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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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  |  COSATU Speeches

Zwelinzima Vavi`s address to NUM`s Central Committee

23 May 2013

President Senzeni Zokwana
General Secretary Frans Baleni
Members of the National Executive Committee
Leaders and cadres of the NUM gathering here
Comrades and friends

Thank you for the awarding me the great honour of addressing the union that introduced me to the trade union movement, where I had the privilege to serve as a member, shaft steward, organiser and leader.

The National Union of Mineworkers has an unequalled tradition of workplace struggle and revolutionary political leadership. Your foundations were laid by giants - JB Marks, Moses Kotane and Leslie Massina. You are the union of Elijah Barayi, Sam Ntambane and Selby Mayise. You have given us three successive ANC Secretary-Generals, many leaders of the SACP and countless other struggle stalwarts.

I bring revolutionary greetings and best wishes for a successful Central Committee from the COSATU National Office Bearers and all our 2.2 million members, and also a message of condolence to the families and comrades of all those who have lost their lives in the tragic events of the recent past. We must unite to stop the carnage and make sure we see no more needless deaths.

This Central Committee is taking place at a crucial time in the history of the NUM. In 1987, 50 000 of us were dismissed at one go. The Chamber of Mines thought that they had finally sorted out the NUM. After that strike the confidence that workers had in their own ability to change their situation, and the confidence they had in the NUM union dropped to unprecedented lows.

The bosses at all levels were told to do everything to roll the clock backward to reverse the gains we had made. It was bad. Many thought the NUM was history. The bosses and their apartheid stewards in parliament were celebrating that finally their dream had come true.

It now history that the NUM painstakingly addressed its challenges and grew from strength to strength, to become, and retain its position as, the largest COSATU union and a largest paid-up union in the African continent.

Today we are convening this Central Committee at the time when the bosses are in celebratory mood in Rustenburg and elsewhere. The Mickey-mouse political parties have joined in these celebrations, stoking dissent and exploiting whatever weaknesses they have identified to mobilize against this union of James Motlatsi and Elijah Barayi.

The UDM and others know the only way to deal with the liberation forces led by the tripartite alliance is to kill its most potent weapon – the NUM - with well over 300 000 members. Before today they had tried five Madoda and killed Selby Mayise but could not dislodge the mighty NUM. In a way this new round of attack is history repeating itself even though the circumstances are a little different.

It is in this context that it is worth repeating what we agreed unanimously at our 11th National Congress in the special declaration on the Marikana events:

“We will do everything possible to help prevent any further deaths... Membership of any union or any party should never cost a life... We promise to defend our affiliate the NUM against ongoing violent attacks on its members and leaders.”

We are all only too well aware of the massive challenges which confront us all at this time, and pledge our total support and solidarity, as you battle against both the mine bosses and a rival breakaway ‘union’.

We must never lose sight of the main source of all our problems, which lies not within the ranks of our fellow workers but from the boardrooms of the multi-national mining and construction monopolies, many of them based overseas.

They are only interested in maximising the profits of their shareholders, and treat the workers - whose labour in hard, dangerous and unhealthy conditions created their wealth - as expendable pawns who can be hired and fired whenever they want.

Now these ruthless employers are on the offensive. They, and their political allies in the DA and other opposition parties, and their friends in the media, have declared war on the NUM and therefore by extension also on COSATU and its alliance partners.

They use blackmail to threaten closures and retrenchments, combined with the classic tactic of ‘divide and rule’; they are out to fragment and ultimately destroy the power of workers’ organisations which have been built over decades.

They must not succeed. Our unity is our strength. We cannot allow the bosses to return us to the grim old days when workers had no rights, and had to accept whatever the employer demanded.

