Press statement released by nine plus unions on Court outcome

“Surgical Removal Produces Disabled Trade Union Movement” 
There is little doubt that the organised labour movement, and indeed the working class as a whole, is facing one of its most severe tests at this time. The paralysis which infected and which has effectively demobilised Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), and which lead to the formation of this group of Nine Plus Unions, has created a profound crisis for the working class and the poor.
On the one hand, despite the denialism associated with a ‘good story to tell’, we have witnessed an escalation of inequality, a continuing rise of unemployment, and a worsening of abject poverty.
On the other hand, we have a trade union federation, which despite the rhetoric, has proven itself to be incapable of providing leadership, hope or any semblance of an alternative to the crisis we face. Instead, we have a federation which is being led by those committed to ensuring that COSATU becomes little more than an appendage of the ruling party, under the restraining influence of the Alliance. This is the reality we face today. It is not one we are prepared to countenance any further.
Background to the Crisis of Leadership 
More than two years ago, the current leadership of Cosatu made it clear that their project was to ‘surgically remove’ those elements who were trying to implement Cosatu National Congress resolutions in favour of the working class.
Targeted first and foremost were Numsa, who had democratically embraced the Cosatu resolutions of the 12th Congress, and Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi, who was associated with the need to assert workers power to challenge the wayward neo-liberal drift of the Government, including the self-interested passivity of the Alliance, and the chronic unfolding of corruption throughout society. 
The regrettable judgement: 
It is shocking how the Judge in yesterday’s High Court hearing could dismiss urgency without considering the merits of our factual and legal arguments.
The inability of the Judge to grasp and understand the structure and dynamics of the trade union movement was a disappointment, and we cannot hide that fact.
The Cosatu Special National Congress 
The manipulation of the Cosatu Constitution by the current leadership, and its willingness to sacrifice 365,000 workers and cast them aside without even so much as a proper hearing in a Special National Congress underlines the extent it is prepared to go to outlaw and stifle dissent.
The Unions participating in this Press Conference, and who campaigned vigorously for a Special National Congress (SNC) acknowledge that the High Court ruling was a setback. The preconditions for a successful Special National Congress, of providing an opportunity to unite the Federation, of allowing NUMSA and Comrade Vavi to state their case, and to develop a coherent way forward based on Congress resolutions, have been denied.
In our reflections as unions, in our forthcoming CEC’s/NEC’s, we shall have to resolve on whether or not to commit to the Special National Congress as envisaged by the current leadership, which will now be nothing more than a rubber stamp maintaining the status quo.
The purpose for which the Special National Congress was called by the requisitioning unions has now been eroded by (1) Sdumo Dlamini’s public utterances that Numsa and Zwelinzima Vavi shall not form part of the Special National Congress and (2) the ruling by the South Gauteng High Court on 9 June 2015.
It is to be noted that this Special National Congress shall be presided over by one unelected and unconstitutionally appointed 2nd Deputy President. This is the rot that has set in.
We have now agreed to focus instead on the needs of the working class and the poor, and to direct our time and energies to that reality.
The Crisis in Our Country 
To deny that our country is in a crisis is verging on the criminal. Just a few examples underline this point. Unemployment stands at almost 30% across the board, and is at the dangerously high levels of 70% amongst our youth.  As we approach June 16th, it is shocking to think that hundreds of thousands of our young people who left education more than ten years ago have still to secure a fulltime decent job of work.
In many working class homes where there may be a breadwinner, the combination of a paltry pension, and a meagre wage packet are valiantly used against all the odds to support households of children and young adults, with no prospect of relief. Hundreds of thousands do not even share this experience.
South Africa, once the toast of the world for its profoundly peaceful democratic transition, is now incapable of feeding its own citizens.  In a recent Oxfam report, it was noted that a staggering 46% of the population is food insecure. That means once a month, they do not know if they will eat. 26% of the population experience hunger on a daily basis, that is 14 million people.  1.5 million children under the age of six, in our country of plenty, are permanently stunted by malnutrition. How can it be a good story to tell that 31.4% of all food produced in our country is wasted before it reaches the consumer, that 9 million tons of food is wasted every year.
