Source: The Congress of South African Trade Unions
Title: Cosatu: Vavi: Address by the general secretary, to the Numsa National Bargaining Council, Johannesburg
It is always a pleasure to address gatherings of workers in the metal sector (insimbi ayigobi), one of COSATU’s most radical affiliates.
Indeed the union continues to mount important struggles in your respective sectors on behalf of the working class as a whole. We are proud that NUMSA remains grounded in the class struggle, with high levels of working class consciousness as opposed to narrow trade union consciousness. Thank you for ignoring the advice of some which urges workers to go back to their barracks and focus only on bread and butter issues. You continue to advance the message that workers are members of their communities before they become workers and therefore have to be concerned about all issues affecting their communities.
NUMSA has also made us particularly proud for championing all the 10th COSATU Congress resolutions including the demand for the nationalisation of the strategic sectors of the economy in line with the Freedom Charter demand. In doing this, NUMSA continues to conscientise the working class of this country that wealth that is accumulated in the hands of a few private individuals will make no dent on income inequality, unemployment and poverty. NUMSA has proven itself incapable of betraying the Marxist dictum that the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.
As a union, you made important strides in the previous bargaining seasons. You have grown in size and in influence to the point that you are the only voice of the metal workers precisely because every metal worker knows that without NUMSA they would have been trapped squalor. Through this union, we continue to learn that the class struggle cannot be separated into different boxes and compartments. NUMSA has taught us that the struggle against labour brokers must be fought on the streets as much as it is fought through structures of dialogue such as Nedlac and legislative bodies like our parliament. The victories scored by workers in the sectors that you mobilise and the agreements struck against the use of labour brokers are a sheer example that struggle is a guarantor of victory, all the time! You have taught us that power concedes nothing without struggle and that nothing will be won in the negotiations tables but in the streets.
This conference is meeting at a critical for the working class in this country and globally. We are just starting to emerge from a devastating job-loss bloodbath in the wake of the worldwide recession. From the beginning of 2009 to the end of 2010 we lost 1.17 million jobs, plunging 5.85 million more family members of those jobless workers into the ranks of the poor.
And your workers have been amongst the hardest hit during this time. Because of globalisation, the crisis that hit the world’s largest economies has had a ripple effect on the workers that you organise. The integration of the motor industry into the global economy and the declining buying power in the advanced capitalist countries as caused by the global capitalist crisis has had a devastating impact on workers. Companies are looking for new ways to restore profits, and as always, workers and society are the ones expected to make sacrifices for a crisis they did not cause. Part of what this conference needs to do is to declare that workers have compromised too much and there is simply nothing more to contribute. We are not willing to be kept in a pig and chicken partnership forever. As I have pointed out in the past, in this partnership, the chicken asks the pig to make a sacrifice by donating bacon which means it must donate with its life whilst the chicken offers to lay eggs which come after a very enjoyable activity.
We are faced with an ever-escalating crisis of unemployment in this country. As a result, millions of South Africans still live in poverty, squalor and disease. 1.875 million families still live in shacks. The majority of people are denied quality education for their children in our public schools, or decent healthcare in our public hospitals, while a small, mainly while elite can pay for world-class educational and healthcare services.
Inequality has worsened to the point where it is now the widest in the world. The workers’ share of national income was 56% in 1995 but by 2009 had declined to 51%. There is no official poverty line for South Africa, yet the Minister of Finance has acknowledged that 50% of the population lives on 8% of national income.
Meanwhile the number of South African billionaires has nearly doubled, from 16 in 2009 to 31 in 2010, when the country’s 20 richest men enjoyed a 45% increase in wealth. Pine Pienaar, CEO of Mvelaphanda Resources, made R63 million in 2009, which means he earns 1875 times as much as the average worker.
On average the poorest 10% of earners get R1275 a month, which is 0.57% of total earnings, while the top 10% get R111 733, which is 49.2% of the total!
These are the statistics that we must keep in mind in this Bargaining Conference. We must reject the notion that workers must be modest in their demands, tighten their belts and concede to ideas such as wage pacts, wage freezes and the youth wage subsidy. We must say to neoliberal think tanks and research institutes that to argue that workers must tighten their belts whilst a minority of people who do not even lift a finger to produce anything but know how to squander profits is criminal. Calling for wage freezes in the context of rising unemployment (which means greater responsibility is shifted to the shoulders of those who have jobs); rising transport and fuel costs; rising food and electricity prices – is tantamount to calling for a reduction of workers’ wages.
Comrades and friends,
Our struggles as workers in all different sectors cannot be separated from the struggles we must wage against the capitalist system.
Part of our checklist in this conference should include questions about how life outside the factories affects the worker and how this continuously makes the cost of living simply unaffordable. We are glad that NUMSA has begun to show some of the ways in which an untransformed local government system still enriches a few and impoverishes the majority of our people.
Our analysis of local government is even more important in this conference. The slow transformation of the apartheid spatial environment continues to lead to the construction of working class low-income houses on the periphery of our cities and far away from production.
Our public transport system is still inefficient and unsafe. Workers in this country do not have such a luxury called “free time” or leisure time. Whilst the rich in this country have all the time to play golf and cut deals; the workers are confined to the factories and toiling the earth with virtually no time to read and build one’s consciousness.
The former Bantustans are like concentration camps where working class poverty and misery is located.
Just like in the old apartheid days, workers still travel long hours to work, this simply because municipalities opt for selling land nearest to places of production to the highest bidder. The banks and the private housing industry have made a fortune out of working class suffering.
