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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

COSATU 10th National Congress - Opening address by COSATU President Sidumo Dlamini

21st September 2009

Members of the Central Executive Committee,
The delegation of the ANC led by president Jacob Zuma
The delegation of the SACP led by the General Secretary comrade Blade Nzimande,
The President of SANCO and your delegation
The President of the ANC Women`s League Cde Angie Motshega and your delegation;
The President of the ANC Youth League, Cde Julius Malema and your delegation;
The National Secretary of the Young Communist League, Cde Buti Manamela and your delegation;
The President of SASCO and the delegation;
The Acting President of COSAS and your delegation;
The President of FEDUSA and your delegation;
The President of NACTU and your delegation;
The President of SANGOCO and your delegation;
Invited guests from all civil society formations and faith based organisations present here today;
Representatives from various government departments, and other statutory bodies and institutions
Our long time international friends present here today;
Members of the diplomatic corps.

I welcome you, the ever combat-ready and courageous members of this gigantic Federation gathering here, in your capacity as delegates to this historic 10th National Congress.

Please accept warm greetings from the NOBs and the Central Executive Committee of COSATU.

Comrades, among the six chairs that we have at the front table, one of them belongs to the 2nd Deputy President of COSATU comrade Violet Seboni. Surely if she was around today she would be sitting there, in her COSATU regalia and SACTWU jacket. That lively leader who gave meaning to what it means to be a shop steward was painfully and untimely taken away from all of us. When comrade Allinah was deployed to parliament after elections, only three NOBs remained, all of them males.

We would like to thank CEC members for giving us the necessary support which allowed us to steer this ship up to this day. Our arrival to this congress is a sign that your organisation is still intact and coherent, as you mandated us to maintain it in the last congress!

Comrades we meet here today under different conditions. COSATU is stronger. The growth in our membership and increasing levels of our unity and cohesion, prove this. This week we shall present to you a detailed account of what we have done to take forward the mandate you gave us to build our movement and to make the Jobs and Poverty campaign the centre of all our campaigns.

The ANC is stronger than it was in the last congress. We have dislodged the 1996 class project. Those who tried to provoke a walkout by the left ended being the ones who left to form a splinter group that has no future. The lesson we should draw from history is that every splinter grouping that departs our beloved ANC signifies a milestone in the evolution and maturity of our movement, a turn in the progress of our revolution.

The ANC is back to its rightful owners, its members organised in branches and other structures. The SACP is stronger, continuing to provide leadership to the working class during these uncertain times, pregnant with many fundamental possibilities of social change. The Alliance is stronger than any other time. Unity and cohesion that is occasioned by the increasing overlaps in policy stances adopted in our recent conferences has meant elimination of most of the tensions that characterised the alliance relations for so long.

Differences will always be there but it is differences among comrades. However, the maturity of our revolution is increasingly beginning to show to ordinary workers and the masses of our people, that there are no hostile differences within our ranks. Recent events have shown that the multi-class character of our ANC requires the utmost vigilance and clear ideological perceptiveness on the side of the working class.

This Alliance is here to stay for as long as the colonial and capitalist conditions that gave birth to our struggle persist. The doomsday prophets, who were sounding the death-knell of the Alliance during the dark days of the 1996 class project are now painfully swallowing their words-Amathe abuyele kwasifuba!

We salute you members of the Federation for helping us register these advances in the past three years. In particular, we thank those of you who enthusiastically responded to the clarion call of the 2015 Plan - to strengthen the ANC and the SACP on the ground and to swell the ranks!

We have partly saved our movement! We have defeated those who sought to transform it into a centre-right and a narrow electoral machinery that will reduce our people into voting cattle.

This congress theme spells out the challenges we face - consolidating working class power in defence of decent work and socialism.

We have made tremendous gains since 1994. These include

  • The massive electrification programmes,
  • The introduction of a social safety net system that plays such a critical role to cushion the poor from poverty,
  • Building of houses that provide shelter for up to 15 million poor South Africans.

However, comrades, we also had a policy called GEAR, the cornerstone of those that have been defeated in Polokwane. That policy document will go down in the history of our movement as the most irresponsible policy document ever to have been written by those who call themselves comrades.

