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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Opening Remarks to the Central Executive Committee – by COSATU President – Comrade Sidumo Dlamini

21 November 2011

Chairperson of the session
Members of the Central Executive Committee
Our staff members

On behalf of the NOBs I would like to welcome all of you to this last CEC of 2011.

As we meet here today there are glaring manifestations of the inherent chronic failures in the system of capitalism internationally.

What is even more interesting is that these manifestations are happening in the heartland of what has for quite a long time been considered as the heaven of capitalism –in the USA and all over Europe.

Responses to these failures are coupled with increased aggression through anti-working class policies of cuts in social spending (whilst capital continues to load their unending pockets) while pointing its loaded guns towards the working class.

On the other hand there is an international extension to this behaviour characterised by the Obama USA government posing against China, which is an extension of aggression seen in Libya, Iran and elsewhere in the world

The systemic failures that have seen European and USA leadership panic and respond in an imperialist fashion of extending themselves beyond their borders through military means and using tricks to impose undemocratic, market alternatives is induced by the following reality:

The recently released USA department Labour monthly report shows that long-term joblessness has worsened. In the first half of this year the USA economy grew at the slowest pace since the recession, which began in December 2007. The total number of people counted as officially unemployed rose in September by 25,000.

As this painful reality unfolds for ordinary people, there is another reality that is unfolding for the elite.

Since 2008 when the financial crisis was confirmed, the world’s billionaire saw their wealth grow by 50%, and their ranks swelled to 1,011, from 793. Europe had 248 billionaires, despite having twice the population of the United States.

The USA had 403 billionaires whose wealth could more than cover the 2008 US federal deficit, with money left over for the states.

The combined net worth of these 1,011 individuals increased to $3.6 trillion, up $1.2 trillion from the year before. On average, each billionaire had his or her wealth increase by $500 US million.

The holdings of these 1,011 individuals were larger than the gross domestic products of every country besides China, Japan, and the United States.

Despite capital’s this increasing wealth, they never stopped putting pressure to persuade their governments to impose undemocratic bailout packages.

It is estimated that the US government alone used $425 billion to bailout banks, insurance companies and automakers, and provided $45 billion in housing program assistance.

But when the masses rose against growing poverty, inequality and unemployment the response they got has been a brutal police crackdown.

For an example it has been reported that there had been over 3,600 arrests at Occupy Wall Street protests, including 943 in New York City, 370 in Tucson, 352 in Chicago, 206 in Oakland and 153 in Boston.

In the UK last October’s student protest saw over 150 arrests, both during and after the event. This summer’s riots—provoked by the police killing of an unarmed man—were followed by over 4,000 arrests and over 2,000 prosecutions, with long custodial sentences handed out for the most trivial offences.

Many of the raids have been carried out by police in riot gear, in some cases using rubber bullets and tear, as in last month’s attack on Occupy Oakland.

Those arrested have been subjected to arbitrary and punitive measures, high bail and trumped-up charges.

The reality of increasing unemployment, poverty and inequality in the USA is making government to panic, leading them to respond in a typical imperialist fashion - by extending themselves beyond their boundaries in search for extended resources through military means.

A new Census study has determined that 49 million Americans now live in poverty, based on new methods of calculation. The new results show a higher number of poor Americans than figures released in September, which put the figure at 46.2 million.

The earlier report showed that between 2009 and 2010, the poverty rate went from 14.3% to 15.1%, while an additional 2.6 million people fell into poverty.

The new figure also revised upward the percentage of the population earning less than twice the federal poverty level, from 34% to 47.9%, a staggering 40% increase!

Another study by Stanford University researchers and published jointly by the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University, concludes that the proportion of American families living in middle-income neighbourhoods has declined sharply over the past four decades, while the share of families living in either poor or affluent neighbourhoods has dramatically increased.

The report shows that the proportion of US families living in affluent neighbourhoods doubled from 7% to 14% from 1970 to 2007, while the proportion of families in poor neighbourhoods rose from 8% to 17%. Over the same period, the proportion of families living in middle-income neighbourhoods fell by 21%.

Similar trends have been observed in the United Kingdom. The office for National Statistics recently revealed that a further 129,000 people joined the ranks of the UK’s unemployed in the three months to September.

In real terms it means that 2.62 million people are officially out of work, the highest level in 17 years—8.3% of the economically active population.

Youth unemployment grew by 18,000 in the last two months alone to 1.02 million—the highest level since records began in 1992. More than one-fifth of young people are officially classified as unemployed, comprising more than a third of total joblessness.

We have also witnessed the unravelling of the European Union, despite serious attempts to save the Euro.

The proposals made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President of France Sarkozy and president of European Commission Barroso to save the Euro amounts to systematically imposing a dictatorship of the financial markets over every aspect of social life.

In each country a government of experts selected by the EU is being formed without any democratic legitimacy. Their task is to decimate the living standards of the people by implementing unprecedented austerity measures.

These desperate attempts by capital to respond to the ravaging economic crisis in the face of a deepening crisis can explain the USA’s aggressive policy all over the world, as seen in the UK and France-led NATO campaign to effect a regime change in Libya to allow access to the resources of that country was consolidated with the killing of Muammar Gadaffi and is now being extended to the Asia – Pacific region.

The three-day Asian summit that was recently held on the Indonesian island of Bali was meant to divide the Asia – Pacific region in order to assert the US hegemony in the region. This Summit was dominated by the US President Barack Obama’s attempts to assemble Asian countries into an anti-China coalition.

He met with Indian and Filipino leaders, pressed for greater US influence in the South China Sea, and announced closer US ties with Myanmar, a long-time Chinese ally in the region.

What are the interests of USA in this region?

