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COSATU Today  |  Affiliates Speeches

COSATU 10th National Congress - Opening address by ANC President Jacob Zuma

21 September 2009

“Consolidating Working Class Power in Defence of Decent Work and for Socialism”

The President of COSATU, Comrade S’dumo Dlamini;
General Secretary, Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi;
SACP General Secretary, Comrade Blade Nzimande and members of the SACP CEC;
Secretary General of the ANC, Comrade Gwede Mantashe and members of the ANC NEC;
Members of the Central Executive Committee of COSATU;
Fraternal organisations and distinguished international guests;
Shop stewards,
Comrades and friends;

We bring comradely and revolutionary greetings from the African National Congress to this 10th congress of the parliament of workers, COSATU.

This Congress provides an opportunity for the ANC, as the leader of the Tripartite Alliance, to re-affirm the critical importance of COSATU and the working class movement within a multi-class organisation like the ANC. We acknowledge and appreciate the historical role of Cosatu as the powerful voice of the workers, and a dependable ally in the struggle to advance the strategic objectives of the National Democratic Revolution.

In our Election Manifesto, we noted that we were celebrating 15 years of advancing worker rights.

Cosatu played a pivotal role in the creation of the country’s progressive labour legislative framework, which protects and guarantees the rights of workers in our country.

Working with the Alliance, especially Cosatu, the ANC government introduced laws to protect workers and created the machinery to negotiate wages and working conditions. It set minimum wages for domestic and farm workers, hospitality, taxi workers and security sectors and established maximum hours of work for all.

We introduced affirmative action laws and legislation to promote skills.

These achievements would not have been possible without working with a progressive and revolutionary federation like Cosatu.

Comrades, Congress meets just a few months after our hard-fought elections.

The ANC-SACP-Cosatu Alliance fought a good fight, and was united in a vibrant election campaign that resulted in a resounding victory for the ANC.

The ANC, a disciplined force of the left, accepted the electoral mandate which came primarily from the workers and the poor, with a commitment to take further the struggle for a better life for all.

The ANC must now use its victory and control of State power to improve the quality of life of the poor and marginalised.

Together with Alliance partners, we should roll back the legacy of apartheid, racism and colonialism.

We will make a difference in the lives of our people if we make drastic improvements in health, education, rural development, the fight against crime and the creation of decent work, our key priorities.

In our closing address to the ANC Polokwane national conference in December 2007, we stated that the Alliance partners were key stakeholders in policy development and implementation. Indeed we worked together on the drafting of the Election Manifesto.

Working together as the Alliance, we must now move a step further to close the gap between the poor and the rich. We must deal decisively with unemployment, job creation and the eradication of poverty, and we must bring basic services to our people.

To ensure the achievement of these goals after elections, we had to establish a government system that would be able to coherently advance our developmental priorities.

Comrades will recall that in October last year, the Alliance Economic Summit meeting in Johannesburg supported in principle, the need to develop and consider proposals for the restructuring of Cabinet and the reconfiguration of government departments.

The Summit agreed that there was a need for a high level planning, evaluation and monitoring capacity in government. To pursue this, it was proposed that a Planning Commission needed to be set up, headed by the Presidency.

This Commission would have the power to align the work of all government departments and organs of state, to government`s developmental agenda. As you are aware, we moved quickly after the elections to reconfigure government. We created two Ministries in the Presidency, one responsible for the National Planning Commission and the other for effective performance Monitoring and Evaluation.

Both Ministries have produced discussion documents. The ANC will make its comments on the documents to Parliament as required, as much Cosatu has said it will do the same.

The inputs from various sectors should be designed to enrich the process. The final outcome must enable us to meet the undertakings made in the ANC election Manifesto and our strategic objectives as the ANC as well as the Alliance.

Some new departments have been created, others were renamed to indicate a policy shift while yet others were merged or split, as part of the reconfiguration. I will discuss just a few.

We established the Human Settlements department with a mandate to go beyond housing.

It is meant to build communities that have closer access to work and social amenities, including sports and recreational facilities.

Minerals and Energy departments were made independent entities to allow more specific focus and impact on job creation and infrastructure development.

We created two Education Ministries to underline the importance of this priority. The Basic Education Ministry focuses on adult basic education and training, as well as Primary and Secondary education.

You will recall that the Alliance Economic Summit urged an expansion of skills development policies.

Together we noted at that Summit that the quality of the skills and education institutions in our country would determine the success of the country’s industrial policy.

