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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Central Exec  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Willie Madisha, COSATU President, at the Central Committee in Esselen Park, Kempton Park

19 November 2001

"COSATU has always been, and will continue to be, the guardian of the poor"

Comrades, this is the first central committee of our seventh national congress; but it is the second central committee in the history of our federation. Over the next three days we will meet in a forum for the battle of ideas. We will deliberate on our quest to advance the interests, ideals and objectives of our members,in particular, and the working class in general as is outlined in our constitution. (See Aims and Objectives of COSATU)

The COSATU Seventh National Congress directed you to convoke a meeting of the Central Committee this year to look into the structures and operations of the Federation at all levels, with a view to ensuring that all such structures and operations are geared to proper membership organising and service strategies;- accountable and good leadership, management and staff development. We also agreed building our Federation with the capacity and ability to engage and respond appropriately to the global demands of this new century.

We convoke this forum amid momentous challenges we face as a Federation of the working people of our country, and as a component of the broad working class.

Chief amongst the challenges we face is the fact that our class opponent, the bourgeoisie is actively waging its own class struggle against us and the broad working class of our country. In waging the class struggle, the bourgeoisie Is determined to set the agenda and dictate to the working class how'it (the working class) must respond to the class struggle waged by the bourgeoisie itself What the bourgeois class is therefore advancing through its agenda is clearly not in the best interests of the working class, but in the interests of advancing the bourgeoisie's own class interests. The bourgeoisie thus wants to set the agenda and the rules governing the class
struggle in South Africa. When the working class protests against these disadvantages to itself, the bourgeoisie blackmails into submission - the working class by its name- calling, labeling and accusations that ours is a counter-revolutionary course.

We must refuse this categorisation because we know that the bourgeoisie can't positively serve anyone's interests other than its own. Indeed, history has taught us that the best gift your enemy can give you is poison.

The working class must refuse to be blackmailed into submission, because such a triumph will sound the death knell for what the working class fought and campaigned for: a better life for all, the immense majority of our people.

The second momentous challenge faced by this central committee relates to the trajectory of the national democratic revolution (NDR). Although all Alliance partners are still committed to the attainment of the goals of the NDR, recent developments however, have shown that from within the Tripartite Alliance itself, there lacks a consensus in respect of how we advance towards attaining the goals of the NDR.

Since 1928 when the ANC and later the trade union movement adopted the then Communist Party of South Africa's (CPSA) (forerunner to the renamed SACP) ideals and conception of the NDR. There has always been a common understanding and agreement that the NDR project seeks to address simultaneously the national question as well as class and gender exploitation.

This it did because of what it saw as the specific route of capitalist development in our country, which created an inseparable bond between capitalist exploitation and race domination. With this bond, evolved permanent gender inequalities.

The NDR therefore, sought to address this problem of the bond between racial domination, class exploitation and women's social and economic subjugation.

But today we see the separation of these, and thus the elevation to. some higher pedestal of the national question at the expense of the class question.

This subordination of the class question is expressed both word and spirit as the recent ANC's briefing notes testify. This has got to be dealt with, as we believe that in respect of the South African sociopolitical milieu, NO national qyestion can ever be resolved without simultaneously addressing the class question.

The next challenge comes as a consequence of the so-called ANC briefing notes released by the most immediate past ANC NEC and widely circulated to ANC regions and branches.

Whilst we recognise the fact that every alliance partner is independent and has the right to produce documents, brief its constituency and continuously mobilise its members behind such partners policies; we note, however, that for the first time in the history of our Alliance a document was produced intentionally to mobilise members against another Alliance partner. In our interpretation, the document was not only aimed at mobilising against COSATU and its leadership, but was indeed aimed at the total annihilation of the trade union movement, as it advocates a scotched earth policy against COSATU, merely due to the fact that COSATU went on strike against privatisation and thus dared to challenge the governments neo liberal agenda.

The document in letter and spirit contradicts what the president of our country as well as the ANC said to our inaugural central committee on 22 June 1998. (See your secretarial report and minutes booklet pages 26 -27) In his input the president said, and 1 will quote him at some length because of the importance of'what he said:

" But then, we must not fall victim to the easy temptation to label'one another as this or that school of thought, and thus close the dialogue among ourselves.

