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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech delivered by SACP General Secretary, Cde Blade Nzimande, to COSATU`s 11th National Congress

17 September 2012

Defend the gains of the working class
Take responsibility for the national democratic revolution

On behalf of the SACP, I bring you revolutionary greetings from our Party, which has just emerged from a very unified 13th Congress; a unity we have pledged to use to contribute to the unity of our Alliance and its components.

This Congress meets in the shadow of an intensified offensive against the working class in SA. It is an offensive directed primarily against the best organized detachment of our working class - this federation, this COSATU, especially the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and all these affiliates. The intensified offensive is born partly out of desperation on the part of our class enemies. Capitalism continues to be enmeshed in a deep-seated crisis. Everywhere global capitalism seeks to defend its profits and its power by displacing the impact of its crisis onto the workers, the poor, and the Third World. It violently foments civil war and destabilization of countries with an anti-imperialist track-record. It embarks on mass retrenchments, casualization, budget cuts and suffocating austerity measures at home and abroad. To carry through this butchery, global capitalism everywhere seeks to defeat the organized working class – a powerful barrier to its anti-popular strategies.

Here in SA we are no strangers to this offensive. Here, too, the anti-union offensive has intensified and grown more desperate in recent months. It is an offensive also supported by sections of imperialism. We have even seen the DA attempting to out-Malema Malema by leading a march on the COSATU head-quarters with a rag-tag army of suburbanites and desperate and misguided township youth.

This middle-class flirtation with anarchy is partly the result of the all-round capitalist crisis, in which it is also deeply affected. Much as the working class is bearing most of the brunt of this crisis, the middle classes are now also increasingly feeling the pinch. Unlike some of the middle classes in other parts of the world who have joined workers in protest against neo-liberal capitalism, our middle class, especially its white sections, has turned its venom against the ANC government, including racist attitudes rearing their ugly head anew, especially through the internet.

Equally, small and often elitist sections of the black middle class which also feels the economic hardship are working with some of their white counterparts to blame government, even for their own failures to make use of narrow BEE to accumulate wealth. In fact the common ideological platform for both sections of the white and black middle classes is that of the so-called lack of leadership in society. This is no honest debate but a rightist putsch and an ideological fad, aimed at discrediting the ANC and its government. It must be treated and dismissed as such.

But desperation by the elites is also rooted in the fact that since at least 2007 and the defeat of the 1996 class project, we have an ANC ruling party that (however unevenly) is committed to our tripartite alliance, and an ANC-led government that has abandoned (however unevenly) neo-liberalism, privatization, anti-communism, and anti-worker positions. Of course this progress within the ANC itself, and within government is not something to be taken for granted. It is contested space – and WE MUST, comrades, CONTEST it.

Because of these positive developments, increasingly the anti-union offensive in our country has been left to opposition parties in Parliament, to renegades expelled from our own ranks, to demagogues and opportunists of all stripes, supported by big money and broadcast through the megaphone of the mainstream media.

But if this intensified anti-union offensive stems partly from desperation in the face of the capitalist crisis, it is also an offensive that, from time to time, becomes emboldened by our own divisions and factionalism, by our own distractions, by our own neglect of our core tasks of organizing in the work-place and in our communities, by our own failures to deal decisively with corruption, tender-preneuring and business-unionism. Comrades, it is imperative that we close ranks. It is essential that we face up to this offensive as a united and disciplined COSATU, as a united Alliance, as a Liberation Movement strengthening, but also strengthened by a democratic state.

Learning appropriate lessons from Marikana

All of the above is the immediate context against which we need to understand the Marikana tragedy. In the space of a decade, the platinum sector has gone from boom to near-bust as a result of the global capitalist crisis and particularly the stagnation in Europe (the major importer of our platinum.

For years the mining houses – and particularly the platinum mining houses – have sought to break the back of NUM. Who can forget the late 1990s and the rule of terror that prevailed as a result of the so-called Five Madoda and their pseudo-trade union “Workers Mouthpiece”? We ask: who can forget? And yet so many in our country, unfortunately including some former COSATU leaders, DO forget. In that reign of terror in the Rustenburg region, vigilante thugs associated with the pseudo-union murdered 34 NUM shop-stewards.

What we also DO know for sure is that through the years of the platinum boom, impressive investments were made on the platinum belt. And yet, through this boom, virtually nothing was done for the living conditions of the work-force.

We failed these workers and their families. We failed to leverage effective social responsibility requirements out of the mining houses. We were too focused on using the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Act to enforce BEE shareholding.

