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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Campaigns  |  Miscellaneous

July 2000    


Crush poverty! Create quality jobs!

COSATU stay-away a massive success

What is the way forward?

A report to COSATU members and working people in general

South Africa will remember 10 May 2000 for years to come. Close to four million workers responded to COSATU's call for a general strike, more than double the federation's own membership of 1.8 million.

In the run-up to this day, from 31 January, workers embarked on a programme of mass mobilisation. The eight COSATU Regions had held massive stayaways and successful marches, involving thousands of unemployed workers, in particular the youth and women.

Despite the mass media's attempts to trivialise or ignore our campaign for job creation, against job losses and poverty, it was a resounding success. Workers in their hundreds of thousands poured on to the streets of our cities, giving the lie to those cynics who doubted that South Africa faces a jobs crisis of unprecedented proportions or that COSATU still has the capacity to mobilise its members and the working class in general behind a common struggle for a better life for all.

The striking feature of the campaign has been the support it received from our people and their organs in civil society. The campaign strengthened our relationship with the organs of people's power. It has helped to knit together civil society organisations behind a focused assault on poverty and unemployment.

At a civil society conference on the unemployment crisis organised by COSATU in March this year, it was agreed that a committee made up of the key community-based, non-governmental organisations be set up. An annual civil society conference should be organised by the committee.

A poll conducted by the Sunday Independent newspaper showed clearly the level of support the campaign enjoyed from our people. All this has been done in a manner that allows COSATU to lead and provide strategic direction. After all, the organised workers in particular, and the working class in general, is the leading motive force for the National Democratic Revolution (NDR).

The 2000 May Day celebrations will also go in history as one of the most vibrant and successful events in the history of the organisation.

We pay tribute to workers in particular who had to lay down supreme sacrifices, including losing their day's salaries, so that they can register the importance of the need to address the unemployment crisis in our country.

Unemployment remains a challenge.

Unemployment is the number one crisis South Africa is facing. The Reserve Bank says that the number of people employed in our economy today is the same as in the 1970s. Yet our country's population grows by more than 2% a year. A growing number of South African workers are employed in atypical jobs; sub contracting and casualisation is becoming the order of the day.

All this means that huge numbers of our people are trapped in grinding poverty. A growing number of the employed fall in the category of the working poor! That remains our problem. Only revolutionary trade unions, and their unselfish membership, risks and sacrifices all to put pressure on capital in particular, so that this crisis can be attended to. Thank again to all COSATU cadres and the rest of our reliable allies for their sterling work on this ongoing campaign.

This campaign is however far from being over. No campaign of this magnitude is won by a few marches and stayaways. We must therefore prepare for a long-drawn-out campaign if we hope to win our fight.

The balance of forces is tilting in our favour!

Our campaign has already tilted the balance of forces in our favour in a number of ways. The business community came rushing on the eve of the 10 May 2000 general strike, and again after the strike, to pledge that they were ready to engage us at the most senior level possible on all the issues we were raising. Indeed, business has been sending senior representatives to all meetings organised by Nedlac and have showed willingness to engage us on our demands.

Government, with the exception of the 1 June 2000 meeting that led to the COSATU National Office Bearers' sit-in (see below), has been treating our issues far more seriously now. In each and every home, rich or poor, every South African has in the recent months being talking about the unemployment time bomb.

We certainly managed to get the crisis firmly placed on the national agenda. These are all victories we can count already that would not have been possible have we not embarked in our ongoing programme.

We now want short- and long-term solutions to the national crisis number one unemployment.

Demands of the campaign

Our demands submitted to Nedlac on 31 July 1999 remain. We want:

  • The Labour Relations Act to be changed, to force companies to subject their decisions to retrench to negotiations.

  • The Insolvency Act to be changed, to protect workers better in cases of company liquidations and/or bankruptcy.

  • The National Framework Agreement, negotiated with government on the restructuring of the state owned enterprises, to be renegotiated to deal with the weaknesses of the current NFA, which is unable to stop unilateral restructuring by management and government.

  • The government to halt its programme to accelerate reduction of tariffs on imported goods. We must bring our tariffs in line with our country's commitment to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade negotiated in 1994.

We have stated during this campaign that meeting the above demands will not break the backbone of the unemployment crisis. We need long-term solutions. We are dealing here with structural problems we inherited from the apartheid economy. Unless these deficiencies are addressed, we shall not have dealt with the problems.

