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Shopsteward Volume 23 No. 4

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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Speeches

Speech of the COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi Workers’ Rally, Olympia Stadium, Rustenburg

27 October 2012

Comrades,

Today we gather as workers from all sectors to declare our intention of going forward to ensure we have a strong workers movement in our country.

We gather here as mineworkers to announce that we will continue with our campaign for better wages and improved conditions in the mines. We shall continue to fight for the eradication of single sex hostels and the building of decent houses where we can live in peace with our families with access to schools, healthcare and basic amenities for our children.

For far too long we have worked in these mines only for us to lose our lives and limbs and be disabled.

We are here as municipal workers to continue to fight for better wages and service delivery to our people! We shall continue to unite against corruption in local government.

We shall continue to demand that the investigation report commissioned by the Department for Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs is made public so that we know who is behind the looting of public resources in the North West, and elsewhere.

We are here as hospitality workers from Sun City to declare that we shall no longer allow racism and extreme exploitation of workers in pour sector. We shall continue to fight against Sun City and others until we receive a living wage and are treated with respect and dignity.

The abusive practices of the bosses that belong in another era must be completely eradicated from our sector and our society.

We are here as farm workers who produce food for our country, yet every day we go hungry and our kids are unable to go to school. We will continue to unite all workers against exploitation, servitude and abuse.

We are here to declare that we shall continue to mobilise against tollgates in Swartruggens and elsewhere.

On 16th August this year all of us were shocked by the events that unfolded at Marikana, when 36 workers were killed by the police. This wasn’t the first shocking event in this region. Before this, in the first seven months of the year, at least 21 other mineworkers had been killed in three mines – Impala Platinum, Aquarius Platinum and Lonmin Platinum. And there have been more killings since then.

Today is an important day. It is important because it is an opportunity for us to stand up and say NO MORE to the killings of workers by the police and no more killing of workers by other workers.

NO MORE to the diversion from our task of marching forward united towards total emancipation from economic slavery and class oppression.

Today we come here to declare that we have one enemy! Our enemy is one that exploits us and who benefits from divisions amongst us as workers! Our enemy is not other workers and is certainly not our unions – our enemy are the capitalists who continue to rob us of the social surplus we produce and which makes them wealthy while we starve.

What is OUR task as COSATU going forward at this difficult time?

When we met in our 11th National Congress just over a month ago, we decided on four priorities.

Number ONE: We agreed that we need to attack poverty wages and inequality, in the mining industry but also in all other sectors. It is totally unacceptable that half of the workers in this country earn less than R3000 a month. In order to step up our Living Wage Campaign, we have resolved to demand a review of all minimum wages.

We have also agreed that our wage demands must in future not just be in percentages, but must be in rands and cents. We want to bury the apartheid wage structures and replace them with a new wage structure that will close the huge gaps that exist between the meagre salaries of workers and their fat cat managers! We want wages that will help us do away with poverty wages! We want a living wage, we want better schools for our children, we want to be able to buy them food, to clothe them and make sure they are cared for in a quality public health service that is accessible to all.

We have decided to take up a campaign to move away from reactionary grading systems that do not recognise the value of workers’ physical labour. Workers who do dangerous or heavy work must be rewarded accordingly.

Affiliates are already taking up these issues. But in order to make sure we act in a coordinated and united way, we are planning a Collective Bargaining and Organising Conference of all affiliates in early 2013.

WE NEED A UNITED WORKING CLASS RESPONSE. WE KNOW THAT A PIECE-MEAL APPROACH WITH EACH UNION OR EACH WORK PLACE ACTING IN ISOLATION WILL BE INCAPABLE OF CHANGING THE SYSTEM, AND ITS POVERTY WAGES AND INSECURITY.
THIS IS WHY WE NEED A STRONG, UNITED FEDERATION. THAT IS WHY WE NEED ONE UNION IN ONE INDUSTRY!

Number TWO: We agreed we need to mobilise for the fundamental transformation of the Mining Industry at all levels.

This is because the size and significance of the mining industry means that what happens in mining influences what happens in the rest of the economy and society.
Despite the historic victories of the NUM over the past 30 years, and the improvements that have been achieved for workers, the mining industry remains an industry where workers are ravaged by low pay, ill-health, unsafe working conditions, labour-broking and sub-contracting, and poor housing. Racism runs rife, and inequalities are absolutely extreme.

The highest paid executive directors in South Africa are in the mining industry while mineworkers face poverty wages and conditions.

BUT WE WILL NEVER MAKE THE BIG CHANGES THAT ARE NEEDED IN THE MINING INDUSTRY IF WE TACKLE THE INDUSTRY COMPANY BY COMPANY, OR MINE BY MINE.

THIS IS WHY WE NEED A STRONG, UNITED FEDERATION – THAT IS WHY WE NEED ONE UNION IN EVERY INDUSTRY!

Already we have drawn up the terms of reference for a Commission of Enquiry into the historical and current working, social and living conditions in the Mining Industry. We are certain that such a Commission will expose exploitation and what needs to change in the industry.

But we are not waiting for this proposed Commission to be formed before we act.