Another negative reality, born of abject desperation, began to take root in many of these squalid shanty towns around the platinum mines. The Five Madoda and their “Workers Mouthpiece” infiltrated the informal settlements – and used coercion and patronage to gain control over shebeens, prostitution, minibus operations, shack-lordism, and the muti and mashonisa businesses. These lumpen-patriarchal networks exerted a reign of terror over many settlements, in the same way as similar networks are doing now.

What is to be done?

The SACP fully supports government’s crackdown on the illegal carrying of weapons, on intimidation and on incitement to violence. The ring-leaders must be dealt with and separated from the mass of misled strikers (many of whom are not actually employees of Lonmin or even workers). Those possessed of mysterious wealth, who have never worked a day in their lives, those who were recently anti-unionisation in the army, those who are now happily inciting others to kill and be killed must be dealt with. We also require a thorough investigation into where their funding is coming from, whether locally or internationally. Any formal structures of the ANC that are collaborating with the so-called Friends of the Youth League must themselves face suspension from our movement. We have given opportunism far too much space and tolerance. Together as an Alliance and with our local structures, together with government agencies, we need to help to restore basic norms of safety and security into the lives of our mining communities.

The SACP also fully supports the establishment of the Independent Judicial Commission of Inquiry. We must leave the detailed investigation into the events leading up to August 16, the day itself, and the violence in the ensuing days to the Commission. Without interfering, we must ensure that it is thorough and unbiased in its work. Any wrong-doing by the police must be uncovered. At the same time, it is absolutely important that the Inquiry hears evidence from the communities and contextualizes its understanding of the immediate events. The SACP is working with our structures in these mining settlements to take evidence and sworn affidavits. We know that NUM is doing likewise, and we urge the ANC and other COSATU affiliates, where relevant, to ensure that the Commission is presented with a broad and objective picture of the situation.

Finally, we must reject the apartheid and racist notion that what is happening in Marikana is inter-union rivalry, as if the NUM and pseudo union, AMCU were the same thing.

Back to basics: workplace organization to roll back neo-liberal restructuring

This important gathering is also taking place against the background of intensified attacks on the national democratic revolution, including attempts to try and present our movement as being at sea and not knowing what is to be done to deepen the national democratic revolution. We however need to state from the onset that if we focus most of our energies at this congress lamenting about the challenges we face instead of focusing on what is to be done, we would have wasted this very important opportunity. Analysis, yes, lamenting no!

The current global capitalist crisis has seen the intensification of attempts to increase the rate of profit of capitalism at the direct expense of the working class. With the increasing casualization and labour ‘brokering’ of workers in South Africa, today less and less workers for instance have access to provident fund and medical aid. The impact and implications of this reality are enormous. For instance this means that the burden of looking after the health of labour brokered workers becomes the sole responsibility of workers themselves without any employer contribution. Similarly, lack of access to provident fund means an additional burden on the state when these workers retire. This means that both workers and the state are increasingly and directly subsidizing the profits of the bourgeoisie.

The impact of this massive restructuring of the workplace has also placed in danger the existence of significant sections of the trade union movement itself. In fact the growth of the trade union movement over the last decade years has been more in the public than the private sector, as COSATU’s own statistics show.

The trade union federations in our country, especially our ally, COSATU, must develop a comprehensive campaign to strengthen the trade union movement in the workplace.

In tackling the challenges facing the workplace we also need to ask some serious questions about the state of the trade union movement in South African today, including its strategies to confront the huge restructuring of the workplace undertaken by the capitalist class over the last one and a half decade. Could it also be that our reaction to attempts to relegate the role of the trade union movement by the 1996 class project to workplace issues unintentionally led to bending the stick too much in the opposite direction; that is, focusing on broader political struggles at the expense of workplace organization? Could it also be that good trade union organization has declined, in the same way as mass organization has taken a knock after 1994?

There is also an emerging threat for our progressive trade union movement, where there is collusion between business unionism, elements bought by bosses and tenderpreneurs whose goal is to divide and weaken the trade union movement as part of capturing these unions and turning them into sweetheart unions. The most aggressive of this tendency is to be found in the current offensive directed against the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Way back at our Special Congress in 2009 we warned against an emerging new tendency within our movement, which is anti-working class, anti-communist and even having proto-fascist features. We further warned against being confused and fooled by a call for nationalization whose aim was to bail out a section of mining BEE in a crisis. We further said none within our ranks must by any means flirt with this tendency. Today we are being proven right, as it is this same tendency that is in the forefront of trying to destroy the NUM, with the intention to divide and weaken COSATU as a whole. This is a tendency whose goal is to accumulate by all means, and whose mission has been to capture our movement for purposes of self-enrichment and accumulation. It is a tendency, we are convinced now as the SACP that is backed by powerful imperialist interests who are threatened by the prospects of a leftward shift in our movement. These are thieves who will stop at nothing to pillage the resources of the state, and are prepared to even sell our country to the highest imperialist bidder. It is a tendency that must be defeated, and only a united and better organized working class can do so!

