COSATU Central Executive Committee statement on the political situation
Shift in the policy discourse: The CEC unanimously observed that the political debate is shifting to the left, judging by the tenor of the ANC 8 January statement, elements of both the President’s State of the Nation Address and the Budget Speech. The CEC is unanimous that there are interesting developments in the policy arena on macroeconomic policy, industrial policy and comprehensive social security. Cosatu must remain vigilant since we do not know the details of government positions on these issues. Cosatu will not exaggerate gains or drop its guard. The shifts are not qualitative and certainly do not signal a consensus on a new developmental path based on fundamental restructuring of the economy through an active industrial strategy that will lead to massive absorption of the unemployed into the labour market. The shifts are never unambiguous and are full of contradictions. They happen within a conservative economic climate in which it is constantly repeated that the economy is doing well and that we have turned the corner. Some are still saying that GEAR was right all along and that we are now reaping its fruits, with talk about 500 000 new jobs being used to promote glowing optimism. Yet the reality for the working class and the poor is extraordinary levels of unemployment, ravaging poverty and growing inequalities. The 500 000 jobs per annum, whilst representing small progress, in the context of the massive job destruction in the first decade, will not help us realise the modest goal of halving unemployment by 2014. Moreover most of the jobs are of poor quality, created in sectors renowned for high levels of casualisation and sub contracting such as construction, retail and the hospitality industry. Moreover Cosatu is concerned that these shifts are managed outside of the Alliance and the ANC, through a team of economists from Harvard and the President’s Investment Council. Be that as it may, a door has been opened and it is incumbent upon the Federation to seize the moment and accelerate the policy shift. This will require engagement within the Alliance and mobilisation in civil society to create a bottom-up policy momentum. On the other hand, these shifts seem to represent a growing convergence within the Alliance that the current trajectory is far from fulfilling the aims of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). While progress has been registered over the last 13 years there is recognition that there remain many challenges that must be confronted with even greater vigour. These shifts also reflect the significance of pressure from the Federation over many years on jobs and poverty, macro-economic strategy and comprehensive social security. Cosatu’s demands have become prominent in the national agenda and one reading can suggest that the government is finally responding to the workers. Still the question remains: is this a cynical move to occupy a left position that has been occupied by Cosatu during this year of the ANC conference or is this a genuine shift to the left? Discussions on what informs these shifts will continue within the Federation. The political challenge confronting Cosatu is how to seize the moment to ensure a qualitative shift in our society to ensure the second decade of democracy benefits the working class. As such there is a potential for either unity or conflict on key economic and social development as we prepare for the SACP Congress and the ANC Policy Conference and National Conference in December.These shifts however occur within a conservative climate which repeats the notion that the economy is doing well and that our society has turned the corner. This conservative convergence threatens to overshadow and downplay the inequitable nature of the current growth path. As such, there is an ideological battle to maintain a message that it is big business and not the poor who are the major beneficiaries of economic reforms. The second decade of freedom should address key concerns of the working class which are mass creation of quality jobs, eradication of poverty and eliminating inequalities.
Character of the ANC We all recognise that the ANC is a powerful force in society and that the workers of this country have invested a lot to build the movement. While it remains a broad church, there is a hegemonic conservative bloc, which has attempted to move the movement to the centre left. This is manifest in the hollowing of the internal organisation, poor internal democracy and the locus of the centre of power in the state, changes in the key cadres driving the ANC, and on economic policy. Another key concern is the tendency to use the ANC as an instrument of individual accumulation, whether via the state or through business connections. However the environment is not static and is subject to intense contestation. Therefore the principal task of the working class is to recapture the ANC as a progressive and radical liberation movement.