In order to address these structural problems we have called for a CODESA type of discussion between all the stakeholders in the economy. This negotiation will take place in Nedlac. The elevation of this policy to the same level as the discussion on the future of our country would send an important signal as to how seriously we view unemployment and poverty.

COSATU Central Executive Committee

16-17 May 2000

The COSATU Central Executive Committee held on the 16 17 May 2000 assessed the campaign and decided as follows:

The CODESA type discussions should take place under the auspices of the NEDLAC. In addition, we will convene an urgent meeting with our alliance partners to develop a common approach.

In the meantime the next phase of the campaign will focus on both our short- and long-term demands. We have given parties eight weeks to consider these issues and come to an amicable solution.

In addition, the campaign will now seek to put faces to the unemployment statistics. This will take the form of pickets and sits-ins in targeted areas where there are threats of job losses. In addition we will conduct road shows with the media to areas where the impact of unemployment has been severe, such as the rural areas.

The CEC has given us the mandate to reassess progress in the coming weeks with respect to the resolution of our short-term demands. If no progress is registered, we will submit another section 77 notice to NEDLAC. COSATU's 7th National Congress on 18-21 September 2000 will further assess the impact of the campaign and if no progress is achieved by then, a more drastic programme of action shall be drafted.

We noted media reports on the new Statistics South Africa employment and unemployment figures. The central message emerging from these is that the scale of job losses has been overestimated by overlooking the informal sector. The fact that quality jobs have been replaced by survivalist activities in the informal sector is cause for concern.

A downgrading of jobs certainly forms part of the job crisis in our country. A shift to these kinds of employment goes hand in hand with a loss of job security and income, both of which aggravate poverty and slow development. Quibbling over figures and percentage points cannot hide the fact that the job loss crisis is the most important social and economic problem facing South Africa today.

A draft framework for job creation was presented for discussion. The framework was broadly endorsed. More work must be done to summarise the outline of the key COSATU proposals for job creation. The inaugural Central Committee resolutions, the previous National Congress policy statements, as well as documents such as the 1996 document known as the Social Equity, should all be used.

The purpose of the framework is to prepare the federation better for the engagement with capital, government and in the Alliance. This framework will be presented to the 7th National Congress for further debates and endorsement.

The CEC gave the go-ahead for COSATU's participation in the Millennium Labour Council, with business and the President's working group. The Millennium Labour Council is a bilateral structure established between labour and business, so that negotiations on the economy, in particular areas involving business and labour, can take place. The Council will be officially launched on 7 July 2000.

The President's working group is a structure of a series of bilaterals between the President and other stakeholders. He has bilaterals with labour, business, commercial agriculture, etc. These engagements should however, not erode the role of Nedlac, which should be retained as the institution of social dialogue. These other engagements should reinforce this role. COSATU is not interested in a social accord that calls for mythical class peace or based on one-sided sacrifices. We see all these forums as sites of struggle.

In addition, we will convene an urgent meeting with our alliance partners to develop a common approach. A meeting with the ANC Secretary General on 8 May indicated a strong commitment to finding a resolution on the outstanding issues. Unfortunately no meetings have been held since then. Our alliance partners, the SACP and the ANC, have important conferences during this period. It will be good for them to have discussions on these matters as well.

Report from NEDLAC Executive Council
Regarding our Section 77 Notice

The Nedlac Executive Council held on 19 May 2000

At an Executive Council meeting of Nedlac on 19 May 2000, the parties agreed there would be a special meeting, convened at a senior level, to discuss the areas related to the COSATU programme of action on jobs and the demands put up at Nedlac through its Section 77 application, as well as the broader issue of our call for a CODESA type of discussion to engage on long-term solution to unemployment, including a discussion on macro-economic policy. This meeting was to be either a special Executive Council or another appropriate meeting.

When it was not possible to organise the special Executive Council of Nedlac, a special five-a-side meeting of "senior representatives" was convened by the Nedlac Executive Director to deal with the COSATU demands on 1 June 2000.

Whilst the COSATU NOBs, and a fairly senior delegation from the business and community organisations represented in Nedlac, attended the meeting, the government sent what, in our view, was not a sufficiently senior delegation. The most senior persons from government were the Deputy Directors-General of the Department of Labour. This attitude, we felt, was showing a scant disregard to the millions of workers who demonstrated in support of our demands.

The COSATU NOBs then advised the delegation from government about our unhappiness and that they would be embarking on a sit-in until the government gave an undertaking that the job crisis discussions would be taken seriously.

