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COSATU’s 27th Anniversary Statement
1 December 2012
It is 27 years since the launch of COSATU on 1 December 1985 in Durban. “The Giant” that arose on that day has grown from 300 000 members to 2.2 million paid up members today.
The launch of COSATU was a glorious day, but we must never forget that it took place in the midst of violent attacks on all democratic forces. On that very day, MAWU shop steward Phineus Sibiya and four passengers perished when their car was set alight by warlords on the way to the COSATU launch from Mphophomeni, near Howick. This was to set a scene for a more attacks, harassment, killings, and detentions of COSATU members. But this campaign by the apartheid regime and using its stooges failed.
In 1985 we were still suffering under the yoke of apartheid, battling against the might of a militarised and undemocratic state. In the early years therefore, the young giant found itself launching titanic battles against both the employers and the apartheid regime.
In his speech at the launch, founding President Elijah Barayi gave P.W. Botha a six-month deadline to do away with passes. Botha succumbed and the hated pass laws that had humiliated millions for decades were scrapped. Today all South African citizens carry the same identity document.
We were in the forefront of the campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela. We battled against the Bantustans, the black authority stooges, the tri-cameral parliament, and against all apartheid laws.
Whilst we were battling against the apartheid state, we were confronting apartheid and exploitation in our workplaces. In 1986 the workers of OK Bazaars went on a heroic strike that lasted for over six months. That strike showed that women’s place is in the forefront of our militant unions.
In 1986 and 1987 railway workers under the banner of SARWHU (now SATAWU) embarked on a strike for union recognition in an environment riddled with racial segregation, including job reservation.
And who could ever forget the 1987 NUM strike involving over 300 000 workers who for 21 days stood toe-to-toe with the brutal private army of the Chamber of Mines?
Barely six months after we were born, we launched a campaign for the recognition of May Day as a paid Public Holiday. In just two years we won that demand. Today May Day, with 11 other public holidays including August 9, June 16, and March 21 are all paid public holidays.
In 1989 through mass protests and stay-aways, we succeeded in blocking the imposition of apartheid Labour Relations Act. We resisted the privatisation of basic services and we forced the regime to create a National Economic Forum, which later became NEDLAC.
In the same year shoulder to shoulder with the United Democratic Front we launched the defiance campaign that saw thousands of activists defiantly using the whites only amenities.
All studies, including our most recent Workers’ Survey conducted earlier this year, show that members of the unions have better pay, better conditions of employment and better job security than those outside the unions.
But ours has never been a struggle only for increasing wages and improving conditions of work but a struggle to advance the interests of the working class as a whole and to liberate human beings from all the evils of apartheid and capitalism.
Our struggle for better wages and improved conditions of employment has been, and remains, the same struggle waged by workers and communities for better houses, affordable, accessible and safe transport and better schools and hospitals.
It is for that reason that in the early years we worked hand in hand with the United Democratic Front, and worked closely with the ANC and SACP, even while they remained banned and their leadership exiled.
That is why we entered into the formal tripartite Alliance. We recognised from the start that we needed to ensure that we had a government in power that was worker-friendly. That is why we campaigned so hard for an ANC victory in 1994, in the first democratic election that our country had ever seen.
The ANC platform for the 1994 election was based on an agreed Reconstruction and Development Programme, in which we had a massive hand.
Thanks to the victory of our ANC government, today we have a Constitution that enshrines our rights as workers, including our right to strike and to bargain with our employers.
We also have laws, which, despite some of their weaknesses, gave workers legal rights and protections they had never enjoyed before:
- Labour Relations Act, requiring employers to respect workers’ legal rights;
- Employment Equity Act, as part of the transformation agenda to end the injustices of racism and apartheid;
- Basic Conditions of Employment Act, setting out minimum conditions for all workers, where there was none before.
- Minimum wages for vulnerable sectors like farm, domestic and catering workers, though sectoral determinations, though these are still too low;
- Skills Development programmes
- Occupational Health and safety laws including for the mines that gives workers a right to refuse to do dangerous work
We also have NEDLAC, which has been a vehicle to ensure that the union voice is heard in the formulation of government policies, though we need to step up the struggle to make this more effective.
We have the CCMA, which has settled countless disputes, which could otherwise led to far more strikes and conflict.
It has not all been plain sailing however. We have suffered setbacks like the unilateral introduction of GEAR in 1996, and the start of the abandonment of the RDP platform. This resulted in monumental class battles against our marginalisation and against what became dubbed as the 1996 “class project”.
But ultimately this battle too led to a victory at the historic 2007 Polokwane Conference of the ANC which saw the adoption of a renewed project and election platform for 2009, with its key five priorities of decent work and sustainable livelihoods; education; health; rural development; and fighting crime and corruption.
But we still have a long way to go to get these measures implemented.
