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COSATU Today | COSATU Speeches
Zwelinzima Vavi’s address to the NEHAWU 9th National Congress, Birchwood, 27 September 2010
National Office Bearers of NEHAWU Members of the National Executive Committee Leaders and activists of the union at all levels Delegates to this the 9th National Congress Former leaders of NEHAWU COSATU President, office bearers and members of the COSATU CEC Local and international guests Comrades and Friends
There can be no greater pleasure and honour than to return to the union that I have such a long personal history and connection with.
Your congress is perfectly timed in that it meets just few days after the ANC National General Council, and just two months away from the 25th Anniversary celebration of your federation COSATU and a few weeks after the historic public sector strike.
I intend to talk about all these issues today.
NEHAWU has a very special place in my heart. I have a very special connection with this union of Yure Mdyogolo and Bheki Mkhize. I have been with it through all its tribulations and its triumphs for all its 23 years of existence. It is these tribulations and triumphs that have also helped shaped me and tested my own leadership skills.
In the last congress – the 8th congress - we were celebrating your coming of age. This, your 9th National Congress as your theme says, aims to “advance union organisation – advance working class power and socialism”. It represents an advance and consolidation of both growth and unity of this giant union.
You have been one of the pace setters in COSATU from its inception. You have become so important to COSATU not only because of your size but also because of your consistency and clarity of mind. As a result of this you have produced for us at all levels only the best cadres, who have helped shape COSATU to be the conscience of the nation it is today - a fearless spokesperson of the most marginalised and downtrodden. It is by no accident that your union shop steward from Prince Mshiyeni Hospital today leads COSATU.
As we celebrate COSATU’s 25th anniversary in December, I want to thank you for the role you have played in the federation.
The 25th anniversary celebrations give us an opportunity to reflect again. It is that time when we engage our members to test if we are still relevant to them, and if we remain the spear they can use to advance their interests at the workplace and in society in general.
Surely in debating this I hope they will acknowledge both the strengths and weaknesses of COSATU. Whilst we have seen a phenomenal growth in COSATU membership and the organisation has become a powerhouse, and while it’s true that politically we are a much stronger and united force than at any other time, we still have major challenges in achieving many of our organisational goals. The five principles we adopted in the founding congress remain a challenge to fully fulfil: non-racialism, worker control, one union-one industry, paid-up membership and international worker solidarity,
Having said that I have no doubt in my mind that we will have a good reason to celebrate on the 4 December at Johannesburg Stadium. We have made significant progress in the past 25 years, including taking forward the five founding principles of COSATU. I want to take this opportunity to urge you to mobilise your members to participate in all provincial build-up activities that will culminate into this mass rally and biggest ever worker festival on the 4 December 2010.
Dear comrades and friends
I want to take this opportunity to address that so-called “sell outs” matter arising from the public sector strike. This congress, the parliament of public sector workers, must make an assessment of the recent historic strike. I am giving this long account because I don’t want to take you for granted. I believe that you represent a constituency that is demanding answers. As a result my address today will be much longer than usual.
There is no doubt that this was the biggest protracted strike, involving a million workers, since the dawn of democracy. We succeeded to unite not just the COSATU unions but also all public sector unions in the country. For the first time in a long while public servants forgot about the divisions of the past and united behind common demands. It proved beyond any doubt that workers’ unity is sacrosanct and that divisions amongst workers only help the employers to use the divide and rule tactics to the disadvantage of workers.
It makes no sense to allow public sector workers to be divided after this massive action. We need to consolidate the gains made in the strike. Our call is that unity has become more urgent than before. Within COSATU we need to move with speed to merge unions that have agreed to merge and proceed to create a super public sector union.
The strike also demonstrated the fallacy of the claim made by some who claim that COSATU’s alliance with the ANC, which is the governing party, is compromising independence and workers’ interests. Today, the public knows more than ever before that it is the COSATU unions, not only in the public sector, but also across all sectors of the economy, who do not just preach independence but practise it.
Our unions are the most reliable in defending both the workplace and political interests of workers in our country. Precisely because of this history and undisputable record we are the most militant, biggest, and the most powerful. We are therefore jealous in protecting and advancing our organisational traditions.
