COSATU President Zingiswa Losi – Opening Address
COSATU 14th National Conference
26 September 2022
Programme Director, 1st Deputy President of COSATU, cde. Mike Shingange,
NOBs of COSATU,
Members of the Central Executive Committee,
President Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa and founding General Secretary of NUM,
Leadership of the ANC and SACP,
Leadership of our sister Federations,
Guests, from across South Africa and the world,
Delegates from Affiliates,
And most importantly the membership of our unions and workers across South Africa,
All protocols observed,
Comrades, good morning,
It is a privilege to address you today. It has been an honour to serve as the President of your Federation for the past 4 years.
It has been a long journey. Vladimir Lenin once said, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”
And then there are the past four years where we battled a global pandemic, an economic recession, frequent loadshedding, the July 2021 violence, staggering unemployment, struggling State Owned Enterprises and municipalities, rampant corruption, a painful local election, the 2022 floods and the year is not over.
As we reflect over these tumultuous 4 years, let us remember our many fallen comrades, friends and family. We cannot forget the General Secretaries of NUM and SAMWU, David Siphunzi and Koena Ramatlou, Minister Jackson Mthembu, Isithwalandwe Seaparankoe Dennis Goldberg, the founding father of Zambia, President Kenneth Kaunda and many others.
We owe it to their sacrifices and dreams, to pick up their spear, to continue to fight and persevere to defend the rights, improve the lives of and give hope to the working class.
We are gathered here at this 14th Congress, not as a matter of ritual or constitutional formality. We are here to reflect on the battles we have waged on behalf of workers collectively over the past 4 years, to celebrate our victories, to learn from our defeats, to rejuvenate our Federation and to strategize for the struggles ahead.
I am confident that as we engage, critique and debate over these 4 days, that we will do so in a manner that will make our members proud, that will give hope to workers and that will set an example for all to follow.
We must always cherish our comradeship and unity. Unity is hard work and if we are not careful it can be lost in a single moment of insanity. It must be nourished every day by all of us. We only need to look at the fate of countless trade unions and liberation movements to see what happens to those who treat unity as a slogan.
Workers have faced countless socio-economic crises since COSATU’s 13th National Conference in 2018.
Yet we have survived. We have the scars and wounds. We have lost painful battles and we have won historic victories. We have learned from our mistakes and are wiser for it.
Since our last congress, unemployment reached an all-time high of 46%. Some of these lost jobs have begun to be recovered including 638 000 during 2022 with unemployment decreasing by 2% over the past 2 quarters.
This is our number one crisis. No society can be sustained with 1 out 2 people unemployed, with 70% youth unemployment. We are in danger of creating a permanent class of unemployed.
28 years into democracy, despite all the efforts of government, we remain the world's most unequal society with rising levels of poverty and indebtedness.
In December 2019, few had heard of Covid-19. Yet within weeks, it had consumed the world.
We lost more than 100 000 South Africans to it. We were compelled to shut down the economy and institute a state of disaster as we sought to contain and overcome it.
Against all odds, we did well. Workers and society responded to the call by the President for us to work as one to defeat this pandemic.
We are proud of the role Affiliates and the Federation played during this moment of crisis. We must never forget the sacrifices of our nurses, doctors and paramedics who worked tirelessly to save millions of lives. The losses of hundreds of health workers are a loss not only to DENOSA, NEHAWU, SAMATU and SAEPU, but for all of us.
We must not forget the many workers across the nation who fell to the pandemic, including SAPS members, municipal cleaners and retail workers.
We are proud of how our Affiliates responded to Covid-19. SACTWU worked factory by factory to ensure that clothing and textile workers not only received their UIF Covid-19 TERS but also to engage and encourage workers to vaccinate.
We remember the daily videos prepared by SADTU to persuade teachers on why it is critical for all of us to vaccinate, to save lives and livelihoods. We applauded the leadership of POPCRU when they led from the front and were among the first to vaccinate to show workers that it was safe and the right thing to do.
We applauded the efforts by SASBO to persuade banking workers to vaccinate, to defend those who were dismissed for not vaccinating and ensure those workers are reinstated.
Yes, we have turned the corner on the pandemic, but we need to remain vigilant, to receive our booster shots and maintain healthy lifestyles. We owe it to our families and our health workers.
