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Shopsteward Volume 27: Special Bulletin

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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by the COSATU 2nd Deputy President, Comrade Zingiswa Losi at the Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum (ZSF) regional update seminar

17 July 2013

Salutations to all present;

I am honoured by your invitation to address this gathering. On behalf of the leadership of COSATU and our 2.2 million fighting members, I convey our revolutionary greetings to the Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum (ZSF) and all its invited guests and delegates.

First let me share with you the history of COSATU international perspectives and solidarity work. COSATU has from its beginnings, in the midst of apartheid, emphasised the centrality of international solidarity as a core founding principle. COSATU’s internationalism was built on the traditions, struggles and legacies of its predecessors (SACTU and FOSATU) for which internationalism played a central role. In the mid 1980s FOSATU coordinated its struggles to link up with other international political movements, through an approach it termed “direct links”.

“Direct links” emphasised international worker-to-worker contact – in line with FOSATU’s tradition of worker control. When FOSATU merged to form COSATU in 1985, many of these novel features were incorporated into the new formation, which was likewise actively involved in the struggle to end the apartheid regime. The hostile environment in which COSATU was formed required that COSATU look beyond the borders of South Africa, and seek economic and political solidarity from its sister unions internationally. In this period, COSATU’s internationalism was relatively small and fragile – given the primacy of building and organising internally under an extremely repressive state.

COSATU’s vision is set by the larger (and fundamentally interconnected) principles of the federation as outlined in the constitution and elsewhere. Like our objectives therefore, our principles stem from our holistic understanding of the social reality from a working class perspective and cannot be considered separately.

COSATU and affiliates received support in various ways from the international trade union movement, which in many instances extended beyond financial and material support, including study visits and exchanges, workshops and seminars and other practical actions aimed at supporting COSATU’s struggle for the overthrow of apartheid.

Although COSATU was on the receiving end of a lot of international solidarity, it also played a part in supporting struggles elsewhere, for example by supporting Namibia’s first democratic elections through mobilising resources and support for the South West Africa People`s Organization (SWAPO) and the Namibian trade union movement. It was active in the mobilisation of resources for Cuba, particularly because of the reality that with the demise of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost a lot of material support.

At the core of our international work are seven principles guiding COSATU perspectives and solidarity work:

1. Working Class internationalism

  • Our internationalism reaffirms that the interests of the domestic and international working class, despite the uneven development of capitalism, are fundamentally aligned; they are part of the same struggle against one global system. COSATU envisions a culture of internationalism that is politicised and class conscious, democratic, participatory, and worker-controlled.

2. Practical and concrete solidarity activism

  • International solidarity is just one component of internationalism; it entails supporting and linking up with struggles for rights and against exploitation and oppression, sharing ideas and experiences, promoting working class culture, and building networks, organisations and structures to facilitate collaboration and contact between workers. Ours is an internationalism that seeks to instil within the working class a sense unity and militancy by involving workers in each other’s struggles. The international solidarity we practice must therefore be expressed in these terms; by building mass campaigns, by creating living and vibrant worker-to-worker contact for sharing and learning, and by promoting combined action – including in basic trade union struggles and collective bargaining – at the international level. This type of practical and concrete solidarity activism is driven by shop stewards and workers at the workplace and surpasses, while not excluding, “political” solidarity based on symbolic activism.

3. Anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism

  • All our international work is guided by a firm commitment to the realisation of our primary objectives of abolishing capitalism and imperialism, and all the forms of exploitation, inequality, oppression, domination and aggression inherent in them.

4. Working class unity

  • The power of the working class rests in its unity. COSATU believes that it is only through the combined action of the united and international working class that its ultimate vision of a new socialist world order can be achieved. We stand by the international working class slogan “Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!”

5. A rejection of racism, sexism, homophobia and all other forms of inequality and oppression

  • We reject, in principle, all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia and other oppressions as abhorrent in their own right. We recognise that the nature of our struggle will determine the outcome: only though the collective struggle of the united, global working class against all forms of oppression and division will the liberation of the working class become a reality.

6. Democratic worker control and leadership

  • COSATU strives for worker control of all of its activities. Worker control is fundamentally about maximising participation in activities at the shop floor, which necessitates transparency and accessibility of information at the workplace. It is also about ensuring that all decisions, programmes and activities are driven from workers operating at the workplaces, and ensuring the accountability of leaders through rigorous mandating and reporting. In a similar way, COSATU strives to broaden control by workers and the poor to control of industry and communities, nationally and at the international level, as a fundamental part of building worker power for a different world, informed by the type of internationalism that we strive to practice.

7. Alliances with other progressive social forces

  • COSATU understands the broad and varied nature of the working class, especially in the current period of globalisation. While we recognise the important role of workers and trade unions in the struggle for a new world order, we believe that this struggle must take up issues affecting the broader working class, and must be carried out in alliance with other progressive social forces. This entails linking workplace and community struggles – building on COSATU’s founding tradition.

