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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

COSATU Media Monitor COSATU Media Monitor COSATU Media Monitor


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  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech Delivered at the Launch of Workers Culture in Two Nations: South Africa and the United State of America - by the COSATU 2nd Deputy President comrade Zingiswa Losi

14 October 2011

When comrade Lenin was writing in 1913 on the "the Working Class and the National Question he said "the capitalists and landowners want, at all costs, to keep the workers of different nations apart while the powers that be live splendidly together as shareholders in profitable concerns involving millions (such as the Lena Gold fields); Orthodox Christians and Jews, Russians and Germans, Poles and Ukrainians, everyone who possesses capital, exploit the workers of all nations in company.

Lenin continued and said that "class-conscious workers stand for full unity among the workers of all nations in every educational, trade union, political, etc., workers` organisation. ..... He said let the bourgeoisie of all nations find comfort in lying phrases about national culture, national tasks, etc., etc.

The workers will not allow themselves to be disunited by sugary speeches about national culture, or "national cultural autonomy". The workers of all nations together, concertedly, uphold full freedom and complete equality of rights in organisations common to all-and that is the guarantee of genuine culture. The workers of the whole world comrade Lenin continued are building up their own internationalist culture, which the champions of freedom and the enemies of oppression have for long been preparing. To the old world, the world of national oppression, national bickering, and national isolation the workers counterpose a new world, a world of the unity of the working people of all nations, a world in which there is no place for any privileges or for the slightest degree of oppression of man by man"

Comrades we meet here today to affirm the international working class culture. The conditions of workers and the working class in our two countries have given rise to commonalities in our way of life. We meet here today under conditions of failed economic systems which imposed untold misery to our people everywhere in the world.

We meet today under condition of economic crisis in which workers from all corners of the world have come to a realisation that we need each other to find economic and social policy alternative that are biased towards working class and that will create possibilities for an alternative world order.

Please allow me to briefly reflect on the situation currently obtaining the USA and that direct affect fellow workers in that country.

The growing movement of the international working class that have swept the Middle East, the horn of Africa , the anger that has been shown by workers in Europe have permeated to the USA . This has been shown in growing militancy shown by the workers through the occupy the Wall street movement and now spreading across America.

There is no doubt that this will surely change the balance of forces and this new reality has left the international ruling class shivering.

But what has led to this growing militancy of the workers in the USA.

Like ourselves the working class in the USA is being ill considered by policy makers who continue to provide failed neoliberal solutions that benefits the very people who were responsible for the economic crisis in the first place. Workers in the USA must know that the essence of the current economic woes confronting their country is nothing but a culture of greed and individualism that has been imposed to the USA nation.

According to the recently released USA department Labour monthly report , it shows that long-term joblessness have worsened. There was a net increase in non-farm jobs of 103,000, the result of an increase of 137,000 private-sector jobs and a loss of 34,000 government jobs.

There is an estimation by Economists that it takes a net gain of at least 150,000 jobs per month to keep pace with normal population growth, so a figure of 103,000 heralds a further growth of joblessness.

Even the miserable figure of 103,000 is greatly inflated, since nearly half of the "new" jobs-45,000-are accounted for by the return to work of Verizon workers who struck for two weeks in August.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a liberal Washington think tank, pointed out in its analysis of the jobs report, that the rate of job-creation since April is sharply lower than the prior 14 months (123,000) and "that didn`t do much more than keep up with population increases."

Predicting that the official unemployment rate, which remained at 9.1 percent for the third straight month in September, will begin rising again, the EPI wrote: "This country has 14 million unemployed people, and the job growth rate has unmistakably slowed down since the spring" (emphasis in the original).

In the first half of this year the USA economy grew at the slowest pace since the recession, which began in December 2007. The total number of people counted as officially unemployed rose in September by 25,000.

The minimal increase in private-sector jobs was partially offset by the continuing onslaught on public-sector jobs. Of the 34,000 reduction in government jobs, 33,000 were in state and local governments, which have shed 641,000 jobs over the past three years. Almost half of that decline (278,000) has come from cuts in local public schools, which needed to add 48,000 teachers and education workers just to keep pace with increasing enrollment-adding up to a public education gap of 326,000 jobs. Of the 34,000 government jobs shed last month, 27,000 were those of teachers and other education workers.

The depth of the jobs crisis and the resulting social distress is more accurately reflected in the Labor Department`s figures on so-called "underemployment" and long-term unemployment than in the headline numbers for payroll growth and the official jobless rate. What the government calls the underemployment rate-in actuality a more accurate measure of joblessness-rose in September to 16.5 percent from the previous month`s 16.2 percent. This is the highest underemployment rate this year.

This category adds to those counted as officially unemployed those workers who want a job but have recently given up looking and those who want to work full-time but have been forced to take a part-time position. In September, a staggering total of 25.8 million workers belonged to this category (14.0 million officially unemployed, 2.6 million counted as "marginally attached" to the labor force, and 9.3 million "involuntary" part-time workers).

Even more indicative of the state of social conditions in the US, after more than two years of nearly double-digit unemployment, is the fact that the average unemployed American has been out of work for a longer period than at any time since records began being kept in 1948-63 years ago. The average duration of unemployment rose to 40.5 weeks in September, up from 40.3 weeks in August.

