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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Press Statements

COSATU’s end of year message

20 December 2011

We are concluding 2011 with a sense that the federation of Elijah Barayi has largely succeeded in navigating one of the most challenging and most politically complex periods in COSATU’s 26 years long history.

We are concluding the year with greater levels of unity and cohesion in our ranks, which will help us confront the daunting challenges of 2012.

Notwithstanding the challenges to our own unity, we declare, without any fear of contradiction, that we remain the hope to a growing number of South Africans, black and white. We remain the moral compass of our young democracy, often speaking without any favour or fear against acts that undermine our total commitment to revolutionary morality.

We remain the fearless spokesperson of the interests of the most downtrodden and have campaigned in solidarity with all the oppressed in the world. We remain one of the most powerful federations throughout the world.

At the local level we have positioned ourselves to the point that even our class enemies, even the most backward and right-wing groupings, whilst they hate us and are completely opposed to what we stand for at the political and economic level, appreciate that South Africa’s democracy will be much weaker without COSATU.

Continuing world recession

This year was most disappointing when it comes to hardcore economic issues. We have seen a continuing world recession, which has plunged millions more into poverty all around the globe and starkly exposed the limitations of the capitalist economy to meet the basic needs of the people. Unemployment is the highest on record, with some 205 million people officially without jobs.

Some 45 million young people are entering the labour market every year looking for decent jobs that economies cannot offer. As if that is not bad enough, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in its World of Work Report 2011, says the global economy is on the verge of a new and deeper jobs recession that will further delay the global economic recovery and may ignite more social unrest in scores of countries. “On current trends,” it says, “it will take at least five years to return employment in advanced economies to pre-crisis levels.”

On the home front, although there was a tiny but welcome drop of 174 000 in the number of people unemployed in the third quarter of 2011 compared to the second quarter, the levels of unemployment are still far too high. By the more realistic expanded figure which includes discouraged workers who have given up looking for work 7 504 000 people (36%) are still unemployed, down by 0.9% from the second quarter.

2011 has also seen a speed-up in the casualisation of employment, which means that the army of the working poor is also expanding. While employers and their spokespersons in the media still complain about ‘inflexible labour laws’ and how difficult it is to fire non-performing workers, the actual workers in the real world know only too well how easy it is becoming for their boss to get rid of them, outsource the work to labour brokers or hire casuals who generally have no contracts, no fixed hours, and no employment benefits such as sick pay or maternity leave.

At the economic level the year was also dominated by the four major accords we signed with the government, employers and civil society formations in Nedlac. These accords were on basic education, skills development, local procurement and green jobs. We have also started to negotiate a bigger and more comprehensive agreement on the economy.

Our hope is that if we find one another in these difficult but unavoidable talks, we may be on course to start restructuring the economy away from the one we inherited from the past, dominated by mining, heavy chemicals and finance, to one that will be labour-absorbing and environmentally sound.

In particular we totally back the government’s insistence on prioritising the expansion of manufacturing industry, so that we beneficiate our own resources, using them to add value by turning them into manufactured goods and begin to reach the government’s goal of creating five million decent, sustainable jobs over the next ten years.

COSATU has consistently demanded policies to promote manufacturing, including substantial cuts in interest rates and the depreciation of the rand to encourage new investment in job-creating industries, add value to our raw minerals and to make South African exports competitive on a global scale.

Year of the fight-back

2011 has been the year of the fight-back, as workers and the poor rose up in country after country. In North Africa and the Middle East they took to the streets to get rid of tyrants and to demand democracy.

Throughout the world workers have demonstrated to combat attempts to make the poor victims pay for the crisis caused by millionaire bankers by mass retrenchments and cuts in welfare spending. In Athens, New York, London and many other cities, protesters have occupied the streets.

Here in South Africa, workers have also been fighting back. One group of workers after another – Metrobus and municipal workers in SAMWU, Metrorail workers and cleaners in SATAWU, Rainbow Chicken and Coca Cola workers in FAWU, Clicks staff in SACCAWU, Chemical, petrochemical and glass workers in CEPPWAWU, steel and engineering workers in NUMSA, thousands of mineworkers in the NUM and virtually every other union in the private sector has engaged in militant protests.

