NUMSA National Office Bearers
Comrades and Friends
Thank you for giving me the privilege of addressing you today on behalf of COSATU’s National Office Bearers and more than two million members. I bring you 25th Birthday greetings and best wishes for your Congress.
Metal workers have always been a leading detachment of the trade union movement.
NUMSA and its many predecessors – MAWU, MICWU, UMMAWOSA and NAAWU –were at the centre of the revival of the democratic movement in the early 1970s.
They led the historic 1972/3 Durban strikes, built FOSATU in 1979. They played a central role in forging the United Democratic Front in 1983 and building our giant union federation COSATU, launched here in Durban in December 1985.
Your union has given our movement countless heroes and heroines – John Gomomo, Vuyisile Mini, Jabulile Ndlovu, Sam Ntuli, Phenius Sibiya, Mbuyiselo Ngwenda, Mtutuzeli Tom, to name just a few.
They all played a key role in making your union a bastion of workers’ power, a force to defend and improve the lives of your members. We must honour their memory by following their example of commitment to serve the members and fight for a socialist future.
You have fought many hard battles in the workplace, but also have taught all of us how to combine these campaigns with those of the communities, the nation and indeed the world. You can be particularly proud of your record in training your shop stewards and rank-and-file members.
You have always applied the principles of workers’ control and democracy. You have never flinched from robust debate and argument, whilst maintaining firm unity in action.
We face particular challenges this year, the ANC centenary year. All three Alliance structures are holding their national congresses and conferences, which gives us an unprecedented opportunity to reassess the progress of our national democratic revolution, new challenges we face and where we need to change course.
We are also in the midst of some gigantic battles, the biggest being the campaign to ban labour brokers and stop the rampant casualisation of employment.
No-one who was on the streets of more than 30 towns and cities on 7th March could doubt the strength of feeling against labour broking – this modern-day slavery.
We are also now facing the greatest threat to our rights since the fall of apartheid, from provisions in labour legislation before parliament.
Business, and some in government, are demanding a return to a compulsory ballot before a strike can commence, which could easily be manipulated by employers to delay strike action and demobilise the workers.
COSATU unions have always made sure that strikes are based on clear mandates from the membership, but this must be done through the unions’ own democratic procedures, not through ballots imposed and organised by the state.
Another threat is legislation that pickets must be limited to strikers. We totally reject this attempt to outlaw sympathy strikes and picketing, and thus weaken worker solidarity, one of the most powerful weapons in our armoury.
We fought hard to win the right to strike to be included in the constitution of our new democratic country in the crucible of struggle and we will not surrender this victory.
We have been able to persuade the ANC to set up a joint task team to look at these proposals and progress has been made on some of the proposals.
Government had proposed a new definition of workers in essential services who cannot legally strike. It included all those “who exercise power on behalf of the state”.
This would have meant that all workers in schools, hospitals, ports, etc could be described as essential service staff, and their right to strike taken away, rendering the trade union movement a toothless dog which can bark but not bite.
The task team agreed to have this matter removed from the proposals on the labour amendments and have it dealt with by relevant Bargaining Councils
The task team looked at another highly problematic proposal, which was supposed to deal with violence during strike action. We have always insisted that union activities must be peaceful, disciplined and lawful, and the vast majority of them are, as on 7 March.
But the unions cannot be held legally and financially responsible for criminal acts committed during our demonstrations.
The task team agreed to remove this from the labour law amendments and have it discussed under the Public Gatherings Act where it belongs.
On Labour Brokers, the ANC unfortunately continues to insist on the 6-month period in which a worker can be under the control of a labour broker. This will perpetuate exploitation during those six months and employers will find creative ways to avoid employing workers full-time after the six months.
While some progress is being made, it is important to finalise these discussions as quickly as possible. The government intends to table its revised legislative proposals on 18 June 2012. We shall have to respond and take the matter to the membership.
The other big issue on 7 March was the e-tolling of Gauteng highways. The ANC and COSATU formed another joint task team to look at alternative funding models for repaying Sanral’s debts and funding future road construction work.
Tolling forces drivers to pay huge amounts of extra money just to travel on previously free highways.
Workers face having to pay out thousands hundreds of extra rands every month just to travel to and from work, not from choice but because in the absence of reliable public transport, their car is their only way to get to work.
We have urged the cabinet to acknowledge the mass opposition to these tolls and instruct Sanral to abandon them for good.
We want government to prioritise the roll-out of efficient, reliable, affordable and safe public transport.
An ANC-COSATU bilateral meeting agreed to ask government to postpone the implementation of the e-toll collection system by a month, to give the task team more time to explore alternative funding mechanisms, and this was done.
Unfortunately however, the government now appears to be ignoring its own parent body, even referring to the ANC, the leader of our liberation struggle, as “a non-governmental organisation” which was only making a “suggestion” to government!
These two big issues – labour brokering and road tolling are symptomatic of the desperate crisis facing workers and the poor.
