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Shopsteward Volume 27 No. 3

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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

COSATU President Sidumo Dlamini’s address to SACCAWU’s 10th National Congress, St George Hotel, Tshwane

18 October 2011

National Office Bearers of SACCAWU
Delegates
Guests
Comrades and Friends

It is an honour to be invited to address this Workers’ Parliament of SACCAWU on behalf of COSATU’s National Office Bearers and 2 million plus members. I bring our greetings and best wishes for a very successful Congress.

Your union has a proud record of defending and advancing the interests of a section of the working class which has for years suffered severely from exploitation, low pay, casualisation, anti-social hours and abusive and racist bosses.

If anyone needs proof that we need our Living Wage Campaign, they need look no further than the shops where your members are expected to work with a smile for long hours, struggle to get home safely late at night and all for poverty pay.

On the other hand your employers have good reason to smile. In no other sector is the gulf between the living standards of the workers and their employers as massive. Last year Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson took home the highest-ever monthly earnings ever recorded in a single year – an unbelievable R627.53 million in salary, perks and share options.

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. I’m sure that your members at Shoprite and Checkers will take note of that figure when they submit their next wage claim.

In 2011 the salary of Pick n Pay CEO, Nick Badminton, is currently estimated at R3.54 million, excluding perks. The average worker at Pick n Pay earns R45 600 per year, so it would take such a worker 78 years to earn what the CEO will make this year.

Comrades

SACCAWU will be in the national spotlight on Thursday, when you appeal against the decision of the Competition Tribunal to approve the Massmart-Walmart merger. This is a crucial battle, not just for your own members and the retail sector, but for every worker and for the future of the South African economy.

The Competition Act requires the Tribunal to consider the competition and public interest effects of a proposed merger - whether it promotes employment and advances the social and economic welfare of South Africans - and not just the narrow interests of the firms who intend to merge. It did not do so.

COSATU insists that the application needs to be judged against the background of the job-loss bloodbath which has hit the country in recent years. Unemployment today stands at 36, 6%, greater than any other middle-income country or any comparable economy.

COSATU fully agrees with the three government ministers who are calling for a review of the Tribunal’s ruling that “the Walmart acquisition of Massmart can have a potentially devastating effect on local jobs and the transaction should be sent back to the Competition Tribunal for a proper consideration and more effective conditions to be imposed”.

The Competition Tribunal should have weighed the supposed value of Walmart’s investment in South Africa against its foreseeable adverse impact on jobs and conditions, not only in the retail sector but also in manufacturing and other sectors that feed into the supply chain to Massmart such as agriculture, agro-processing, chemicals, clothing and textiles.

There is no evidence for Walmart’s claim in the Tribunal that it would create 15 000 retail jobs in the next three years. And any such jobs could be more than cancelled out by the tens of thousands of jobs that could be lost in other local retailers and the local factories that currently supply Massmart.

Local employers in the retail sector are already beginning to attack workers, as they reposition themselves for Walmart’s arrival. It cannot be pure coincidence that Pick n Pay announced plans to retrench over 3000 workers and we are committed to support your fight to save those jobs and any others that are in jeopardy.

Given Walmart’s documented track record of paying low wages to its workers, you are right to be concerned that, after the short period in which they have promised to uphold existing negotiated agreements ends, Massmart’s workforce will suffer even further downward variation of its terms of employment, as Walmart pressures the local subsidiary to cut costs and extract greater productivity.

It is not just jobs in the retail sector that are at risk. This deal could have a devastating effect too on South Africa’s already declining manufacturing sector, which needs to be the mainstay of our economy and new growth path.

Our economy has become even more over-dependent on the export of raw materials, while importing more and more manufactured goods.

This is dramatically revealed by disturbing statistics from the Economic Development Department, which reveal that South Africa’s top ten exports to China are: iron ore, platinum, ferrochrome, chromium ores, manganese ores, coal, diamonds, semi-manufactured platinum, nickel and zinconium ores, while its top ten imports are: laptops, shoes, cellphones, suitcases, telephones, TV sets, men’s cotton trousers, women’s cotton trousers, video machines, pullover and cardigans.

Sectors such as clothing and textiles, electrical machinery and durable goods have been hard hit by imports. And they are all likely to be further affected by the Walmart deal.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson has revealed that already, “olive farmers in some parts of the country have been advised that they should no longer expect orders from Makro [a subsidiary of Massmart] for locally-produced olive oil, as they intend to import cheaper products”. As she says, “If unchecked, the shift to imports is likely to have a catastrophic effect on local farmers and agro-processing manufacturers.”

As a giant in the retail sector, Walmart bullies farmers, manufacturers, distributors and suppliers to push down their prices. This has led to the collapse of many small and sometimes even big businesses.