We applaud the work done by COSATU at Nedlac, working daily with government, our sister federations and business to manage the pandemic, stabilize the economy and provide economic and social relief.
These were uncharted waters. The UIF was never built for the shutdown of the entire economy. Despite the many challenges, we managed to ensure that over R64 billion was released credit free from the UIF to help more than 5.5 million workers take care of their families.
We worked to ensure the banks gave 3 months loan relief to consumers and that government provided relief to fragile economic sectors.
Working with government we managed to ensure the roll out of the SRD Grant to more than 10 million unemployed persons. With all its challenges, it is the foundation for the Basic Income Grant that we have long championed. We need to retain and expand it, fix its weaknesses, increase it to the food poverty line and link its recipients to skills training and employment programmes.
With all of our frustrations with government, we must not forget how we have worked tirelessly with it to roll out the largest relief measures since 1994.
The Presidential Employment Stimulus has provided work opportunities, skills and a minimum wage for over 800 000 young people. We need to increase this to 2 million people in the 2023 budget.
We must engage government on the various employment programmes, to address the issues we are not happy with, to improve on those that work. We need to ensure that no person is denied the right to work, to develop skills and acquire experience.
This must include improving the role that the SETAs must play.
We must be alarmed by the state of governance.
The reports by the Auditor-General on the state of municipalities is a horror story. A decade ago, 10% of our municipalities were in financial distress. Today it is 90%. 43 have collapsed. 151 are on the brink of collapse. Many municipal workers are sent home without being paid, from Renosterberg to Amahlathi.
SA Express and Mango collapsed leaving 1500 and 800 without jobs and the monies owed to them. The RAF has issued retrenchment letters to 400 workers. SAA shed more than 8000 of its jobs. The Post Office is planning to retrench 6 000 workers.
Whilst we must continue to fight to save their jobs and wages of workers at our SOEs, we must come with concrete solutions that will ensure these SOEs are saved.
If we don’t, then we must not be surprised when they collapse, and our members lose their jobs.
We must do the same with local government. It is clear we cannot sustain 259 municipalities. Many of them lack a rates base. What is our alternative? Can we develop a coherent road map to move towards the District Development Model?
If we don’t, then we must expect to see a repeat of what happened in Frankfort and Lichtenburg, where Clover closed their dairies because the municipalities no longer provided essential services. We cannot afford to see rural communities plunged into absolute despair.
We should not think that this cannot happen at national and provincial departments. The signs are there.
The frequent loadshedding and deteriorating generation capacity at Eskom, the failure by SITA to provide reliable internet services to government, the numbers of vacancies at Home Affairs, the declining head count at SAPS, the never-ending infrastructure backlog in our schools, the chaos at NSFAS, the failure to hold people accountable for corruption at the State Security Agency and the list goes on.
We correctly condemn the reckless austerity budget cuts to key frontline service departments. And then what? What are we doing to expose corruption? When some of our own members are implicated, do we keep quiet?
These are the hard issues we must grapple with. We must honour the sacrifices of our SAMWU shop stewards who blew the whistle against corruption at VBS and were then assassinated.
If we are to honour their sacrifices, then we must support the call by POPCRU to reverse the neo-liberal budget cuts to the SAPS. We cannot accept that we have moved from 208 000 members of SAPS in the early 2000s to 172 000 today.
We must support NEHAWU, DENOSA, SAEPU and SAMATU in their call for the filling of health vacancies. We must support the call by SADTU to ensure all schools are well resourced to enable them to be places of learning and growth.
We applaud the excellent work done by the staff of SARS to rid it of state capture and corruption. This year alone, the hard work of employees at SARS, brought in an additional R60 billion in tax collection, enabling government to continue paying the SRD Grant and retain the Presidential Employment Stimulus.
We have been engaging with government and business on the President’s call for a social compact. Whilst we support the call for a social compact, we have made it clear to government that we will not sacrifice workers’ hard-won rights.
We will not allow our progressive labour laws to be weakened. We will not allow workers to be thrown under the bus for the failures of government to govern or business to grow the economy.
The social compact must be based upon progressive principles, it must defend the rights of workers, provide relief for the unemployed, rebuild the developmental state, reduce poverty and inequality, and address the fundamental obstacles to growing the economy and creating decent work.
The foundation for the social compact must be the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan which speaks to stabilizing and growing the economy. It calls for securing and rebuilding Transnet and Metro Rail so they can provide reliable transport for workers and our products.