In our country of plenty, 4.1 million people, mostly women and children, still depend on gathering wood and water and dung for their energy needs. Despite the endless bleating of the  ‘good news story’, 3.5 million households, amounting to 22.5%, are still without electricity, and those working class households that are supplied, can barely afford it. The distortions in our electricity supply regime, places the pricing burden on the poor, while manufacturing is subsidised in order to enhance and maintain profit margins.
The situation of those fortunate to be in work could not be more difficult. In one of the country’s leading retailers that employs 73,000 workers, only 35% are full time, and the rest are at the mercy of a super exploitative employer. The employer, Mr Christo Wiese, has amassed a fortune of R27.5 Billion and is the richest person in our country.
Workers themselves know from their own harsh experience that the employers are holding the whip hand. Dismissals, suspensions and management bullying are at an unprecedented level. Employers know that there is a reserve army of unemployed labour desperate for work, and that they will accept all manner of exploitative conditions in a bid to try and escape the cycle of poverty. Wage levels are so low in some sectors that whole sections of the working class are now classed as the working poor, and make up 54% of the population officially living in poverty.
The workplace has become a battleground, and exploitation is rife. Sadly, a preoccupation by those in the leadership of Cosatu and the Alliance in ensuring that radical elements within COSATU are ‘surgically removed’ has rendered millions of workers unrepresented, and at the mercy of the bosses.
South Africa does hold something of a dubious world record at this time, and that is to be the most unequal country in the world.  This is a shameful reality and yet our leaders seem to be oblivious of this sad fact, and laugh it off from the confines of Parliament as if it were a joke.
These facts and figures are not plucked out of the air, but come from respected research bodies, and even from Government sources.
They are included here to provide evidence of why a new approach, is required, and why the Nine Plus Unions will continue to campaign for a revitalised, militant, independent and democratic trade union movement, free of the class compromises that characterise Cosatu today. 
The Corruptive Slide Towards a Failed State 
We believe that our people, and especially workers, are sick and tired of hearing that life is getting better for all.  The appalling levels of poverty and insecurity are matched by the extravagant lifestyles of the ruling elite, and the devious means that are used to accumulate wealth.
The Nkandlagate debacle is but one example of how the looting of state resources is undertaken for private gain, and how Constitutional safeguards, at the very heart of what should be a democratic society, are being deliberately undermined and ridiculed in order to justify it. The report from the Police Minister would be nothing short of laughable if it was not so tragic.
The fact that within the ruling party and the alliance, not a single voice has been raised at the preposterous claims of fire pools and the rest, is indicative of the precarious level of oversight and accountability that exist today. It also illustrates the power of political and economic patronage.
It has been reliably estimated, using Government figures, that at least R15 billion is stolen from the treasury on a yearly basis in a myriad of corrupt practices. This is a staggering figure, but it will pale into insignificance if the moves towards a Russian/South African nuclear energy partnership materialise. Trillions of Rands are involved, and given the undermining of those institutions that are supposed to monitor and ensure fair play, it will make the Arms Deal look like a children’s party!
There is now barely a single public institution at National, Provincial or Municipal level that is not mired in a corruption scandal of some description. In a bitter twist, we now have a situation where ludicrous golden handshakes have become the norm for closing down lines of inquiry, and where for political expediency, millions of Rands of taxpayers money are used to buy off troublesome senior state employees in order to ensure that silence reigns. A silence that is golden indeed!
Back to Basics and Beyond 
Although disappointed at both the outcome of the High Court, and the cold determination to transform Cosatu into a passive lap dog at the service of an enriched elite, we are not demoralised, or downcast. Quite the reverse! In any gathering of workers at local level, thousands of decent, committed activists step forward and express their desire for fundamental change, both in terms of the trade union movement, and in broader society. The deeper one goes, the deeper the commitment to radical change can be found, and that has proven to us all to be immensely gratifying.
