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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

COSATU 11th National Congress - Opening address by COSATU President Sidumo Dlamini

17 September 2012

Members of the Central Executive Committee,
The delegation of the ANC led by President Jacob Zuma
The delegation of the SACP led by the General Secretary comrade Blade Nzimande,
The delegation of SANCO led by its President comrade Ruth Bhengu
The delegation of the ANC Women`s League led by its President Angie Motshekga
The delegation of the ANCYL led by its Deputy President who has taken the responsibility of being the President, Comrade Ronald Lamola
The National Secretary of the Young Communist League, Comrade Buti Manamela and your delegation;
The President of SASCO comrade Ngoako Selamolela and your delegation;
The President of COSAS comrade Bongani Mani and your delegation;
The President of FEDUSA Koos Bezuidenhout and your delegation;
The President of NACTU Joseph Maqhekeni and your delegation;
The General Secretary of ITUC comrade Sharon Burrow and your delegation
The General Secretary of the WFTU comrade George Mavrikos and your delegation;
Our distinguished International guests;
Invited guests from all civil society formations,
Representatives from various government departments, and other statutory bodies,

Comrades before we can proceed with anything we want to make a special announcement we have received news that today the high court of Swaziland will be handing down sentence against comrade Amos Mbedzi who was convicted by the Swaziland High Court, presided by Judge Bheki Maphalala in August this year.

Comrade Mbedzi was charged with contravening Section 5 and 2 of the Sedition and Subversive Activities Act of 1938 after it was alleged that he unlawfully attempted to damage the Lozitha Bridge on 20th September 2008.

The charges included murder after it was said that on the same date, he killed Musa Dlamini and Jack Govender. He was further charged with contravening Section 8 and 9 of the Explosives Act of 2009 for possessing explosives without a permit.

Comrade Mbedzi pleaded not guilty to four of the charges.

We are calling on all democratic and peace loving people including our Alliance formations, the MDM formations and the international community to come out and make a call that the Swaziland monarch should not give a death sentence to comrade Mbedzi but release him with all other political prisoners so that negotiations for a truly democratic Swaziland may commence.

We call on the Swaziland monarch and leaders in Swaziland to start an open and free dialogue that can result in an end to the political conflict and a sustainable solution designed and created by Swazis.

We know that through our collective action there can be freedom in Swaziland. The time to act for freedom in Swaziland is now!

Comrades and friends we want to give our special greeting to the delegates, who represent millions of COSATU members across the length and breadth of our country. It is you who have built this COSATU into a sharper instrument of class war that has over 27 years given bosses sleepless nights. There have always been attempts to weaken and destroy COSATU but you always rose and defended your organisation!

It is through your victorious struggles in the workplace and activism in communities where you live that have made this federation an attractive protective shelter for the millions of workers and the working class in general.

It is because of your courage, resilience and fortitude that has resulted to millions of workers wanting to join COSATU resulting to growth in our membership from nearly 1.8 million members in 2003 to nearly 2.2 million members today, an increase of over 422 000 members in 9 years in the context of rampant retrenchments and casualisation. We are proud that you have made COSATU one of the fastest growing trade union Federations in the world.

It is you the workers who get mercilessly exploited by the employers. Yet it is through your sweat, that they count billion and trillions of rands in their bank accounts. It is through your sweat that they drive luxurious cars, live in pouch houses, take their children to private schools, smoke expensive cigars whose price is equal to your salaries, and yet they give you poverty salaries that leave your eyes wet, expecting you to say "thank you" and not to demand more, expecting you to accept anything they give you because in their minds, you know nothing better!

This is your congress to table your views on how we should together build and strengthen this organisation into an even sharper instrument of class war which has the capacity of taking up the problems and challenges facing working people and their communities. This Congress is your opportunity to build programmes of unity in action to resist exploitation of workers and attempts by capital to divide and mislead workers. These four days will be your opportunity to tell us on our faces where we have deviated. This is your congress to point out where the organisation has done right and where it needs to consolidate. An Organisation becomes stronger by purging itself!

Comrade delegates even during this challenging moment confronting our organisation and our revolution we must never compromise principle to achieve shot cut solutions. We must continue to call for and work towards unity of the workers based on a dynamic approach which combines firmness on fundamental principles, with flexibility to allow us to overcome non-antagonistic differences.