Internal coherence Cosatu is not immune from developments within the ANC, as was evident at the 9th Congress. In this environment internal cohesion and unity is important and congress was a clear test of the federation’s internal coherence. Furthermore, the divisions that emerged out of congress have not yet diminished. This requires a conscious effort to address unity and overcome these divisions. A concerted campaign to contest Cosatu at all levels is underway, requiring a clear political response from the Federation. To that end, it is imperative for Cosatu to understand what is happening in its provinces and locals. Cosatu must further invest in political education and mobilisation to ensure a uniform voice at all levels. If Cosatu locals are to play a decisive role in influencing ANC branches, they require a lot of empowerment, both politically and organisationally.
NDR and SocialismWhile reaffirming Cosatu’s longstanding resolution on the dialectical link between the NDR and socialism, it is imperative to reflect on the meaning of the current debate on this issue. A conservative reading of the NDR is attempting to de-link it from socialism and propose that the NDR cannot intervene in changing class contradictions in our society. The debate is thus polarised between the NDR and socialism in a way that shifts the debate from the real question, ie how far have we managed to achieve the minimum programme of the NDR, namely the Freedom Charter. The debate this year should pivot around this question, while also theorising on the transition to socialism. What this debate signifies is that for some in the movement the struggle is over and the time for accumulation has arrived. This signifies a potential rift in the popular movement that was united by the goal of building a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist society. The working class faces the Herculean task of convincing the rest of the movement that the NDR is far from achieved. We may have access to political office but the nature of our democracy is not far-reaching in political and economic terms. Wealth and power still reside with a white minority and for many blacks, opportunities may have opened but are tempered by the glass ceiling at the workplace, unemployment, poverty and inequality. Hence there is still a need for a broader multi-class alliance led by the working class to prosecute the NDR, noting that for the working class the ultimate goal is to achieve socialism.
The AllianceThe Alliance has not changed qualitatively in terms of its operation and as the driver of the transformation project. It still operates through cycles of shocks, big moments and a long period of a lull. The balances of forces both nationally and globally are somewhat stacked in favour of a conservative agenda. Yet, developments in Latin America and the stubborn reality of the legacy of apartheid, offers an opportunity to shift power in favour of the working class.
Alliance Pact or Alliance Minimum PlatformThe mandate emerging out of the Cosatu Congress is a tough one, signalling an end to open-ended debate about the nature of the Alliance. The 9th Congress has set key tasks for the Federation to be reviewed in June 2008. These include restructuring the Alliance and arriving at an Alliance Pact for Development. That means the political choices facing the Federation are not comfortable but have to be confronted. If we do not achieve a breakthrough in 2007 we face the choice of the Alliance continuing on this trajectory of zigzags. The 9th National Congress has made it clear that the working class will no longer tolerate this situation. The days of the blank cheque are over – workers want to measure the progress we are making through a pact.
Ideological ContestationThe CEC noted the abuse of Marxism-Leninism to defend conservative policies and ironically to argue against socialism. There can be no Marxist who does not believe in a socialist future! This is also linked to a revisionist reading of the ANC history to support the conclusion of this conservative agenda. It is important to deepen consciousness of our members around these theoretical issues. However, the principal task is to always link these theoretical debates to the trajectory of the NDR and an examination of the balance of forces in our contemporary world. Therefore while it is important to ensure a correct reading of the classics, Cosatu’s focus should err on the side of how current programmes achieve the aims of the NDR and lay the foundation for socialism in our historical epoch. The role of the media in supporting the conservative discourse was also noted. The print media, with notable exceptions, was identified as particularly biased. The SABC was considered a political challenge, especially to ensure that its news desks reflect the diversity of our society, particularly the voice of workers. Some of the black editors are perceived to be playing a problematic “˜racialised’ role. They see their task as defending a black government from what they conceive to be unfair criticism, and in the process they have allowed themselves to be sucked into factional fights that are playing out within the Alliance. Ironically it is the workers who play a critical role to mobilise their families and society to vote the ANC whilst they sit in the comfort of their office intellectualising. The best defenders of the ANC therefore are the workers who built it in the first place and who are the leading detachment of the working class which is the primary motive force of our revolution.
(Extracts from the Cosatu CEC statement March 1 2007)