We were delighted that the NUM was able to democratically elect a new leadership that reflects some of these concerns, and that has embarked on the pathway to rebuilding trust and representation. We are ready and willing to engage with the new NUM leadership, and make common cause towards an inclusive and democratic trade union movement.
We have been delighted at the numbers and commitment of those on the ground in all Provinces and all unions who are fearlessly prepared to stand up and be counted, well beyond the membership of those unions represented here, to seize the moment, and work towards a new more vibrant chapter in trade union activity.
Thousands of dedicated activists are not prepared to remain silent, and passive, and in paralysis. For us this represents the hope of the working class and the poor.
Starting from this Press Conference, we are going to escalate our activity to unprecedented levels, with all of the human and material resources at our disposal. We intend to implement our agreed Programme of Action that is based on the needs of the working class and the poor, and which provides a clear alternative to the wasteful, timid appeasement that now dominates Cosatu.
We have today launched a programme of Provincial gatherings in every province and major town, that will bring together local worker leaders, community activists and all those prepared to work for a radical break with neo-liberalism and its painful and bankrupt trickle down effect.
Workers Assemblies will be called to mobilise against e-tolls, poverty and poverty pay, labour brokers, corruption, xenophobia and other forms of divisiveness and to tackle many of the issues we have outlined above.  Local action programmes will be implemented to mobilise from below, and to stop the drift towards the chaos inherent in a society dominated by a largely faceless and merciless ruling elite.
At a national level, measures are already underway to build coalitions with civil society to defend our democracy, and to ensure that the safeguards we have in our Constitution are protected and utilised to build accountability and to challenge the misuse of power. We have been tremendously heartened by the number of people who have expressed a willingness to work with us in this way.
The Only Way the Democratic Way 
Within the next few days, our collective Programme of Action will be subjected to scrutiny by all of the affiliates represented here, to ensure that it is sharpened still further to address the needs of our people. Urgent National Executive Committees will be called for this purpose, to make a thorough assessment of the balance of class forces, and what must be done to ensure that the working class is not side-lined or left on the margins, or simply used as election fodder once every four years.
NECs will robustly discuss and debate how best we can provide effective representation for workers both within and beyond our current memberships, and reach out to those 7 million workers who remain unorganised and largely super-exploited. We intend to secure fresh democratic mandates given the situation we now find ourselves in.
We intend to embrace the opportunities now open to us to provide leadership that is not class compromised, but which is based on empowering workers and poor communities, and to break the shackles of an increasingly discredited and unaccountable system based on patronage and authoritarianism.
Our program going forward: 
Within a few weeks, all of our NECs will gather together in one place and consolidate a way forward. We know that there will be many difficult decisions to be made about the future of the trade union movement and where we stand within it.
The previous decision of the Joint NEC’s of the nine (9), that a National Workers Summit be convened is now more relevant than ever before so that workers in this country are able to talk about;

  • The unity of workers in the face of continued job losses, casualization, etc.
  • Dealing with the fact that only 30% of the employed workers in the South African economy are unionised, meaning that 70 % are poorly paid, exposed and subjected to high levels of exploitation.

In conclusion: What we do know, as the NUM Congress indicated, is that we must ourselves be a model of the type of empowering democracy that we wish to see in broader society. We also know that the future does not lie in the hands of those who currently hold power, but amongst those who create the wealth of our society, and who sell their labour in order to survive. These are the people that matter, and who have the power to demand and build a South Africa we can be truly proud of.
It was a very young and idealistic Mao Zedong who left us two inspirational dictums. First that the Long March started with a first step forward, and secondly, that Every Obstacle is an Opportunity! We are hereby embracing the opportunities which have now opened up for us to move forward, and in so doing cast off the dead weight of paralysis and build working class power now!
Numsa National Spokesperson
Tel (dir): 011 689 1702
Twitter: @castrongobese
Mobile: 083 627 5197
Castro Ngobese
Issued by the National Office Bearers (NOBs’) of the Nine Plus Unions