In the last Congress, you gave us your organisation to lead and when you gave it to us it was intact. We have come to give it back to you and we can say without any equivocation that your Federation, the federation of Elijah Barayi, the federation of John Gomomo, of Violet Seboni, of Alina Rantsolase, of Chris Dlamini, of Xolile Nxu is still as intact and as sharper as when you gave it to us.

Comrades as we stand here today observing the damage of capitalism unfolding in the world and in our country, especially where this is accompanied by the systematic attacks directed at COSATU and the liberation movement as a whole, we can only conclude that indeed the Communist Manifesto is correct when it asserts that "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes. ....The modern bourgeois society ... has... established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.....Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – the bourgeoisie (on one side) and proletariat ( on the other side)".

The glaring failures of Capitalism manifested through the Global economic crisis and how governments and capital all over the world responded have drawn clear class battle lines. It is now an open class war!

The question which this Congress must provide practical answers to is whether we have a requisite organisational and political capacity to respond pound for pound and emerge victorious from this class war.

Day in and day out we wake up to the painful reality wherein the living and working conditions of the working people is worsened whilst the rich continues to live luxuriously and enjoy profits of unimaginable proportions.

Governments all over the world pass laws which make it easier to take from the poor and give to the rich in the name of bail outs and taxes. Policies are developed and regulations deliberately ignored or policy loopholes deliberately created to allow capital to amass more wealth and squeeze the working class into a dark corner of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Day in and day out we see the rich continuing to award themselves with huge bonuses, extract our country`s resources but hideaway profits generated from plundering our resources and refuse to invest in our development, leaving our countries with deepening inequalities. They take the assets and money acquired through exploiting our resources outside the borders of our countries to tax havens. Some of these people hide their wealth into so called trust accounts.

According to the report by the Tax Justice Network, the super-rich are currently hiding away wealth estimated between 21 trillion US Dollars and 32 trillion US Dollars in tax havens such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. When questions are being raised about this, the common answer is that "there is nothing illegal about it".

We have observed with pain how during the Economic Crisis Governments have intervened and acted to protect the interests of Capital resulting to a situation in which capital maximises its accumulation even under conditions of economic crisis.

According to Forbes International, since 2008 the world`s billionaires saw their wealth grow by 50 percent, and their ranks swell to 1,011, from 793. Europe had 248 billionaires, and the USA had 403 billionaires whose wealth could do more than cover the 2008 US federal deficit, with money left over for the states. On average, each billionaire had his or her wealth increase by 500 million US dollars[1].

Despite this increasing wealth by capital, Governments still came in with rescue packages to save them. It is estimated that the US government alone in total, used 425 billion US dollars to bailout banks, insurance companies and automakers and provided 45 billion US dollars in housing program assistance.

In Europe the German constitutional court has recently ruled in favour of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) allowing it to put aside about 700 billion Euros of public funds to bail out banks and hedge funds that have loaned money at exorbitant interest rates.

All this is sending a message to us that Capital is decisive on advancing their agenda and we should ask if we are as equally as decisive!

As the world`s rich are being cautioned to become richer, the reality of poverty, unemployment and inequality continues to be harsher for the working class. As we speak, according to the report by the European Commission about 115 million people, or 23 percent of the EU population, have been designated as poor or socially deprived. Among the causes are unemployment and low wages, with more than 8 percent of all employees in Europe now belonging to the "working poor?"

There is a similar trend in the USA where it is reported that families living in poor neighbourhoods rose from 8 percent to 17 percent and the proportion of families living in middle-income neighbourhoods fell by 21 percentage points within the same period. In UK 2.62 million people are officially out of work, the highest level in 17 years, and a rate of 8.3 percent of the economically active population. Youth unemployment in the UK grew by 18,000 to 1.02 million.

It is therefore not surprising that according to the survey conducted by the Globescan across 25 countries; it shows that there has been a sharp fall in the number of Americans who think that the free market economy is the best economic system for the future.

In South Africa we are observing a similar trend wherein during the economic crisis opulence is on the rise existing side by side with worsening abject poverty, unemployment and inequality. The country`s 20 richest men enjoyed a 45% increase in wealth in 2010 at the height of the economic crisis and the number of billionaires nearly doubled, from 16 in 2009 to 31 in 2010. Pine Pienaar, CEO of Mvelaphanda Resources, made R63 million in 2009, 1875 times as much as the average worker. It is interesting to note that the majority of the richest people in South Africa come from the mining sector.

