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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi’s address to the SACTWU National Congress, Cape Town, 23 September 2010

National Office Bearers of SACTWU Comrades and Friends It is always an honour and a pleasure to be invited to speak to the Clothing, Textile and Leather Workers’ Parliament. I bring best wishes for a very successful congress from the federation’s national office bearers and all our two million members.

As we prepare to celebrate COSATU’s 25th anniversary in December, it is an appropriate time to recognise the huge contribution your union has made to the Federation in every one of those 25 years and for many year earlier, and continues to make today, despite enormous problems your sector is facing.

You have proven over and over again that size does not matter! Your influence and stature in the federation far outweigh your membership size. For the past 25 years the federation has to rely on your union for not only policy on a range of issues but for innovation and lateral thinking on campaigns. I left a crucial ANC NGC to come over to reassure you that nothing is equal to your contribution in making COSATU what it is today.

Thanks to SACTWU whose membership constitute what we call the working poor for making COSATU the conscious of the nation, the fearless spokesperson of the most marginalised and the downtrodden and a reliable ally of the oppressed throughout out the globe.

I must congratulate you on your Worker Health Programme, with its mobile health care clinics, each fully equipped and professionally staffed to conduct on-site HIV testing and counselling. This has taken the fight against HIV and Aids to a new level and shown every other affiliate what they could and should be doing to defeat this scourge.

Congratulations too on persuading the Independent Electoral Commission to insist that firms wishing to tender for t-shirts to be used by its electoral agents in next year’s local government elections must manufacture them locally. As you say, this will help to save and possibly even create jobs in the local clothing industry.

We shall support your efforts to ensure that tenderers do not try to bypass the local manufacturing requirement, and encourage every other organisation to follow the IEC’s lead and buy only Proudly South African products.

This campaign to buy local could not be more relevant and essential. No other trade union has been as hard hit by the job loss bloodbath as SACTWU. Out of the 1.1 million workers whose job disappeared from the beginning of 2009 to the middle of 2010, an estimated 14,400 were your fellow-workers in clothing and textiles.

As Comrade President Zuma said at the ANC NGC in Durban on Monday, “Job losses were continuing in the first six months of this year despite the return of economic growth. This has worsened what is an unacceptable situation of high rates of joblessness among our people.”

It is indeed a national catastrophe. The official unemployment rate, excluding those who have given up looking for work, rose to 25.3% in the first quarter of 2010, the highest level in 62 countries tracked by Bloomberg news agency. The more realistic, expanded unemployment rate, which includes those who have given up looking for work, increased to a shocking 35.9% in the first quarter.

These statistics demonstrate that despite our historic victories on the political front in our first 25 years, in the economic arena, many of the problems we faced in 1985 are still very much with us in 2010. President Zuma was absolutely right when he told the NGC that “These developments point to the core importance of redirecting and transforming economic growth, in order to bring about greater equity based above all on the creation of decent employment.”

Comrade delegates
COSATU’s August 2010 CEC assessed the progress we have made in implementing the ANC 2007 Polokwane Conference resolutions and the 2009 election manifesto. It concluded that despite some important gains, we are far from realising the bold vision set out by the ANC delegates in 2007.

They called for an economic policies based on decent work, a new growth path, a new industrial policy, national health insurance, comprehensive social protection, comprehensive rural development strategy and an assault on crime and corruption.

There have been advances, including the Industrial Policy Action Plan 2 (IPAP2) released by the government’s economic cluster, and Comrade Ebrahim Patel’s Strategic Plan. These would go a long way to address the apartheid economy fault lines and tackle unemployment, poverty and inequality.
But industrial policies must be supported by appropriate macroeconomic policies, which remain heavily contested. As a result the centrepiece of the new economic policy, the government’s Growth Path document, couldn’t be agreed at the July Cabinet Lekgotla. We are happy that the President of the ANC told NGC that the government was awaiting for more inputs from ANC members and allies formations.

We are waiting with the resolutions of the ANC NGC and other matters. We have no doubt that the ANC in recognition of the reality that we have hanging in our necks a political medals but no economic jewellery, take forward the pro poor and pro development Polokwane resolutions.

The release of COSATU’s own Growth Path towards Full Employment could not have been better timed. It has taken the debate to a higher level, and injected a sense of urgency to tackle the immense crisis, which confronts working people post-Polokwane.

It answers those cynics who say that COSATU is good at condemning others’ policies but never comes up with alternatives of its own. It is based on the Polokwane resolutions but fleshes them out into a clear concrete programme for revolutionary change.

Linked to unemployment and poverty is the key problem of inequality. South Africa has now overtaken Brazil as the most unequal country in the world. In most countries executive salaries range from 40 times up to, at worst 1 728 times the salaries earned by the lowest paid workers.

Yet in South Africa the top 20 paid directors in JSE listed companies earned on average 1 728 times the average income of a worker, while even state-owned enterprises paid CEOs 194 times an average worker`s income.

The most outrageous examples are the banks CEOs’ pay packages. Nedbank CEO Tom Boardman earned R43m last year, Standard Bank CEO Jacko Maree R18, 2m and Absa CEO Maria Ramos R13, 5m.
Inequality is also still racialised and gendered. In 2007, whites were earning 8 times more than Africans. An average African man earns in the region of R2 400 per month, whilst an average white man earns around R19 000. The racial income gap is therefore roughly R16 800 among males.

Most white women earn in the region of R9 600 per month, whereas African women earn R1 200. So the racial income gap among women is R8 400. Approximately 71% of African female-headed households earned less than R800 a month and 59% of these had no income.

