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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi’s address to the COSATU KwaZulu Natal Provincial Shop Stewards Council, 3 October 2010, Polokwane

In just two months time we shall be celebrating our 25th Anniversary, when we shall be proudly celebrating a quarter of a century of struggle for workers’ rights, democracy and liberation.

The celebrations will take the form of a rally and a workers’ festival - the mother of all birthday parties - on 4th December 2010 at Johannesburg Stadium, following provincial rallies throughout the country. I urge you all to attend and bring all your family and friends along.
We have good reasons to celebrate. We still have major challenges in achieving many of our organisational goals, but have without question made significant progress in taking forward the five principles we adopted in the founding congress: non-racialism, worker control, one union-one industry, paid-up membership and international worker solidarity.
Comrade shop stewards
Many of you and your members will have recently been involved in the magnificent, historic and successful public-sector strike. This was the biggest protracted strike since the dawn of democracy, involving a million workers. We succeeded to unite not just the COSATU unions but all public sector unions in the country.
Public servants forgot about past divisions and united behind common demands. It proved beyond doubt that workers’ unity is sacrosanct and that divisions only help the employers to use the divide and rule tactics to our disadvantage. Now we need to consolidate the gains we made in the strike.
The strike demonstrated the fallacy of the claim that COSATU’s alliance with the ANC is compromising independence and workers’ interests. Today, the public knows more than ever before that the COSATU unions, not only in the public sector, but across all sectors of the economy, do not just preach independence but practise it.
Our unions are the most reliable in defending both the workplace and political interests of workers. Precisely because of this history and undisputable record we are the most militant, biggest, and the most powerful federation. We are therefore jealous in protecting and advancing our organisational traditions.
You should all have received a letter I sent to the Mthatha SADTU Branch in which I address what has become known as the “sell outs” matter. The branch was making serious allegations against the leadership of SADTU and insinuating that the COSATU General Secretary and indeed all public sector union leaders sold out the public sector workers.
My response seeks to defend our role and to protect the integrity and unity of the organisation and to show that neither the union leaders, nor the COSATU General Secretary nor anyone sold out the strike! Please read the letter and pass on its message to all the workers.
The only mistake the leaders committed was to twice propose a settlement area without canvassing this properly with their provincial structures and did not brief the provincial leaders properly all the time about the political interventions taking place.
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.
The fundamental question is whether the union leaders acted in the best interests of members under the circumstances, or did they simply collapse because they were pursuing their narrow careers in government, as alleged by the Mthatha SADTU branch. In our view they held out for their members’ rights throughout, under very difficult conditions.
Comrade shop stewards
The COSATU CEC in August 2010 issued a discussion paper “The Alliance at crossroads – the battle against a predatory elite and political paralysis”. It assessed the progress we have made in implementing the ANC Polokwane Conference’s pro-working class and pro-poor resolutions and the 2009 election manifesto, and in defending the collective leadership that the conference elected.
We concluded that the post-Polokwane period has been highly contested. On paper, the Conference promised key advances, with its commitment to an economic policy based on decent work, proposals for a new growth path, a new industrial policy, national health insurance, comprehensive social protection, comprehensive rural development strategy, etc. But despite some important gains, we are far from realising the bold vision set out by the ANC delegates in 2007.
The advances include 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, and these remain heavily contested, which has led to a failure to agree on the centrepiece of the new economic policy, the government’s Growth Path document. We are happy that the President of the ANC told NGC that the government was just waiting for more inputs from ANC members and allied formations before releasing the document.
The release of COSATU’s own Growth Path towards Full Employment could not have been more timely. It is based on the Polokwane resolutions but fleshes them out into a clear concrete programme for revolutionary change to policies which reject the over-dependence on the export of our raw materials and prioritises manufacturing industry and job creation. It has 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.
Our biggest challenge is that workers have yet to see any the Polokwane resolutions translated into concrete improvements in their lives and are becoming despondent. Over 1.1 million jobs were lost in just 18 months, which meant a further 5.5 million people being pushed deeper into poverty.
As Comrade President Zuma said at the ANC NGC, “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.”
I was delighted that the NGC reaffirmed all the Polokwane economic resolutions and the five ANC manifesto priorities. The economic resolutions were disappointing however. They appear to reflect 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”.
It “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... 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 a time when we were raising concerns that government was giving in to the agenda of capital and vested 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.”
These commitments, and many others 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.
Comrade shop stewards
The CEC paper speaks of a post-Polokwane honeymoon, in which there was much greater unity between government and COSATU. This was however disrupted with the emergence of a ‘new tendency’ of ‘tenderpreneurs’ - a coalition of predatory elites hell bent on accessing power in the ANC, as a route to control the state for their narrow accumulation agenda. This put the leadership on the back foot and led to paralysis in both the Alliance and government.
This sounded the alarm. If we were to allow this predatory elite to hijack the liberation movement, in particular to hijack the 2012 ANC elective conference, the danger exists that the whole state and society will be auctioned to the highest bidder.
If we fail in to fundamentally transform society and realise all the goals of the NDR, and the tenderpreneurs make corruption a norm, then we would be in a predator state controlled by political hyenas that would make looting a normal activity.
For we are to succeed in its mission two conditions must be fulfilled. Firstly there must be internal unity and cohesion, the precondition for which is that our organisations must return to the values and traditions of selflessness. We must defeat the new tendency and isolate the agenda of those who infiltrated the ANC and all other organisations of the broad movement to enrich themselves.
I am pleased to report that at the ANC NGC the agenda of these tenderpreneurs was isolated and exposed and their programme completely disrupted.
Delegates 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 its President implied this week. The ANCYL is the natural ally of the workers. Tenderpreneurs are found in all the organisations that make up the liberation movement including the ANCYL and COSATU.
We warmly welcome the ANC’s commitment to lead a campaign against corruption and that it will set up an ‘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 own campaign against corruption and is proceeding to consult its partners in civil society to build a powerful anti-corruption institution - `corruption watch` - with a team of lawyers, accountants and auditors to conduct preliminary investigations, and process these with the relevant authorities.
A clear area of disappointment at the NGC are the resolutions on the Alliance. COSATU has always agreed that the ANC leads the Alliance and that, as OR Tambo said, it 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 also agrees with the ANC NGC that “each Alliance component enjoys political independence from one another”
The area where clearly we must have a serious discussion among 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 ANC leadership is the strategic political centre. We must now spell out what we mean by this - that 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.
The ANC-led alliance must drive transformation. Government leaders and bureaucrats cannot still 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 tendency - whose programme is to collapse the Alliance, mean when they talk of the ANC alone being the political centre of power. They mean there should be no programme and no consultations with alliance partners, which they see as giving too much to COSATU and communists. 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 be discussion and flexibility. If, at the next Alliance Summit the ANC and COSATU only repeat their respective National Congress resolutions the current stalemate referred to in our discussion paper will continue, with the risk of an implosion.
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.
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.
Lastly, 7 October is the World Day for Decent Work. I urge you all to join us and bring your fellow-workers along on Thursday, when we shall be taking to the streets of South Africa to step up our campaign to get rid of labour brokers and the casualisation and super-exploitation of labour. We now have to add the challenge to prevent the ‘Walmartisation’ of our retail sector following the bid by the notorious union-bashing Walmart company to take over Massmart.
I wish you a highly successful meeting.

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
1-5 Leyds Cnr Biccard Streets

P.O.Box 1019

Tel: +27 11 339-4911/24
Fax: +27 11 339-5080/6940
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E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za