On decent work, a growing number of workers’ jobs have been casualised and outsourced or are employed by those human traffickers, the labour brokers, for whom the Constitution and all labour laws have no meaning whatsoever. Millions of vulnerable workers still face daily brutalisation and humiliation at the hands of bosses on the farms, security companies, hotel and catering companies and many others.
It is a major scandal that three years on from the last elections, there is no ban on labour broking, a mounting crisis of unemployment, with close to four from every ten people who want to work unable to find jobs.
This was worsened by the financial market crisis from 2008. Between 2009 and 2010 alone, more than 1.1 million people were thrown out of their jobs. Since each worker supports an average of five dependents, this means that 5.7 million were relegated to poverty.
We have adopted and pioneered many good policies on economic transformation, like the Industrial Policy Action Plan, the Infrastructure Development Programme and at least part of the New Growth Path, but need much more urgency to convert words into needs.
That is why we have launched a campaign to emulate the achievements of former President of Brazil, Comrade Lula da Silva, who faced very similar problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality, but was able to achieve real improvements on all these fronts, with the priority always to raise the living standards of the poor.
Minimum wages and social grants were increased and cheap loans made available for emerging small businesses. These not only made Brazil a more equal society but led to faster economic growth, more sustainable new jobs and lower inflation
On fighting crime and corruption, we have seen the mushrooming of a new tendency, which wants to use the ANC as a vehicle for accumulation. Corruption has become a massive challenge. It is for this reason that in 2012 we were instrumental in establishing Corruption Watch. Our unions have been relentless in exposing corruption!
COSATU`s three past congresses have said that we will not give the ANC a blank cheque and will refuse to campaign or support candidates known to be corrupt or lazy. We are calling on the ANC, the Alliance and the people as whole, to ensure that candidates meet strict criteria of integrity. If the ANC implements the processes it has agreed, it will help us achieve this goal. But this process must create space for Alliance structures to ensure that every candidate is indeed honest and conscientious, interested only in serving our people.
The ANC manifesto for 2014 must talk to these challenges. Our members must not to be spectators but active participants in the candidate selection processes.
On increased social protection, we have welcomed the extension of child support grants from 15 years to 18 years, and the reduction of the pension age for men from 65 to 60. In 1996, only 3 million people had access to social grants; today it is 15 million do. A massive 25% of our population depends on these social grants today.
On housing, we applaud the fact that our government has built 3.1 million subsidized houses, giving shelter to over 15 million. While in 1996, 58% of the population had access to electricity, today it is 80%. In 1996, 62% of the population had access to running water, today 88%. Yet, as we saw graphically during the Marikana events, millions of South Africans are struggling to survive in squalid ‘informal settlements’, which lack these basic services.
On rural development – land reform and agricultural policy – we have hardly dented the apartheid structures we inherited. As we mark the centenary of the 2013 Native Land Act next year, it must be a top priority to implement the Freedom Charter’s call for the land to be shared among those who work it. The recent revolt by farm workers has also highlighted the appalling wages and working and living conditions they face.
On health we welcome the introduction of NHI, to tackle the harsh reality that 86% of mainly black poor have to struggle to get any service at all in an under-funded, understaffed public sector where patients are told to bring their own bedding and with only panados available as an antidote, where nurses, doctors and other health workers are overworked and underpaid.
A major achievement, which we celebrate on this World Aids Day, is the increased rollout of ARVs for those infected with the HIV virus. Today over 2 million receive free ARV treatment. Life expectancy is beginning to improve in response to these programmes.
A birthday is a time to celebrate achievements, but also to recognise where we have not achieved enough. We have engaged in quite a lot of introspection this year. Our Congress documents identified challenges and weaknesses, and the massacre at Marikana in August and the uprising of the farm workers heightened our need for introspection.
We know we are far from achieving our historic goal of creating One Country, One Federation and One Union One Industry, and unfortunately we are witnessing an even greater fragmentation of the workers’ movement with the emergence of small, splinter unions, which will only bring cheer to employers who can use their old tactic of divide and rule’.
We know we have not achieved the principle of worker control, which is why we have launched an urgent campaign to listen to our members, get mandates from them, do more to win their demands from the employers, and improve the service to our members and our impact on the political terrain.
As we move towards our 30th anniversary in 2015, we must strive harder to achieve the goals we set ourselves in our 2015 Plan. We must still do much more to strengthen COSATU so that it can continue to improve our wages and conditions of employment.
Today there only 2.2 million of us in COSATU, but our target for 2015 was for 4 million and our ultimate challenge is to organise every one of the 12 million active in the labour market and redouble our efforts to build a better life. This is a formidable challenge but, one we cannot afford to lose!
Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
110 Jorissen Cnr Simmonds Street
Tel: +27 11 339-4911 or Direct: +27 10 219-1339
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456