Comrade delegates,

The 11th Congress Declaration on Marikana summarised all the problems which mine-workers inherited from the days of colonialism and apartheid, many of which are still with us today, including:

The historical reliance on cheap labour and the history of treating mine workers as subhuman,

  • Extreme inequality; the highest paid executive directors in 2009 were in BHP Billiton, at an average of R41m, more than 850 times higher than your members’ current median wage of R48, 000 per year and median minimum of R43, 200 per year!
  • The 69,000 mine workers who died and more than a million who were seriously injured between 1900 and 1994, as result of accidents. Between 2001 and 2011, a further 2301 workers lost their lives, and nearly 43,000 were seriously injured.
  • Occupational diseases, including 760,000 new TB infections per year, HIV and AIDS and silicosis which all claim the lives of thousands every year.
  • Squalid living conditions and environmental degradation in local communities.

These are the issues we want the second commission of inquiry into the mining industry to examine, an inquiry to which the Cabinet has agreed in principle and must be pushed to implement.

The President has already set up a sub-committee, on which both COSATU and the NUM are represented, to look into living conditions in and around targeted mining towns, and reach consensus between government, business and labour on a programme to transform them. Because of this work, many mining towns are now at the top of the list for governments infrastructure programme to build houses, schools and clinics and to supply electricity.

But in the meantime we have to look at how to improve the lives of your members in the immediate term and win back those who have been seduced by the demagogy of opportunist misleaders.

Your latest wage demands to the Chamber of Mines for the 2013 wage negotiations have, as usual, been blatantly misrepresented in the media, with headlines about ‘a 60% claim’ and their usual cries of ‘excessive’, ‘outrageous’ and ‘greedy’.

In fact the demands are absolutely justified and reasonable - a minimum amount of R7000 per month for surface workers, R8000 per month for underground and opencast workers and a 15% increase for all other categories.

You are also absolutely right to demand that rock-drill operators’ job categories must be increased to category 8 whilst other categories are rolled up to category 7.

As Comrade Frans says: “These demands are informed by many studies which have revealed that cash wages received over time has indeed been growing but, the disposable wage has been under severe strain due to the effects of inflation and other expense incurred to maintain a worker’ modest lifestyle”.

Not only are your demands justified, but there is no reason why the bosses should not agree to them. Contrary to the media hype around the so-called troubles of your sectors, profits are still being generated for the shareholders.

Between 2006 and 2011, Lonmin, Implats and Amplats between them made R160 billion profits. That’s enough to build more than 3 million one-room RDP houses at R50, 000 each. So why are platinum workers still living in shacks? The average profit margin of these 3 companies over the 5 years was 29%, rising to 41% between 2006 and 2008.

The rate of profit might have fallen in some instances, including in the platinum sector, but this does not mean that companies are running into a loss-making situation. Shareholders are still receiving double digit returns on their investments.

Why aren’t some of their greedy returns shifted to workers? For the past ten years the share of returns allocated as wages to mine workers, and workers in many other sectors, has been at rock bottom. We have to reverse this.

These demands are also completely in line with the decision of our Collective Bargaining, Organising and Campaigns Conference in March, when delegates were informed that in 2010 the average minimum wage in South Africa was R3 336 a month. Minimum wages were reported by the Labour Research Service Report on Bargaining Indicators (2011) as being 19% below the living wage level of R4 105.

That is why the conference resolved to call for a legislated National Minimum Wage to be introduced by 2014. This would be a significant first step towards greater equality and start to drag millions of poor workers out of poverty. It would not on its own address poverty and inequalities; it would have to form part of a coherent incomes policy, including a basic income grant to provide all South Africans, employed and unemployed, with an income.

And it is important to reassure you that the minimum wage must not replace collective bargaining between employers and labour, but complement it, so that unions in the different sectors would still be free to negotiate higher wages, regrading and better conditions for members.

The rock-drill operators are a good example of a group of highly-skilled workers, doing a dangerous and difficult job, who are fully entitled to a wage well above the minimum in recognition of their special role in the labour force.

Comrade delegates

The Bargaining Conference also looked at the question of the social wage. Workers’ living standards are not determined only by the size of their wage packet, but also the quality of life after they leave work each day. The Marikana events turned the spotlight on the appalling living conditions in all the townships around Rustenburg.