It is also significant that COSATU continued to grow, and is now over two million, against the trend of falling union membership in other countries.

This fighting mood was reflected in COSATU’s Central Committee in June, which launched a rolling programme of action around 12 campaigns, some of which are ongoing campaigns which have been taken to new heights.

Living wage and banning labour broking

The context of this campaign is that, given the stagnation in the economy, continued high unemployment and casualisation of employment, there has been no improvement in South Africa’s huge levels of poverty and inequality.

50% of the South African population lives on 8% of national income. This means for every R100 of national income earned, almost 25 million people share just R8 of that money a day. A 2010 UNDP Report says that 44% of workers in South Africa live on less than R10 a day, which leaves little change from the price of a loaf of bread, which cost R7.30 in April 2011.

Statistics South Africa show that about 60% of all workers employed in the formal economy earn less than R2500 a month, 34% earn less than R1000 and a staggering 15% earn less than R500 a month.

Millions of the poorest South Africans are kept alive only because of access to social grants, which now account for 58% of household income for the lowest income quintile in SA. Take-up of the Child Support Grant has increased dramatically in the decade to 2010. By that year, it was paid monthly to the care-givers of 10.4 million children, who accounted for about 68% of all social security recipients.

The expansion of social grants is one of the ANC government’s finest achievements, yet it is intolerable that so many millions should have no other source of income. We need decent well-paid jobs.

We are fighting for improved wages and better conditions, raising the ‘social wage’ (i.e. access to housing, land, education and healthcare), to condemn exorbitant pay for executives, to oppose any relaxation of labour laws and to ban labour brokers.

Most casual workers, and those employed by labour brokers are deprived of security and access to trade union membership. That is why the battle against casualisation and labour brokers has been such a dominant feature of the year.

At least we can record one significant victory – the International Labour Conference’s adoption of the Domestic Workers Convention, which, if implemented, will give this most vulnerable section of workers some protection.

In most of the strikes mentioned above the unions demanded, and in most cases won, wage increases above the inflation rate, in a fully justified bid to start to narrow the massive gulf in incomes. Yet we seem to fighting a game where goal posts are continuously being shifted.

A report released by financial services company PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) showed that the executives of the country’s top 40 companies listed on the JSE, saw their median pay increase 23% to R4, 8m last year.

That is why we will not take lectures about ‘excessive’ wage settlement from the bosses, like Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson who last year took home the highest-ever monthly earnings ever recorded in a single year – an unbelievable R627.53 million in salary, perks and share options. In 2008 his total remuneration was R16.64 million and R24.13 million in 2009, so his 2010 income represented an increase of 2501% over two years.

COSATU will be campaigning strongly against the proposed attack on the labour laws, including the suggestion that unions be sued for damages caused during trade union demonstrations, which threatens to the right to strike.

The federation is organising a general strike and national demonstrations against labour broking at the end of February/beginning of March 2012.

Walmart takeover of Massmart

We remain adamantly opposed to the invasion into Africa of the world’s biggest company, which has a terrible industrial relations record. Its entry into other countries has led to massive job losses, as it compels all retailers to adopt its own cut-throat tactics in order to compete and survive.

We fear the loss of jobs not only in retail stores but manufacturers, service providers, and small businesses, arising from the company’s procurement practices, whereby they secure the cheapest products from anywhere in the world, regardless of how badly the workers who make them are treated.

COSATU has signed the Local Procurement Accord which aims to accelerate the creation of 5 million new jobs by 2020, and the attainment of the goals of the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP 2), by promoting local procurement. The Walmart-Massmart merger will have exactly the opposite result – more cheap imports produced in poverty-pay sweatshops and more factory closures and retrenchments in South African manufacturing.

Public transport and opposition to electronic tolling

The federation has declared war on the Gauteng e-tolling system. We are against the commodification of more and more public services and believe that our roads are a public asset, not a commodity to create massive profits for private companies.

These tolls will have a particularly devastating effect on workers who have no alternative but to drive to work because of the lack of a proper public transport system. They will lead to big price increases in the shops to cover the increased cost of transporting goods, and some companies may even be forced out of business and have to retrench workers because of their increased transport costs.

