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Congress  |  COSATU Speeches

Address to the COSATU Special Congress by Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary

19 August 1999

Comrade President,
Comrade General Secretary,
Leadership of affiliates,
The Alliance,
Honoured guests and comrade delegates,

We are indeed honoured as the SACP for having been invited to address this very important Special Congress. This Congress is important to us as communists in that it represents the gathering of the largest worker federation in our country. In that sense it can truly be taken as a workers’ assembly. Over and above this, it is a Congress that takes place against one of the most intensified attacks on the working class and organised workers in particular.

To us as communists, it is only the working class that can take the national democratic revolution to its conclusion, to win our objective of a socialist society. It is for these reasons that today I bring revolutionary and fraternal greetings from the Central Committee and the entire membership of the South African Communist Party.

  1. The June 2 electoral victory: A platform for accelerated change

     

    Let me start by thanking all those amongst the ranks of organised workers who voted for the ANC, and thank COSATU and all its affiliates, for the role they played in the overwhelming victory of 2 June 1999. We would also like to say that as the SACP we were very heartened and encouraged by the response of the workers to our call that they should return the ANC government with an overwhelming majority. We called upon you to vote for the ANC because of its record in struggle and its record in government. Having voted for the ANC in your millions it is therefore proper that we should expect the ANC to continue with worker friendly legislation and policies.

    However, comrades, the reality of the matter is that there is heavy contestation around the direction and future of our country. It is for this reason that we say as the SACP that it is not enough to have cast your vote for the ANC. But it is crucial that we mobilise and build the political confidence of the working class to ensure that those forces that want to hijack this victory towards a capitalist and elitist direction must be engaged and defeated.

    Some of these forces want to interpret this victory as meaning that it is time now that the ANC-led government deals with organised workers once and for all. These forces go further to argue that workers are a hindrance to economic development, and all that needs to be done is to casualise and retrench workers and to outsource functions of labour in companies, parastatals and the public service. But a path of privatisation, outsourcing, casualisation can only be the path of the bosses and a growth path that can never lead to the realisation of the RDP goals, but to the entrenchment of South Africa as a society that benefits an elite few. We need to say it loud and clear to these forces, that there can be no deepening of the revolution without a strong working class. It is for this reason therefore that it is time that we pose much more forcefully the question of:

  2. What kind of South Africa are we building? The principal strategic contradiction

     

    Our starting point comrades is that the struggle of South Africa’s working class is a struggle for socialism. This should be the framework that guides us in whatever we are doing now. It is a struggle for a society whose purpose is to meet the social needs of its people on a sustainable basis. It means that it is a society not based on the profit motive or greed by the few over the majority. It is a struggle for a caring society, a society free from class exploitation, free from women’s oppression and free from racism and national oppression. It is a society where those who produce wealth must be the arbiters on how that wealth is consumed.

    It is our firm belief as the SACP that capitalism can never solve the problems facing humanity today. Instead, a society based on private profit and greed, intensifies and deepens poverty, inequality and misery. One does not have to go far to find proof of this. The very scale of retrenchments facing workers today, and the poverty in the rural areas, are a direct result of a society based on profit rather than meeting social needs. It is also our belief that socialism is in the deepest interests of the majority of the people of our country. The only way we can make the life of MaMkhize in KwaMashu, Me Mosiya in Qwaqwa, Ntate Moloi in Diepkloof, Tat’ uXhakaza in Qumbu, and Sisi Bongani Mashiymbe from Giyani, is through a society free of private accumulation! Our task is to mobilise and conscientise these ordinary South African people to struggle for a socialist South Africa.

    Indeed ours is still an abnormal society, bedevilled by a deep legacy of racism, gender and class exploitation. The fact that black farmworkers cannot be buried in farms in which their families have worked for generations is a pointer to the struggles that lie ahead. That one woman is raped in every 36 seconds in our country points to the depth of violence in our society. Members of the South African Agricultural Union march to Pretoria to protest crime against white farmers, but are dead silent about their members who are daily beating, exploiting and throwing out farmworkers in their hundreds, including dead bodies of the very farmworkers they have spent their lives exploiting and brutalising. We have not seen a single intervention from these white farmers’ unions with regard to these gross criminal acts!

    What all this points to is that the key challenge to changing South African society is the resolution of the principal strategic contradiction in favour of the overwhelming mass of the working class and the poor in this country. This principal strategic contradiction expresses itself in the form of a struggle between, on the one hand, those forces who stand for the most thorough transformation of South African society, and those, on the other hand, who stand for the modernisation but maintenance of a capitalist society benefitting only a few. This principal strategic contradiction is a class contradiction. But it is a class contradiction that is intertwined with the legacy of racial and gender oppression.