We still have a scandalous two-tier provision on areas of education, healthcare, housing and transport. A still mainly white, rich minority can pay for top-class private services, while the overwhelmingly black, poor majority have to struggle with inefficient, under-resourced facilities.

A special problem which I know hits many of your numbers hard is the criminal role of the Mashonisas, who bleed workers dry with massive interest on loans, illegally seize their ID books and threaten violence if they miss repayments on their spiralling debts. The law must be applied and offenders sent to jail.

So we must never apologise for campaigning on social issues outside the workplace, which directly affect the quality of life of the workers and their families.

Comrade delegates

It is equally vital to continue to continue to raise our demands on the economy. Since 1994 we have made strides forward in the areas of democracy, human rights and social benefits - for which we give full credit to the efforts of our Alliance, and the ANC government – but socio-economically, workers` lives have not fundamentally changed. We have not come near to achieving the economic demands in the Freedom Charter that:

“The people shall share in the country’s wealth; The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole; All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people.”

Unemployment, poverty and inequality remain massive problems, threatening to submerge the country into chaos and violence, as the ticking time bombs we have identified start to explode.

We have therefore, as mandated by the 11th National Congress, submitted a Section 77 notice to force a debate on our demands, for, amongst many others:

  • State intervention in strategic sectors of the economy, which obviously must include mining, including through nationalisation, which is COSATU’s longstanding policy,
  • Addressing the unemployment crisis through creation of decent work, eradication of poverty, a 40-hour working week, banning of labour broking and access to free quality education and healthcare.

Central to these demands is for the radical restructuring of our economy – the 2nd Phase of the Transition or the Lula Moment - to create one based on manufacturing industry, rather than the over-dependence on the export of raw materials. The current crisis in the platinum sector perfectly illustrates this danger. Thousands of jobs are in jeopardy because of global market forces we do not control.

The Industrial Policy Action Plan, the infrastructure development programme and at least part of the new growth path will put us on the right road, but only if they are well resourced, speedily and fully implemented.

This must be the context for the ongoing debate on the National Development Plan, within which we have already identified areas which are in conflict with COSATU and NUM standing policies. We cannot accept its view that the way to create jobs is through the deregulation of the labour market and the introduction of lower entry wages for young workers - below the existing poverty wages which the majority of workers are currently receiving.

We shall also reject its major labour market proposals to entrench and further promote a multi-tier labour market and the downward variation of minimum standards of employment. We shall resist these anti-worker proposals from ever being implemented by government and employers.

Comrade delegates

We will however achieve none of our demands unless we transform our own organisations - building on our strengths and also recognising and boldly confronting our weaknesses.

I have already referred to the external attacks we face - from the employers, the media, the DA and breakaway ‘unions’. But our unity is also under internal attack reflected in media campaigns based on lies and distortions about the federation and its leaders, spread by leaks from faceless, anonymous ‘sources’, with the sole aim of weakening and ultimately wrecking our proud federation.

As the Secretary General of the ANC warned us at the Bargaining Conference, to allow a degeneration of the workers’ organisation - the only weapon workers have to improve their wages and conditions of employment - will be a disaster.

We must not allow that to happen. Let us not forget what we agreed at our 11th National Congress: “We cannot afford to fight silly battles against one another when the house is on fire.”

We want to bequeath to the next generation a united, growing, militant, independent and fighting federation that will continue to be a major force in the political and economic life of our country. We must leave no stone unturned in our drive to rebuild our organisation and address our weaknesses.

Our greatest challenge is that two-thirds of workers are not organised! That is why a top priority must be a recruitment drive to reach out to all workplaces, aiming at 100% representative and not just 50+1%.

In particular we must stamp out the practice of poaching members from another COSATU union, especially when so many workers are in no union at all. Poaching is not recruitment of new members, but it is a recipe for conflict and disunity.

We must strive to enforce the founding principles of the Federation, including the ‘one union one industry’ principle, and ensure that mergers and integration take place between unions that are currently competing for the same membership.