There is also racial bias within management. In the private sector, top managers are 60% white male, 14% white female, 9% African male and 4% African female. Coloured and Indian males account for an average of 4% of top management, whilst females account for an average of 1.4%. Thus 74% of top management is drawn from 12% of the population.

Comrade delegates
When we were celebrating our 20th anniversary, COSATU concluded that the first decade of freedom had benefited capital more than the workers and expressed the hope that this would be reversed in the second decade. But, sadly, the prospects are not good.

As President Zuma rightly said on Monday: “Poverty remains high, inequalities have remained the same or even grown worse, while some of the jobs created often brought low wages and poor conditions.” This echoed what he said at our May Day rally this year - that "the benefits of economic growth have not been broadly and equitably shared."

This crisis of poverty and inequality reaches into every aspect of life. It is not only the unemployed who suffer. Super-exploitation and oppression of workers remains widespread and is growing, in our two-tier labour market system.

Workers covered by the collective bargaining system through workplace, sectoral and industry bargaining councils are relatively better off, with better job security, pay and working conditions and are generally protected by the labour laws.

But there is a second layer, in all sectors of the economy, including your own, who are not unionised, not covered by bargaining councils, not protected by the labour laws and who face the brutality of employers, who frequently and brazenly flout labour laws, sectoral determinations, bargaining agreements and health and safety laws and get away with it.

Unscrupulous employers and labour brokers exploit the levels of joblessness by offering desperate workers jobs on poverty wages, with no job security or benefits, which pushes down the level of wages for employed workers.

Both unions and government have largely failed to protect these workers. Despite fine resolutions, they remain largely outside the unions and the Department of Labour has not developed the capacity to protect them.

Government’s threat to introduce a wage subsidy to incentivise employers to employ young people will mean the creation of a third category of the super-super exploited workers.
On 7 October, World Day for Decent Work, we shall be taking to the streets to step up our campaign to get rid of labour brokers and the casualisation and super-exploitation of labour. I urge you all to join us and bring your fellow-workers along.

The high levels of poverty and inequality aggravate many other anti-social problems – violent community protests, crime, corruption, xenophobia and the collapse of social and moral values.
Crime afflicts the working class more than the upper and the middle strata. Workers employed in restaurants and in shopping complexes tell frightening tales of robbery and rape when they knock off close to midnight without access to a safe, reliable and affordable transport system.

Corruption is a cancer, which threatens the foundations of our democracy. It occurs in the public and private sectors, even within our unions. Its roots lie in the private business sector, which is, and has always been, run on the principle of me first!” and “an injury to one is an opportunity to another!” but this ideology is corrupting our state and even our revolutionary movement, as people use public office as a route to personal wealth.

Even if they are not benefiting corruptly from government tenders, ministers and officials who are also in business to make money have an inevitable conflict of interest. The danger always exists that in formulating policy in parliament, a provincial legislature or municipal council, they will be guided by the impact this will have on their businesses rather than the broader public interest.

Of particular concern is the ‘new tendency’ of ‘tenderpreneurs’, drawn from the ranks of corrupt officials, which has infiltrated the ANC itself. It is a small faction without any political ideology but interested in taking control of the movement to accumulate personal wealth.

If the broad liberation movement does not act decisively, we are heading rapidly in the direction of a full-blown predator state, in which a powerful, corrupt and demagogic elite of political hyenas will increasingly control the state as a vehicle for self-enrichment.

Public representatives must be forced to choose whether they are servants of the public or in business to make profits. They cannot be both at the same time. The succession of corruption scandals and the spread of the capitalist culture of greed and self-enrichment are threatening to unravel the fabric of society and undermine all the great progress we have made.

COSATU plans to build a powerful anti-corruption institution of civil society - `corruption watch` - with a team of lawyers, accountants and auditors to conduct preliminary investigations, and process these with the relevant authorities.

COSATU has reaffirmed its support for the ANC in the 2011 local government elections but has acknowledged that there will be major problems in some poorer communities to convince voters to stay with the ANC. The CEC adopted a programme of action to mobilise our membership, but also agreed that we would not give the ANC a blank cheque and would refuse to campaign or support candidates known to be corrupt or lazy.

Our overriding priority remains to defend the Polokwane gains and the ANC leadership collective that was elected. We are discouraging any engagement with the 2012 ANC leadership question, which will be not only be divisive but will take our eyes away from the ball which is ensuring that we push the leadership to implement all the Polokwane resolutions and the manifesto.

We shall steadfastly defend all the leaders of the ANC, in particular the President and the Secretary General who are currently the focus of systematic attack. Were these attacks to succeed it would plunge the ANC into unprecedented crisis, which could destroy its unity and cohesion forever.

COSATU is the biggest organisation in civil society after the faith-based organisations. We wield considerable moral authority amongst the working class and middle strata, increasingly even in the capitalist class and some opposition parties, albeit for opportunistic reasons at times. This gives us a degree of leverage and power. But we can’t rely on moral authority alone; otherwise we will gain influence but lose power.

This influence is society needs to be bolstered both by increasing our membership and organisational power, and by collaborating within more organisational coalitions. On 27-28 October 2010, we shall be hosting a Civil Society Conference to broaden and strengthen our campaign for a new Growth Path, an economy based on job-creating manufacturing industry. We shall also use it to widen support for our Post World Cup Declaration in a bid to unite South Africa around a positive campaign for social renewal and for the Living wage conference, which we shall convene next year.

Finally Comrades
I cannot sit down without paying tribute to one of your former leaders - Violet Seboni. She was a great heroine of the trade union and liberation movement, who committed her entire life to fighting for her fellow workers. I hope that her example will continue to inspire you as you confront the many challenges your union faces over the coming days.

Viva SACTWU Viva!