We utterly reject the absurd statement of the Democratic Alliance which attacks the ministers on the basis that “the real loser here is much needed competition in the retail space”. Walmart’s track record around the world shows that they destroy competition by abusing their vast size to drive rival companies out of business and create a virtual monopoly.

A study conducted by UNI Global Union, representing 20 million workers in the retail sector worldwide, reveals that every retail company operating within a five-kilometre radius from a Walmart stores have simply closed business.

In South Africa this won’t just mean a threat to the future of big retail shops such as Shoprite and Pick n Pay but all SMMEs. Retail shops owned by emerging black entrepreneurs will simply disappear. Already small shops operating in the townships that used to be owned by blacks have been taken over by foreign nationals.

The DA claims that the Walmart invasion is “a massive vote of confidence in South Africa as a gateway to the rest of the continent”! On the contrary, it is a declaration of intent to pillage the continent of its resources, exploit cheap labour and establish a stranglehold over the retail sector throughout Africa just as they have elsewhere in the world, which in turn has led to the worst forms of exploitation of women and children in developing countries, where suppliers had to drive down their own costs to make a profit.

UNI Global Union confirms that Walmart is well known for its strong anti-union attitude and its ruthless approach to keeping down wages. Its induction training devotes as much time telling workers how bad unions are as on training them on health and safety. Where workers do get organised, as in the US and Canada, it simply closes down the store or department.

Walmart has refused to sign a global agreement with UNI Global Union to set fair standards for worker and union rights to organise and negotiate collective agreements. It faces numerous class action law suits, affecting hundreds of thousands of workers for, among other things, not paying overtime, gender, racial and other forms of discrimination. They are not wanted here in South Africa!

Comrades

The Central Committee in June committed us to fight for the full and speedy realisation of the goals of the National Democratic Revolution and to spare no effort to ensure that we play a decisive role to resolve the three interrelated contradictions - national oppression of the majority by a small racist minority, the super-exploitation of workers and the triple oppression faced by women, as a basis of creating a new non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

We are busy mobilising for the mother of all battles to advance our struggle for a living wage and a decent life for workers and the poor. We shall be taking to the streets in our thousands to demand a living wage, an end to casualisation and a total ban of the labour brokers – those human traffickers who have enslaved millions of workers.

We are also beefing up our campaign against the scourge of corruption to root out the corrupt elements that are hell-bent on hijacking our movements for personal gain. We must hunt down culprits, regardless of their political affiliations or political and economic connections.

The politics of patronage, corruption and greed has destroyed the ethic of self-sacrifice and service to the people that characterises the revolutionary movement. The dangerous growth of factionalism is increasingly not about ideology or political differences, but about access to tenders.

The worst problem of all is the emergence of death squads in several provinces linked to corruption and the murder of people who have blown the whistle. There is a real danger that if all this continues, the entire state and society will be auctioned to the highest bidder, and we shall be on the slide towards a corrupt banana republic.

COSATU is setting up its ‘Corruption Watch’, which will be launched in December 2011. It is a concrete way for us to play an active part in the battle against this scourge.

These are the other big campaigns we shall be waging in the coming weeks:

  • To demand action to ensure that our country has water security and we deal with the threat of rising acid levels in our underground water.
  • To call for an inquiry on the prices of the private hospitals so that we end their immoral and corrupting greed, seeking to generate massive profits from our ill health, and the speedy introduction of the national health insurance.
  • To oppose the commercialisation of our roads and reject the introduction of tollgates in Gauteng and other elitist projects such as Gautrain when many workers take up to an hour travelling between their homes and their workplaces. Unless we can find a solution with the department of transport, we shall be in the streets to demand public transport system that is efficient, reliable, affordable and accessible.
  • Lastly and most importantly to demand decent work for the 7-million strong army of the unemployed workers, and the restructuring of the economy to end the domination of white monopoly capital, the mining/finance complex, and its export orientation so that it can be placed on a new developmental path underpinned by an active industrial strategy capable of absorbing the millions who are unemployed.

I am confident that SACCAWU members will as always one of the biggest contingents in the marches and pickets which we shall be organising around these campaigns. Never has the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all” been more relevant.

We face unprecedented attacks from the employers, who are desperately trying to cut wages through such devices as a youth wage subsidy or lower wages for new entrants. They continue to casualise jobs and demand the weakening of the labour laws. We will not let them get away with any of this. Decent work and a living wage are not negotiable; they are necessities!

I wish you a highly successful congress.

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
1-5 Leyds Cnr Biccard Streets
Braamfontein
2017

P.O.Box 1019
Johannesburg
South Africa

Tel: +27 11 339-4911/24
Fax: +27 11 339-5080 / 6940
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za

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