In the historic 52nd ANC conference, it has been agreed that all our policies, including macro-economic policies, shall be realigned to meet the objective of creating decent work and eradicating poverty. The previously stalled and ignored policies for rural development and food security, skills development, restructuring of the economy and introduction of the National

Health Insurance, etc. have all been taken forward. Today these form part of government programmes.

In addition that conference elected capable leadership under the leadership of comrade Jacob Zuma - Msholozi! to lead our movement to organisational renewal, unity and progress under the theme - working together we can do more! Indeed Msholozi, pigs flew when you took over the reins of our movement and country!

Without sounding triumphalist, we should at least spoil ourselves to celebrate working class power and gains. We have confirmed Lenin`s insight, through our deeds, that the working class is the only consistent combatant for democracy in the democratic revolution. The rest of the classes tend to vacillate, run back and forth, to and fro, like rats, in the heat of the class battle, when no clear victor can be determined. We were called names, ultra-left, imperialist stooges bent to destroy the NDR, and other crazy labels. Where are they now, those who called us those names?

They have not been completely defeated. They still survive, in the crevices of the state apparatus, in the cracks of our movement that we are fixing, and they continue to wage their struggle against us, sometimes openly encouraging capitalists not to be cowards, and that capitalists must show their force by bashing us. Sometimes the war is not visible, waged through the most soft means that work through public opinion and sabotage inside the state apparatus. Our strategic challenge is to defend these gains, to identify pressure points where we need to rally our forces, where the enemy has retreated and to strike correctly and with all our might without fail. And let me warn all that we will defend these gains with our lives!

We are meeting in the middle of the unprecedented crisis of capitalism, which threatens to undermine all the gains we have made over the past 15 years, and possibilities to register more gains. Capitalism is facing one of its worse crises since the great depression of 1920s. Overnight, money capitalists have lost all the fat that they have accumulated over the years of the notorious Washington Consensus. They are wallowing in the contradictions of their own system. Unfortunately, as workers, we are the other side of the coin of capitalism and so our antithesis has brought us also into this crisis.

39 million of workers have lost their jobs globally, 46 million more people are being pushed deeper into poverty, at least 1.4 million babies may die by 2015, world industrial production is down 21%. Factories are closing in their thousands, incomes are drying up.

Let us make one thing clear though. It is not workers who are responsible for this crisis. Workers therefore should not be made, and should never allow themselves to be made, to bear the brunt of the crisis. Many in our society have hypocritically argued that workers must tighten their belts. We say those company executives must give up their large perks, cars and houses. Why should a worker`s family house be repossessed, why should a worker feel criminalized by banks for a problem that the banks and their cousins in financial markets have created?

Today there is both evidence and agreement in our country and the world that free market system has failed humanity! Only hard heads filled with concrete would think otherwise.

We shall debate in this congress and listen to inputs from all our invited guests, including our international friends on what strategies we must pursue to avoid this crisis being placed on the shoulder of the poor and workers. In South Africa we celebrate that we were the first country to adopt a locally brewed response to the crises when we adopted the "framework for South Africa` response to the international crisis". How far has it been implemented, or is it just talk? We should debate ways in which we can closely monitor progress in this front.

Since the adoption of the framework we have seen worsening of the economic situation. The GDP has fallen by 6, 4% in the first 3 months of this year. We have already lost 475 000 jobs, with many estimating that we may lose up to 1 million jobs in total this year. Workers lost earnings of at least R6.3 billion, a blow to the fight against inequality and poverty.

Manufacturing production for the three months up to January 2009 fell by 8.1% compared to a 5.8% fall in the previous three-month period.

For the first three months, a total of 208,000 jobs were lost, almost two thirds (143 000) of them in retail, just under a third (62,000) in manufacturing and the rest (53,000) in agriculture, transport and the public service. This increased the number of officially unemployed people in the country from 3, 9 million to just under 4, 2 million. These figures completely reversed figures in the labour market indicators for the fourth quarter of 2008 which showed that the economy had created 189,000 new jobs.