Our history is rich with lessons of practical, concrete and meaningful solidarity. No struggle can be fought and won alone. As South Africa learned, the unity of the working class is indeed a force to be reckoned with. Trade unions were very key and relevant in the fight against apartheid for SA and they are relevant in the fight and struggles against any and all injustices made worse by suppression of human rights and workers rights. Organised and unified peoples are better than unorganised.

The trade union movement in the region needs to develop a common vision and agenda in it pursuit for an alternative to the current world, a world free from oppression and economic exploitation, a just and equal world. This can be done through practical people to people solidarity using education, exchanges, sharing of information, and physically participating in each other’s struggles. One way to make people understand what others in other countries experience is for them to actually go to those countries and practically experience their situation. We at COSATU practice this. These exchanges will not only help in the work environment but it will assist in trade union participation in policy making, tripartite structures and as well as strengthen to organise civil society in its entirety.

We believe that the basis in which COSATU builds its international work does not only apply to COSATU alone but to the trade union movement in the region, the continent and globally. Unfortunately fragmentation of the trade union movement and mushrooming civil society formations that have no agenda or basis on which they work are becoming a key problem in the region.

The case of Zimbabwe is an example currently where fragmentation of the trade union movement has destabilised the working class and the poor and completely undermined the programs seeking to address the situation on the ground. The issues of human rights violations, lack of democracy, unemployment, are common issues that support can be rallied upon therefore they need to be driven forward led by formations from inside Zimbabwe and supported by everybody else. Fragmentation of any kind impacts negatively on all programs at hand. Therefore we believe fragmentation must be confronted and we must build unity and class consciousness. We continue to call for “one union one industry, one federation one country” “One world, one united international trade union movement”

We were disappointed when the election date was announced despite the directive from SADC. This disadvantages everyone in a sense that the state of readiness to hold meaningful elections is questionable. As Zimbabwe prepares for its elections we note how previous elections in Zimbabwe were characterised by the clamp down on free political activities, dangerous political environment and political violence. We recognise the hard sacrifices, determination and resilience of the working and poor masses of Zimbabwe in their decisive struggles for democracy that created a regional momentum not seen since the anti-colonial and apartheid struggles.

It is sad to learn of the current problems already affecting the progress towards the election processes where some are not allowed opportunity to register to vote, incidents of violence against opposition are growing therefore recognise the need for the forum to advocate for the creation of the conducive environment for the holding of peaceful, credible and fair election. The civil society has a responsibility to offer its solidarity through participation in the Zimbabwe election even as observers whether in person or through their governments participation.

The critical lesson derived from the Zimbabwean crisis is that without a continuous struggle to deepen democracy, provide profound alternatives to the failures of neo-liberalism and restore the centrality of the people as the sovereign in any country, there can be never be sustainable progress and improvement in the quality of lives of the people. In the same vein, we are convinced that the struggle for democracy at home is at the same time a struggle for democracy on a global scale, hence the importance of understanding the real meaning of anti-imperialism and the revolutionary outlook of any liberation struggle.

The critical role played by the SADC governments and community can not go unnoticed and the role played by the facilitation process through the leadership of our President Jacob Zuma. We call upon SADC to maintain and even strengthen the firmness of principle in dealing with deviants and saboteurs of democracy in any of the countries under its jurisdiction, without fear of reprisals

Recognising that finances are always an issue in succeeding in our work, resources need to be pulled together to campaign vigorously through the elections and post elections to ensure sustainability of peaceful, politically free and democratic environment post elections. Trade unions with their mass base and civil society mostly their financial muscle.

In closing we believe civil society and the trade union movement should among other things:

1. Build forms of solidarity that go beyond symbolic acts, diplomacy and bureaucratic processes, and into concrete campaigning work that builds awareness within the class of its own international identity and helps enable the emergence of an internationalist working class culture.

2. Reorient and reprioritise resources and efforts towards the African continent.

3. Place a conscious and deliberate focus on Southern Africa. This entails strengthening the Southern African trade union movement, including SATUCC as a regional body able to drive a progressive and effective working class agenda.

Confront the current fragmentation within the African trade union movement, and expanding unity and class-consciousness.
Share resources, knowledge and expertise to deepen working class power and ensure greater cohesion of international work across the global South.

Deepening participation in international forums, organisations and networks that provide a platform for South-South co-operation and horizontal networking.
7. Self-awareness and reflection with regards to the type of solidarity we offer, and committing the necessary resources and energies to ensuring that our solidarity work is meaningful and practical.

8. Mass education on various issues related to our international work. Not only will this capacitate workers to be able to participate confidently, but it also allows them to identify the struggles of others with their own in a way that adds meaning to international campaigns at the grassroots and builds class consciousness

9. Prioritising and promoting worker-to-worker and people-to-people contact, solidarity and combined action. This should underpin all international visits and missions, but also the most basic aspects of trade union work, including collective bargaining, for the purposes of sharing revolutionary and practical perspectives and lessons.

COSATU further calls for the commitment to a practical, genuine community and shop floor based solidarity and an active campaigning and responsive approach. This has a potential to reveal to workers, through their direct experience interconnectedness of all their struggles.


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