It includes the Eskom Social Compact providing clear interventions for stabilizing and investing in Eskom so it can provide reliable and affordable energy without which the economy cannot grow. This includes slashing Eskom’s debt and tackling corruption at it. It requires Eskom to be supported to invest in and own its own renewable energy generation capacity.
It must include the need for the industrialised world to finance a just energy transition that leaves no worker or community behind.
The ERRP calls for all of us to support locally produced goods. We have long championed this call. SACTWU has been a pioneer in the localization campaign. Yet often our actions do not match our words.
The clothes we wear, the food we buy, the cars we drive, the furniture we use; do we check if they are locally made?
Our pension funds are the foundation for the economy. The PIC is the largest investment fund in Africa. Do we challenge our pension and investment funds to invest more in local jobs?
Do we ensure that all of the t-shirts we produce for our conferences are Proudly South African? How will this economy grow and create jobs, if we do not support it?
Whilst some unions are active in the industrial master plans, many are not. This must be corrected. These master plans are key to growing the economy and creating jobs.
We have scored many victories at Nedlac and Parliament. The challenge is to ensure they are implemented.
Amilcar Cabral wisely said “Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.”
COSATU and its Affiliates has won many progressive victories at Nedlac and Parliament that are now the laws of the Republic.
Some of these key victories include:
The National Minimum Wage raising the wages of 6 million workers, especially the 800 000 farm workers and 900 000 domestic workers, who received a 17% increase in 2022.
The Unemployment Insurance Amendment Act expanding maternity leave payments and including still born births and 3rd trimester miscarriages. UIF payments were increased and extended from 8 to 12 months.
The Parental Laws Amendment Act providing 10 days paid parental leave and 10 weeks paid adoption leave.
The Compensation for Occupational Injury and Diseases Amendment Bill that will now include domestic workers and extend cover for workers exposed to violence, PTSD and occupational illnesses many years after exposure at work.
The Employment Equity Amendment Bill strengthening our employment equity law and requiring companies doing business with the state to be in compliance with our labour laws.
The National Credit Amendment Act protecting indebted workers from losing their essential possessions in the event of defaulting on their debts.
The Competition Amendment Act empowering the state to tackle monopolies and to take into account the impact on workers when approving mergers.
The Companies Amendment Bill requiring companies to provide their financial reports to unions and to disclose their wage gaps in their annual reports.
The Copyright Amendment Bill allowing for affordable access to educational materials.
The Performers Protection Amendment Bill recognizing the rights of actors, musicians and other performers.
The National Health Insurance Bill will lay the foundation for the long championed NHI.
The PIC Amendment Act providing for worker representation on the PIC Board, transparency and accountability, and a pro-worker investment mandate.
The Expropriation Bill will empower government to expropriate land, including without compensation where needed, to accelerate land reform.
The Upgrading of Land Tenure Rights Amendment Act recognizing title rights of millions of township and rural residents.
Allow me to make a special mention of the Revenue Laws Amendment Bill that is now before Parliament. It is in response to COSATU’s call for financially distressed workers to be allowed limited access to their pension funds. It includes public and private sector workers.
Treasury has agreed to the COSATU’s proposals to ensure that it addresses the needs of workers. The final drafting is being worked on.
Parliament will pass it in 2023. We are pushing for it to come into effect by October 2023. This will provide badly needed relief for millions of workers and avoid the need for members to resign and cash out their entire pension funds when they are struggling.
Parliament passed the Municipal Structures Amendment Act which prohibits all municipal workers from holding office in a political party. The DPSA has now tabled a similar Bill at Nedlac. We have rejected these provisions as an unconstitutional infringement upon the rights of workers to express their right of political association.
We are engaging government and the ANC to scrap these provisions. We will not accept any attacks on the constitutional rights of workers.
If we are to advance working-class struggles, then we must defend our movement.
It is not by accident that COSATU and its predecessor SACTU, have been part of the Alliance. Workers deliberated on joining the Alliance at length. The Alliance, like any marriage, has its ups and downs. However, with all its challenges, it remains the best vehicle to advance the struggles of workers.
The ANC and the SACP, with all of their challenges, their strengths and weaknesses, remain the most progressive and relevant political formations to drive the demands of the working class.