We are to proceed with mass action, together with civil society organisations, and shall issue a final notice in Nedlac to give us a right to a protected strike around 7 March 2012.

In the meantime we urge people not to buy e-tags, and, if the tolls have not been scrapped, will be encouraging motorists to drive through the gantries without paying. In this act of civil disobedience we shall not present ourselves to the courts and will not pay fines imposed for merely using public roads. We shall also continue to demand an integrated, safe, reliable and affordable public transport system.

COP17 and Climate Change

COSATU has signed the Green Economy Accord and committed ourselves to the fight for a clean and healthy environment. The Accord, launched at the COP17 talks in Durban, is one of the most comprehensive social pacts on green jobs in the world.

It is a partnership to create 300 000 new jobs by 2020, in economic activities such as energy generation, manufacturing of products that reduce carbon emissions, soil and environmental management and eco tourism.

Just as COSATU predicted, COP17 was a `damage control` exercise, with low ambition and with little space to advance political issues such as emission reductions, sources of funding or even “just transition” policies. The federation will continue to campaign, together with government, for a just transition towards a more sustainable society, through environmentally-friendly investments that will create jobs and protect our environment.

Anti-corruption campaign

COSATU has been ringing the alarm bells over the national crisis of corruption for many years. It is a cancer which is eating away at the heart of our democracy, driven by the capitalist culture of ‘me-first’ and ‘get as rich as possible as fast as possible’, which is now invading our democratic institutions and liberation movement.

We have led major marches against corruption in Rustenburg and Polokwane, but have stressed that this is a national problem involving people in all provinces, in both the private and public sectors and from all walks of life, not excluding the trade unions.

We welcome the many initiatives from government to deal with this problem, notably the sacking of two ministers and suspension of the head of the SAPS, but are worried at the slow rate at which perpetrators of corruption are being brought to court and convicted.

The launch of Corruption Watch on 26 January 2012 will be COSATU’s main contribution to the national campaign to end this scourge and we are confident that it will provide workers and all South Africans a safe haven to report corrupt activities in confidence, without fear of victimisation.

We call on all South African irrespective of their race, class, religion and to unite against the endemic crisis of corruption in the country before it is too late.

ANC Centenary celebrations

On 8 January 2012, the African National Congress will celebrate 100 years of revolutionary struggle. COSATU congratulates our ally on this magnificent achievement and will participate fully in the various celebratory events being planned.

We shall share COSATU’s experience in the liberation struggle in partnership with its alliance partners and the mass democratic movement, demonstrate our long-standing support for Africa’s oldest liberation movement, deepen workers’ understanding of the ANC’s history and political objectives and use every the events to organise the unorganised into COSATU-affiliated trade unions.

COSATU will continue to work closely with its alliance party, particularly in the run-up to their Policy and Elective Congresses in June and December. We have strongly supported the movement’s determination to impose discipline within its ranks and condemned divisive, premature attempts to start a ‘leadership debate’.

COSATU also congratulates Umkhonto Wesizwe on its 50th anniversary and pays homage to all those MK fighters who laid down their lives so that we could live in freedom and peace.

All alliance structures will hold national congresses during the centenary celebrations. We call on the ANC and indeed all members of tripartite members, as they prepare for the elective congresses in the coming year, to spend time to review the state of our politics at this moment. The biggest challenge we face is to return the movement to its roots – selflessness, integrity and honesty - and defeat the rampant greed, selfishness and the threat of revolutionary morality.

Anti-privatisation

The federation has continued to oppose the privatisation and outsourcing of our public services. In particular we want provincial and municipal authorities employ their own workers to carry out public works, rather than put them out to tender, which creates more opportunities for corruption and shoddy work by tenderpreneurs.

Electricity

We are concerned at the impact of the 25.9% Eskom tariff increase scheduled for April 2012, especially on the poorest consumers, and will continue to press for better protection for those who cannot afford such massive increases in their cost of living.