To put this figure in perspective, through the end of the 1980s, the average length of joblessness ranged between 10 and 15 weeks. Until May 2009 it never exceeded 21.2 weeks, the high point reached in the recession of the early 1980s. Today it is nearly twice that.

Some 6.2 million people, or 44.6 percent of unemployed Americans, were out of a job for more than six months in September. This is close to the record long-term jobless rate of 45.6 percent reached in the spring of 2010. The number of workers unemployed for more than six months increased by 208,000 in September. The number who had been jobless for more than a year was 4.4 million, up from 4.3 million a year ago. Young workers and minorities have been particularly hard hit by the economic crisis. Unemployment in September was 17.4 percent among workers age 16-24. Among workers younger than age 25 who are not enrolled in school, unemployment over the last year averaged 21.6 percent for those with a high school degree and 9.6 percent for those with a college degree.

Among those workers with only a high school degree, unemployment was 9.7 percent. For those with a college degree it was 4.2 percent. But all education categories have seen their jobless rates roughly double over the past four years.

Unemployment in September was 16.0 percent for African-American workers and 11.3 percent for Hispanic workers.

Among the industries adding jobs in September were construction, retail, temporary help services and health care. However, manufacturing employment fell by 13,000, its second straight monthly decline.

The US Postal Service cut 5,000 jobs in the course of the month. It has announced plans to close hundreds of facilities and slash 220,000 jobs by 2015.

Friday`s employment report comes on the heels of other reports pointing to a deepening of the slump.

The Labor Department has reported that initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 6,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 401,000. And the placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported that announced layoffs soared in September to the highest level in more than two years.

Employers last month announced plans to cut 115,730 jobs compared with 51,114 in August and 37,151 a year ago. As a result of the layoff announcements in September, the total number announced in the third quarter-233,258-was more than double the level of the second quarter and the highest since 2009.

This situation is unfolding in a country which has more that 413 billionaires listed by Forbes. This exclude the list of the billionairs that are invisible.

This is among the reasons which have led to the current situation where workers have gone to the street to demonstrate their anger. The reality of the matter is that the bourgeoisie policies has plunged human kind into worse misery and there is no reform road out of the crisis.

As workers in South Africa we support the workers in the USA who continue to grow in numbers and in militancy gathering to occupy Zuccotti Plaza, renamed Liberty Plaza, in the heart of New York City`s financial district.

Their situation is similar to ours. About 395 000 jobs were lost last year, and the unemployment rate rose to 25.7 percent in the second quarter of this year from 25.0 percent in the first quarter.

As we speak 7,678,000 people are unemployed, those of working age, without work and available to start work, but who had not looked for work in the four weeks before the interview - rose from 36.5% to 36.9% in the same period. the number of discouraged work seekers increased by 269,000.

Those who are employed, 16% of tem earn less than R500; 33.4% earn less than R1 000, and 60% earned 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.

Like in the situation faced by the USA workser , as all drama of misery unfolds for our people capital is having it nice as if there is no such thing as economic crisis.

Top earner in 2010 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 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.

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.

Like the workers in the USA and everywhere else in the world we will rise and act against this misery which has been imposed to us by wrong policy options.

It is from these practical material conditions that the culture of the international working class emerges.

It is surprising to note that bourgeoisie media, the film industry, the theatre, the painters are not telling this story of man -made misery.

We have got to use our own media, our film, literature and theatre to tell and share our experiences of lives as we know it not as interpreted by those who want to use our pain to make money and who will even ignore it or misinterpret it in order to censor public opinion or shape it to suite their profit making agenda.

The fact of the matter is that the South African working class can naturally respond with appreciation to the music, songs, dances and paintings that is actually meant to reflect the material reality of the USA working class. I know that it is the same with the USA working class.

We sing, cry and dance on the same experiences of happiness, sadness, tribulations and triumphs. . The pain by the mothers and children who cried after the 1907 Monongah mine disaster where 500 miners died is shared by many South Africans who went through the pain of Coal brook mining disaster of 1960 where 437 miners died. The music, poems and literature that reflect on that painful experience will find resonance with the South African families who have gone through similar

The South African workers dance to the music of Sarah Ogan Gunnnngs when she says "Come All You Coal Miners," and Florence Reece`s when she said "Which Side Are You On?"

We naturally dance on the song by James Oppenheim when he says "feed us yes but give us a quality of life as well in his song "Bread and Roses"

We associate with the sing by Joe Hill when he said there is power in the union reminding us not to waste time mourning but to organise! These songs resonate with our Hugh Masekela song Isitimela that talk of a train that has to ferry migrant workers away from their loved ones to work in the mines with a possibility of not coming back alive.

Your songs echo the sound of Mirriam Makeba, Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbuli songs about migrant workers and our struggle! You must know that Capital will use the same cultural instruments , in songs , dance , music arts and do everything in their power to " to keep the workers of different nations apart while (they) live splendidly together as shareholders in profitable concerns involving millions. The Action by the USA workers leaves them shivering and they cannot afford to have us meet to share our experiences on the strategies and tactics to fight back.

This occasion is a platform to reflect deeply about the need for unity of the international working class because the reality we are facing demands that we stand up together and launch a deadly blow to create rupture against a system that afflicted misery upon all of us. We have a choice to either use our common culture to cement unity amongst ourselves or to allow the bosses to neutralise and blunt our culture into another commodity for profit maximisation.