Once more the SACP calls upon this Congress to come out unambiguously against this tendency. No amount of political sophistry or big-sounding English should justify anyone from within our ranks justifying working with these demagogues. There must be no `ifs` or ‘buts’ in our attitude towards the new tendency. The struggle of the working class is not for sale!!! Instead we are calling for the federation to close ranks, isolate and defeat this tendency.

The SACP’s position is that the struggle for decent work must incorporate a variety of dimensions and not simply be reduced to wages, important as this is. The struggle for decent work must involve the campaign for a living wage, a decent social wage and transformed workplaces free of racism, patriarchy and managerial unilateralism.

The anti-majoritarian liberal offensive and necessity to build a working-class led mass movement

As the SACP we have consistently been raising the need to defeat the anti-majoritarian liberal offensive. Its agenda is that of undermining black majority rule using all manner of methods, including attempts to capture institutions supporting our democracy and its intensified attacks on the working class. Of late it is becoming vocal against what it sees as the danger of big unions and big government, and essentially calling for the weakening of the labour movement in general, and COSATU in particular. It is seeking to place the blame of unemployment on the employed, and especially organized workers. We are told, the basis for inequality in our society is no longer race, nor the class inequalities between the bourgeoisie and the working class, but the basis now is between the employed and unemployed!!

The SACP has consistently raised this matter, and again warning that none within our ranks should be confused by this liberal agenda and be tempted to form alliances blindly. Liberals, as has always been their history, cherry pick the battles they want to wage, and sometimes opportunistically want to be seen as friends of the working class. They will stand up against e-tolling in Gauteng, not because they really care about the working class, but in opposition to the ANC government, and yet be completely silent about the fact that the DA has tolled Chapman’s Peak in Cape Town and seeks to build more physical structures there! They will take the ANC government to court over textbooks in Limpopo, but not go to court when the DA is unilaterally closing schools in the Western Cape.

Whilst liberals will form a new NGO on a variety of matters where they oppose government, they have formed no NGO to fight against the brutality against farmworkers; nor are there new NGOs formed to fight the scourge of labour brokers by liberals. They opportunistically seek alliances with the working class in order to advance elite interests, embarrass the ANC government, but tell the working class to go jump when it comes to challenging established capitalist interests.

Whilst we accept that COSATU may form tactical alliances with various formations at different points in time, caution must always be taken against who are our real friends. We are also concerned about the tone of the political report on some of these matters. Strongly implied in the report is a more critical stance towards the Alliance, and uncritical praise and elevation of tactical alliances with a whole variety of other forces. This is, we believe an incorrect posture by COSATU.

The more recent ideological offensive against our movement and revolution is that of a charge that there is an absence of leadership in society and an attempt to project our movement as being at sea, not knowing what to do. Here we see a very clear convergence between the liberal offensive and what we have characterized as the new tendency. Our leadership and movement is not being judged on progress made in terms of commitments made for instance around our five priorities, but through a targeted attack on the movement as a whole, especially COSATU and the ANC, with a particular focus on the President of the ANC and the republic, Cde Jacob Zuma. The print media is actually at the centre and forefront of this offensive.

It is our considered view as the SACP that the principal task of the working class at the present moment is that of building a working class led people’s mass movement to drive transformation on all fronts. Whilst NGOs are important at no stage should they become a substitute for the people’s voice. For that matter not all NGOs are progressive, and many are captured by particular class interests, not least those of their often (imperialist) donors.

But, of course, not all NGOs are retrogressive either. We, the Alliance as a whole, need to actively engage in this terrain of “civil society” and contribute to the building of a progressive NGO movement as part of revitalizing the Mass Democratic Movement to be led by the working class.

The question of a working class-led people’s movement assumes even more importance in the light of the Marikana and related experiences. Organization of mineworkers has to be accompanied by the progressive organization of adjacent mining communities in order to defeat warlordism and shacklordism that are often exploited to weaken and destroy working class organization in the workplace.