The 25.9% increase will aggravate the jobs stagnation in the manufacturing sector and slow down economic growth. Everywhere manufacturing companies complain that they taking a strain due to high administered costs, including ever increasing municipality rates

Public Service Ethos

COSATU and its affiliates are committed to the campaign to change the ethos of the public service worker so that they see themselves not just as employees but as revolutionaries who have a crucial role to play in the transformation of our society, to build a better life for all. We urge them to resist the temptation to succumb to the ‘me-first’ mentality and use their position to get rich, but to work only to serve and improve the lives of their fellow South Africans.

Those were the 12 new campaigns adopted at the Central Committee, but there are of course other ongoing campaigns:

Education

COSATU has signed the Basic Education and National Skills Accords. They deal with important aspects of our severely dysfunctional education system, in which 70% of matric passes are accounted for by just 11% of schools - the former white, coloured, and Asian schools.

12-year olds in South Africa perform three times worse than 11-year olds in Russia in reading and 16-year olds in South Africa perform three times worse than 14-year olds in Cyprus in mathematics.

That is why COSATU has resolved on a campaign to adopt the worst performing schools. On the first day of the 2012 school year our leaders and members will be visiting these schools and continuing to monitor their problems and mobilise support for the teachers, learners and administrators in their efforts to turn the situation around. We call on all alliance formations to coordinate this campaign and ensure maximum benefit.

National Health Insurance

COSATU has appreciated the excellent work of Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, particularly his determination to press ahead with the National Health Insurance Scheme, against the rantings of all the vested interests in the private healthcare sector.

Most of our public health facilities are a disaster – derelict, under-staffed, under-resourced and short of essential supplies of drugs and equipment. Nothing less than a root-and-branch transformation of the entire system will start to provide the poor majority with the quality of service presently available to the rich minority. The NHI is the only way to achieve this goal.

We also continue to support the government’s excellent HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment programme.

International solidarity

COSATU has congratulated the workers of Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere who have taken over the streets and risked their lives to get rid of dictators. We also sends a message of solidarity to all those workers and oppressed people around the world who are still struggle against dictatorship, oppression and poverty – in Palestine, Swaziland, Western Sahara and elsewhere. We renew our call for the release of the Cuban 5 patriots who remain incarcerated in the USA on trumped up charges.

The federation hails the success of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, which COSATU helped to organise in Cape Town. It exposed to the world the Israeli government’s brutal apartheid-style oppression of the people of Palestine.

Conclusion

Unless we embrace radical economic programmes, and in particular develop the capacity of the state to intervene in the economy and drive development, we are doomed.

Unless we can build the capacity of local governments to take back areas they have outsourced, whilst increasing funding so as to discourage the use of more tenders and use their resources for service delivery and job creation, we shall not realise the dream of many for a better life.

In this regard we propose that we scrap this bureaucratic layer of government – the provinces – who, instead of facilitating development have just been guzzling resources needed to build strong local government.

Unless we mobilise citizens to be more active, led by a conscious working class that can drive campaigns against corruption, and to transform education, in particular to get all dysfunctional schools to work as learning institutions, and unless we can defeat HIV and introduce the NHI to fix our hospitals, we are doomed.

This programme can only be led by the Tripartite Alliance which must affirm its moral leadership of society in an exemplary and consistent manner.

We need a combination of a strong ANC, active in and outside of the state, a rock-solid, ideologically alert and independent COSATU, buttressed by equally strong, pro-working class civil society, a robust and pro-poor religious sector, a strong and transformative judiciary, a diversified and robust media - that always defends the poor in the face of the rich, and the weak in the face of the strong and consistently advocates for an end to social and economic injustice - and a strong democratic state that advances the interests of the poor.

If all these exist, and work in complementary ways, then we stand a chance to reverse the catastrophe on our hands.

COSATU sends its best wishes to all the students awaiting their Matric results, congratulates those who pass but urges those who fail not to lose heart. Every young South African has a role to play in transforming our society and we must make sure that opportunities are opened up for them all whether they pass or fail.

Enjoy your holiday, but don’t forget, when you buy presents for your loved ones, to buy Proudly South African and support local jobs.

Remember the HIV and Aids prevention message – Abstain, Be faithful, Condomise.

If you are driving, obey the rules of the road and help us to bring down the number of tragic deaths on our roads. Don’t drink and drive and Arrive Alive, ready for the challenges and opportunities we face in the New Year.

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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