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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Press Statements

COSATU Millennium Message - achievements, setbacks and challenges of the new millennium. Political and the Alliance

22 December 1999

On the 1st December 1999 COSATU celebrated its 14th anniversary. Today we are marking our entry to the next millennium with good sense of achievement and triumph. The dreams of millions of workers of the past and present generations have to a large ex tent been realised. We celebrate the end of this century as a free people enjoying benefits of a truly democratic society with a constitution that has workers rights as a fundamental corner stone of the new order.

COSATU, and here we also speak on behalf of our predecessors in now disbanded South African Congress of Trade Unions - SACTU and others before 1955 are happy that the trade union movement made an enormous contribution to the freedom enjoyed by the major ity today. South Africa has taken its rightful place amongst nations of the world and is beginning to make a meaningful contribution to change the lives of the citizens of the world.

We are celebrating the end of the 20th century saddened by the fact that thousands of our members and leaders will not, for many reasons, be with us as we rejoice the fruits of their toil. Many of these were killed by apartheid forces and its surrogate s. We pay tribute to all of them and once more thank them dearly for their sacrifices that freed humanity from the evil of apartheid colonialism.

We know what it took to reach where we are. We know who we are, where we come from and where we are going. Because of these three factors, we reaffirm our commitment to the strategic Alliance with the ANC, SACP and SANCO. We believe that this allianc e is the only real hope to millions of our people who yearn for meaningful transformation and who through the greatest statesman of this century, Nelson Mandela declared - "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again ex perience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world".

The greatest challenge we face is to ensure that the gains of our National Democratic Revolution are not only consolidated but also deepened for the benefit of all.

Once again COSATU shall use its organisational muscle to ensure that the ANC improves its performance in the local government elections in October 2000. These local government elections will mark an end to the transitional arrangements at the local lev el and introduce one person and vote system geared towards meeting the needs of all our people. This we shall do because we are convinced that the ANC is the only organisation in the country that is strategically best placed to deliver a better life f or all our people.

We also commit ourselves to strengthen the mass democratic movement. The weakening of the organs of people’s power is not in the interest of our young democracy. It is in this context that COSATU shall make material contributions to help sustain the s tudents organisations - COSAS and SASCO.

The Socioeconomic

There is a consensus in the society that our economy has been in serious problems for the past twenty-five years and that it needs to grow at a faster pace. During this period we have seen inconsistent growth of up to 3% at some periods. During the sa me period we have seen a deepening unemployment crisis and massive inequalities growing at catastrophic proportions.

This picture has largely remained the same. The interventions made by the democratic government have so far failed to stem the characteristics of the apartheid economy. As we close this century, some economists have been predicting an improved perform ance in the coming period.

As workers we have no reason to be optimistic about the unemployment and redistribution of wealth. We know it too well that benefits of economic growth do not automatically translate into more employment and redistribution of wealth. We have seen in t he past sustained profiting by bosses and shareholders with the majority remaining trapped in unemployment and poverty.

We recognise that workers as a major stakeholder in the economy have a distinct role to play in employment creation. It is with this in mind that we have in the tradition of revolutionary trade unionism, called on our members to donate their one-day wa ges during 1999 to the Labour Job Creation Trust. It is our pleasure to announce that to date these endevours have generated R25 million. We are calling on those (in particular in the public sector workers) who have not yet donated their one-day wage s to do so. The Job Creation Trust intends to invite Job Creating Project Proposals early in the New Year so that communities can begin to benefit from these funds. COSATU takes this opportunity to thank all those workers and patriots who donated thei r day’s wages and profits to the Labour Job Creation Trust.

COSATU earlier this month launched another important campaign in its endeavors to fight job losses and create employment in the local economy - the buy South Africa campaign. Once again, we call on all our members and patriots to buy locally produced g oods so that their money can protect and create more jobs.

We call for the speedy implementation of the 1999 Presidential Job Summit resolutions. COSATU has consistently argued that a comprehensive implementation of all resolutions of this historic summit will go a long way in tackling the unemployment crisis we face.

Whilst COSATU will continue to lead by example on specific areas where it can contribute in a fight against unemployment, it should be recognised that we live in a market economy wherein resources reside in the hands of capital. It follows therefore, t hat capital has a responsibility to create jobs and not to shirk this responsibility to workers. The record of the private sector in this regard is dismal. The level on investment in the productive sectors of the economy lives much to be desired. The Foreign Direct Investment which are critical for growth have been erratic and only flowed to privitised and equity partnership ventures.

COSATU believes that it is in the best interest of the local private sector to show more confidence in the economy by lifting their investment strike. As the new millennium begins the local capital must invest massively in the productive sectors of the economy. Those who are in the long queue to do their primary listing elsewhere in the world are urged to return to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

We repeat our call made over and over again for the introduction of a development friendly macroeconomic policies that will help us create the jobs so dearly needed.

