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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech delivered at the SATAWU National Congress by COSATU President, Comrade Sidumo Dlamini, 11 October 2011, Sun City

Speech delivered at the SATAWU National Congress by COSATU President, Comrade Sidumo Dlamini, 11 October 2011, Sun City

11 October 2011

The President of SATAWU, Comrade Ezrom Mabyana
The SATAWU NOB collective
The entire leadership from all levels
COSATU CEC members present here today
The alliance leadership present
Comrades Delegates

I bring greetings from your fighting federation the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

We are honoured to have been invited to address a congress of our dependable union SATAWU. SATAWU is one of those unions we always rely on when the moment of deadly class combat arrives. Your militancy and ideological clarity has placed you in the front rows of the merciless class war because we all know that when we call on you to act, you are able to act decisively and with precision.

It is SATAWU that refused to handle weapons in Durban Harbour that were supposed to go to Zimbabwe. It is SATAWU that led the charge and called for an escalation of the boycott of Israeli goods and instructed its members not to allow any Israeli ship to dock or unload in any South African port.

All employers know about the resilience and militancy of the 165 000 members of SATAWU when they have resolved to enter into labour action.

I want to tell those who will be elected as new leadership that they have a responsibility to keep SATAWU as a militant, non-compromising trade union.

It is the militancy and resilience displayed by unions such as SATAWU that has given rise to what I see as an attempt to take away the primary instrument of war from the unions and leave them with paper rights that are useless and meaningless in the actual battles with the employers.

I have observed with concern the continued attempt by employers to use courts to reverse all our hard won rights; and they are being assisted by some in the academic institutions to turn our unions into scarecrows who only have an intimidating look without the capacity to strike even a single blow.

Such court cases include the SACCAWU case. In the May 2010 case between Growth Point Properties Limited vs SACCAWU. Growth Point properties obtained an interim interdict against the striking SACCAWU workers who picketed at La Lucia Shopping Mall in Durban against DisChem which was a tenant in a mall under the ownership of Growth Point Limited.

SACCAWU had secured the right to picket in terms of section 69(5) of the Labour Relation Act No.66 of 1995 (LRA) from the Commission of Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

Growth Point Properties employed the services of a registered hygienist who argued that the ambient noise level was normally 65 decibels near DisChem, but when it increased by 10 to 15 decibels, it invoked widespread complaints from the community. When the noise increased to between 15 and 20 decibels community reaction was stronger.

Mr Chester recorded that the noise at the pay station in the parking garage exceeded the ambient level by almost 30 decibels. This exceeded the legal limit of 85 decibels set by the regulation governing noise-induced hearing loss.

This supported the Growth Point allegation that the strikers committed a nuisance to its tenants.

The Kwazulu-Natal High Court granted an interdict preventing protesters from chanting loudly or using any kind of instrument to make noise because tolerance levels for conducting business were exceeded by unacceptably high noise levels.

This ruling effectively rendered picketing as an instrument for putting pressure to the employers useless and rendered the constitutional right to strike to be legally enforceable only on paper.

It is also important to note that environmental laws are continuously being used to reverse, delay or even block our transformation programme.

We have also seen similar veiled attacks directed against trade union rights in the form of reports that present teacher unions, particularly SADTU, as irresponsible organisations that are pre-occupied with strike actions.

One of these reports was from a certain Ann Bernstein and the other was from the National Planning Commission’s so called ‘diagnostic report’.

Both reports argue that the central problems in education are a result of strikes by SADTU. To quote the NPC’s diagnostic report directly: “Strike action, sometimes unofficial, consumes as much as 10 days a year (5% of school time) and holding union meetings during school time is often the norm in townships schools”.

This implies that educators are always on strike and by so doing make it difficult to have them consider using their constitutional right to strike since public opinion would be mobilised against them.

This is intended at nothing else but to reduce teacher unions into just professional associations whose members cannot be defined as workers and therefore cannot enjoy worker rights including the right to strike.

We have now heard that the Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled against SATAWU and their ruling has found that trade unions can be held liable for workers` actions during strikes.

They say this is based on Section 11 of the Regulation of Gatherings Act which provides that if any riot damage occurs as a result of a gathering, every organisation on behalf of or under the auspices of which that gathering was held, shall be jointly and severally liable for that riot damage, as a joint wrongdoer together with any other person who unlawfully caused or contributed to such riot damage.

Section 11(2) of the Act says that it shall be a defence to a claim if an organisation organising a gathering proves that it did not commit or connive at the act or omission which caused the damage, and that the act or omission did not fall within the scope of the objectives of the gathering and was not reasonably foreseeable; and that it took all reasonable steps within its power to prevent the act or omission.

In the context of many unions in the public sector being declared as essential services and with the growing attempt to have many more declared as essential services, we run a serious danger that all these right enshrined in the constitution will remain only on paper.