The answer is simple – to take control of the South China Sea in the name of naval freedom. This is an oil and gas-rich body of water containing key shipping lanes connecting the Middle East and the Indian Ocean to East Asia and the Pacific. China claims much of the South China Sea as its territorial waters. There is a growing potential for confrontation and the USA is still preparing reasons for war.

One of the things they have done is to build military and political ties with Vietnam, another country that has come into conflict with China in the South China Sea.

The US and Vietnam held joint naval exercises in July, and a US Navy vessel called at Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay naval base in August—for the first time since US troops fled the country in 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War.

This is part of a broader offensive to deepen US influence in mainland Southeast Asia, notably with a US campaign to woo the military junta in Myanmar (Burma) away from Chinese influence, under a hypocritical cover of promoting “democratic rights”.

But no amount of aggression will hide the fact that the international financial crisis has exposed for everyone to see the incompatibility between international hosts of capitalism, the EU and USA on one side, and the basic interests of its inhabitants on the other side. The fact of the matter is that the EU and USA do not allow for democratic and progressive alternatives.

All the manoeuvres are done to avoid real alternatives to the economic crisis which will require fundamental undoing of the system of capitalism and to replace it with a socialist system.

The present crisis poses stark alternatives of social revolution or a descent into war, depression and dictatorship. Without breaking the iron grip of the financial markets, expropriating the banks, corporate conglomerates and private fortunes and placing them at the service of society as a whole, there is no solution.

The dividing line in the world today is not between the member countries in the continent of Europe and America but between the working class that is forced to pay for the crisis and the financial aristocracy that continues to enrich itself, along with its henchmen in the EU and the USA, the national governments and all of the establishment parties.

Comrades, this reality is a warning that in South Africa we may be heading in the same direction. The question is whether when such events unfold our formations will be at the head, or will be reacting from the periphery or be dragged by the masses and follow from behind.

This reality reminds all of us about our responsibility to continually confront and expose capitalism for what it is – a system that brought misery to our people!

The question is how do we get the masses to rise into guided political action against the failures of capitalism?

Perhaps it is even becoming dangerous to continue asking these questions since the masses are not waiting for answers to these questions – they are already in action to find answers in their own material conditions.

Comrade Lenin gave us an insight to the situation we are currently confronting, which in Shakespearean phraseology is called “to be or not to be”. As the progressive forces we have entered a moment when we should openly provide leadership to the toiling masses as a whole - the employed and the unemployed

Comrade Lenin’s advice is that “It is not difficult to be a revolutionary when revolution has already broken out and is at its height, when everybody is joining the revolution just because they are carried away, because it is the fashion, and sometimes even out of careerist motives.

After its victory, the proletariat has to make most strenuous efforts, to suffer the pains of martyrdom, one might say, to "liberate" itself from such pseudo revolutionaries.

It is far more difficult - and of far greater value - to be a revolutionary when the conditions for direct, open, really mass and really revolutionary struggle do not yet exist, to be able to champion the interests of the revolution (by propaganda, agitation and organization) in non-revolutionary bodies and often in downright reactionary bodies, in a non-revolutionary situation among masses who are incapable of immediately appreciating the need for revolutionary methods of action.

To be able to find, to probe for, to correctly determine the specific path or the particular turn of events that will lead the masses to the real, last, decisive, and great revolutionary struggle”. Such is the task we are confronting today.

This is the question we may need to ask in this CEC. Does a revolutionary situation exist in South Africa today? In my view, yes it exists in the same way as it exists in Europe and USA and Africa as a whole. Our people can no longer afford to live under the apartheid and colonial conditions whose defeat was marked by the 1994 breakthrough.

The difference is that the working class leadership is not reading the situation in the same way as the masses and it is during this lapse of seizing the moment that our people become subjects of non-Marxist-Leninist leadership!

But why are we unable to read the moment?

My observation is that there is a leadership stampede amongst us on who must come out as having led the popular masses into a socialist victory. There is a dangerous increase in an exclusive focus towards an individual at expense of recognising the role of the masses in our revolution.

In this context we undermine each other, side-step each other, where possible drag each other down and claim our independence even at the expense of the very revolution we are pursuing. Added to this, is the fact that we are not in contact with our own people - the masses!

No organisation, let alone a revolution, can be effectively led by people who have no confidence to each other, no matter how intelligent and articulate they can be as individuals.

No democratic organisation can go forward in its mission when its elected leadership gets undermined by the very people who elected them in the first place. We were elected to lead and we want to do exactly that without any hindrance!

Comrades let’s do the most basic things first and one of those is to respect each other as leaders, confront each other without being vindictive, support each other and develop each other where we have weaknesses.

The worst of all these things is that we are no longer closer to the masses and this is seen in the fact that almost all the local government protests and xenophobic violence have occurred without us knowing or detecting in advance.

As a result of lack of coherence we have failed to generate a common battle cry that can pull the working people into action! Many of us seated here today last saw the masses when we got elected and the rest of the time we act on their behalf and sometimes against them.

Many of us here last went to a community mass meeting during local government elections. Very few of us if any are leading community initiatives intended to mobilise the people behind a common programme of development.

In the meantime the masses that are at the coal face of the painful reality of poverty, inequality and unemployment are getting into action as happened in Egypt, USA and in Europe recently.

My view comrades, is that as we discuss everything today, at the centre of our discussion should be about how we mobilise the masses to chart a course for their own freedom.

This CEC is declared open!

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
1-5 Leyds Cnr Biccard Streets
Braamfontein
2017

P.O.Box 1019
Johannesburg
South Africa

Tel: +27 11 339-4911/24
Fax: +27 11 339-5080 / 6940
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za

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