    In the light of all the above, it is even more urgent that we intensify working class struggles to deepen the national democratic revolution in a manner that places the interests of the working class as the primary interests of society as a whole.

    Part of this contestation will have to involve a public ideological questioning of the many things that are presented to us as the gospel truth, when in fact they project only the interests of the bosses. For instance is it not time to challenge the public broadcaster, to cover working class issues much more seriously than has been done so far? The public broadcaster daily feeds us with economic analyses and business commentaries by economists that only punt the bosses line, like Azhar Jamine, Tony Twine and many others. Why are workers’ and other progressive economists not given the same airtime as these capitalist ideologues? Is it not time for the public broadcaster to cover labour news equally as they cover “business” news? Is it not time for us to question the perverted values and morality shown to us through soapies imported from the US, thus wanting to turn South Africa into an American ideological colony? We are raising the issue of the public broadcaster since it is our broadcaster, funded by us and suppose to serve South African society as a whole, not least the working class.

    Similarly, we have to increasingly turn our focus on the print media, in particular those sections of the print media read and supported by the black working class. Why do we have to be presented with daily analyses of the performance of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange whilst only raising the plight of workers, including farmworkers, only once in a while? Aren’t these workers subjected to brutalisation and retrenchments on a daily basis? Is it not time that we call the bluff of capitalist print media as well, which claims to be neutral but carries, on a daily basis, vicious attacks on the working class?

    Again is it not time now for workers and the working class as a whole to take more active interests on what is taught in our schools? The opportunity created by the introduction of Curriculum 2005 at schools must be turned into a chance for our children to be taught about working class struggles and the virtues of a caring society. For instance whilst there is a subject called business economics in schools why is there no subject on labour studies? How do children of the working class relate, through their studies, to the realities of their retrenched parents and the real causes of this? It is time that the working class and the landless rural masses take direct interest in ensuring that in the transformation of education, values of caring and humanness become part of the curriculum rather than the glorification of capitalist greed!

    However ideological struggles, in order to be won, must always be rooted in concrete daily struggles facing the working class at any historical juncture. These struggles must be taken up in such a manner that they expose the lie that only a society based on profit is capable of overcoming the legacy of apartheid. The most important struggle at this point in time is that of:

  3. Job losses

     

    As the SACP we are proud of the fact that we have gone into the streets together with the workers in their struggles against the current jobloss bloodbath. In our May Day message this year we also strongly warned and called for vigilance against the proposed selling of gold by the IMF. We have done this because we believe that the spectre of retrenchments in our country has reached crisis proportions. In fact these job losses present one of the serious threats to the survival of a revolutionary labour movement in our country. Indeed some of the bosses economists have said they only give organised labour movement a five year lease of life, after that it will be dead.

    We have indeed made our voice loud and clear on this matter. It is important for workers to embark on a struggle to defend their jobs. And this struggle should not only be of organised workers, but of the working class and the poor as a whole. This is because we believe that there can be no job creation without serious attention to job retention. We are being told daily that it is important for workers to understand that retrenchments are in their interests so that they can be employed tommorrow. This is the strangest logic one has come across in recent times. It only reminds one of the famous adverts of fly now, pay later, but only in reverse. Workers are told, “Pay now, fly later, but be warned that this is at your own risk as the aeroplane might actually never arrive”! In other words, be retrenched now in order to be employed tommorrow.

    Of particular concern to the SACP is the extent to which these job losses are affecting women. Much as all workers are negatively affected by job losses but we must not lose sight of the added burden on women. Firstly, it is women who usually occupy the most vulnerable jobs that are prone to being shed or casualised. In fact most of casual labour in this country is made up of women. But, secondly, unemployment put more pressure on women as they are the ones who perform what is called reproductive labour. This is work that includes childcare, home health-care, informal education, household production, looking after the sick and the elderly. This is generally unpaid work, which increases the more workers are thrown out of jobs in a society that does not have a social security network and poor social services. Nonetheless we welcome the initiative of the Dept of Social Welfare to seriously explore the question of a minimum social security grant.

    It is for this reason that the SACP would like to reiterate its call for the immediate implementation of the Job Summit resolution on the convening of sectoral summits. These sectoral summits, as the Job Summit declaration states, are to immediately look into the question of halting retrenchments and setting the country on a path to job creation.

  4. Transformation of the state and the public sector wage dispute

     

    One of the critical tasks that face our revolution is that of the transformation of the state. This is a task that requires maximum co-ordination in the Alliance and the entire democratic movement. This is even more important given the fact that South Africa is a peripheral developing country that is also simultaneously integrated and marginalised by globalisation. Given the tendency for globalisation to erode the sovereignty and the power of states, particularly developing ones, the question of the transformation of the state acquires added significance. The key challenge is the building of a developmental state able to create spaces to forge a national development agenda.