Vehicle sales in July 2009 were down 27.6%, from a year ago, an even bigger drop than the 23.7% fall in June. Sales have now been falling every month since April 2007. Even worse is the news that vehicle exports fell by a massive 60.3% over the year to July.

There was a massive 17.1% drop in factory output in the year to June 2009. This follows by the reported 6.7% slump in retail sales.

This is a crisis comrades. But we cannot blame all this on the global slowdown; we have had a large dose of irresponsible policy, particularly by the Reserve Bank. Tightening monetary policy by increasing interest rates brought the economy to its knees. The outgoing Governor said people must give up their 4-by-4`s, oblivious to what he was doing to growth, fixated with one thing - inflation. He forgot that looking at one gauge is not a good way to manage a car, you must look at everything when you manage the economy, especially that which is very important to ordinary people, jobs. We should deliberate on what to do with the Reserve Bank, who actually runs it and which department should be politically responsible for it in government.

Moving further across our borders, there was denial of the extent of the problem in Zimbabwe and those who raised their voice were labelled. Today we agree on the gravity of the problem in that country. We all agree that quiet diplomacy has not been helpful.

We agree that focus must be on ensuring that the Global Political Agreement is respected, SADC processes that seek to support that process are respected. We must not allow SADC to be reduced into a toothless body and SADC leaders themselves have a responsibility to inspire confidence to African citizens in this regard.

We expect them to also follow and respect SADC protocols in their own countries, as they engage to find solution in Zimbabwe. It is a shame that the Swaziland monarchy is allowed to occupy the respected position of Chairperson and be hypocritical about Zimbabwe, when the same mess that visited Zimbabwe exists in his own country.

We want Freedom now in Swaziland. It is disturbing that the world, particular the developed world, is silent about Swaziland. Are we waiting for a confrontational conflict before we can intervene?

Comrades, today is really better than yesterday but we cannot forget the past lest it repeats itself. The working class and the poor of this country will tell a painful story of what happened when those of their own, who got educated and empowered so that they can advance their dream, ultimately turn around to be the spokespersons of the very same masters who oppressed their people. They use the same fiery language of the oppressed to explain to them that they must wait another hundred years for their economic freedom. They are among us but they refuse to commit class suicide.

Comrades the changes we see today did not come out of a natural process. It is because of systematic planning and struggle that you have consistently waged before and post the 9th Congress, the 12th SACP Congress, into the ANC 52nd National Congress, towards the 2009 general elections, a struggle that you continue to wage up to this day.

Make no mistake comrade, the struggle is not over. Instead Polokwane has put even more responsibility on our shoulders. We need to defend those resolutions. We must be the ones who explain their content, elaborate them into policy, and devise plans to practically implement them. Without a heavy weight of the working class in the ANC, these resolutions will remain only on paper. It does not matter whether Msholozi is the President or not, if we do not provide that class leadership which the ANC requires, we cannot blame Msholozi and do another Polokwane. We will lose the confidence placed on us by all the popular classes. Now the ball is in our hands, we cannot drop it!

We hear that others are saying the succession debate for the ANC 2012 Conference has started. This is a matter that will be discussed at the right time by the ANC itself. Once again, the working class is called upon to sharpen its vigilance. The current leadership of our movement must know, and must not take for granted, the support given to them by the working class. Our movement is a contested one from a class perspective. If these leaders for a moment forget which class catapulted them to where they are, they will be mauled by bourgeois sharks.

If the time comes for that discussion on leadership, we declare now for all to hear that we will not be neutral, but we will side with the principles that have guided our movement up to this day. We are aware that the ANC, whilst it leads the NDR, it is itself a trench of struggle, a dynamic organism that veers towards where the wind blows, depending on which class is at the helm. And so, as members of the ANC in our own right, we will ask difficult questions to anyone who suggests changes in the current leadership, barely 4 months into government office! Is that not position-consciousness, opportunism and the most despicable careerism?

We are also aware of the enormous challenges confronted by our government to deliver services to our people. It will be good if congress can resolve that all unions in the public services come up with a program to give meaning and content to the concept of the developmental state within the context of challenges regarding service delivery.