Indeed, 1 have noticed that these days some comrades seem to think that the attachment of political labels, like the labeling of different brands of beer, is some honourable revolutionary occupation. This one is ultra-left. The other is neo-liberal and another is right Wing.

Sometimes, when we are supposed to think and analyse, the complex situation we all face demands, we resort to throwing around swear words. And all of us know that to swear at somebody is to look for a fight and not a discussion, even among those who might call one another comrades.

1 speak in these terms because you are gathered here, as the Central Committee of COSATU constitute an important part of the progressive leadership of our country and people. As this leadership, we must never take the position that we know South Africa and the world and therefore that we do not need to study and analyse either South Africa or the world, and therefore provide correct leadership."

The actions by our Alliance partner - the ANC - between the time of the presidents speech to you and today, is in direct contradiction of the thinking and leadership of the president.

Contrary to what the president raised, the document (BRIEFING NOTES) labels those who hold different views to that of the government's neo liberal policies as being either ultra-left or right wing or counter revolutionary and not committed to transformation. These NOTES also prompts members of this revolutionary trade union movement to hunt, isolate and destroy those who differ! This notion is both shortsighted and self-defeating.

The authors of the NOTES have suddenly and purposely forgotten that it was the COSATU CONGRESS that resolved to fight against such wrong policies through all means possible, including strike actions. The authors of the NOTES choose to forget that it was members and close to 2 000 delegates of the 7ffi Congress, (to which the ANC was invited and indeed attended) that openly debated and finally resolved to protect their jobs and their standards of living. It was also Congress that drew up the programme of action and commanded the CEC to actualise such a programme.

They purposefully choose not to understand that this is a C-OSATU programme and therefore the programme of the owners of COSATU - and the owners of COSATU are its own 2 million members! That it is therefore not possible for COSATU to isolate and destroy itself from ITSELF.

The allegation that COSATU's ultra-leftists want to turn COSATU into a leftist workers party is both insulting and demeaning to the working people of our country. This allegation purports that South African workers are stupid and has not, despite decades of political education and mobilisation grasped from Joe Slovo's teaching which continue to guide us daily, that " It is, however, vital to maintain the distinction between trade union politics and overall revolutionary leadership. A trade union cannot carry out this dual role - if it attempted to do so it would have to change its basic character and risk committing suicide as a mass legal force. In addition, the very nature and purpose of the trade unionism disqualifies it from carrying out the tasks of a revolutionary vanguard. The syndicalist notion that unions should act as political parties is so discredited that it has few if any open adherents.'

Contrary to the belief that those who label us, NVE are way ahead in understanding, as a result of these teachings. Without doubt, we remain convinced that those who accuse COSATU of being counter-revolutionary do so with a purpose of shifting the focus ftom the serious economic problems facing our country.

COSATU has been consistent in raising the fact that GEAR is a wrong policy for our country, because we believe it will not and indeed, has not addressed the plight of the immense majority of South Africans. GEAR, contrary to its promises of economic growth has led to job losses.

That this policy, which has ensured contractionist adventures by government, has led to the social deficits created by Apartheid not being addressed. That again as a result of GEAR priorities regarding economic developments is clearly misplaced.

Thus, to shift the focus of the nation from what COSATU continues to raise- which are genuine problems. The authors of BRIEFING NOTES we earlier referred, however, attempt to create enemies of the revolution and urge the'-working class to run after this false threat, just like it was done with the so - called plot to unseat our leadership. Members of COSATU are fortunately developed enough to understand such outdated strategies.

The South African workers have studied, interpreted and placed in our own revolutionary context the rise and fall of similar revolutions in Grenada, Chile and Nicaragua. The attacks on comrades by comrades who find themselves in positions of power is not new, and therefore the experiences we have gathered from these countries must help us to interpret our own situation.

Without doubt, we remain convinced that those who accuse COSATU of being counter revolutionary do so with the purpose of shifting the focus from the serious economic problems of our country. Thus what the cc must do is to reject these BRIEFING NOTES and expose them for what they are. Secondly, this Central Committee must once again call for the Alliance to meet and, deal with the serious problems the Alliance faces.