Building on our advances to address the triple challenges of our revolution

At our 13th Congress we said if the aim of our Special National Congress in December 2009 was to assist our broad movement to understand the global capitalist crisis, the reasons for the persistence of structural unemployment and racialised poverty and inequality, and the challenges facing our movement since Polokwane, the 13th Congress focused on what is to be done to consolidate, defend and advance our revolution.

One of the primary challenges of our revolution now and in the coming period is that of translating the many important policy breakthroughs made over the past four-to-five years into palpable changes that must transform our current semi-colonial economic growth path for the progressive benefit of the overwhelming majority of the workers and the poor.

It is very important to remember that being part of the Alliance as working class formations, it is our responsibility to protect, defend and deepen the unity of our Alliance. Part of this responsibility and revolutionary duty is that we cannot choose to sometimes step aside and behave as if we are outside our Alliance and revolution, and have the luxury to lament or criticize as outsiders, often encouraged by the media. To choose to act as if we are outside the Alliance when things get tough, and to seek to prioritise media recognition is nothing but rank opportunism; and such behavior does not belong to the ranks of the working class. Problems or disagreements amongst ourselves as Allies, which are inevitable anyway, cannot be subject of press conferences or tweeter messages, but need to be tackled within the structures of our Alliance and through principled bilateral engagements.

At no stage should we celebrate the difficulties facing any of our Alliance partners. We simply cannot elevate tactical alliances with other social formations (no matter how important we think they may be) above our Alliance.

Of course it is absolutely essential that our working class formations must jealously guard their independence. But such independence must serve to assert the working class as the principal motive force of our revolution, as the foundation of the unity of our Alliance, and not as an oppositionist or opportunist element within our Alliance.

Nevertheless whatever challenges we face must never make us lose sight of the advances we have made since our democratic breakthrough in 1994, and those especially made since Polokwane. A correct approach for revolutionaries is not to lament about these problems or use them in a populist fashion for short-term political gain. The challenge of true revolutionaries is to recognize advances we have made and seek to build on these in order to address existing challenges.

In particular, since the ANC Polokwane conference, we have seen some important policy breakthroughs and other achievements that we dare not lose sight of. Amongst these are the following:

  • The development of an overarching industrial policy, within the context of proposals for a new growth path. This new policy emphasizes the need to beneficiate our mineral wealth, rebuild the manufacturing sector as part of the industrialization of our economy and take job creation to higher levels. The key challenge is to align our macro economic policies to these objectives.
  • A clear move away from emphasis on privatization of the early 2000s to a commitment to a more active role by the state in economic development.
  • A clear commitment by the ANC and government to move away from the ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ model of land reform, to a more radical redistribution of land, including expropriation as provided for in our constitution.
  • The major state-led investment in infrastructure as announced by the President in the 2012 State of the Nation address responds to a call that has long been made by the working class for more investment in infrastructure. The key task of the working class is to ensure that monies invested in infrastructure are not stolen by tenderpreneurs who want a quick buck out of shoddy work. It is also important that we mobilise to demand that all companies that win major infrastructure projects from government must not use labour brokers and must also be committed to the training and skilling of workers.
  • Since Polokwane, government is now embarking on a pilot for the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) a long standing call by the SACP in particular when we launched our campaign on health for all around 2004-5. But one of the biggest achievements by this Zuma-led administration is that life expectancy of our population has gone up, largely due to the provision of ARVs to our people and the slowing down of mother to child transmission of HIV. This is one of the biggest achievements we have made and is a far cry from the disastrous path of AIDS denialism that was with us prior to 2007!!

The ANC and our Alliance has now prioritized education as an apex priority of the five priorities. Government has already embarked on important measures to improve access to education for the poor. For instance, now more than 60% of our schools are no-fee schools, and more than 8 millions students benefit from the school nutrition scheme. In addition, FET college education has now become free for students who come from poor families if they are study occupation related programmes – a first in the history of our country!

Another crucially important development in the lead up to this Congress has been the ANC’s National Policy Conference. The most significant commitment made by that conference was that the principal challenge of our revolution is that of earnestly effecting a second radical phase of our transition, principally but not exclusively by focusing on a radical restructuring of our economy. Some of the contradictions notwithstanding, this is a significant opportunity for the working class to make further impact on the national democratic revolution and, for us, as our most direct route to socialism.

A critical challenge of the second phase of our transition is that of building a developmental state, with a public service that is capable of driving transformation. In this respect we must use the fact that in the public service we have a multi-year bargaining agreement to reflect on the role of progressive public sector unions in building such a developmental state.