If this is compared with the conditions of the working class in a similar period we can only conclude that Socialism is the only way out. In 2010, half of South African workers earned less than R2 800 a month. On average, 75% of South African workers earned R1 939 in 2010 and 90% of South African workers earned an average of R3 327 a month.

This is coupled with the fact that in South Africa total job losses from 2009 up to the first quarter of 2012 amounted to 744 000, these job losses amount to an average R107 billion loss in workers` income over the three-year period.

Research also shows that within the same wavelength the exploitation of workers have increased in South Africa. The share of workers in national income has fallen below 50%. The profits earned by capitalists are equal to the total amount of wages earned in the South African economy. This gross inequality is confirmed by the fact that 50% of South Africans survive on 8% of national income[2].

As we speak here today, more than 3.4 million workers in South Africa work for more than 45 hours a week. Only 32% of all those who work had medical aid benefits, 71% “Demagogues are the worst enemies of the working class. The worst enemies, because they arouse base instincts in the masses, because the unenlightened worker is unable to recognise his enemies in men who represent themselves, and sometimes sincerely so, as his friends. The worst enemies, because in the period of disunity and vacillation, when our movement is just beginning to take shape, nothing is easier than to employ demagogic methods to mislead the masses, who can realise their error only later by bitter experience”.   of those employed were not unionised, 5.8 million workers have no access to paid maternity/paternity leave, 4.2 million workers have no access to paid sick leave and 4.7 million workers are engaged in contract and other short-term type of employment, 5.7 million workers have no access to a pension or retirement fund and 4.4 million workers do not have access to paid annual leave.

The reality of South Africa is that 54% of the workers receive no regular wage increments or have their wages determined solely by their employers. Yet Capital has been calling for the need to decentralise or even abolish collective bargaining. The reality is that currently bargaining councils cover just 9% of the workforce, while only 23% of the workers` wages are negotiated directly through unions.

Comrade, these are the conditions which have resulted to what we saw and continue to see happening in Marikana and in the mining sector as whole. The problem in Marikana is not rivalry between unions nor can it simply be put as being a widening gap between leaders and members. This will obviously be a matter which we will have to honestly confront during our discussions but the central issue is that workers in the mines are rising against their continued exploitation by employers. The reality of the matter is that this exploitation is happening in all sectors of the economy. Mine workers cannot be expected to keep quiet and say "thank you basi" when they know that the Financial Officer of Lonmin, Alan Ferguson earn R10 254 972 a year or R854 581 a month, which 152 times higher than the salary of a Rock Drill Operator.

We can relate to similar experiences in other sectors. For an example in 2007 more than 55% of workers in the wholesale and retail sector earned less than R2000-00 per month while CEO packages on average were in excess of R35 million. The average package of CEOs in the wholesale and retail sector is almost 1000 times the average wages of workers.

The painful reality which confronts our people includes the fact that more than 6 million workers in South Africa live on less than R10 a day. These workers in turn support on average an additional 4 people in the household. This means that 30 million South Africans live on less than R10 a day and R10 can barely buy one loaf of bread.

It is for this reason that we will continue to argue that it is mistaken to think that any kind of job will reduce poverty. If employment is to be the primary instrument to fight poverty and inequality, then such employment will have to be decent and Labour Brokers cannot deliver decent jobs and similarly the Youth Wage Subsidy cannot deliver decent jobs except making employers richer through the provision of cheap labour by our children.

Given all these conditions it should be clear that what we see happening in Marikana and elsewhere is that workers are essentially demanding a living wage. Workers are simply saying we produce wealth and we want our reasonable share and they expect to be given a fair share. It is not just workers from North West that are speaking; this is a reflection of the demands being harboured by millions of our people.

We cannot hide the fact that the plight of workers is being used by some to weaken strategic components of the Alliance seen as a threat towards Mangaung. The strategy include buying the emotions of the masses and society and use that support to stamp COSATU, and the liberation movement at the back and allow it to bleed to near death so that the same people uses the 53rd National Conference of the ANC as a moment where they come as heroes to save the movement.