We call for the creation of a single public sector union that will have specialised units for all the professions that exist in the public service. That is the single and most important lesson from the public sector strike.
Recently I was forced to respond to a letter written by a SADTU Mthatha branch that was making serious allegations against the leadership of SADTU and in the process insinuated that the COSATU General Secretary and indeed all other public sector union leaders, like the SADTU leadership, sold out the public sector workers. We have responded not to defend our role, but to protect the integrity and unity of the organisation.
In the letter I have written I trace the history of the dispute between the public sector unions and government as the employer. After six months of negotiations which started in October 2009, government had only improved its offer from 5,2% to 6.2% and the housing allowance from R500 to R620. The unions had in the course of negotiations also dropped its demands from 11% to 8.6% and from R2500 to R1000 for housing allowance. A deadlock was officially declared in May 2010.
COSATU leadership were not involved in these negotiations. Equally the leaders of the public sector unions do not sit in the Public Sector Central Bargaining Chamber (PSCBC). They get represented by their union officials.
At this stage of the negotiations, the leadership called on the President of the Federation, comrade Sidumo Dlamini, to intervene to try and unlock an impasse. The President of the Federation proceeded to arrange a meeting with the Minister, Richard Baloyi, which took place on 4 August 2010. The President invited the COSATU General Secretary, who insisted that the Minister of Finance be part of the meeting, since it is he who holds the government purse.
Before the two COSATU leaders engaged with the two government Ministers (of Public Administration and of Finance) the COSATU General Secretary asked a question to the President who had interacted with the COSATU public sector unions: what is the settlement demand of the unions?
The President, based on his interaction with the leadership of the union, stated that the leadership believed that 7% and R750 for housing would be a basis for a settlement. For many hours we pushed the two government leaders towards this “settlement demand”. Eventually the government relented and agreed in principle, subject to further calculation on their part to ascertain that this would be within their affordability range.
From the meeting we went to report to the leaders of the COSATU unions who confirmed that indeed in their previous discussions they did raise 7% and R750 as one of the scenarios for a possible settlement.
We participated in the protest marches held on 10 August 2010. The plan in terms of our discussion was that the government would convene the PSCBC on the evening of the 10 August 2010 to table the 7% and R700 formally. This did not happen because the government was still calculating the affordability of the compromise emerging from the meeting with the COSATU leadership, as explained above. You will recall that the COSATU unions had given government up to Thursday 12 August 2010 to improve the offer or face a protracted strike.
Indeed the government presented the revised offer to the PSCBC on 11th August 2010. It was at this time that the COSATU General Secretary, informed by the processes outlined above, participated in the SABC Morning Live programme and recommended that the unions consider the offer favourably.
Again it is important to state that he had done so not because he was eager to sell out or to act as a government spin-doctor as the letter alleges. The processes outlined above informed this call.
Nevertheless as we said to the unions at the time, we had a responsibility to recommend the offer, as it was we who had induced the government to make a move on the basis that this was to settle the dispute and avoid a protracted strike action.
It would have been disingenuous and hypocritical for us to turn around and be the ones who reject the offer first, considering the effort we put to secure the 7% and R700. I want to admit that in future any improvement offered by the employers must be communicated to members not through SABC and other media but in the structures of the union.
Nevertheless you would have heard all union leaders, including NEHAWU leadership, speaking in the media recommending the government revised offer. We did make it clear however to government and to one another as leaders that whilst we must protect our integrity with the government we must be loyal to members if they decide to reject the 7% and R700 housing allowance.
As you know all unions later reported that members have roundly rejected the 7% and R700. This meant all attempts to avoid a protracted strike had failed. The strike started on 12 August 2010. Notwithstanding our recommendation of the offer we led the strikes and participated in marches and pickets.
The COSATU CEC met on 23-25 August 2010, which was the 12th day of the strike. The CEC decided not to allow a defeat of the strike. All unions of COSATU issued secondary notices, which in terms of the LRA, should be after 7 days. This was a historic decision! Never in the 25 years history of COSATU did the unions propose a sympathy strike on the scale envisaged. What many don’t know is that this was not an easy decision.