For more than 21 hours, the National Office Bearers stayed in Nedlac offices in protest, symbolically waiting for a senior government delegation to engage us on our demands. The strategy elicited a prompt response from government who, on the Friday morning, contacted us to say that there was a misunderstanding and it was not their intention to undermine the process.

The Minister of Labour gave an undertaking to the President and General Secretary of COSATU that the Government was committed to the resolution of these issues. They would ensure a delegation at the next meeting, scheduled for the 19 June 2000, that would consist of senior political leadership - the Ministers. The Minister of Labour also sent his Director General to convey his apology. Based on this, the National Office Bearers ended the sit-in.

This sit-in should be seen as being part of the broader programme to ensure that the crisis of poverty, unemployment and job losses do not fall off the agenda of the country. We have written a letter to affiliates, through the Organising Secretary, requesting affiliates to provide us with information on where retrenchments have taken place or been threatened. We want to build a programme targeting the employers who continue with retrenchments despite our call for a moratorium.

The Nedlac Executive Council held on 19 June 2000

We were satisfied by the seniority of both government and business representatives at the meeting. For the first time since we submitted our section 77 notice on 31 July 1999, there was there a discussion on the contents of our demands. Regarding our demand for the renegotiations of the National Framework Agreement (NFA), COSATU made the following demands:

  • A moratorium on any further major restructuring process until the NFA has been re-negotiated. It makes no sense to launch a discussion with the Ministry of Public Enterprises on the new policy framework on restructuring when, at the same time as we negotiate, major restructuring decisions are unilaterally being made and publicly announced by both management and government.

  • That the framework negotiations that have started should be concluded within the next two weeks and certainly not later than 19 July 2000, our deadline for negotiations on our demands as decided, by the May CEC.

  • Lastly the six-a-side, which was established in terms of the provisions of the current NFA should take place soon. The government should present a comprehensive report on restructuring that has taken place at this meeting.

The government did not agree with our demand for a moratorium but agreed that it will further consider this at cabinet level. It agreed that the demand for a moratorium should be a term of reference for the six-a-side meeting, that the framework negotiations should be concluded and that the six-a-side should take place within two weeks.

Our demand that tariff levels be aligned to our country's commitments to the World Trade Organisation stands. Accelerated tariff liberalisation has caused massive job losses in a number of industries. It was agreed at the Nedlac EXCO that bilateral discussions between COSATU and the Department of Trade and Industry would proceed from where they ended on 3 April 2000. Our deadline of 19 July 2000 for the conclusion of negotiations on tariffs question stands.

Amendments to the Labour Relations Act, in order to make retrenchment more difficult, by subjecting retrenchments to mandatory negotiations and giving workers a right to strike over retrenchment disputes, as well as amendments to the Insolvency Act so that it can provide a better protection to workers, was also discussed. The Minister of Labour outlined his departmental proposal, contained in the draft bill that was still to be submitted to Cabinet for mandate purposes.

We wish to place on record that whilst the proposals that the government tabled in the meeting form a basis for further constructive engagement, the proposal they tabled falls short of addressing our demands on the amendments of the LRA outlined in the paragraph above.

We believe the agreement reached in Nedlac on the need for a discussion on the key economic and social issues, in order to address poverty and unemployment amongst others, is a breakthrough. COSATU has consistently called for a CODESA type of negotiations between all the stakeholders in the economy to address the structural problems we inherited from the apartheid economy.

The fact that all Nedlac constituencies committed themselves to negotiate a series of economic national priorities is another clear demonstration of how the workers' campaign has helped to open a space for a debate on these matters.

COSATU Executive Committee (EXCO)
Held on 20 - 21 June 2000

Jobs and anti poverty campaign

EXCO received a report on developments since the May CEC which issued the eight weeks deadline for conclusion of negotiations on our demands. It endorsed our demands for a moratorium and the approach COSATU delegates took in the Nedlac Executive Council.

We have decided to rally the rest of the federation and the country to highlight the plight of workers employed by state-owned enterprises, in particular Transnet, where up to 27 000 jobs are threatened, and Telkom and the Post Office, where more than 10 000 jobs are on the line.

Our campaign against this unilateral restructuring is not just about the defence of our members' jobs. At the centre of the campaign, in the case of Transnet for example, is the defence of an affordable, accessible and efficient public transport system. This campaign will be combined with the campaign against job losses and for the right of trade unions to participate as a stakeholder in the process of restructuring the government-owned enterprises. Our members staged a sit-in at Transnet on 21 June 2000.