Our observation is that there is a new enemy that is attacking our movement, taking different forms but the essence is the open desire to be to control and have access to resources and power. Since 1994 our movement as whole has seen the emergence of a new culture. This culture has developed during the period which was defined by a slogan "I did not struggle to be poor" and today it has a life of its own.

The enemies of our movement are seen by clinging to this culture and they declare all those who challenge them as ultra-leftists who must be removed from the movement, when in fact they themselves pose a threat to the movement. Witness the jostling over positions, the unilateral renewal of contracts in state-owned enterprises and agencies, including government department. Salary increases for mediocre work, laziness and administrative incompetence, coupled with a love for fine wine, clothes, big cars and superficial speech! These are windbags that must be rooted out of our movement and state apparatus.

These enemies of our movement are not just from outside but we have built and constructed them for years. They are within our own ranks, inside the ANC, in the midst of SACP cadres and they are here among us as COSATU.

These are corrupt individuals who want the movement to accept corruption as a way of life and even think that they have a privilege to be corrupt. How can one drive a car that clearly is above their salary, live in a house that is inconsistent with their salary? If we do not brutally tackle corruption without fear or favour we will wake up one day to discover that all our Alliance components have been hijacked and rendered irrelevant, turned into enemies of our people.

The secretariat report will report at length about this matter. But the point I want to make comrades is that unless we allow the continued display of opulence whilst our people are living in abject poverty, for as long as we continue to allow widening wage gab and skyrocketing CEO bonuses, we will have ordinary workers march on COSATU house and Luthuli house.

Presently more and more conditions are being created for our people to end up asking if there is indeed a revolution to be defended. Many will end up saying that if there is any it must be defended by those who continue to amass wealth for themselves and their families.

This task equally places a heavy responsibility on our shoulders that as we fight against corruption we ourselves must be clean because COSATU is not immune from these tendencies.

Go to any union investment company you will see a leader or official with his or her hand in the cookie jar. Go to any union and do a little investigation into their procurement process you will discover the extent to which our leaders have been compromised by service providers.

The second task comrades, is for unions to understand that a union is not like an insurance company, which has passive clients who come only to claim their benefits. A union, and particularly COSATU unions, are instruments of struggle in which members themselves are active, to transform the workplace and society. No workplace must be left without being serviced!

Thirdly we have a responsibility to prepare our cadres to be effective in workplace transformation, representing members, understanding new forms of organising, ideological engagement, policy development and articulation and to ensure that they are activists who grow and develop in the course of the struggle through their participation in the ANC and SACP structures.

Comrades, as we celebrate the dawn of a new era, we have awakened to the striking reality of a man - made economic crisis which imposes constraints on all the possibilities identified in Polokwane.

This congress must provide answers on how forces of the left should consolidate the socialist struggle especially now that all can see with the current global economic crisis that free market system has failed humanity. The solution to this crisis of capitalism cannot come from the same culprits who have been schooled on the principles which are based on the logic and calculus of profit maximisation. But the solution must be provided by the left forces.

We are supposed to be riding on a crest of high moral authority in all fronts and we do not seem to be seizing this moment, instead we are steadily being put on a back foot and this congress must provide answers on how we should seize this strategic moment and maintain the strategic initiative on our side.

There is an attempt by capitalist apologists that seek to describe this crisis in neutral terms and in such a way that any solution to resolve it must not seek to fundamentally destroy the capitalist system itself. The cause of the problem is capitalism itself.

Rob Sewell put this succinctly when he undresses the current crisis to reveal what really lies underneath. He identifies a few things that characterize this crisis and he said:

In the final analysis what we are experiencing is the real capitalist crisis of over-production. This means general over-production, both of consumer and capital goods for the purposes of capitalist production. This in turn, is caused by the market economy, and the division of society into mutually conflicting classes. This phenomenon is peculiar to capitalist society alone.

Capitalists are constantly revolutionizing production, throwing enormous amounts of commodities onto the world market, which periodically come into conflict with the limits of consumption caused by the exploitation of the masses who are unable to buy the goods they produce, having been robbed of the full fruits of their labour by the bosses.

