, Jabu Ndlovu and many other worker leaders who laid down their lives for the cause of the working people. We can not afford to disappoint them.

Forward to an ANC Victory in the 1999 elections!

Forward to the campaign to stop job losses and for job creation!



All power, to the people!