Some unions asked questions – “what is so special with the public sector workers?” They were referring to many occasions when other workers in the private sectors earning far less pay than the public servants had embarked on strikes lasting up to 6 months without any form of support from the rest of the COSATU-affiliated unions.
The argument however won the day that COSATU can’t afford to have over a third of its members defeated by a single employer as that would create a precedent and set the tone for all other negotiations in the private sector.
Going back to the CEC, we must state that the Secretary General of the ANC, comrade Gwede Mantashe came to the CEC and held a meeting with some of the leaders of the public sector (NEHAWU and SADTU), together with the President of COSATU.
The Secretary General wanted to know what offer could settle the strike. He was told that a 7,5% increase and an R800 housing allowance would settle the strike. We want to emphasize again that the comrades who answered the question were not motivated by eagerness to sell out. This was the 12th day of the strike. They were acutely aware of how difficult it was for government to move from 6,5% to 7% and from R630 to R700 for the housing allowance in the earlier political intervention led by the COSATU President and the General Secretary. They put figures across that they thought would be a good area for a settlement.
The Secretary General went away to work for this. In the meantime COSATU unions’ negotiators drafted an agreement of what came to be known as the COSATU draft agreement for settlement of the strike. The COSATU President and General Secretary complemented the Secretary General’s intervention. In a combined but parallel process they knocked at every door of the highest offices.
Eventually government agreed to revise its offer and was ready to present it on 1 September 2010. This means government was prepared to sign on the COSATU union’s drafted settlement, which was for 7, 5% and R800.
Even before the government could present this, the COSATU General Secretary, after realising that chances were high that this would be rejected by members, opened a parallel discussion with the Minister of Finance urging him to move further to 8% and R850, 00 for housing. The push for this continued in the marathon discussion between the COSATU President and General Secretary with no less than six government ministers on the evening of 2 September 2010.
It was in the early hours of 3 September that the Ministers received a call from someone more senior than them. At that moment negotiations stopped, never to be continued again. Government ministers, in the face of the call they received, simply folded their files and declared there was nothing more they could do.
The government was accusing unions of tricking them into believing that the strike would end after they improved the offer from 6,5% to 7% and R630 to R700 and later to 7,5% and R800. Now the unions were saying that is also not good enough and were asking for 8% and R850. Our integrity was in tatters.
They were ordered to stop engaging with us, as it was a waste of time. We were seen as not being honest and or even informed by other political motives.
Faced with this situation all unions, including those not affiliated to COSATU, decided to allow government to formally present the improved offer of 7,5% and R800.
Aware of all of this COSATU General Secretary again participated in the SABC’s Morning Live and made the statement that the unions have pushed as far as they could AND that there is no possibility of government improving its offer unless members push them in a strike of the same scale for another 2 to 3 weeks. It is this statement that makes Mthatha SADTU branch to accuse the General Secretary of speaking like a government spokesperson.
At this moment, and for a few days later, unions were facing two big problems. On one side there were no more negotiations taking place. This meant from the morning when Ministers were ordered to stop engaging, every hour and every day workers’ sacrifices were in vain. On the other hand the days were accumulating, meaning that members were losing days of wages through the application of the no-work no-pay principle.
Around that time the unions started to calculate that workers were now losing so much that even if government were to concede and provide the 1% now separating the parties, the losses incurred by workers meant they would still be the bigger losers financially.
The strike itself was no longer as effective as it was in the first two weeks. Most of the government departmental workers had gone to back to work and were only coming out to participate in the marches. The numbers of workers in the picket lines were dwindling. Some nurses started to moonlight in the private hospitals and only joined the picket lines during the day.
Only SADTU and NEHAWU were effectively out on strike across all nine provinces. The pressure was mounting, with media growing hostile after government blamed every death in public hospitals on the strike.
A danger was looming that if the unions did not make a strategic retreat and sign the agreement in terms that they could still dictate, the strike might fizzle out in the fourth and fifth week. Government would then punish the nurses and all other workers it sought to declare as essential service workers. From this point NEHAWU, DENOSA and SADNU were carrying a bigger risk for possible mass dismissals if this scenario unfolded into a reality.
It was at this point that all unions convened their National Executive Committees, which eventually decided to suspend the strike.