These commodities cannot be given to the masses for free because capitalists do not simply sell commodities, but aim to sell them at a sufficient profit to accumulate wealth for themselves. In a slump, they cannot continue to sell their commodities at a price that guarantees the necessary average rate of profit for the bosses. Prices are reduced.

Therefore the surplus-value contained within the commodities cannot be realised as before, resulting in a collapse of profits. Factories are therefore closed and workers made unemployed, further reducing demand for consumer and capital goods in an ever downward spiral.

We are not simply dealing with a normal cyclical crisis of capitalism. Such crises will continue periodically until the death of capitalism itself.

Today we are seeing a cyclical crisis exacerbated by what Marxists refer to as an organic crisis of the capitalist system itself. Capitalism has become a barrier to the development of society, where the productive forces - industry, technique and science - are increasingly constricted and hemmed in by the nation state and private ownership of the means of production. This organic crisis is graphically illustrated today by the inability of capitalism to fully utilise the productive forces it has brought into being.

Because of these inherent features capitalism will always fail to meet the needs of the society.

So comrades, the real solution to this crisis is not just some stimulus packages, and the proper regulation of the financial sector but the real solution is found on what underpins this crisis.

A proper diagnosis of the causes of this crisis will lead all of us to conclude that it is likely to come back if the solution does not include destroying the host and the host of this financial crisis is Capitalism itself. How is this crisis different from the 1929 great depression? How does it differ from the financial crisis of 1987 and that of 1997? The difference is only in scale but the underlying causes of greedy profit maximisation remains as a constant. So if you want get rid of the crisis destroy capitalism.

We must really applaud government for being the first to say that even if there was this crisis the Polokwane commitments will remain on course.

We are also encouraged by the manner in which unions have managed to engage employers and forcing them to commit to two digit salary increases particularly in the public sector. We are also encouraged by the creative manner in which unions have exposed the hypocrisy of employers in the private sector. Many attempted but failed to use the economic crisis as a reason to retrench and not to raise salaries with a percentage which was commensurate to the cost of living imposed by the economic crisis.

In this context we welcome commitment made by government to vigorously implement the NEDLAC framework agreement on the economic crisis. We are worried though that some employers are still trying to find ways to evade other sections of this agreement such as on the re-skilling of workers instead of retrenching them.

As COSATU we want to repeat as we did before that we openly commit ourselves to work with government and all other South Africans until the dark cloud of the economic crisis is cleared.

We want to see equal commitment by government to ban labour brokers and not to regulate them. In Polokwane we made a commitment for decent jobs. Our view is that decent jobs and Labour Brokers cannot core exist. If this does not happen the country will come to a standstill because all the key motive forces agree on this matter.

I know that both the YCL and ANC YL already have a programme of action. The reality is that it is mostly the young workers who are victims of these mercenary-like labour brokers. If there is no progress on this matter we should meet on the street.

Does this mean that the focus of our struggle must change? No the crisis represent a dialectical continuity of the crisis we are trying to resolve in South Africa. We need to build on the common understanding developed post Polokwane.

Your struggles have tilted the balance of forces thus making it possible to have a common understanding inside the movement that the fundamental antagonistic contradictions of colonialism of a special type and Apartheid Capitalism remain intact and herein lies the essence of what must be at the centre of our Congress. The struggle continues!

Our struggle continues to be about the extension and deepening of democracy into all spheres of social and economic life, the strengthening of working class and popular organisations and perspectives at all levels of our society and the building of a society based on a culture of community and solidarity.

Therefore in this context this Congress must pronounce itself about what should be done to address the monopoly domination of our economy which remains in the hands of a few whites and a few black parasitic elites whose economic status relies on the crumbs given by white owned big business.

This Congress would not have done its task if did not provide a practical programme of how we should transform the colonial, apartheid and capitalist skewed patterns of ownership in our country.

Although the current leadership is important because they understand and appreciate the task at hand, history and experience elsewhere in the world have taught us that although individuals are important, the success of any revolution is determined by the strength of the organisation, the ideological clarity, ability to clarify a common vision and the appreciation of reality as presented by the subjective and objective factors obtaining on the ground.