A campaign is being drafted to focus the entire federation on these institutions. In the meantime all affiliates must submit reports of companies retrenching or threatening retrenchments so that they too can be targeted.

Job Creation Trust Fund

The EXCO discussed and approved a proposed detailed framework that will serve as a guide to the Job Creation Fund Trustees as how to spend the R25 million received as donations from workers for the Fund. The meeting of the trustees is being convened.

At the same time, infrastructure is being put in place to increase the capacity to spend the money, by getting the Industrial Development Trust (IDT) and Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) to play a role in managing and monitoring the project. We also noted that the public service workers have started to make their three months staggered contribution to the Job Creation Fund.

This will certainly improve dramatically the money already collected. We once again thank workers for demonstrating their commitment to the cause of job creation. This is consistent with the revolutionary role that the democratic trade union movement has played in the past and continues to play in the transformation of our society.

COSATU is happy with the progress registered in both the collection, and preparations to spend, the workers' contributions for the intended purpose. We shall seek to contribute through this fund to some short-term priorities, such as building the infrastructure destroyed by the recent floods and the Presidential Housing Lead Project. We also seek to work in partnership with other funds such as Umsobomvu Fund, as we believe there is a need to improve co-ordination to maximise the impact on unemployment.

Western Cape Taxi Violence

The EXCO discussed at length the taxi terrorism and violence unleashed against bus drivers in the Western Cape. We condemn this criminal activity by warlords bent on killing and maiming both bus drivers and commuters. They have a clear intention of forcing bus companies out of the townships and commuters into taxis. The death of yet another bus driver, Michael Magadlela, is a heinous crime and the perpetrators must be hunted down and punished.

It is clear that the Western Cape coalition government is unable to make a decisive intervention to stop this carnage. Not a single perpetrator has been arrested for violence against the bus drivers and commuters. No further negotiation should take place with the taxi associations until they have condemned violence and identified warmongers responsible for the killings.

We are now calling for the National Government's decisive intervention. We reiterate a call previously made to the Ministers of Transport and Safety and Security and the National Police Commissioner to:

  • Close the taxi ranks in the affected areas until normality is achieved;

  • Withdraw permits of those fomenting violence and remove illegal operators from our roads;

  • Ensure effective law enforcement including the deployment of sufficient security personnel;

  • Step up investigation into three murders and other related crimes. The fact that no individual has been arrested means that the perpetrators of violence are operating with impunity;

  • Urgently facilitate further negotiations with a view of providing meaningful long-term solutions.

We support the COSATU Western Cape Region's decision to prepare for a 24-hour protest strike against the DP/NNP coalition government. A section 77 application was lodged on 15 June 2000 to this effect. This means that if no progress is achieved before 29 June, a general strike in Western Cape should be called.

We shall not accept cheap and narrow political bickering amongst politicians whilst our members (both bus drivers and commuters) continue to be maimed by the forces of darkness.

Pension Surplus

EXCO considered a report on the ongoing negotiation around the repatriation of the pension surplus. The decision of EXCO is that a moratorium on repatriation of the surplus and the change of rule of pensions funds should be imposed until the discussions in Nedlac are finalised. If this demand is not adhered to, COSATU will consider submitting a section 77 and, through focused action targeting those companies currently repatriating the surplus and changing rules in a manner that gives them access to the middle of negotiations, to settle the current dispute.

Nedcor / Stanbic Merger Stopped!

COSATU welcomed the Minister of Finance's decision not allow Nedbank to proceed with its hostile takeover of Stanbic. We believe this will remove the threat of further job losses in the banking industry. We shall however be observing with interest that the Standard Bank does not also proceed with its own plans to throw workers into the streets. They should now shelve their plans to retrench workers.

We also believe it is important to increase the level of competition in the banking industry and reject with contempt the red herring that South African banks are about to be wiped out by international competition.


In line with our commitment to the principle of involving members in decision-making on major challenges facing the federation, we are providing you with this information. We hope you shall share it with your fellow workers and families.

COSATU is holding its 7th National Congress on 18-21 September 2000. This congress will evaluate our campaign. If our assessment is that, despite the deadline issued by the May CEC, no sufficient progress is achieved in meeting our demands, Congress will have to develop a more drastic programme of action to induce a settlement of the issues.

Discuss this report, as well as what form of further action should be taken if no movement is achieved on all our demands as outlined in this article.