It will be a mistake for us to think that we can defend COSATU without defending the ANC and the SACP at the same time. The attack on the NUM is a gateway to weakening COSATU and the SACP which are being seen as gaining influence in the ANC under the current leadership.

This attack is not different from an attack by the DA which decided to march to COSATU offices demanding the Youth Wage Subsidy. It was a calculated move to set COSATU against society as part of a broader strategy to set the movement as a whole against society. The majority of those in the DA march were the African people being instigated to march against other African workers. A strategy that was used by the Apartheid government to set blacks against each other. The same strategy we saw being used at Marikana where African workers are being set against each other.

Comrade Mandela when he wrote an article titled the Shifting Sands of Illusion in June 1953, speaking about the DA of that time he warned us that "though apparently democratic and progressive in form, are essentially reactionary in content. They stand not for the freedom of the people but for the adoption of more subtle systems of oppression and exploitation. Though they talk of liberty and human dignity they are subordinate henchmen of the ruling circles. They stand for the retention of the cheap labour system and of the subordinate colonial status of the non-European masses together with the Nationalist Government whose class interests are identical with theirs. In practice they acquiesce in the slavery of the people, low wages, mass unemployment, the squalid tenements in the locations and shanty-towns".

Comrades we must not make a mistake and underestimate the enemy. The systematic attack we see today directed at us is based on evidence of what a united Alliance is capable of doing to defend and advancing the NDR. They have seen shifts in industrial and trade policies as reflected in IPAP and the NGP. They know that through COSATU and the SACP and majority of ANC members we secured commitment at Polokwane to align all economic policies with the objective of creating decent work. They see that today through COSATU and the SACP there has been an extension of social protection, the extension of grants to all vulnerable children, and income support for the unemployed; and the adoption of National Health Insurance as government policy.

They have seen what a united Alliance can achieve. They have seen us as a collective defeating attempts by a right wing clique in the movement to collapse the Alliance, and redirecting the NDR into a narrow nationalist project focused on winning elections, while rendering people timid and becoming spectators in their own revolution. They have seen the strength of our unity in combating the abuse of the NDR as a vehicle for private accumulation. It is because of this proven track record of resilient struggle and victories that the right wing and the demagogues would prefer to have us divided and weak going to the 53rd National Congress of the ANC. These are the same elements which said there is no co governance and that education must be declared an essential service.

They are mistaken on one thing; we will not go to Mangaung divided but we will go there with a clear class agenda to defend and advance the progressive outcomes of Polokwane. It is for this reason that we want to call on the Alliance and MDM formations to ensure that there is unity around our class interests. We must not allow tactical differences to be elevated to strategic differences.

It is for this reason comrades, that in responding to the developments in Marikana including on attacks against us we need a principled and sustainable response which will not take away our focus and energies to the strategic task of advancing the National Democratic Revolution and the struggle for Socialism. We need a response that will draw everybody`s attention and energy on the total restructuring of our economy, so that it can be placed on a labour-absorbing trajectory. We need a response that will ensure an end of the domination by the mining/finance complex and building the industrial sector based on meeting the basic needs of our people.

We need a response that will focus the country on the distribution of wealth and nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, and as well as for effective land redistribution, in order to ensure that the Freedom Charter demands that the wealth of our country is controlled to enhance the wellbeing of the people is realised.

We must not fall into a trap of competing with demagogues. Instead we should honestly be with the workers to listen to them and engage the employers, force them to address the demands raised by the workers. If we are patient and consistent in our organisational and political work, the truth will be revealed and workers will see demagogues for what they are and comrades, there are no shot cuts to this task.

In the words of comrade Oliver when he closed the Morogoro Conference in 1969 we call on our members to "wage a relentless war against disrupters and defend the ANC (and the Alliance as whole) against provocateurs and enemy agents. Defend the revolution against enemy propaganda, whatever form it takes. Be vigilant, comrades. The enemy is vigilant. Beware of the wedge-driver, the man who creeps from ear to ear, carrying a bag full of wedges, driving them in between you and the next man, between a group and another, a man who goes round creating splits and divisions. Beware of the wedge driver, comrades. Watch his poisonous tongue."