We agreed that we needed to strengthen institutions such as the Sectoral Education and Training Authorities (SETA`s).

The new Higher Education Ministry therefore focuses on tertiary, technical and vocational training as well as skills development which includes the SETAs, to help us meet the objectives outlined in the Alliance Summit and the Manifesto.

We established a new Ministry of Rural Development and Land Affairs, to help us change the face of rural areas through meaningful socio-economic development initiatives.

The new Economic Development Ministry is designed to have a strong domestic focus and to address amongst others, matters of macro and micro-economic development planning. The Ministry together with Trade and Industry, Finance and others are working to refine their respective mandates and how they will relate to each other.

Comrades, the implementation of the ANC manifesto no doubt requires all of us to participate.

In this regard, a teacher’s union such as SADTU must actively take up broader educational issues such as how to bring back the culture of learning and teaching.

It must look at how to promote excellence in schools and transform classrooms to centres of excellence that we can be proud of.

It must also look at what role it can play to bring about a culture where teachers are always in school, everyday, on time, teaching for seven hours daily with no neglect of children and duty.

We also need our public sector union like NEHAWU to play a critical role to promote a responsive, accessible, caring and effective public service.

Unions in the private sector also have implementation responsibilities as well.

Comrades and friends, let me reiterate that the ANC government will make the creation of decent work opportunities and sustainable livelihoods, the primary focus of our economic policies.

Our election Manifesto states clearly that the objective should be reflected in the orientation and programme of development finance institutions and regulatory bodies.

It should be reflected through Government procurement and public incentive rules, as well as policies relating to industrial policy trade, competition, the labour market and other policies.

We must make maximum use of all the means at the disposal of the ANC government, to achieve this.

We must however bear in mind that the ANC formed a new government during a global economic crisis.

The impact of the recession on key sectors of our economy such as manufacturing, mining, automotive and retail is visible and harsh. Earlier reports indicated that we lost close to 180 000 jobs in the first quarter of the year.

The recession will no doubt affect our formal economy targets. The formal economy needs to generate an average 500,000 new jobs annually to halve unemployment by 2014.

This was achieved in recent years, but has been set back by the recession.

The jobs in the formal mainstream economy should not be confused with the 500,000 Expanded Public Works Programme work opportunities that we said we plan to create in the State of the Nation address.

Those are work opportunities aimed at people who are not absorbed by the labour market and for poverty alleviation.

The process of creating those opportunities is ongoing. Funding for EPWP programmes is within the allocated budgets of national departments, provinces and municipalities.

In response to the economic crisis, working together with social partners at Nedlac, labour, business and community sectors, we agreed on a common response. Some of the measures we agreed to put in place include the setting up of a training layoff scheme as one alternative to retrenchment for workers and companies affected by the recession.

We also agreed on support for distressed companies in a number of sectors, by the Industrial Development Corporation.

These undertakings must be implemented without delay.

The important factor is that the economic recession should not make us shift from our goals.

We trust that this Congress will be able locate the role of workers in this changing working environment.

It should define how Cosatu will influence the ever-changing conditions, in the interests of the workers and the poor.

Comrades and friends, the Cosatu Political Report analyses extensively what transpired going to Polokwane and thereafter.

Cosatu played a pivotal role in assisting the ANC to restore its character and spirit in Polokwane.

The epoch making Polokwane conference achieved the goal of returning power to ANC branches, and re-affirmed their supremacy in determining the direction of the movement. Cosatu should be proud of its contribution in this regard.

Most importantly, the Polokwane conference confirmed the importance and relevance of the Alliance, and the need for unity in action, in the joint programme of social transformation.

We were directed by Conference to continue to enhance coordination amongst Alliance partners, and to strengthen the organisational capacity of each individual component of the Alliance. Conference further confirmed that the leadership role of the ANC places on it the primary responsibility to unite the Tripartite Alliance and all the democratic forces.

We believe we have not failed the ANC branches in this regard. The relations between the Alliance partners are more positive and constructive than ever in recent history. The joint action during the drafting of the Manifesto as well as during the elections and other key processes, indicated that all partners value the strategic role of the Alliance.

The ANC National Executive Committee this weekend agreed on the need to call an urgent meeting of the Alliance Secretariat, to be followed by an Alliance Summit.

We have a lot to engage each other on, relating to the resolutions of the Polokwane conference.

We must remember that the Alliance, which is based on mutual respect and autonomy, has always been characterized by vibrancy.

We will therefore not always agree on all issues as the three components.

However, constant direct engagement enables us to disagree in a comradely manner, without being disagreeable.