All the above constitutes the immediate terrain upon which the working class must act as the principal motive force of the national democratic revolution and the struggle for socialism. This is taking responsibility for the NDR!

The relationship between, and the respective responsibities of, the SACP and COSATU

We are here today to pledge our solidarity and commitment to our relationship with COSATU as part of the socialist axis of our Alliance. Ours is a relationship built on a common commitment to deepen the struggle to defeat the capitalist system and build a more rational and humane system of socialism in our country and the world. The current global capitalist crisis is not only an economic crisis, but it is a profound crisis of the idea of neo-liberalism; a crisis forthe idea that the market dominated by 500 or so transnational corporations is the solution to the problems facing humanity. This crisis presents a unique opportunity for all socialist forces globally, and not least in our own country, to intensify the ideological and mass struggles against capitalism and its failures to address the needs of the overwhelming majority of our people.

As part of its contribution and taking greater responsibility for the NDR and the struggle for socialism the SACP emerged out of its 13th Congress with a firm commitment to working towards these five Party building objectives over the next five years, which are important to share with you:

Building the organisational capacity and a renewal of the SACP
Political Education and Cadre Development
Policy Capacity

Battle of Ideas – The SACP will devote enormous attention to train and equip its cadres to engage in all terrains of struggle to advance the interests of the national democratic revolution and socialism, including exposing the most immediate ideological threats to our revolution – the neo-liberal capitalist offensive and the new tendency. This will include engaging in all terrains of struggle through the media and other outlets.

Deepening mass work – The SACP intends to deepen mass work on all critical fronts of struggle, including work amongst the workers, the youth, the intelligentsia, women, rural masses and the cultural, performing and sports fronts.

We call upon COSATU to join us in all these efforts.

As the SACP we once more assert our principled position that we respect your independence – just as we expect COSATU to respect the Party’s independence. But this is not to say that we are indifferent observers at each other’s respective Congresses. Now more than ever it is important that we close ranks. If we are to defeat the intensified offensive against the working class, against the trade union movement, against COSATU and its affiliates, and therefore against the whole Alliance and the NDR then, , on behalf of the SACP and its Central Committee, I am honour bound to convey one single and simple message.

Comrades, the SACP expects that out of this Congress a COSATU, and a COSATU collective leadership will emerge that is united around a militant programme of action, directed at deepening the national democratic revolution as our most direct route to socialism. If on Thursday this Congress rises on that note then, collectively, you will have sent a powerful and resounding response to all of those vultures circulating around the tragedy of Marikana – that motley crew of demagogues, rank opportunists, misguided do-gooders, DA union bashers, pseudo-unions, lackeys of imperialist interests hoping to turn anarchy into a South African Arab Winter. As the SACP we trust that the delegates to this Congress appreciate their responsibilities, and that they appreciate the high stakes involved. The imperialist forces and their transnational corporations – the BHP Billitons, the Lonmins, the Anglos, the Impalas, the Arcelor Mittals - and their local compradorial minions - are not standing idly by in the midst of their crisis. Everywhere they are fighting back.

Just as the SACP and COSATU are not, and cannot be, indifferent observers of each other fates, so both our working class formations must take a deep and responsible interest in the ANC’s Mangaung Conference. Our Alliance, indeed our country, requires a united ANC, united around a radical programme of transformation, united around a collective leadership committed to our Alliance, committed to intensifying the fight against corruption and tenderpreneurship, committed to building upon the important policy breakthroughs already made, committed to dealing decisively with all forms of demagoguery and populism.

Out of this Cosatu Congress we expect a commitment to build independent and militant red trade unions committed to our revolutionary alliance and aligned to the anti-imperialist, class-oriented, international trade union movement.

Out of this Cosatu Congress we also expect a firm commitment to the swelling of the ranks of the ANC, and to joining the SACP. This also means preparedness for workers and their leaders to serve in the leadership structures of the ANC, SACP and SANCO. If you are a worker leader, and you are not active in ANC or SACP structures where do you get your politics from? How do you ensure an organic link between the politics of the ANC and SACP and the organized working class? Is there not a contradiction in calling for the swelling of the ranks of the ANC and Party, but implying that there is a problem in accepting leadership positions in our formations? Who do we want to lead the ANC and the SACP after all?

We say to you, you are not spectators to our revolution; you are an important component of the leading motive forces of our revolution and therefore TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION!!

With these words we wish you a successful Congress!!