The national and provincial leaderships of COSATU and the NUM have over the past weeks been tirelessly engaging with hundreds of thousands striking mine workers all over the country, listening to their demands and grievances. We have repeatedly pledged our support and have encouraged striking workers to stay united. In all of these meetings, we have never dictated a course of action. This is what worker control REALLY means. We have listened to the workers, and acted on their mandates.

We have directed the anger of workers to where it should be directed – their bosses instead of against one another.

Already we have achieved significant gains. The Chamber of Mines was forced to negotiate on the demands of the workers. Even though we did not achieve all the demands but at least we have secured an accumulative increase of up to 20% this year.

Here in the platinum sector we have forced the employers to bring forward negotiations. As we speak talks are under way to create a centralised bargaining structure for all platinum employers and already workers have scored gains to improve wages and conditions of employment.

Our meetings with striking mine workers, coupled with demands put by the Federation to the mining bosses, and parallel wage negotiations lead by the NUM in the Chamber of Mines, have already had positive results.

Some of the employer’s response to the wave of worker militancy has been to dismiss thousands of workers on strike. By this week the numbers of workers dismissed reached 30 000. Some of the employers saw an opportunity to downsize by selectively reemploying workers on lower conditions whilst cutting out thousands of others.

COSATU is committed to fight for the reinstatement of every one of the workers dismissed.

Already we have made some headway. 12 000 KDC West workers who were dismissed and evicted from the hostels have been reinstated. 700 others have not been reemployed and we are fighting management to reinstate all of them.

We are fighting to get the 8000 dismissed workers at KDC East to be reinstated. We have reversed the dismissal of 12 000 workers who were dismissed by Anglo Platinum. This is a remarkable achievement by any standards.

All our unions have agreed to embark on national solidarity action until every worker that has been dismissed is reinstated on the same conditions that they enjoyed before the strike.

THESE ARE INTERVENTIONS THAT ONLY A STRONG FEDERATION CAN MAKE. A SMALL COMMITTEE HERE AND THERE HAS ABSOLUTELY NO POWER TO CHANGE THE BALANCE OF FORCES AND TO WIN BACK THE JOBS OF WORKERS.

Our number three priority is to advance our struggle for socialism by making a number of demands on our government for radical change in economic and social policy. We agreed and announced these demands at our Congress, but we are now working to put these demands into the form of a Section 77 dispute. We will then mobilise for mass national action around these demands.

We demand a new economic policy capable of addressing the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality. We are increasingly frustrated with a political democracy that does not address the economic inequalities of our society.

The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. This is not the type of democratic society we fought for. In addition, we require the urgent introduction of a system of social security where all unemployed workers receive a grant, and where pensioners and children’s needs are properly catered for.

NONE OF THESE DEMANDS WILL BE ACHIEVABLE WITHOUT THE POWER AND STRENGTH OF A UNITED TRADE UNION FEDERATION.

Our fourth priority going forward is that we have to continue to build and improve our affiliates and the Federation as a whole. We have to defend the gains we have made over time – gains which would not have been possible without worker unity on a mass scale. But we have to campaign further and extend workers gains further.

In order to do this, we must be honest about our own weaknesses, and build on our strengths to address them.

During the interactions we have had with workers over the past months we have been reminded of the weaknesses in many of our workplace structures. We have must deal with these weaknesses, and ignore them and hope they will simply disappear.

The recent COSATU Congress has already told us we should go back the basics! Strong, democratic workplace organisation is an absolute necessity at this time, and will be for the foreseeable future. Lets build it now! We pledge to continue working with all workers to address all the weaknesses we have identified.

The most basic statement we must reinforce today is that unions first and foremost belong to their members, not shop stewards, organisers and leaders.

Unions belong to the workers! All of our affiliates must do more to empower members using their Union constitutions, to give them the power to democratically mandate and guide shop stewards, organisers and leaders, and ensure that they represent the interests of the workers. It also must empower workers to remove those who fail to follow mandates, or who do not represent them effectively.

At our next COSATU Central Executive Committee meeting in November we will spend considerable time looking at how we must correct the weaknesses we have identified.

In particular the CEC will discuss how to revive trade union education to ensure that members are empowered and shop stewards are properly trained.

Comrades, we all know that there is not an easy walk to freedom.

We need to leave this stadium today determined to resist all efforts to weaken and divide us. In particular, we need to unite to resist the divisive efforts of the bosses.

We need also to leave this stadium with clarity on what our tasks going forward are. As elaborated earlier, from today forward our organising tasks must be:-
1. To attack poverty wages and unemployment
2. To radically transform the Mining Industry, with the immediate task of winning the unconditional reinstatement of all workers who have been dismissed in the current wave of strikes
3. To campaign for the radical transformation of our economy as a whole and to decisively break with neo-liberalism
4. To fix the weaknesses in our unions, and to build on our strengths to make sure our unions are able to represent our members effectively.

We must not shy away from these tasks. We must not pretend that these challenges do not exist. We must not be distracted. We must stand together in absolute unity to build the power of the working class.

We call on all of you as you leave this stadium to go back to your workplaces and communities and begin to mobilize for a campaign to take up the issues which we have outlined today.

We are at a crucial point in the history of the workers movement in our country. Progressive change in our society will only come about when the working class takes united action. It is our task now to prepare for change!

Let the capitalist class tremble....the working class is on the march!

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