We must call on the ANC to show leadership that the African National Congress has exercised over the past ninety years of its existence. COSATU has never doubted the leadership, which the ANC earned:

  • Never through patronage
  • never through labeling never through sacrificing principles (even if tactics may have to change)
  • never through an attack on Alliance partners

That leadership was earned through patience, through understanding that the ANC is a multi-class formation, committed to open debate with the intention to arrive at an agreed upon position. LET THAT LEADERSHIP PREVAIL NOW.

The ANC, together with all of us, has always subscribed to Le Duan's description of an alliance as being the "unity of opposites.' And as Joe Slovo put it " the classes and the strata which in a front'of struggle usually have different long term interests and often, even contradictory expectations from the immediate phase. The search for agreement usually leads to a minimum platform which excludes some of the positions of the participating classes or strata ... an alliance ... can only survive and flourish if it is governed by a democratic relationship between the groupings that come together."

COSATU will continue to call for an Alliance summit to handle al 1 differences that emerge due to perceptions, operations and tactics in the pursuance of our revolutionary goals. That summit must as an entry point solve the.impasse that arises:

  • our disagreements over economic policies of our country's growth path
  • the absence of a minimum programme of governance
  • operational protocol for the Alliance

Together with the ANC and the SACP we must not allow a tendency, which is the real threat to our revolution, that seeks to climb by all means through the ladder of power through patronage and lies. It is that tendency, which like similar tendencies that operate in any bourgeois democratic revolutions that will collapse our revolution.

The policies and operational tactics we espouse as the present COSATU leadership are not new. These polices are the policies that have been since the inception of COSATU. We take forward the policies and Congress after Congress we meet to adapt such policies, resolutions and operational tactics to the objective material conditions.

In all our operations we have been guided by what former leaders have said to us, and perhaps we must quote Jay Naidoo's parting words when we deployed him to parliament in the 1993 Special Congress. He said:

"This team you have elected is to represent not just the narrow views of the trade union movement but the interests of the whole working class... Leadership must never be allowed to act in their own personal interests. They must act in the interests of those who elected them. But for this you will have to keep the unions strong....

This is one of the saddest moments in my life. COSATU has been my life. But we will be going to the National Assembly to carry forward the work of COSATU, its policies and principles. 1 pledge to you that we will not allow ourselves to be manipulated by any government. COSATU has always been, and will continue to be, the guardian of the poor. 1 want my child to grow up in a South Africa free of poverty, crime and oppression."

We shall live up to these expectations.


Comrades we have many progressive policies on the above, but today we must move beyond the resolutions.

This central committee must take an absolute decision in respect of people infected with and dying of HIV-AIDS.

COSATU must ossify the call for treatment of these multitudes of victims to sustain lives of people infected, ensure the improvement of the economy and to preserve human resources in our country.

We therefore, call for the urgent implementation of a comprehensive treatment programme which includes the provision of life saving anti - retroviral drugs.

The majority of those are among the working class will not be able to afford these high prices that will give them access to medicines. In addition, it is from this same constituency - the poor and unemployed that placed this present government into power.

It is also us - COSATU and the NGO's who supported our government against the pharmaceutical multinational corporations. It is of historical record that we won that case after intense international mobilisation amongst unions and civil society. Now the time has come to deliver on that victory. Implementation of these measures will definitely save many lives.


Comrades some of us have it on record that we are prepared to forego our positions for this noble goal of workers unity.

We have much in common with workers belonging to other unions such as NACTU and FEDUSA. The differences, which have kept us apart before, do not apply any longer. Every day we remain divided - the bosses gain.

We must stop this daily competition against each other and unite to achieve our broader goals. That is why this CEC must make a serious call for unity of the working people. We accordingly, invite NACTU and FEDUSA as well as the unaffiliated unions to come home. The only home 1 know is at COSATU house.


A strong COSATU is built on strong foundations: its affliates. Here we call on the unity of the affiliates and leadership. Looking for enemies behind every chair or shadow will weaken us and divert us from tackling and defeating the momentous challenges we face.

The documents you have before you must help us build this organisation. We dare not fail to rise to the occasion. AMANDLA!