Let us not be fooled by the peace time slogans of the opposition parties. They were nowhere to be seen when workers had to go on strike in Durban in 1973 or when COSATU House was bombed in 1987 nor were they to be seen the UDF was banned.
These very same opposition parties have consistently voted against our progressive labour laws in Parliament. They have promised to repeal them if they are elected to government. They have stated unambiguously that they will scrap the minimum wage, end collective bargaining, remove protections from unfair dismissals, slash the salaries of and retrench public servants, and sell all our SOEs.
The ANC is not perfect. It has made serious mistakes. It is battling to cleanse itself of the demons of corruption and factionalism. It is contested by various class forces. Yet it has stood with COSATU when we demanded the constitutional enshrinement of workers’ rights, the passing of our labour laws and our many other progressive laws.
Our task is to defend workers’ hard-won victories. We must contest the ANC and the Alliance to ensure that the voice of workers is heard and not sidelined. We must help to rid the ANC of criminal elements if it is to be saved.
We must continue to support the SACP. Its voice is critical now more than ever. The Left Axis of the Alliance must be strengthened.
Workers sent a clear message to the ANC in the local elections. If the ANC does not get its act together, deliver quality public services, tackle corruption, fix Eskom, save Metro Rail and Transnet, grow the economy, create jobs and provide relief for the unemployed; then we will face a repeat of the disastrous 2021 election results in 2024.
This is something that workers cannot afford. Winning the 2024 elections is not about ensuring jobs for comrades in Parliament. It is about defending the hard-won victories and rights of workers. We cannot afford to fail.
A government led by the opposition parties will spell the end of the many victories workers have achieved. A coalition led by the ANC will struggle to deliver the demands of workers. We cannot afford to gamble upon the rights of workers.
Workers are not only under siege at home, but also across the world.
Workers in Cuba continue to suffer under the US blockade, workers in Venezuela are reeling from an economy on its knees, Palestinians remain under occupation, the Sahrawi continue to be denied the right to self-determination, Zimbabweans are forced to flee an economy that cannot provide jobs, Swati workers’ rights are routinely violated, and workers in Ukraine and Russia face a devastating war among brothers.
We applaud the solidarity campaigns with workers across the world by our Affiliates and our Provinces. Let us engage on how these efforts can be expanded.
We congratulate the efforts played by Affiliates and COSATU to provide leadership in SATUCC, ITUC, WFTU, the ILO and the BRICS.
It is critical that we increase our participation in engagements on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement as well as AGOA. These will be key to local jobs.
If we are to be victorious in the battles we wage for workers, then we need a strong and vibrant Federation.
COSATU can only be as strong as our Affiliates. We remain concerned about the challenges some experience. The CEC has been actively assisting such Affiliates.
We have seen a positive turn around in SAMWU and a steady increase in its membership. SAMATU has successfully held provincial congresses.
We must continue working with Affiliates that continue to experience challenges, including CEPPWAWU, CWU and AFADWU.
It is critical for us to engage frankly on what needs to be done to assist struggling Affiliates. At times these are leadership challenges. In others it is the nature of the sector. What is needed is to honestly diagnose the challenges, to develop a realistic programme to resolve them and to work together to implement them.
What we cannot afford to do is to divide workers, to fight over positions or to destroy unions. To do so is a failure of leadership, it is a betrayal of workers.
We have made progress in admitting AFADWU. We need to engage more on how to bring other unions into COSATU if we are serious about achieving our goal of one union, one industry, one federation, one country.
We need to reflect on why only 27% of workers are unionized? What are our programmes to organise the unorganized? What creative strategies are needed to increase our membership to 2 million by the next congress? To attract young workers?
We are pleased that we recently held the COSATU Young Workers’ Summit. We need to work to ensure each Affiliate launches its young workers’ structures.
We applaud the successful launch of the COSATU National Gender Committee.
How can we adopt recruitment strategies to organise Uber drivers, workers who work from home and other e-platform workers?
How can we help TUMSA organise musicians and SATDWU organise taxi drivers? How can we assist SADSAWU to recruit domestic workers? And SACTWU, SACCAWU and AFADWU to organise farm workers?
The best way to recruit workers is for us to service members. What mechanisms are we putting in place in to ensure this happens, and that grievances are dealt with?
We have won victories at Parliament. Are we training our shop stewards and members to understand these new laws, so they are empowered to ensure their implementation on the ground?