In one word comrades, there is an attempt to change unions into walking zombies who only scare employers without any capacity to force the issue. Our right to strike is being gradually and deliberately eroded and unless we act now we may wake up without any rights.

Workers are being squeezed to death and their armoury of defence is being systematically blunted and taken away from them whilst on the other side employers are maximising their benefits.

The strategic intention is to destroy the fighting capacity of unions to fight in order to allow bosses to benefit maximally even under conditions of economic recession.

We have just read from the papers that in 2010 the top earner was Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson, who took home the highest-ever monthly earnings ever recorded in a single year – an unbelievable R627.53 million in salary, perks and share options.

This easily surpasses the income of the 2009 top earner Pine Pienaar, who made a mere R63 million in comparative terms but still huge when compared to an ordinary worker at Shoprite who earn less than R500 a month with a huge fraction of that still being taken by a labour broker.

In 2008 Basson’s total remuneration was R16.64 million and R24.13 million in 2009, so his 2010 income represented an increase of 2501% over two years. Workers at Shoprite and Checkers should take note of that figure when they submit their next wage claim.

Steven Joffe of Gold Reef Resorts had a 358% increase, to R26.51 million, boosted by a R19.5 million ‘termination bonus’ after opting to leave the casino group following its merger with Tsogo Sun.

2010’s second-highest-paid executive - BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers - received a total of R77.53-million, a 43% rise on his earnings from 2009. Third-placed Bernard Kantor, Investec`s MD, made R56.69-million in 2010.

When this is compared to what workers earn, it just explains why workers should be on the street by now demanding that these inequalities be addressed now!

The painful reality is that 16% of employed workers earn less than R500; 33.4% earn less than R1 000, and 60% earn less than R2 500.

Yet employers want more ‘flexible’ labour laws so that they can find ways to pay even less, as many are already doing by using labour brokers or employing workers on a casual basis.

Employers can see that workers have every reason to be on the street fighting and demanding more and that is why they are moving first to blunting our instruments of war.

We have no choice but to fight with everything we have with equal and more vigour!

History has proven that power concedes nothing without struggle. Nothing has ever been given to the workers without it being as a consequence of bitter struggles.

It was in this context that the CODATU 5th Central Committee instructed us to roll out 11 campaigns which include the Living Wage Campaign, which is linked to the campaign against labour brokers, the Public Transport campaign, anti-Walmart Campaign and the campaign for the new growth path.

On the Public Transport campaign we have noted with painful hearts that after 17 years into democracy we still have not achieved an integrated, safe, reliable and affordable public transport system for the country.

Research shows that 47% of households in the RSA indicate that transport is either not available or too far away; 27% of households expressed concern at safety of minibus-taxis and the bad driver behaviour ; and 23% indicate that transport is too expensive.

We are still confronted by the reality of racial disparities even with regard to access to transport. Most white people find it much easier to get to work, with 80% of white workers getting to work within 30 minutes.

In contrast only 60% of African workers can find themselves at work within 30 minutes. A quarter of all black workers take between 30 minutes to one hour to get to work in contrast to just over 15% for white workers.

A significantly larger number of black workers to white workers take more than 1 hour to get to work

As unreliable public transport and spatial patterns continue to impact on commuters, so too does the cost of public transport on low income households.

Research also shows that more than 60% of households earning R500 and less pay over 20% of their income on transport - one fifth of total income! In contrast, those households who earn R3000 and more a month pay between 1-5%.

According to the survey results, on average more than 25% of South Africans pay 20% and more as a percentage of total income on transport. Put differently this amounts to about 2, 3 million households who pay 20% and more on transport costs.

Instead of addressing the public transport challenges, government, through SANRAL, has decided to introduce the Open Road Tolling System (ORTS) at a cost of R20bn. No workers will be employed to collect the tariffs as happens with the majority of toll points currently. With this system SANRAL aims to raise funding for maintenance of highways and to force people to use their private cars less and public transport more.

We have already requested a meeting with the minister of transport and we want to raise some comradely questions and one of those will be “where is the integrated, safe, reliable and affordable public transport system for the country?”

For the workers public transport is not a luxury but at the core of their livelihood and we cannot have the country prioritising projects such as Gautrain which only stand to benefit the elites.

A worker will have to take his lifetime savings in order to use Gautrain for a month. It is just not affordable and yet workers’ taxes have been used to build the Gautrain infrastructure.

Our campaigns also include fighting the Walmart and Massmart merger which is actually not a merger but a Walmart takeover. On the 20th, 21st and 24th October we will be attending a hearing at the Pretoria Competition Appeals Court against the decision of the Competition Tribunal.