COSATU has started internal discussions on how best we can engage capital and solicit improved levels of investment and job creation.

Workers will meet recent attempts by employers to dip their notoriously greedy fingers into the surplus of workers pension funds with bitter opposition. These are hazardous moves by employers who want to continue to benefit from workers’ hard-earned mo ney. COSATU will oppose these with as much vigour as necessary.

In order to prepare for a more effective engagement with this increasingly complex area, COSATU has established CEC portfolio committees focusing on the main issues that the Federation is involved in. In this regard we have established commissions on P ublic Finance and Monetary, Trade and Industry, Labour Market, as well as International Relations commissions. In addition we establishing strategic implementation policy desks staffed by at least two senior economists and other specialised skills. A ll this is meant to increase our capacity to deal with these new challenges.

COSATU is happy at the massive strides registered in the first five years of the ANC government in meeting the basic needs of the people. Whilst there is still a long way to go in this area, we take pleasure at the fact that as we close this century, m ore and more millions of our people are beginning to make sense out of a commitment to a "a better life for all".


We are certainly the most organised mass formation today with at least 1.8 million paid up members and constitutional structures throughout the breadth and length of our country. The recruitment drives launched in April 1998 saw COSATU attracting no l ess than 100 000 members into its affiliated unions. This helped to off set the impact of the ongoing job losses in the economy and proved once again that COSATU is the only party in town for the working people.

The challenge we face is to mould this membership and develop working class cadres that are conscious about the class interest they share irrespective of their religious, race and other differences. At the Special National Congress held this year we de veloped a programme that will help us launch an education and training programme in order to ensure that our membership and cadres are able to live up to the challenges of the new millennium characterised by the information and technology and a fast gl obalising economy.

With the process of de-industrialisation deepening on the home front and abroad, with more secured and highly paying jobs being replaced by temporal, casual, homework and sub contracted jobs, the need to develop a cohesive strategy to organise informal sector and these new types of workers can not be over emphasized. We shall finalise our strategy in this regard within the first four months of the new millennium.

COSATU must continue to evaluate its role in the face of the consistently changing environment and new challenges. A paper that will be a fore runner to 7th National Congress discussion and which will be used for discussions at this congress is current ly being drafted and will be circulated at the end of February 1999.

Despite weakness that we have highlighted through out our history, we are satisfied that organisationally we have repositioned COSATU to meet the challenges of the new millennium. We enter this millennium confident that COSATU is fully compliant and re ady to see it through as a key social force that both its foes and friends can not afford to ignore.


The world enters the new millennium amidst a growing and frightening gap of wealth between the rich countries of the industrialised nations in the North and the poor countries of the South. The sky rocketing debt repayments that many of the South count ries have already paid over and over again worsen this gap. We are calling for the scrapping of this abitrous debt and commit ourselves in partnership with Jubilee 2000 to deepen our campaign to free poor nations from this new of colonialism.

Globilisation still favours the rich countries of the North. The institutions of the United Nations in particular the financial and trade institutions continue to draw "one size fits all" rules with little influence from the poor nations.

It is in this context that COSATU welcomes the greater coordination between the developing nations displayed at the recent 3rd Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation. The fact that this round was not conclusive is an indication of the leve rage of power that the developing countries were able, for the first time, to exercise in the history of the multilateral trading system.

We are calling on developing countries to use this gain as a platform to argue for a New World order centered on development and meeting the needs of the world’s poor population. The rules, including the unfair conditionalities attached to the World Ba nk and IMF loans, must be a thing of the 20th century.

We endorse the call made by many African statesmen including our President Thabo Mbeki that the next century should be declared an African one. Ordinary people of Africa should lead the African Renaissance through the organs of people’s power. The tra de union movement has a critical role to play into ensuring that the concept of African Renaissance does become a rallying point in ensuring that working people have employment opportunities and the poor have shelter, access to education health and oth er needs. We pledge to do everything in our power to translate this call into a campaign to free Africa from wars, poverty, ignorance and under development into a continent that walks tall amongst the continents that will the 21st century a better wor ld. We are committed to participate in one day workplace demonstrations in April 2000 in support of the call made by the OAU for the end of military juntas in our continent by June 2000 and further call for the establishment of democratic governments t hat work in partnerships with the civil society formations. Sadly, we enter the new millennium with wars still ravaging many parts of Africa and the world. As we move into a peaceful festive season and celebrations for the millennium, our hearts go o ut to our brothers and sisters who are trapped in senseless blood letting in Angola, Burundi, Congo and other parts of Africa and the World. We commend our government and Former State President, Nelson Mandela, for the peace initiatives in the Middle East, Great Lakes and elsewhere and call on the warring parties to speedily move towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict that have besieged their countries for many years.

We call on the United Nations to tighten the embargo against UNITA and lobby all countries of the world to distance themselves with this murderous grouping.

Included in such measures should be the Burmese military junta and the Colombian regimes which imprison without trial, student, civic and trade union activists use child and slave labour and murder every day without shame.

