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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, to the Red October Rally, 5 November 2011, Khayelitsha

5 November 2011

Thank you very much for honouring me with an invitation to speak at this Red October rally.

This annual campaign has become an integral part of our revolutionary culture. Every year we draw new inspiration from the original Red October, in Russia in 1917, when the workers and poor peasants arose to overthrow the Russian monarchy, aristocracy and bourgeoisie.

All over the world today, the people are once again on the move, resisting and overthrowing dictators and challenging the crazy capitalist economy which has created record numbers of billionaires, while millions live with poverty, hunger and hopelessness.

Here in South Africa, your priorities for Red October 2011 are much the same as ours - building people`s education for, and through, people`s power; building people`s committees for rural development, building a solidarity economy and fighting corruption. I am sure that you have had a successful campaign, and I congratulate you on behalf of COSATU’s more than two million members.

Unemployment

Although the latest Stats SA Quarterly Labour Force Survey gives us just a glimmer of hope that things might be getting better - unemployment, by the narrow definition which excludes those who have given up looking for work, has dropped by 0.7% -

the levels are still far too high, the highest out of 61 nations tracked by Bloomberg news agency.

7 504 000 people are still unemployed, which includes discouraged workers who have given up looking for work. Most worrying is that 72% of these are young people between 15-36 years of age and 60% have less than secondary education.

There remains a stark racial element to unemployment. A 2002 study found that being African reduces the odds of being employed by 90%, in comparison to being white. The data used in the study also shows that despite similar qualifications, whites are on average 30% more likely to be employed than Africans. Being female reduces the chances of being employed by 60% compared to being male; 68% of the increase in unemployment among Africans between 1995 and 2003 could be explained purely by race.

Inequality

Linked to the struggle for jobs is the challenge to build a more equitable and just society. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report on Executive Directors’ Remuneration Practises Report issued in June 2011 illustrates how South Africa’s wage gap is one of the highest in the world, and is still growing. Listed companies on the stock exchange increased their total guaranteed pay to executive directors and top management by 23.3%”.

Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson last year 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 his 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 will take note of that figure when they submit their next wage claim.

These figures totally vindicate COSATU’s insistence that South Africa needs a fundamental transformation in the way that wealth is distributed. While the monthly incomes of South Africa`s poorest 10% rose by 33.3% from R783 in 1993 to R1,041 in 2008, the richest 10% got richer by nearly 38% over the same period.

Just like unemployment, inequality is also racialised. While black South Africans` salaries increased by 38% between 1995 and 2008, the incomes of white South Africans rose by 83.5%! This reflects the findings of the 2008-2009 Employment Equity Report which indicated that the majority of black workers still occupy unskilled and low-paying jobs, whilst the top-paying positions are still the preserve of the white minority.

50% of the South African population lives on 8% of national income. This means for every R100 of national income earned in South Africa, almost 25 million share only R8 of it. A 2010 UNDP Report says that 44% of workers in South Africa live on less than R10 a day, which is almost the same as the daily allowance on the child support grant, an amount that can barely pay for a loaf of a day, which cost R7.30 in April 2011.

Although there is no official poverty line in South Africa, individuals living below R322 were 48% of the South African population. This just covers the cost of 12.5 kg of mealie-meal, 4 full chicken portions and 12 loaves of bread. This does not cover items such as soap, sugar, tea, clothes, transport etc. and is way below the daily upkeep of a dog in a moderately affluent suburb.

These grim statistics explain why we are 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 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. Full employment, decent work and a living wage are not negotiable; they are necessities!

New growth path

On both unemployment and inequality we cannot allow any complacency. The government must continue to make job creation its top priority and make the ambitious programmes in the Industrial Policy Action Plan and the New Growth Path, and their target of creating 5 million new jobs by 2020, even more relevant.

Although the federation has serious reservations about some elements of the New Growth Path, COSATU believes that government must turn words into deeds and implement the positive components of the NGP to achieve the target of creating five million new jobs by 2020.

Manufacturing must be the key sector has a huge potential to create decent jobs for the millions of unemployed but the Stats SA figures are not encouraging. The biggest increases in employment were in finance and other business services (64 000), trade (68 000), construction (43 000), mining (42 000) and agriculture (20 000), with manufacturing trailing far behind at 2 000. This means that the structure of the economy remains unchanged.

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-Massmart merger, as the world’s biggest company seeks the cheapest goods from anywhere in the world regardless of the pay and conditions of the workers who produce them, which could spell disaster for South African manufacturers.

COSATU has been consistently campaigning for policies to promote manufacturing, including a substantial cut in interest rates and the depreciation of the rand to encourage new investment in job-creating industries, add value to our raw minerals and to make South African exports competitive on a global scale.

Corruption

The federation is 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’, to be launched in January 2012.

I am confident that party members will as always one of the biggest contingents in the marches and pickets which we shall be organising around all these campaigns.

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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