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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech by Zwelinzima Vavi at the funeral of Phandelani Ramagoma

15 August 2009

On behalf of the two million members of the Congress of South African Trade unions I bring our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of our dear Comrade Phandelani Ramagoma, who we lost so tragically in a car accident last weekend.

Our comrades, especially here in Limpopo, remember him with great affection, from the time he served the workers as the Provincial Educator and Organiser in what was then our Northern Transvaal Region. He devoted himself totally to the liberation struggle, and is also remembered, by one of our comrades in particular, as a kind, gentle, unassuming person with a wonderful sense of humour.

He continued to serve the workers and all the people of South Africa with great distinction when he was deployed as the MEC for Public Works in the Limpopo Provincial government and he continued to work hard on the ANC’s PEC and as Limpopo Provincial Chairperson of the SACP.

We salute and bid farewell to a true servant of the people of South Africa and the workers of the world. He will be sorely missed. He exemplified the truth of the saying that the finest cause to which anyone can devote their life is the liberation of the working class. We owe it to comrade Phandelani to follow his example and use this solemn occasion to rededicate ourselves to the principles which he stood for, and to keep up the struggle for the emancipation of humankind to which he devoted his life.

As Karl Marx said, human beings make their own environments, but not under conditions entirely of their choosing. We certainly would not have chosen the environment is which we find ourselves today.

We need cadres like Phandelani more than ever today, as workers face the nightmare of a deep recession and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. We were horrified, yet not surprised, at the massive 17.1% drop in factory output in the year to June 2009 announced a few days ago, followed by the reported 6.7% slump in retail sales.

These grim statistics prove beyond doubt that COSATU and its allies were not ‘prophets of doom’ but sober realists, when we forecast the loss of up to a million jobs in 2009. It is now beyond doubt that the country is still mired in a deep recession. It is terrible news for thousands of workers whose jobs must now be in jeopardy. We face a national emergency and mllions of workers and the poor face a nightmare of poverty.

This makes it even more urgent that we press ahead with the ambitious but absolutely necessary policies set out in the ANC election manifesto and the President’s State of the Nation Address. We are working flat out, with government and business to ensure the speedy implementation of the Framework Agreement on South Africa’s response to the global economic crisis, and its detailed policies to revive the economy and save and create jobs.

It is essential that we maintain and strengthen the broad national partnership, which has developed over the debate and implementation of this agreement. We must all swim together or we shall all sink separately.

We reject totally the argument that the solution to the crisis is for workers to ‘moderate’ their wage demands so that business can maintain its profits.

This is firstly grossly unfair. You cannot expect the have-nots of society – the workers and the poor - to bear the burden of a crisis, which was none of their own making. It was the profiteering, free-market capitalists who brought about this mess, and they – the rich and the bosses - must make the biggest sacrifices.

Secondly it is economic nonsense to call for wage cuts to escape from recession. One of the reasons for the drop in retail sales is the growing number of unemployed, with no money to spend in the shops. If in addition, employed workers take home less money, they also spend less in the shops, more businesses are forced to close, more workers are retrenched and we plunge into an even deeper recession.

Thirdly such a ‘solution’ will increase even further the levels of inequality in South African society, which are already among the highest in the world. Winning above-inflation wage increases is one of the ways by which low-paid workers can start to narrow the wealth gap, and we shall continue to support any union which fights for real increases in the living standards of their members. Below-inflation increases are in reality not increases at all but wage cuts in real terms and will make us an even more unequal society.

Turning to a more immediate issue, COSATU will not stop campaigning for the Reserve Bank to change its strategy and join the national effort to save jobs and turn the economy around. This week’s 50 basis points cut in the repo rate announced by the outgoing Governor of the SA Reserve Bank, Tito Mboweni is better than none, but we insist that this cut is far too small in the context of the economic catastrophe and job-loss bloodbath which has hit the country.

We need much lower interest rates:

  • To bring relief to debt-strapped consumers and give them more money to spend and thus inject demand into the economy,
  • Help struggling employers to keep afloat and save the maximum number of existing jobs, and
  • To promote new investment, which will start to create new jobs.

The Reserve Bank must come on board and adopt policies that are in synch with the national priorities. This must mean much bigger cuts in interest rates, to salvage the maximum number of jobs and stimulate investment. The Monetary Policy Committee’s obsession with the previous government’s inflation-targeting strategy must finally end and be replaced with a policy of targeting growth and job creation.

These, I am sure, are the policies that Comrade Phandelani, if he were still with us today, would be campaigning for and implementing as an MEC. We owe it to his memory to keep up the struggle to which he dedicated his life. Hamba Kahle, comrade!