On this occasion, we call on the American government to lift the more than 40-year economic embargo against Cuba. The embargo has already caused untold misery to the innocent people of Cuba whose only crime is that they believe and practice their right to determine an economic and political dispensation of their choice.

We add our voice to calls for the US government to return to Cuba, the six year old Elian Gonzalez Brotons to his father in Cuba. COSATU believes that no one has the right to keep another’s offspring without the consent of the parent. It is regrettabl e that the US is using a child as a pawn in its broader political game play.

Campaigns of 2000

In defense of our jobs and for job creation.

On the 31 January we are beginning a series of massive demonstration against the job loss bloodbath which will culminate into a massive May Day celebrations at the FNB stadium and if our demands are not met which may lead into a general strike on the 10 May 2000. This programme shall take the form of one-week demonstrations by clusters of our affiliates as well as one-week which will involve a one day stay away from work on a Wednesday by all our eight regions.

We are convening a civil society conference on unemployment crisis in February.

HIV/AIDSas well as campaign against women and children

We shall take pride to be the only organisation that is beginning to find its feet in a campaign against the new enemy of the new millennium - HIV/AIDS. We shall intensify this campaign in the New Year together with the campaign against domestic violen ce as well the abuse of children and women.

The living wage campaign

COSATU adopted a policy of a living wage as a direct response to the poverty and slavery wages its members were subjected to at the shop floor. Throughout the life of the campaign and from the time it was launched in 1987, COSATU has sought to deliber ately increase wages of workers as part of its overall strategy to address high levels of poverty its members and the working class have been subjected to. This COSATU did with full understanding that each of its members supports between five and fift een extended and unemployed members of their families. This is particularly so in the rural African communities

It is a known fact that South Africa hardly has a social security net. Various studies have shown that rural communities rely on remittances from worker’s wages. If wages were to be removed from the equation, there would be even more poverty in the wo rking class communities. It is equally true that the government’s old age pension is a major source of income to many unemployed families.

The 1996 census report revealed something known to all of us, that at least a quarter or 26% of employed workers falls in the category of the "working poor" as they earn less than R500, 00 per month. According to the same report 62% of workers earn les s than R1 501, 00 a month. The apartheid wage gap in the private sector stands at a staggering 100:1. As the direct result of the democratic government policy, the wage gap in the public service has been reduced to 20:1, the minimum wage has been incr eased to R1872.

The above facts show the correctness of our position on living wage. COSATU shall intensify its living wage campaign instead of scaling it down.

We note that there has been no conclusion yet to the dispute that exists between public sector unions and the government. Whilst we support the continuing endevours to find a solution to the current impasse, we however must express a warning that the s ystem of orderly collective bargaining promoted by the Alliance over decades is under threat in the public service. Until and unless a solution is found to the current dispute, COSATU unions shall not engage in the issues of the next wage round includ ing the proposed wage policy. Further we are worried that the bureaucrats in the Finance Department want through the policy on Improving Conditions of Service fragment centralised bargaining we won during the dark days of apartheid.

We call on the cabinet to reject the breaking down of collective bargaining into provinces and departments.

COSATU is Y2K Compliant!

The federation itself is confident that its own computers and other electronic systems are ready for the year 2000.

Further we have worked with our affiliates to make them aware of the possible social and workplace impacts of Y2K. They have approached employers to ensure that all machinery (from computer operated plant to mine shaft hoists) is thoroughly tested and completely safe. We have also called on them to ensure proper contingency planning for any malfunctions, including those that may affect computer systems (such as payroll) and the broader infrastructure, including electricity and traffic.

We therefore issue a final call to those employers who have not yet responded: keep the unions informed on your state of Y2K readiness; engage them in all aspects of your contingency planning.

Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Millennium

Our hearts and prayers are with those millions of our brothers who lost their jobs during the scourge of job losses. We want to dedicate our little contributions we have made in a fight against unemployment to those millions of families whose breadwinn ers are trapped in unemployment. We know it too well as many of their families will be rejoicing this festive season with gifts, they unlike in the previous years are unable to buy their children and loved ones even the basic necessities. We declare this period a black Christmas and Festive Season, there can be no real happiness whilst we know that millions of others do know how they will feed their families tonight and will have nothing to offer their children on Christmas Day. In the spirit of U buntu we call on those who can afford to ensure they share the little they have with their unemployed neighbours. We trust that them majority will respond to call by other charity and NGO to donate unused clothing for those in need.

Our hearts bleed for those victims of the road carnage and families who will be spending this season and possibly the rest of their lives in mourning for the loss of the dear family members. We call on road users to heed the call made by the "arrive al ive" campaign.

To all our members and the entire country - Merry Christmas and prosperous New Millennium. Celebrate this season but prepare for even a more challenging year and millennium. Do not drink and drive, use your safety belts, do no speed, use a condom.