COSATU ensured South Africa ratified the ILO Convention 190 on Combatting Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Workplace. Can we organise campaigns to popularize this call? Can we work with POPCRU to ensure that domestic workers are protected from sexual harassment and violence?
The 3 Gender Based Violence Acts have come into effect. Let us work with SADTU to ensure all learners and parents are aware of their progressive provisions. Let us work with POPCRU to ensure that the sexual offenders’ register is operational.
Can we pay special attention to the needs of LGBQTI Plus workers and their struggles with victimization?
We have seen during Covid-19 the critical role that the UIF plays, yet 4 million workers are not registered with it. Can Affiliates develop programmes to ensure every worker is registered with the UIF?
Employers, in the public and private sectors unashamedly undermine collective bargaining over the past few years. Our own comrades in government unilaterally abandoned a signed wage agreement with public servants in 2020.
Treasury attempted to replicate this in local government and Eskom. Employers in the private sector have followed suit. In the Post Office, they don’t even bother to pay workers’ benefits. We have witnessed our own ally; the ANC fail to pay its staff.
Collective bargaining is under siege. The only way to defend collective bargaining, is to recruit, to organise, to conscientize, to educate and train, to service, to unite. If we neglect our unions, ignore members’ needs, focus on internal squabbles, foster divisions then we must expect employers to sense weakness and undermine and collapse collective bargaining.
A well organised and a united union cannot be defeated.
We applaud the efforts of SACTWU to ensure workers in the clothing and textile sectors receive above inflation increases. We commend the victorious battles led by NUM to ensure workers at Sibanye are united and received what they are due. We salute the efforts of NUM and SATAWU to work with NUMSA, Solidarity, AMCU and UASA and other unions to defend the rights of workers and win their demands.
If we are to defend the rights of public servants, then we must be united as NEHAWU, SADTU, POPCRU, DENOSA, PAWUSA, SAMATU and SAEPU in the PSCBC. If we are divided, then how will we be victorious?
Unity requires compromises, not dictates. It requires humility, not triumphalism. It requires sobriety, not slogans.
That is what Karl Marx called for when he said, “Workers of the World, Unite”!
Our sister Federations are with us today. We are pleased that they could honour us with their presence. We have worked hard at Nedlac to achieve that unity in action. We must continue to deepen these bonds.
Comrades allow me to conclude, we have a long week ahead of us.
I would like to thank the leadership of the CEC for the support they have given the Federation, its NOBs and myself. None of our victories would have been possible if it were not for the support we received from the CEC and our Affiliates.
The honest and robust engagements we experience in the CEC give me hope for workers.
It has been a privilege to work with the collective of the NOBs of COSATU. They have helped stabilize, rebuild and take COSATU to new heights when many armchair critics had written the Federation off.
The NOBs worked tirelessly not only for the past 4 years, but in fact their entire adult lives in service of the working class. The General Secretary, cde. Bheki Ntshalintshali, has risen from being a taxi driver and a worker at SASOL to a living encyclopedia of the history of COSATU.
Cde. Deputy General Secretary Solly Phetoe is at his happiest when organizing farm and mine workers. When we worried about his recovery from his car accident in 2019, he was asking for reports on COSATU’s campaigns from his hospital bed.
Cde. 1st Deputy President Mike Shingange is indeed a fighting fit shop steward, never afraid to raise the voice of workers.
Cde. 2nd Deputy President Louise Thipe, one of the few women who have risen to become President of an Affiliate, has been a fearless role model for all women.
Cde. Treasurer, Freda Oosthuizen, has juggled the challenges of keeping COSATU afloat during difficult times. And she takes no prisoners!
I would like to thank the staff of the Federation. You have led the charge in organizing workers, waging campaigns, raising the voice of workers in every media platform 24/7, in training shop stewards, in addressing workers’ grievances, in waging battles at Nedlac and Parliament and the Alliance, in keeping the machinery of COSATU well-oiled and running at all times.
I would like to thank all of you from the NOBs to the CEC, Affiliates and staff for the support you have given me as the President of this mighty Federation of Elijah Barayi and Ray Alexander. I hope I have done justice to the support and trust you have placed in me. I will be forever grateful and humbled.
Enkosi. Siyabulela. Baie dankie. Thank you. Matla!