Everywhere we are confronted by the propping up of lavish town houses, on land that should be used for housing for the poor. Everywhere, the banks continue to evict people from their homes. Many of these people are our members.
We must note and congratulate the strides that the African National Congress, our dearest ally, has made in the transformation of the lives of many South Africans.
Successive ANC governments have raised the number of households with access to piped water to 89%, to electricity and lighting to 80% and to sanitation to 68%. We have built 1.6 million subsidised houses and provided 1.9 million housing subsidies.
Today we can proudly say that across all spheres of government, we have a government of the people, elected by the people. Unlike in the past, today, citizens of this country can participate in matters that affect them. Through a variety of vehicles such as Ward Committees, the ANC has made sure that we indeed have a democratic and developmental local government system that we called for in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Despite this, we still face major challenges. The continued commodification of basic services means that the poor citizens can hardly reap the fruits of this freedom because they are treated as consumers and clients of the neoliberal state.
Comrades, NUMSA must be steadfast in asserting that this misery is a result of neoliberal policies and that as workers we have a responsibility to arm our revolutionary national liberation movement with enough consciousness and struggle against those that seek to make the ANC detour from the National Democratic Revolution.
We must be ruthless in our rejection of DA policies, which aim to reduce the cost of doing business for capitalists whilst further impoverishing the working class and further dividing us.
This conference must also make a connection between a worker’s wage and the social wage. The struggle for improved housing, cheaper and more efficient services as well as a better public transport, education and health system should all form part of the same equation.
We have noted the disappointing developments around local government elections lists. We must be unequivocal in our condemnation of those who cannot accept the outcomes of democratic processes of the ANC and the Alliance and opt to deviate from the central tenets of our revolution by standing as independent candidates in these elections. This is opportunism of the highest order that seeks to divide the loyalties of our people. The capitalist culture of individualism has crept in our movement and people are unwilling to accept any outcome that does not favour them.
As the same time comrades, we must acknowledge that some comrades have a reason to be aggrieved. It is true that in some cases, popular candidates of the people have fallen victim to the powerful cliques who have appointed themselves gatekeepers. It is true that in some cases guidelines have been side stepped and frustrated.
In some cases political space is monopolised by those who have money. There are those who capitalise on the structural barriers that prevent many of our members from fully participating in ANC branches. There are many who still use money and networks as a stepladder to holding political office. In the context of rising poverty and desperation, many of those who are interested in nothing but upward class mobility use this as away to buy votes and community members and therefore buy their way to political office. Our movement must be open about these things. It is only under open debate that we can start to reverse this culture.
As we approach the local government elections, the task ask of every NUMSA organiser, every shopsteward is to mobilise all workers to vote for the ANC. As you say we do this for Mbuyiselo Ngwenda, Jabulile Ndlovu, Sam Ntuli, Phineous Sibiya and other countless martyrs of the working class. We are doing this for our own interests. We say this because we firmly believe that it is only under the ANC that we can fight and be victorious over market fundamentalism, class exploitation as well as national and gender oppression.
We must continue to fight for the realisation of all our demands contained in our Growth Path towards Full Employment. Indeed we could have inflicted a massive dent on poverty and greatly improved the lives of the working class if the state was a driver of development. Municipal Protests against poor services, poor quality housing, lack of sanitation and roads can be significantly reduced if our government can develop its own internal capacity to deliver services as opposed to placing everything up for tendering.
Today the conditions for us to realise our goals and aspirations are better than they were a few years ago. Neoliberalism as an ideology has suffered major setbacks yet despite this, neoliberalism is on the rise again. In Europe left parties have been wiped out, precisely because they have lost touch with the needs of ordinary people. We are seeing a rise in rightwing ideas and in some countries there is a rise of fascism. Left wing governments in Latin America continue to be under pressure as a result of their proximity to the country that has appointed itself the police and champion of the neoliberal matra – the USA.
We shall talk about this in more detail in the 5th Central Committee. One of the major campaigns workers must support is to hold the multinational corporations to account. We must oppose multinationals that seek to erode our gains as workers and those that seek to further de-industrialise our economy. The campaign against Walmart, which has no regard for local procurement and workers’ rights, must be heightened. We will need to hear all your voices as we say that we will not accept a race to the bottom in terms of worker’s wages, employment conditions and that we will not accept further deindustrialisation and job losses that will come with the entry of Walmart into our economy. To everyone who cares to listen we say, yes we want foreign investments and we know the connection between this and our ability to create jobs and liberate ourselves from poverty, but we also know that a good investment must really gives us a potential to create jobs and crush poverty. Our call to the Competition Tribunal is clear, don’t approve the Walmart takeover of Massmart without conditions. The conditions must include protection of workers’ rights and local procurement. The demand that all retailers should procure 75% of their goods from South Africa also applies to all other retailers including Pick n Pay, Shoprite Checkers and Spar. We are submitting these demands to Nedlac and if they are not realised, we shall back them with a strike action.
In conclusion comrades, we urge all our affiliates to participate in the efforts to make climate change a trade union concern. NUMSA is particularly important in this, as it is mostly multinational companies operating in your sectors that pollute our environment in their quest for profits. Companies such as Shell, BP and Engen are notorious for polluting our rivers and oceans through oil spills. They are notorious for threatening life under water, food security and the health of many people. We cannot afford to fold our arms as more and more workers die as a result of radioactive poisoning from mine dumps and as food security in many of our rural areas becomes increasingly threatened by drought and flooding. As the world’s nations converge in December for the COP17 climate change Conference, our task is to mobilise all workers and civil society for a new climate regime.
We wish you success as you confront these challenges in this Bargaining Conference