Comrades, allow me to touch on a few current affairs issues that have been cause for concern.

Mass action, including strikes in their historical context, were meant to serve as tools to mobilise and influence society broadly to sympathise and join the call. They were also traditionally meant to asset the hegemony of the Congress movement.

Violent strikes violate other people’s right of association and undermine the cause of workers.

We have also gone through a period of protests related to service delivery or demarcation consequences in some of our communities. We acknowledge the service delivery bottlenecks in various communities.

However, the lawlessness that has accompanied some of the mass action is unacceptable.

We have noted Cosatu’s view that we need a political rather than a law and order approach to service delivery protests in the long-term.

The Political Report states that a narrow law and order approach is most likely to unwittingly gloss over genuine grievances of the poor.

The ANC will take a broader view in dealing with these struggles. We will address the historic spatial planning problems and also work to resolve the genuine problems facing communities, working together with Alliance partners on the ground.

Comrades, the ANC NEC deliberated at length on the question of the unionization of the military over the weekend, including the recent unfortunate march to the Union Buildings.

We noted that the Labour Relations Act makes an exception to soldiers and intelligence services workers with respect to unionization.

We took a position in favour of the de-unionisation of the military. We strongly believe that this is a matter of national security.

Alternative means must be pursued to improve the conditions of service of our soldiers, as government is doing through the establishment of the Military Service Commission.

Comrades there also has been a raging debate on the national question. As the ANC, we must reaffirm that we are a non-racial organisation.

We are defined by the principles of leading our country to a united, non-racial , non-sexist and democratic society.

Our policies seek to affirm Blacks in general and Africans in particular. Any debate on the national question must take into consideration what steps we need to take to ensure that African people are affirmed, but without dismissing the reality that other Black South Africans face.

In the implementation of our affirmative action or broad-based black economic empowerment policies as the ANC, we must also confront factors such as the view that there is a conspiracy against top black executives in the private sector, including parastatals.

In addressing our approach to this matter in relevant structures within the Alliance, we must be constructive, holistic and cautious and look for long-term solutions.

Another important issue that the ANC NEC dealt with over the weekend is the debate on the 2012 ANC conference and leadership. We all know the impact of an ill-conceived and premature succession debate. The Political Report to this Congress summarises very succinctly the painful and disruptive process that the Alliance and the country went through.

It refers to the emotional scars that many comrades carry up to this day, due to the harsh build up to Polokwane.

It is for this reason amongst others that the NEC has agreed to develop a code of conduct on lobbying, for use at the right time during elections.

The primary task at the moment is the implementation of the Polokwane resolutions and the election mandate. The promotion of a succession debate so prematurely is a mischievous diversion that must be avoided. Comrades, this evening we will depart for New York in the United States, to participate in the United Nations General Assembly debate and later in the G20 Summit in Pittsburg.

We will take forward our call for the transformation of the United Nations system. This lies at the heart of efforts to create a just, stable and sustainable world order.

Given the global economic crisis, the G20 process is important to coordinate an immediate response to restore stability.

We will advance our view that a sustainable response will be achieved through reform of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other multilateral institutions.

We will also advance our support for efforts to finalise the Doha Development Round negotiations as a matter of priority to ensure that we advance to more equitable trade relations among the countries and regions of the world.

Tomorrow, the nations of the world will discuss climate change at the UN. As Africans we remain deeply concerned by climate change.

The continent is particularly vulnerable to changes in climate, which have a profound impact on issues like food security, economic viability and access to water.

Closer to home, as the Alliance we must continue to assist the Zimbabweans to find solutions. We must emphasise the need for the full implementation of the Global Political Agreement.

As neighbours, the Zimbabwean situation is real for us, it is not theoretical. We have a direct interest in the sustainable finalisation of the political settlement.

Comrades, in closing, let me remind Congress of the importance of unity within the working class movement.

In working for unity as you always do, you are building on the founding principles of the South African Congress of Trade Unions, (SACTU).

In its founding statement in 1955, SACTU said: “We firmly declare that the interests of all workers are alike, whether they be European, African, Coloured, Indian, English, Afrikaans or Jewish. We resolve that this coordinating body of trade unions shall strive to unite all workers in its ranks, without discrimination, and without prejudice’’.

Let us continue to work for the unity of the working class, the unity of the Alliance and the unity of all our people.

Working together in unity as the Alliance, we will do more to eradicate poverty and create a better life for all our people.

The African National Congress wishes Cosatu a very successful Congress!