We want to commend our three ministers responsible for Economic Development, Minister Ebrahim Patel, Trade and Industry, Minister Rob Davies, and Forestry and Fisheries Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, for joining SACCAWU , SACTWU and the South African Small Medium and Micro Enterprises Forum (SASMMEF) in an appeal against the ruling by the Competition Tribunal which allowed Walmart to proceed with the R16.5 billion takeover, giving only three insignificant conditions: i.e. the creation of the R100 million development fund, a moratorium on retrenchment for two years and the retention of collective agreements.

We cannot allow Walmart into our shores. Besides being unpopular for not respecting worker rights, Walmart is known for its aggressive tax-avoidance scheme. Research reveals that for every kind of tax that a retail company would normally pay or remit to support public services, Walmart has engineered an aggressive scheme to pay less and keep more. For example:

  • It has extracted more than $1.2 billion in property tax abatements, sales tax rebates, infrastructure and site improvements, and other economic development subsidies from state and local governments around the countries in which it operates. In recent years the subsidies amounted to roughly $70 million annually.
  • Using gimmicks such as deducting rent payments made to itself (through a captive real estate investment trust), it avoids an estimated $300 million a year in state corporate income tax payments.
  • Using an army of lawyers and consultants, it systematically challenges property tax assessments to chip away at its property tax bills, costing local governments several million dollars a year in lost revenues and legal expenses.
  • And it takes advantage – to the tune of about $60 million a year – of those states that fail to cap the ‘vendor discounts’ they provide to large retailers for collecting sales taxes from their customers.

In most of the countries in which Walmart operates it always becomes one of the most frequent recipients of economic development subsidies from state and local governments in the form of tax breaks, cash grants, infrastructure assistance, etc.

Research also shows that in 2004 alone the company had received a cumulative total of more than $1 billion in such public assistance.

The reality of the matter is that in Walmart, we are dealing with merciless economic serial killers for whom it is profit by all means and at all cost.

We will fight the Walmart takeover with everything we have; the three ministers must know that we are with them all the way!

The reality of the matter is that we need the collective strength of our unions for these campaigns to be a success.

We were set to enter into action on 5th October but employers threatened that they would interdict us on the bases that the strike was not legal and protected.

Many employers were already threatening workers with dismissals should they participate in the mooted action. We quickly decided to postpone the action to allow for Nedlac negotiations to proceed.

In the meantime we are meeting with different ministers and we have already met with the minister of labour to discuss the matter of having labour brokers banned.

We have met with our team that is negotiating the review of labour legislation at Nedlac and they have presented different proposals for a mandate. We have requested unions to start the process of comprehensive consultation on labour brokers and the whole labour review package.

Comrades, it is clear in our mind that if we do not fight now, we may stand to regret in the near future when employers have reversed all our gains to a point where we need to struggle as if it was pre-1994.

Comrades it is not enough to say we will fight Walmart, or fight against labour brokers, or have a living wage campaign. The campaigns we have undertaken will require that we have clarity on every step we take and, as we do that, we will require an ideological compass, because the battle is not simply an economic battle about some labour laws and working conditions but all these represent a concentrated expression of class politics in the context of the National Democratic Revolution.

Part of this class politics is the choices we make on the type of alliance and coalitions we form. We must proceed from a simple understanding that when we form alliances, for example with civil society, we do so as part of our responsibility to maximise the power of the progressive forces for a National Democratic Revolution that can deliver for the working class and create possibilities for development towards Socialism.

This means that our strategy must proceed from the fact that the working is not a class on and for its own but has the responsibility of uniting the widest range of class and social strata in a common struggle for the realisation of the NDR.

Inherent in this, is an acceptance that as COSATU we are primarily in Alliance with the ANC and the SACP and we enter into alliance with civil society formations guided by among others the following:

  • Whether the issue being taken up is genuine and affecting the working class and the poor.
  • Whether the campaign and working together strengthens the working class, the labour movement and the broad democratic movement.
  • Whether the organisations that the Federation wants to work with are mass-based or have an orientation to the masses.
  • Whether the organisations adhere to the principles of internal democracy and working class leadership
  • Whether the agenda of these organisations does not aim to liquidate or undermine the Alliance partners.
  • Whether the organisation has a track record of disciplined organisational practice, and does not encourage divisions within COSATU affiliates.

Comrades it is important to clarify this matter because no campaign can proceed to its logical conclusion without clarity about the class forces that must drive it.

Surely there will be issues in our campaigns where we will have tactical differences with the ANC and or the SACP but we will need to be careful that such tactical differences are not wrongly exaggerated into permanent strategic differences.

The task that this conference has is answer a question on how we can use these COSATU-led campaigns to build momentum towards a National Democratic Revolution whose victory will at the same time create possibilities for Socialism.

I wish this congress all the success!