Source: Congress of South African Trade Unions
Title: Cosatu: Vavi: Address to Fedusa Congress (06/11/2008)
Comrade President of FEDUSA, Mary Malete
General Secretary, Dennis George
Office bearers and delegates
Comrades and friends
Thank you very much for your kind invitation to speak to your congress. I bring to you greetings from the leadership and the two million members of COSATU and wish you a highly successful meeting.
You are gathering at a time of momentous developments in our world and our country. Yesterday saw the historic victory of Barrack Obama, an exceptional achievement for an African-American candidate, to be voted into the highest office in the land by an electorate dominated by the descendents of those whose forefathers enslaved and disenfranchised black Americans. This result is a huge step forward in the battle to defeat racism and discrimination in the US and around the world.
He faces immense problems however. The international financial meltdown threatens to plunge the world economy into a deep recession, which threatens million of jobs. And South Africa cannot be unaffected by this crisis. Already we can see the rand losing value against major currencies, mainly the dollar. At the time when we have moved from the position of being the net exporter of food to net importer of food, this will inevitably raise the prices of imports and exacerbate the crisis we are already facing with the rocketing prices of food, electricity and many other essential items of the family budget.
As if all these increases in the cost of living were not enough we have seen the relentless increases in interest rates as a result of a misguided monetary policy of rigid inflation targeting. Not only has this added to the misery of thousands of families, but has raised the cost of starting or expanding businesses, and therefore slowed down new job creation and jeopardised existing jobs.
As a result, jobs are now seriously threatened and we see already that the official unemployment rate has started to creep upwards again, even before the impact of the global crisis has been fully felt. We know too that this figure, which excludes those deemed to have given up looking for work, seriously underestimates the real levels of joblessness and poverty.
It also obscures the huge problem of the rapid decline in the quality of work, as more and more permanent jobs are casualised or outsourced to labour brokers, so that more workers fall into low-paid, insecure and temporary forms of employment.
These are just the most important issues on which COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU are in total agreement. So why then can we not achieve the historic goal, that I am sure we all share, of one united trade union federation? Unity and members are the only real weapon we have at the time globalisation has increased the power of capital over the states and citizens of the world. Only capital celebrates the existence of so many federations in our country and the general proliferation of trade unions. Employers and unscrupulous states always play workers against one another - playing a divide and rule game.
Part of the difficulty is different traditions of style, including COSATU's strategy of mass mobilisation informed by our slogan that what you have not won in the streets you will never win in the bargaining chamber.
We are certainly not opposed to negotiation and indeed spend many hours in bargaining chambers, Nedlac and elsewhere. But the rich and powerful employers we are up against will not concede any more than they have to, and there are times when we have to show them that we are serious by mobilising our members in strike action and demonstrations. Given most of FEDUSA members are not coming from that tradition but that cant be a reason to keep workers apart.
The other stumbling block has been COSATU's alliance with the ANC and SACP. We must continue to debate this including looking at objective facts as to whether South African workers would have achieved what they have achieved since the dawn of democracy if they have decided not to engage with political issues. On our part we do believe that the many advances we made has been as a result of the combination of use of mass militant struggles and existence of an alliance. COSATU believes that recent positive developments within the ANC, at its Polokwane Conference and since, have vindicated our alliance strategy, as the ANC has adopted policies much closer to COSATU's, and moved away from some of the government's previous policies which we jointly opposed. American workers did not play neutral in the recent elections. They know exactly what they have to go through under Bush's economic policies that advantages employers at the expense of workers and ordinary people. British workers and workers anywhere in Europe know that retreating to the workplace barracks in the name of independence does not help defend their gains worse of all to advance them.
I must however categorically reassure you that being in an alliance does not mean surrendering your independence. COSATU has proved time and time again that it is independent. Our defiant stances on GEAR, privatisation, HIV/Aids and Zimbabwe to name are just a few areas where we have proved our independence and demonstrated that nobody but our own membership will ever dictate to us.
Meanwhile, whatever our differences on tactics we are confident that your congress will reaffirm the view that the principle of workers' unity is sacrosanct, bigger than any logos or names.
There are events coming up in which we can surely work together. Later this month (25th November) we shall have the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women and Children. COSATU call on this congress to endorse the call to celebrate the 1 December - the World Aids Day more decisively than we have done before. We are making a call to workers to stop work and observe 30 minutes of silence. During this 30 minutes we are calling on workers and the employers to remember workers and their families who have perished, discuss the HIV and AIDS workplace policies, discuss prevention message, etc.
Further we care calling on FEDUSA congress to endorse the call we are making to declare the coming festive season and Christmas as a black Christmas. Millions of poor South African families will not be able to enjoy festive season for the reasons I have already spoken about. On the 6-7 December we shall be at the shopping malls in support of the Proudly South African campaign, calling on everyone to Buy South African goods whilst at the same time continuing to highlight the crises of high food and electricity prices.
If we can stand together on these vital issues, and there are doubtless many others, while continuing to talk about areas of disagreement, then we can surely move closer to the day when we can create a truly united workers' movement, which will become the most powerful force in South Africa.
Workers of South Africa unite! Workers of the world unite!