In short it is not the SADTU President, the NEHAWU General Secretary or the COSATU General Secretary or anyone else who sold out!
The only mistake the leaders committed was to twice propose a settlement area without canvassing this properly with their provincial structures. Secondly the provincial leaders were not in our view properly briefed all the time about the political interventions taking place.
Some (not all) of the public criticism of the ANC Secretary General has an element of truth even though it was unfortunate because it was made in public and was seen to be reinforcing rightwing elements in society. In future consideration must be given to the provincial leaders sitting directly in the negotiations.
We however insist that the leaders of the public sector unions were not necessarily wrong to try finding a solution informed by the reality they were facing as leaders sitting across a fire.
You will probably say that is what they were elected for – to face difficult moments and provide leadership. To us the fundamental question is whether the union leaders acted in the best interest of members under the circumstances or not? Or did they simply collapse because they were motivated by reasons of pursuing their narrow careers in government as alleged in the letter of Mthatha SADTU branch. In our view they held out for their members’ rights throughout, under very difficult conditions.
Lastly I want to also clarify this matter related to the apology we have made to the President his family and other government leaders who were on the receiving end of very personalised insults. The media, which often sensationalise issues, has also not helped in claiming that COSATU has apologised for criticising comrade President Jacob Zuma.
Nothing could be further from the truth comrades. We apologised to the ANC President for the personalised insults directed at the President and his family carried through postcards and songs. This was the right thing to do. Surely comrades none of us can defend some of the songs that were sung and posters messages. Not a single one of us would sing any of those songs here or anywhere else.
You know comrades we are not scared to be unpopular, but only when we act in defence of our policies and principles. Many of us have long forgone government careers that were offered because we have chosen, as Lenin said, to serve this class because there can be nothing more special and fulfilling that to serve the working class. As we speak some of us have lost relations of many years in defence your right to a living wage. We have clarified that these songs and posters do not represent COSATU policy. These were hand written posters that were not authorised by anybody.
We hope this statement contained in our letter will clarify the matter
As I have said, this congress take place few days after the ANC NGC. As part of preparing for the COSATU 5th Central Committee on the 28-30 March in 2011, the CEC in August 2010, issued a discussion paper titled “The Alliance at crossroads – the battle against a predatory elite and political paralysis”.
This paper sought to analyse all our political strategies and to check if we have succeeded to defend Polokwane’s pro-working class and pro-poor advances. Comrades will recall that COSATU has said its challenge politically is to defend the Polokwane gains and the collective leadership that emerged from Polokwane.
Our conclusion was that the post-Polokwane period has been highly contested. On paper, Polokwane promised key advances in its commitment to an economic policy based on decent work, proposals for a new growth path, a new high impact industrial policy, a national health insurance, comprehensive social protection, comprehensive rural development strategy, etc.
We said progress on these areas have been very mixed and on the whole disappointing. We argued that the centrepiece of the new economic policy - the growth path - has not been adopted due to contestation within government on the direction of economic policies.
With over 1.1 million job lost in just 18 months, which meant a further 5.5 million people being pushed deeper into poverty, despondency was setting in amongst many workers. This, combined with frightening statistics contained in the COSATU Growth Path proposals, led the COSATU CEC to have a major assessment of our political and organisational strategies to check if we are making any impact
There was a honeymoon period post Polokwane but the emergence of the ‘new tendency’, which is a loose coalition of predatory elites hell bent on accessing power in the ANC, as a route to control the state for narrow accumulation agenda, disrupted the emerging unity of purpose. The tenderpreneurs attacked the leadership publicly and put it on the back foot leading to a paralysis in both the Alliance and in government.
It was no longer possible to hold an Alliance Summit without risking a major implosion. Major economic resolutions adopted in Polokwane were not being systematically taken forward as demonstrated by the CEC discussion paper that analyses all the economic resolutions adopted at Polokwane.
Lastly we argued that if we allow the predatory elite to hijack the liberation movement and in particular if they hijack the 2012 ANC elective conference, and we are unable to stop the current trajectory, the danger exists that the whole state and society will be auctioned to the highest bidder.