But more members do not necessarily translate into organised power. Our strength, as NUM has proved over the years, is based also on mobilising members politically to act in their class interests.

A very worrying revelation in the Naledi workers survey is that 35% of our members told us that there has not been a shop stewards election in their workplace in the past four years. It is encouraging to note that you in your 2012 Congress recognised that you have many challenges around elections and mandated your NEC to develop an election system which cannot easily be corrupted. I want to urge you to share whatever system you develop with other COSATU affiliates so that we can achieve shop steward election improvements across the board.

Another worrying indicator coming from the Workers’ Survey was that only a quarter of union members had participated in a union educational programme. Just over half had attended a union meeting in the past year. Distance of leaders from the membership is illustrated by the fact that only 6% of the members knew who their union General Secretary or President was!

That is why the 11th National Congress adopted a Listening Campaign, to give greater power to the voice of ordinary members, through an “Ear to the Floor” strategy across the federation, coordinated and monitored through national and provincial structures.

NUM, I am sure, is busy implementing this decision, through regular general meetings and workers’ forums, in line with its historic commitment to worker control and internal democracy.

Closely linked to recruitment is better service to members. They told us in the Naledi survey that the most important reason for joining a COSATU union was protection against dismissal and unfair discipline (38% of our members), followed by improving wages, benefits and working conditions (33% of our members).

So we have to work first and foremost towards successfully defending workers in disciplinary cases and into wage bargaining. Our members are telling us that we have to pull up our socks in all areas of service.

Your General Secretary in his Secretariat report to your last Congress put it very clearly when he stated: “As elected leaders we must always be aware that we serve and occupy these positions by invitation from our members. Therefore, we have an obligation to render quality service to our members… NUM members must come first in everything we do...”

Your parliamentary head, Comrade Madoda Sambatha, in an input to a NUM Qina Msebenzi Forum in November 2012, put his finger on some of the key organisational problems facing NUM over the past period, particularly in the platinum mines, but which I am certain apply to all our affiliates in all sectors. Amongst others he made the following observations:

  • Class consciousness has declined – there is a need for mass-based class education and more ideological training, particularly on the question of the need for the unity of the oppressed
  • Instead of leading during the [2012] Rustenburg strikes, the union assumed the role of employer in calling workers back to work. In contrast, in other areas the union lead from the front.
  • It was a mistake to talk about the “illegality” of the strikes instead of focusing on the key demands. There is no such thing as an illegal strike.
  • Internal leadership squabbles played a big role in setting the stage.
  • The union has recruited new people based on qualifications rather than on trade union experience and this has disempowered the union
  • In every Region there are two positions from amongst the FTSSs who get regarded as C5 (equivalent of shift boss) if they are not already there. The package in gold is R13, 000 per month before benefits (including car and allowances). The branch leadership often assume the status of spokesperson for management. This is compounded by the fact that shop stewards allow management to dictate the agendas of monthly consultative meetings.
  • The union’s media strategy was poor – the union came across as being against the demands of workers

These points echo some of the concerns raised about all of our Affiliates as well as COSATU itself in the Secretariat Report to the 11th National Congress, drafted before the events around Marikana. It warned of the emergence of “growing social distance between union leaders and the membership. Different lifestyles and material realities are creating a leadership which is not fully in tune with what members are facing”.

We must go back to basics, listen to our members, focus effectively on workplace issues, organisation and recruitment, deliver service to our members, and implement our 2015 Plan! And, borrowing from the conclusions of your own Collective Bargaining Conference earlier this year, let us make sure that all of our activities promote internal democracy, solidarity, activism and two-way communication.

As the final Bargaining Conference declaration said: “It is only through building powerful, unified organisations that workers will have an effective engine to drive the changes we want to see at the workplace, in the economy, and at a political level.”

Thank you very much.

  • Forward with the unity or our great workers movement!
  • Forward to the programme of radical economic transformation!

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
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za