    In order to attain these goals, we have two main weapons as a movement. These are the state instruments themselves and our organised mass power. It is for this reason that the public sector wage dispute is significant though the issues go beyond just the wage dispute. It is essentially about what kind of state we want and the role of public servants in the transformation process. It is for this reason that as the SACP we are concerned about the fact that the current public sector dispute may end inconclusively. This poses an important question, which this Special Congress will hopefully debate. It is the question of the unique place and role of COSATU public sector unions and the ANC government in the transformation of the state. Of course the immediate question posed by the dispute is the need to develop an effective wage policy, including the relationship between the government budgetary processes and wage negotiations. We are pleased that the Alliance is at least agreed on this.

    But there is a broader political issue. The challenge facing COSATU public sector unions politically is that how do these unions support and strengthen our government without at the same time sacrificing the genuine and legitimate interests of their members? Conversely, how do these unions advance the legitimate interests of their members without undermining the democratic government? But the flip side of this question is how does government serve the broader South African population without succumbing to the pressures of big capital? It would of course be wrong for public sector unions to advance the interests of their members as if they were an opposition to government. Just as it would be wrong to mechanically support each and every government decision for its own sake. This would turn these unions into sweetheart unions. The resolution of these questions requires an open and frank debate by all of us in the Alliance.

    The SACP calls upon both government and the public sector unions to resolve this impasse. Much as the immediate issue is a wage dispute, but there are broader political issues that will have to be dealt with. At least the Alliance is agreed that we need a new wage policy. But much more importantly, the critical question is what kind of public sector do we want to build. Much as government is constrained by the budget, but that budget is an outcome of political choices that we have made, including macro-economic policy which remains a subject of disagreement within the Alliance. It is for this reason that our last Central Committee called upon the parties to resolve this dispute through negotiations. We are saying this because we strongly believe that in order to advance the interests of workers, our public sector unions need government; not any government, but an ANC government. Similarly, government can never be able to achieve the transformation of the state and the public sector without the unions; not just any unions, but principally COSATU unions. Any approach that is based on an assumption that one without the other can advance transformation can only play into the hands of the enemies of transformation.

    Given the sensitivity and political leadership required to deal with these questions, it is only the Alliance and not any one of its components alone that can best deal with it. It is for this reason that the question of the transformation of the state is a key priority question for the Alliance.

    Our approach to the transformation of the public sector must be distinguished from that of the bosses, as for instance illustrated by the editorial of the Sunday Times of 15 August 1999. The Sunday Times is mischievously trying to goad government to take a tough stance against unions. We know why this bosses newspaper is adopting such a stance. It is a stance based on the approach that organised workers are a nuisance that only needs to be dealt with through confrontational action. Much more seriously this is an attempt to goad government to act in a manner that will set a precedent and open a floodgate for capitalist bosses to smash the labour movement.

    Our approach as the Alliance should be based on the fact that workers are not just a cost on the payroll, but are a key asset for transformation. As a matter of fact workers should be the driving force behind transformation. Our approach should also be that there is no contradiction between a living wage and service delivery; and that we cannot expect only workers to be the ones to make sacrifices for the sake of transformation in this country and everybody else to defend their interests to the hilt.

  5. Challenges for organised labour in the current period

     

    It is important therefore that we are clear about the challenges facing organised labour in particular and what needs to be done to turn the current crisis into an opportunity for a progressive economic path and deepening a working class led national democratic revolution.

    1. Building a people-driven developmental state

       

      One of the key strategic objectives in deepening the NDR is to strengthen the capacity of the state to play an active and leading role in social and economic development. One of the principal lessons over the past five years is that we have been able to provide water, electricity, housing, telephones to millions of our people through an aggressive state-led development programme not through some ideologically-driven privatisation process. Even where the private sector might have made an impact, it is principally in those instances where such private interventions have been directly under the leadership of the state. This is an important lesson that we must take forward, and we challenge the ideologues of privatisation to tell us where has such privatisation made a fundamental impact in the lives of our people, other than the increased retrenchments and casualisation of labour. The working class needs to concretely intensify the struggle to promote state intervention in economic development and not allow the provision of basic social services to be left to the market.

      The question of strengthening the capacity of the state is also vital in an era where globalisation is weakening and marginalising developing countries in particular. It is very important that we do not give up as if there is nothing that can be done about capitalist globalisation. This requires that we intensify working class international solidarity and common action.