If we fail in our historic mission to fundamentally transform society to realise all the goals of the NDR, and if the tenderpreneurs succeed to make corruption a norm accepted by society, then we would be in a predator state controlled by political hyenas that would make looting a normal activity.
We argue that for the ANC or any organisation to succeed in its mission there are two conditions that must be fulfilled. Firstly there must be internal unity and cohesion. The precondition for unity is that the organisation must return to its values and true traditions of selflessness. This means we must defeat the new tendency and isolate the agenda of those who infiltrated the ANC and all other organisations of the broad movement for narrow accumulation interests and looting.
As you begin the discussions in your congress guided by the appropriate theme of this 9th National Congress: “advance union organisation – advance working class power and socialism”, the question is: where are we in relation to all of these concerns of the working class?
Has the NGC put back the Alliance back on track? Have the agenda of the new tendency been defeated? Have we conquered the political paralysis? Did we defend and consolidate the Polokwane gains and space? Did we defend the leadership collective? Has unity returned and did we succeed to isolate and expose the new tendency? Has the contestation on economic policy ended?
It is not possible to do justice to all of these questions. I hope the NEHAWU congress will help us answer all of these questions as we discuss the CEC discussion paper. I want to offer this broad assessment of the NGC using the COSATU CEC discussion paper and growth path proposals as a yardstick.
There is no doubt in our mind that the ANC NGC was a success in many respects. Some in the media have completely misunderstood how we have positioned ourselves in the run up to NGC. I hope today they will listen carefully and stop oversimplifying a very nuanced and carefully thought-through political strategy.
The agenda of the tenderpreneurs has been isolated and exposed and their programme completely disrupted. Just like the 1996 class project it does not mean that they have been defeated. It will however take blunders and a series of own goals by the leadership to allow a return to the pre-2010 NGC period.
Delegates to the NGC categorically stated that the NGC must go down in history as “the gathering that marked a decisive turning point in tackling, arresting and reversing the negative tendencies that have eroded and threaten to erode the political integrity and moral standing of the ANC among our people. The 3rd NGC has to be remembered as the gathering that went beyond condemning sins of incumbency and other misbehaviour such as ill-discipline and factionalism. From now onwards, decisive action has to be taken by the leadership and membership to renew our movement and fight tenaciously against any tendency to erode the character, principles, core values and culture of the ANC.”
Let me hasten to say when we talk about a defeated agenda of the new tendency we are not referring to the ANCYL, as the media would rush to say. The ANCYL is the natural ally of the workers. Tenderpreneurs are found in all the organisations that make up the liberation movement including in the ANCYL and COSATU.
Most worrying has been the phenomenon where the real political hyenas use money and company shares to buy elements within the ANCYL and in other youth organisations to advance their dirty agendas. The time is coming where we shall have to name and shame these real enemies of the revolution who mouth unity but are hell-bent on destroying the cohesion of the liberation movement for their selfish ends.
Secondly it was important that the NGC reaffirmed all the economic resolutions of Polokwane as summarised in the five ANC manifesto priorities.
Overall however the actual commission on economy resolution was disappointing. Again this is not say that the commission did not push for fundamental transformation of the economy but the resolution appears more like a function of the contestation that the COSATU CEC political paper is referring to, and narrowly concentrates on one debate around state ownership in one sector.
Nevertheless the NGC declaration attempted to broaden the focus. It “affirmed the Polokwane resolutions on Economic Transformation. It further endorsed the call in the Political report for an urgent discussion on the elements and details of a new growth path, and how it will sustain economic recovery and inclusive growth. Of particular importance is the decent work agenda in the context of placing our economy on to a new job creating and more equitable growth path”.
Further, the NGC Declaration “reaffirms the ANC’s approach that the transformation of the South African economy should always be holistic and comprehensive, covering all sectors of the economy. In this regard, the ANC should ensure greater state involvement and control of strategic sectors of the economy, such as mining, energy, the financial sector and others.”
On nationalisation the NGC states: “There was greater consensus in the commission on the nationalisation of mines and other strategic sectors of the economy. The NGC therefore mandated the NEC to ensure further work be done, including research, study tours and discussions, and to report to the Policy Conference for decision at National Conference in 2012.”