Responding to the systematic attacks to our movement and the developments in the mining sector including the situation in Marikana must be connected to our initial question on how this Congress must provide practical answers as to whether we have a requisite organisational and political strength to respond pound for pound and emerge victorious from the international class war.

The starting point should be that victory for the united working class is certain and on the bases of the strength of our unity and the strength of our organisation we should force a moment of decision in our movement. It is through being decisive that the workers of Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru have been able to set a new course, leading the national liberation struggle of Latin America and the Caribbean towards a second independence. They are building societies based on social and economic justice.

Venezuela has fostered new institutions free of US and Canadian influence. The new institutions are, for example, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, an agency that coordinates the energy policy of Latin American oil-producing states, the Bank of the South, CELAC -the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, a regional cooperation bloc. The progressive trends and new institutions defeated the imperialist Free Trade Area of the USA.

When the International Capital led by the USA tried to undermine these developments intellectuals, professionals and many nations and social movements came together in Cuba to form an International Committee in Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, the Nations and Processes of ALBA. Its purpose was to let imperialism know that the world supports the independence struggles taking place in Latin America and the Caribbean.

With this political mobilisation and being decisive we have seen how Brazil under President Lula Da Silva defied conventional economic prescriptions, and instead advanced economic strategies which put redistribution of incomes at the centre of their approach, especially through raising wage levels and social protection.

They have decisively built state capacity to drive these changes through strengthening their labour inspectorates, and massively increasing training in tertiary institutions to ensure sufficient qualified people were available to staff key state institutions. This national economic strategy was linked to a broader economic development strategy in the region which was aimed at asserting an independent development path.

We need to build from the ANC Policy Conference which agreed that this second phase of the transition should be characterised by more radical policies and decisive action to effect thorough-going socio-economic and continued democratic transformation, as well as the renewal of the ANC, the Alliance and the broad democratic forces.

We must make the second phase of our transition to be our own South Africa`s Lula Moment whose content will on among others ensure that the state exercises its popular mandate to break the power of white monopoly capital

The Lula Moment must mean that the state should be decisive in ensuring that there is access to quality education, skills development and training, healthcare and housing should be extended in working class communities in both urban and rural areas. The state will ensure access to quality and affordable public transport, including by people in rural areas and provide the appropriate macroeconomic framework, underpinned by the restructuring of the entire tax system with a view to introduce progressive taxation, to finance meeting the basic needs of our people.

The Lula Moment or the radical phase of our transition will not happen if we do not build a radical and militant campaigning COSATU, SACP and ANC as mass based organisations, which derive their perspectives from the masses, we need to build these as organisations that do not identify with the people out of pity but grounded on the masses and connects with community struggles, build them as organisation that see people as capable of presenting solutions to the challenges confronting society, build them as fighting organisations that must continue to enjoy respect and credibility by the working class. These are the tasks we can only ignore at our peril!

We know that demagogues occupy the front ranks of this class war from the side of the enemy camp and comrade Lenin taught us that "Demagogues are the worst enemies of the working class. The worst enemies, because they arouse base instincts in the masses, because the unenlightened worker is unable to recognise his enemies in men who represent themselves, and sometimes sincerely so, as his friends. The worst enemies, because in the period of disunity and vacillation, when our movement is just beginning to take shape, nothing is easier than to employ demagogic methods to mislead the masses, who can realise their error only later by bitter experience". We will expose and crush demagogues with political honesty, theoretical clarity, well articulated vision, our organisational strength and a coherent implementable programme.

This federation of the brave combatants–the federation of Vuyisile Mini, of Lesley Mesina, of Luksmart Ngudle, this federation of revolutionary combatants, the federation of Ray Alexander, of Elizabeth Mafikeng, of Mabel Balfour, of Liz Abrahams, of Marry Moodley, of Sophie De Bruin, of Viola Hashe, of Rita Ndzanga, of Phyllis Altman will never die, it will grow from strength to strength giving employers, capital and all enemies of our revolution sleepless night.

We will fight to the bitter end, guided by the concluding words of the Communist Manifesto that "the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Proletarians of all countries unite!

Let this 11th Congress of our glorious Federation be a congress of working class unity, let this Congress be dedicated to our members. Let us take COSATU to the members!

Comrades, the 11th Congress is declared open!

Amandla!

1. Forbes International
2. See Budget Speech, February 2010.

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