National, Provincial and Local Leadership of our dedicated Affiliate, SACTWU,
Leadership of the Federation and our allies, the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party,
Thank you for inviting your Federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions to join you for this important congress. Please accept the revolutionary support of COSATU as you deliberate over the next four days.
Your Federation of Violet Seboni is proud of how you have built the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union into the formidable union that it is today.
SACTWU has wisely chosen to hold this historic congress under the theme of “Unity, jobs, growth and service to members. Advance the working classing struggle.”
SACTWU has proven itself to be a reliable vehicle that defends the interests of its members and champions working class struggles in its 34 years. It is a union rooted in democracy and owned by workers at the shop floor.
SACTWU was painstakingly built by clothing and textile workers in factories dotted in rural towns and large industrial areas in our cities from KwaZulu-Natal to the Western Cape, from the Free State to the Eastern Cape.
It has grown whilst many unions have struggled. It is now not only the leading clothing and textile workers’ union in South Africa but also leading the unionisation of food, agriculture, fishing and other workers.
The union has led with remarkable foresight and vision against difficult odds. The clothing and textile industries were battered when government recklessly and prematurely lifted import tariffs in the 1990s at the cost of thousands of local jobs.
Through SACTWU’s strategic interventions with government and industry, not only have these industries stabilised, but they have begun to grow and create thousands of badly needed jobs.
Whilst some prefer to dwell on their sorrows, SACTWU has led from the front. Its participation in the industrial master plans, has seen local retailers commit to increase locally produced clothes in stores from 40% to 60% of their products.
These and other interventions, particularly its relentless buy local campaigns, have helped save and create thousands of local jobs and businesses.
During COVID-19 and the July 2021, SACTWU worked tirelessly to ensure workers in its sectors were paid and received relief from the Unemployment Insurance Fund. It ensured that clothing and textile workers and their families were engaged and mobilised to vaccinate against the pandemic.
SACTWU has invested in the lives of its members and raised millions for the education of their children, uplifting thousands of families from generational poverty.
Some have chosen to abandon the non-racial vision of the Freedom Charter in pursuit of narrow nationalism and reckless populism. SACTWU has instead embraced and ensured that its membership and leadership reflect the diversity of the nation.
South Africa has benefited from the legions of leaders this mighty union has produced, including the Minister for Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel, former COSATU Deputy President Connie September and countless other giants of the liberation struggle.
It is important though comrades not to take for granted what you have achieved through many decades of blood, sweat and tears.
Yes, SACTWU is a formidable machine. But it can easily be destroyed in a single moment of insanity, in one divisive congress or the election of a divided or compromised leadership. Divisions along regional or factional lines may be momentarily entertaining but they can destroy the union the day after the excitement of a congress dies down.
These are not idle words or scare mongering. COSATU has seen the pain of once mighty unions destroyed when comrades seek office not to serve workers or build the union, but to rather serve themselves and feed their lifestyles. It takes years to build unions, and days to destroy them.
SACTWU has pumped millions of Rands into its investment arm and grown it into a formidable tool to create jobs, grow the economy and improve the lives of our members. You need to jealously guard it. Do not allow it to be abused or hijacked.
We have seen the devastation that has destroyed once strong and united unions when corrupt elements have been allowed to loot union investment funds. Do not for a second believe that this cannot happen to you. The funds must remain there to benefit members and their families, to sustain the union, to reduce unemployment. They must never be used to enrich leaders or individuals.
It is easy to attach labels to each other, to gossip and demean each other. Yet SACTWU needs all of you. We need all of you. COSATU needs a strong, united, a focussed and determined SACTWU. Whilst you may not have the largest membership in COSATU, your presence is felt by the maturity, the foresight, the dedication and the work ethic you have brought to COSATU.
The relationship between SACTWU and COSATU has been built over many years of struggle and has grown stronger through each year. We have been enriched by the sterling work SACTWU has done in the Bargaining Councils, the master plans, at Nedlac, with government, in the Alliance, at Parliament, in the public discourse and most importantly on the ground with workers.
SACTWU has led on behalf of COSATU in many critical debates from customs enforcement to protect local jobs, to public procurement to tackle corruption, from mobilising workers to vaccinate to save lives, to working with the UIF to save jobs. Indeed, we have learnt much from SACTWU.
It is because the tireless support that we receive from yourselves, that the Federation of Ray Alexander has been able to achieve many victories on behalf of our members and the working class, both before and after 1994 and as we speak.
Ours is to provide solutions and not lamentations. This is the COSATU which was in the trenches with the ANC and the United Democratic Front ensuring we achieved our hard-won constitutional democracy in 1994.
This is the COSATU of John Gomomo that drafted the progressive labour laws that guarantee workers the right to strike, to paid time off, to maternity leave and the right to work in a safe workplace.