We have registered major advances under the ANC governments. They have raised the number of households with access to piped water to 89%, electricity and lighting to 80% as well as sanitation to 68%. They have provided 1.6 million subsidised houses.
Millions more have access to housing, water, electricity, education and healthcare.
These gains, however, have been undermined by the slow pace of transformation in the economy and the rampant commodification of essential public services through privatisation and other neoliberal programmes based on the ‘user-pay’ principle.
This has led to the triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Unemployment, in terms of the expanded definition unemployment is at an outrageous level of 36%.
Almost 25% of South African household experience hunger on a daily basis. An average member of a working class household lives on R18 a day, but 71% of the population and 44% of workers – 6 million workers – live on less than R10 a day.
South Africa has become the most unequal society in the world and the wealth gap is getting wider every day. The richest 10% of the population share earnings of R381 billion, about 94 times more than the poorest 10% of the population who share R1, 1 billion.
And the inequalities are still racialised. Africans, who are 79, 4% of the population, receive 41, 2% of the household income from work and social grants, whereas whites, who account only for 9, 2% of the population, receive 45, 3%.
We are forced to conclude that the second decade of democracy will follow the path of the first decade, in which the main economic beneficiaries were capital.
Of particular concern is the massive problem of youth unemployment. Young people constitute 63% of the working population, yet they make 72% of the unemployed. If we fail to give them the prospect of work and an income, the consequences for us all will be tragic.
We are already seeing an average of 120, usually violent, service delivery protests. Our marginalised youth are losing patience.
We must urgently find solutions, but they must be real solutions, not like the DA’s Youth Wage Subsidy, which will simply hand out tax-payers’ money to employers to employ young workers with no guarantee that any extra jobs will result, since they will be able to get rid of an equal number of older workers.
The crisis of unemployment is structural. It requires interventions to address the structural deficiencies we inherited from our colonial and apartheid past, such as the dysfunctional education that continues to sideline millions and provide them with inadequate skills.
A lot of the unemployed youth should in fact be at school, acquiring skills and increasing their employability potential.
We have welcomed the government’s New Growth Path but insisted that in its current form, and without radicalising its policy proposals, it will fail to address the structural nature of the unemployment crisis.
We have nevertheless started to engage with the government, and labour and the other three Nedlac constituencies have signed accords, which will help us to address some of the major challenges at hand and creating 5 million new jobs by 2020:
• The Basic Education Accord;
• The National Skills Accord;
• The Local Procurement Accord;
• The Green Economy Accord.
Job creation must be based on three pillars: a) expansion of social infrastructure and services, b) expansion of physical infrastructure and c) building value-chains for broad-based industrialisation.
But to achieve this we need a strong developmental state. Policies that rely solely on the private sector for implementation will not work, as they have largely failed to take advantage of current skills development programmes.
On youth unemployment Accord, we are calling for a high-level national conference, preferably before the end of June – youth month – drawing in youth organizations, labour and community structures, together with government.
Such a high level and representative national conference must ensure that all the resolutions taken in the 2010 and 2011 Jobs for Youth Conferences are implemented.
Another crucial campaign is to combat the scourge of corruption. The looting of public resources by a minority of people in both the public and private sectors is undermining the foundations of our constitutional democracy.
We welcome the excellent work being done by government departments, the Special Investigation Unit, the Public Protector, the Auditor-General and of course our own creation, Corruption Watch.
It is a campaign in which trade union members have already played a major role as whistle-blowers. All other members of the public need to be encouraged to follow suit.
This year COSATU is proud to join our ally, the African National Congress, in celebrating a hundred years of unbroken struggle. The ANC, together with COSATU and SACP, has led over the years many led countless struggles of the people of this country.
It has crushed apartheid, set up the government based on the will of the people, established democracy and a culture of human rights, and begun to deracialise the economy and society.
But we can never afford to let our pride in our past victories make us complacent about the present problems. All three alliance partners are facing huge challenges.
As our recent CEC said, unless COSATU leaders and its member adopt a new mindset, unless every cadre of the movement adopt a new mindset, our national democratic revolution is in danger of being derailed.
The 11th COSATU Congress must make a rigorous assessment, and look critically not just at government and our allies but at the trade union movement itself.
Are we doing everything possible to serve our members, protect their jobs and improve their working conditions and increasing their wages? Are we consistently campaigning for socialist policies which in the long-term are the only way to complete the struggle for total emancipation?
Unions are under constant attack by employers’ organisations and right-wing opposition parties, who will always hate and fear forces which threaten their wealth, power and privileges.
But workers always understand that attacks on the unions are attacks on themselves, and will never be intimidated into abandoning their only shield against even more brutal exploitation.
We are confident that NUMSA will continue to play an exemplary role in these struggles.
I wish you a very successful Congress.
Viva COSATU, ANC and SACP!
The workers united will never be defeated!
Down with capitalist barbarism and forward to a socialist future!
Numsa Press Release