At the time when we were begging to raise concerns that government was giving in to the agenda of capital and other interest groups mobilising against the introduction of the National Health Insurance, the NGC moved decisively to state that “the implementation of NHI should be fast-tracked, but done correctly within reasonable time frames…. The ANC must lead the implementation of the NHI and its promotion amongst the general populace”, adding that “The involvement and support of the Alliance is crucial.”
The NGC also demanded that the Community Development Workers be integrated into the public sectors and be paid salaries not stipends. Further the NGC decided that the Home Based Care Workers and Community Health Workers should be paid stipends in time.
In my view these, including many others that I have no time to outline, constitute not only a defence of Polokwane but significant advances. The overriding lesson we have however learnt throughout our 25 years of existence is that paper accepts anything written on it. Our challenge is to use a combination of strategies to continue to push for fundamental transformation.
The tensions in the Alliance are often not caused by policy difference but by lack of political will by government to implement ANC and Alliance resolutions, including the manifesto. So to our President and the NEC we say you have a mandate; you lead an organisation with clear pro-poor and pro-working class policies and you have been given power – PLEASE ACT and end paralysis.
A clear area of disappointment though emerging from the NGC we the resolutions on the Alliance. For the record COSATU has long said that the ANC leads the Alliance and that the Alliance, as OR Tambo said, is not an elite pact signed in conference tables but an organic unique entity born out of struggle and cemented with blood of our people. No one disputes this and COSATU fully agrees with this theoretical perspective as well. We also agree that “each Alliance component enjoys political independence from one another”
The area where clearly we must have a serious discussion internally as the federation and with the Alliance components is the insistence of the ANC that only the ANC is the strategic political centre of power. It is a contradiction to say the ANC leads a revolutionary Alliance but the Alliance led by the ANC is not a strategic political centre.
COSATU’s 9th and 10th National Congresses have categorically stated that COSATU must insist that the Alliance as whole under the leadership of the ANC is the strategic political centre.
Above all we must now in these debates spell out what we mean by a strategic political centre. We mean there should be a joint programme driven by Alliance leadership structures at all levels to mobilise our membership and society as whole behind the demands of the Freedom Charter. We mean the ANC-led alliance must drive transformation, and that government leaders and bureaucrats cannot continue to be the strategic centre of power, as they have been over the last 16 years.
We know what others, in particular the remnants of the 1996 class project and the new tendencies whose programme is to collapse the Alliance, mean when they talk of the ANC alone being the political centre of power. They mean that there should be no programme and no consultations on any matter, as they read any form of consultation as giving too much to COSATU and communists; and they want to continue to place all faith in government leaders and technocrats to take the key decisions.
Our call to the ANC is that there has to discussion and flexibility on the matter. If the ANC and COSATU come to the next meeting of the Alliance Summit only to quote and reiterate their respective National Congress resolutions it will mean the current stalemate referred to in our discussion paper is maintained, with the risk of an implosion.
We welcome the commitment made by the ANC that it will lead a campaign against corruption and that it will set up an internal structure called the integrity committee to enforce high moral standards amongst members and leaders. However this is too much of an internal focus: If there was a criticism of the ANC NGC it would be its failure to articulate a clear and systematic programme to lead society in a battle against corruption in the private sector, public sector and within our organisations.
COSATU will step up its campaign against corruption and is proceeding to consult its partners in civil society 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 challenges in some poorer communities to convince voters to stay with the ANC. I hope you will look at the CEC adopted programme of action to mobilise our membership. We have agreed that we will not give the ANC a blank cheque in these elections! We will refuse to campaign or support candidates known to be corrupt or lazy. Our challenge is to ensure that we effectively participate in the processes to appoint candidates so that we eliminate all the thieves from the list.
The COSATU discussion paper provides us guidance on what we must do to respond to the current conjuncture. I hope that you will have a look at that proposed way forward. Let us reinforce what works and let us be bold enough to discard what clearly does not work.
Lastly on 7 October is the World Day for Decent Work. COSATU as you know have in the past strongly participated in this 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.
We wish you the best of luck as you search for answers in this complex period.
Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
1-5 Leyds Cnr Biccard Streets
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