Comrades the struggle continues! We need to build COSATU into an even stronger force and ensure that we unite all the forces behind a common programme to defeat a common enemy called neo-liberalism, the 1996 class project.

The political breathing space created post Polokwane and strengthening of the alliance have presented both opportunities and challenges. The first one is that like in 1994 there has been an exodus of skill and experience to government. On the other side this is creating an opportunity to have people in government with whom we share the same vision and ideological orientation. But what does this mean? Does it mean must we rely on them? The answer lies in our experience.

It is not for the first time that both COSATU and SACP deploy comrades to government. In the past we have been disappointed, because some of them became the worst enemies of the working class and the poor, once they taste power and dine with the likes of the IMF.

When they were there, they started to think with their stomachs not with their heads. They stopped to be independent members of parliament and became members of other members in parliament and in the executive. They resigned when their Dalai Lama was recalled. Some today want us to believe they were not members of members; they resigned and then wanted reappointment, blackmailing the movement with their friends in financial markets.

For us therefore the answer is not with individuals but the strength of the organisation which must be felt in every corner of the country including in the offices of our own deployees. When they do act progressively it must not be out of favour, but conviction that they are doing the right thing.

All these challenges mean that we need to build our organisation through strengthening our unions and that is why we will need to challenge any attempt to weaken them. This should include challenging an attempt to subject most of the public service unions into conditions of essential services so that their organisational rights will only remain in paper but impossible to translate into practice.

We must also fight with equal vigour an attempt to take away the rights of those workers in the military from joining trade unions. These workers cannot be expected to behave differently when their employer behaves like any other employer. Yes, their work setting may be of a special type and therefore they have special regulations but such regulations must not be such that they take away their right to freedom of association.

The recent debate about the soldiers` protests misses the point - that soldiers already do not have the right to strike but they can protest with certain conditions. The constitution of this country which has been hailed as the best in the world guarantees all South Africans, including the soldiers, freedom of association. The ILO, to which we are a signatory, guarantees the same rights including soldiers.

Some questions have been raised about unionised soldiers one of them being: "Can you imagine if South Africa was being attacked and soldiers have grievances and go on strike? What will happen? We wish that another question should be raised: "imagine if South Africa was being attacked and the enemy finds hungry soldiers, whose morale was low, who left the families without food and shelter and who could not afford to feed or take their children to school, what will happen?"

This is what tipped the Russian revolution. Unionised soldiers are not a threat to this country; what is a threat in this country are poverty, joblessness and inequality which even find expression in the military.

It is a pity that the attack is directed to the Soldiers. What about the senior management in the military that are suppose to have attended to soldiers` grievances a long time ago? What about the ministry that is supposed to have long addressed racial inequalities that still remain even after integration?

Our people have allowed the postponement of their freedom for far too long. We want transformation in the defence force, not tomorrow but now and that is what will create conditions that will make protests and strikes unnecessary.

The security of this country does not depend on whether soldiers are unionised or not but it depends on the decisiveness of our leaders to unapologetically effect transformation in the SANDF.

This debate has given a clear signal that even in the post-Polokwane period we continue to have situations in which we analyse and provide solutions within the template of the 1996 class project.

For us in COSATU this represents the vestiges of war that we fought with the former Minister of Defence, and his Deputy, Comical Ali, who later joined an organisation of dissidents. But essentially it tells us that the struggle continues no matter who is in office. The reality is that the working class have never won their battles out of favour but it is always out of bitter struggles!

Comrades, the formation of mergers and cartels can no longer be postponed. This congress, must resolve on the timelines and enforcement measures to take forward this inescapable task. The debate is not about whether we need this resolution or not but how it must be taken forward.

Equally the task of ensuring the Unity of all the South African federations can no longer be postponed. The challenges we face both nationally and at an international level require that we act as a united force. This congress must find a way of removing obstacles to this vision.

Every single day as we engage in different platforms it is becoming crystal clear that the indeed the struggle continues and all COSATU cadres need to act with the necessary sense of agency that the situation requires. The pigs flew!