Our armchair critics lament and say don’t tell us about the victories of the past when workers are struggling today.
Well, it is your COSATU working with SACTWU that achieved the National Minimum Wage in 2019 raising the wages of 6 million workers, in particular home textiles, certain categories of clothing, farm, domestic, construction, retail, hospitality and many other vulnerable sectors.
Whilst our critics sat comfortably at home during the pandemic, it was SACTWU and COSATU that worked day and night to ensure that over R64 billion reached 5.7 million workers across the private sector who had lost wages.
Some may chant slogans of gender equality, but it was COSATU that went door to door at Parliament to ensure that maternity leave benefits and cover were substantially increased and that for the first time we have paid parental and adoption leave.
When the nation was witnessing corruption at the Public Investment Corporation, it was COSATU that forced Parliament to amend the law to require worker representation on its Board and a workers’ mandate for how its funds are invested.
In 2020 SACTWU tasked COSATU to engage government to allow financially struggling workers early access to their pension funds. Today we have legislation before Parliament creating the two-pot pension regime that will provide workers early access to their pension funds when it comes into effect and access to one third of their annual contributions once a year going forward.
We are working hard with Parliament and Treasury to ensure this critical relief for workers happens in March 2024. When it does, SACTWU needs to undertake a mass financial education campaign to help workers understand their rights and responsibilities.
Do not be shy about these victories comrades. It pains us when Affiliates do not claim these and use them to recruit and mobilise workers. COSATU is strong because SACTWU is strong. We need a strong SACTWU so we can remain a strong COSATU.
We often lament about the state of the Alliance and indeed it has experienced many challenges over the years, some due to our own failings as the movement, and others due to subjective socio-economic and other external factors.
At times it is easy to dismiss the relevance of the Alliance, to be emotional and ask what has it delivered? Yet we should not take lightly the strategic foresight that our predecessors exercised when the Alliance was built painstakingly over many decades in the most difficult of times.
The founders of not only COSATU but also SACTWU saw the strategic importance of the Alliance in not only being a vehicle to defeat apartheid and liberate the nation, but also to lay the foundation for a socialist society. They understood the strengths and limitations of each of the Alliance partners, ourselves included, and appreciated the value in building that unity in struggle.
But we must diagnose the many weaknesses of the Alliance and what do we mean by a reconfigured Alliance? How will we assert the Alliance as the political centre of government? How will we ensure the state implements decisions of the Alliance? How will the Alliance extend its influence over spheres of provincial or local government where it is not the majority party? How will we retain the Alliance as we navigate an era of coalition governments?
The movement has been in power for nearly 3 decades. We are showing significant wear and tear. We need to reflect on the state of the National Democratic Revolution, to assess where it has achieved its objectives and where it has not. We need to reflect on what is our vision for not only the next administration, but beyond that.
We are all frustrated, hurt and angry when our comrades let us done in government. But we must also be honest, the ANC and the Alliance remain the best and only vehicle to advance working class struggles and improve the lives of our members.
We are going to the polls in 6 months’ time. Do we have an elections programme? An elections machinery? Or are we content to head into our most difficult elections where polls indicate we may not win a majority nationally and in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape and possibly other provinces.
Are we participating in by-elections? The ANC lost its majority in the Sol Plaatje Municipality in Kimberly on Wednesday for the first time. We lost a by-election in Msukaligwa in Mpumalanga. Are we assisting the ANC in these elections?
Or are we content to sit on the sidelines? Are we prepared to place the lives and jobs of the working class in the hands of the opposition parties? Where we have lost like in Tshwane, what is our plan to win the voters back to the movement?
We have much to discuss and most importantly we have much to action. Words matter, but most important is for us to action what we want.
Workers are depending upon us here to defend their jobs and improve their lives. We dare not fail them.
Before I conclude allow me on behalf of the Federation to pay tribute to the outgoing leadership. You have served SACTWU and COSATU with distinction. I want to pay special appreciation to the President, comrade Themba Khumalo, and the General Secretary, comrade Andre AK Kriel.
Whilst we are sad to see you leave the stage, we are honoured by the contributions you have made. You were handed the baton to lead, and lead you did. When times were tough, you did not falter. When many were worried, you provided strength and stability. When others sought to divide us, you spoke out in defence of unity.
We trust that whilst you may no longer occupy the positions of President or GS, you will remain at the service of SACTWU and COSATU. It will be a tragedy to allow your wisdom and experience to go untapped. Expect that as COSATU we will come to seek to benefit from your leadership, especially seeing that you will now have too much free time on your hands.
The workers of your industries and sectors, the working class at large, COSATU and the entire nation are better off having such a dedicated and visionary union. We wish Congress well and know that we will continue to work closely with SACTWU as we seek to build a better life for all and a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it.
Baie dankie. Shukran. Thank you. Amandla