      These struggles must be underpinned by renewed efforts at rebuilding and strengthening of the popular movement, with the working class as its core, through the use of our organised mass power. This would also go a long way in challenging the capitalist and reactionary ideology of counterposing the interests of the working class to those of the poor. A rebuilding of a popular movement should be premised on the struggle against poverty, an anti-capitalist struggle, and a struggle that welds together the struggles of employed workers, the unemployed and the poor. Retrenched workers face poverty, just as the unemployed and the poor are faced with poverty. This will also be the only way to concretely assert that the fact that it is only the working class that has the deepest interest in the eradication of poverty, and that the struggle of the employed and the unemployed is in essence a single struggle.

    2. Building a strong and united labour movement

      The key challenge of this Congress and immediately beyond is to strengthen and deepen the unity COSATU and its affiliates. More than ever before we need a strong and more coherent COSATU. Your slogan of an injury to one is an injury to all has become even more relevant. If restructuring, privatisation and retrenchments hit a union in one sector, and other COSATU affiliates sit back, by the time it is your union’s turn there will be no COSATU to defend you! In other words there can be no strong COSATU affiliate without a strong and united COSATU. Just as there can be no strong COSATU without strong and militant affiliates.

      Building a strong labour movement also requires that we put more energy into drawing all trade unions into a strong workers’ front as a foundation towards our goal of one worker federation in our country. COSATU has a particular role to play in this regard, and we hope that this matter will be debated further at this Congress. The struggle to defend workers’ jobs must not be fought as a defensive struggle, but needs to be turned around to give further impetus to the need for one strong worker federation in our country.

    3. Strengthening the ANC and the Alliance

       

      The Alliance still remains the only vehicle for taking forward transformation in our country. The ultra-left continues to be wrong in this regard. Anyway the ultra-left was opposed even to the formation of this very alliance, so there is nothing new they are saying. A true test of working class revolutionaries is not by fleeing when encountering problems and misunderstanding, but to struggle for the resolution of those problems in order to take the struggle forward. The problem with the ultra-left is that it conducts itself principally from a theoretical textbook approach and not on the notion of struggle, and that we do not make history under circumstances of our own choosing.

      It is the responsibility of the working class to ensure that it throws its weight behind a strong ANC rooted in the working class and the poor rather than to seek to run away from this task. The ANC is in essence an organisation whose majority membership and support is the working class and the poor. Simply put the ANC is our organisation and our most important weapon at this juncture of our revolution. To abandon the ANC would be to agree with those who try to present the ANC as a conservative, elite organisation. Just as we should challenge all those who would like to turn the ANC into a home for non- and anti-working class forces, pursuing a narrow capitalist agenda. The fact of the matter is that no single component of the Alliance has the sole wisdom and power in taking our revolution forward. Faced with a hostile global environment, against the background of having to deal with a huge legacy of apartheid, maximum unity is required. Whoever believes that any one component of the Alliance can advance the NDR on its own, can only play into the hands of reactionary forces who are waiting anxiously for a break up of the Alliance. And indeed a break in the Alliance will mean a split within all our organisations, not least the ANC itself.

      This Alliance is an important to defend and deepen our democracy and advance the interests of the working class and the poor. Which means that the socialist components of the Alliance have to unashamedly and consistently fight for and defend an Alliance oriented towards the working people and the poor.

    4. Building the SACP as the political vanguard of the working class

       

      At the 6th COSATU Congress an important resolution was taken to build and strengthen the SACP as the political vanguard of the working class. Indeed since then the working relationship and joint activities between the SACP and COSATU have deepened. One of the products of this increasing collaboration has been the production of a joint political education text as well as numerous joint political schools. However, a lot still needs to be done to fully implement this resolution. In concrete terms this means that now we need to go out and build the SACP industrial/workplace units and branches. We will shortly be producing a discussion document on how we think this needs to be done. To give effect to this we have declared October 1999 as Red October, precisely in order to undertake targetted recruitment amongst workers, increase our membership and intensify the establishment of these branches to ensure an effective presence of the Party amongst organised workers. We see these branches as vital for undertaking political education amongst the workers, through the holding of regular socialist forums throughout the country. So join us in the Red October!

      But perhaps more importantly we need to intensify the SACP’s debit order campaign. This is a very concrete campaign that will have a huge positive impact on the SACP’s financial self-sufficiency and building its capacity. We must say that since we reinvigorated this campaign after our 10th Party Congress, workers have responded very positively. We would like therefore to thank those workers who are contributing monthly through our debit order campaign. Every day we receive 10 or so debit orders from farmworkers, mineworkers and workers from all kinds of industries. However, we are still very far from our target, and we would therefore request this Congress to come out with some concrete mechanisms and targets to take this campaign forward much more vigorously.

With these words we wish you a successful Congress, and we are convinced that an even stronger COSATU will emerge from this Congress.

Blade Nzimande

SACP General Secretary

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