[DEBATE] : COSATU, New Year message for 2008
dominic.tweedie at gmail.com
Tue Jan 1 10:59:52 GMT 2008
COSATU's New Year message for 2008
The Congress of South African Trade Unions sends New Year greetings to
the workers of the world and the people of South Africa. We wish
everyone a very happy, successful and revolutionary 2008.
We congratulate learners who have passed their Matric and encourage
the others never to give up trying.
This is the time to take stock of what we have achieved in 2007 and
look at the problems, opportunities and challenges we face in 2008.
For South African workers there were major victories, highlighted by
the united and heroic public sector workers' strike. This massive
mobilisation of workers from many unions and federations forced the
government to back down from its arrogant intransigence and won
significant improvements in wages and working conditions. It also
brought us closer to the goal of one united public service trade
Their victory opened the door for other workers to negotiate better
settlements than they would otherwise have been able to achieve. One
important result of the increasing workers' militancy was that
COSATU's membership broke the 1.9 million mark and raised the real
possibility of reaching two million in 2008.
Yet virtually none of the workers who won these wage increases ended
the year any better off than at the beginning, as runaway increases in
the price of food, fuel, interest rates and other daily costs, rapidly
cancelled out the gains they had made earlier.
The judgement against Tiger Brands for fixing the price of bread only
confirmed what COSATU had long suspected – that these price hikes were
not just the unavoidable consequence of global trends, but theft by
businesses who were cashing in on the inflationary trend. We shall be
raising again our demand for a broader investigation into price
increases to unveil the extent of price-fixing.
If workers who had won significant wage increases were hit hard by
these rocketing prices, then it was far worse for the unemployed and
the growing numbers of unorganised casual workers, whose living
standards plummeted during 2007. They can expect no relief in 2008,
especially since electricity tariffs are now also set to rise by
14.2%, way above the levels on inflation.
The levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality remained our
biggest problem in 2007. The number, and quality, of new jobs being
created are nowhere near enough to meet the ASGI-SA target of halving
the 2004 levels of unemployment and poverty by 2014, and the rate of
new job creation is actually slowing down.
One of the main reasons for this has been the Reserve Bank's insane
policy of constantly raising interest rates, which, as well as
fuelling inflation still further, acts as a huge disincentive to job
creation and retention, as employers face higher and higher loan
repayments and it harder for new businesses to get the capital to get
started. We insist that the Bank's inflation-targeting strategy must
be replaced by an employment-targeting strategy.
There were other successes for the workers. Government policies were
beginning to shift to the left, at least in words, as both the
President's State of the Nation speech and the Finance Minister's
budget speech promised a more interventionist role for the state in
tackling the problems of unemployment and poverty, though words have
yet to be turned into deeds.
There was a historic legal victory in the courts, in the case of
Rustenburg Platinum versus the CCMA, when the Constitutional Court
reaffirmed the CCMA's right to change a sanction handed down in a
disciplinary hearing at arbitration in cases of unfair dismissal.
We continued to make progress as a nation in the fight against
HIV/Aids, through the implementation of the National Strategic Plan,
though far more still needs to be done to prevent and treat the deadly
But without any doubt 2007 will be remembered most for the series of
crucial political events – the ANC Policy Conference, the SACP
National Congress, the COSATU Central Committee and finally the ANC
National Conference – which transformed the political landscape.
It would be impossible to overestimate the importance of the Polokwane
conference. This was not a clash of individual leaders or 'camps'. It
was a revolutionary mass movement from the grass roots, which brought
about a seismic shift in the political landscape.
It was a tsunami, which aimed not just to replace one set of leaders
with another but to transform the way our national democratic
revolution is being led. The media focussed almost exclusively on the
leadership contests, but the delegates were just as determined to
change policies as to replace leaders.
This was a rebellion by the representatives of millions of workers,
the unemployed and the poor against their exclusion from the economic
boom they kept hearing about for the past five years. They were sick
of being told that we were all getting richer, when they knew from
their own lives that only a tiny minority was benefiting - and
benefiting massively - from economic growth, while the majority
remained stuck in poverty and despair.
The delegates spoke for those who had been raising their concerns
about government policies, and were fed up with being lectured about
not being properly educated, of not understanding the traditions of
the ANC, or of being unwittingly used by enemies of the revolution.
They knew that their criticisms of government's pro-business and
pro-rich policies were right and wanted a new leadership to bring
about a change of policy.
This was clearly spelled out at the June Policy Conference, which saw
much more progressive policies over a wide range of issues.
Comrade Jacob Zuma became the symbol of this mass movement. His
victory was a victory for the people of South Africa and a triumph for
democracy. The ANC delegates made it clear that they are sovereign and
will not tolerate any leaders who think they have a divine right to
remain in power.
The new 'top six' and the many new faces on the NEC now open up the
way for a new start, based the ANC uniting behind the progressive
policies adopted by the conference. Unemployment, poverty and
inequality are truly at the top of the political agenda and 2008 must
see a much more serious national effort to deal with them.
In particular this conference should open the way to the re-emergence
of the Tripartite Alliance as a central player in the political
process. We look forward to the Alliance Summit which will take place
within the next three months and hope to see an end to top-down
governance, where policies are not evolved through democratic
consultation but handed down by government ministers, technocrats and
'experts'. We look forward to the ANC and alliance parties taking
centre stage in the running of the country.
As we enter 2008 however we must not drop our guard for one minute.
Important though the victories at Polokwane were, we cannot rest until
they are translated into real improvements in the lives of the workers
and the poor. COSATU will never abandon its role as an independent
defender of workers' rights. It will never sign a blank cheque for any
A warning sign that the former leadership has not given up the
struggle was the government's ratification, within days of the
conference ending, of the SABC's new Board of Governors. The list of
names, with no trade unionists or working journalists but heavily
weighted in favour of business people who supported the outgoing ANC
leadership, will now have another five years to try and manipulate
public opinion through the public broadcaster.
It was a deliberate slap in the face not only for COSATU, and the many
other civil society organisations who shared our concerns, but also
for the ANC delegates and the new leadership they elected. This Board
must be referred back to Parliament and there must be no more such
unilateral decisions by government. The delegates made it clear that
while the ANC government must serve out its full term until 2009, it
has a clear mandate from the conference to adopt the new policies that
conference adopted and work in consultation with the new ANC
Internationally the working class face enormous challenges. 2008 could
be our last chance to negotiate a world trade agreement which levels
the playing field and ends the domination of the imperialist powers of
the developed Northern world. The signs are not encouraging however,
as the USA and European Union try to play divide-and-rule by signing
trade agreements with individual countries that perpetuate their
neo-colonial domination of the world economy and will wreck the
prospects of the poor southern countries developing manufacturing
industry and escaping from their economic subservience.
One ray of hope is that 2008 will see elections in the USA, which
could see a change from the warmongering policies of the Bush
administration and a withdrawal of imperialist forces from Iraq,
Afghanistan and other countries where they are trying to assert their
world dominance under the disguise of 'peace-keeping'. Let us hope the
new administration will at long last end the brutal economic blockade
of Cuba and free the Cuban Five patriots still languishing in US
Elections are also scheduled for Zimbabwe. Provided they are not once
again rigged to ensure a victory for ZANU-PF, this could be a victory
for people and lead to the restoration of human rights, an independent
media and trade union freedom.
COSATU will continue to fight for the rights of workers under attack –
in Palestine, Swaziland, Pakistan, Burma and many other countries
where workers are under attack. We rededicate ourselves to the great
trade union principles of "An injury to one is an injury to all!" and
"Workers of the world unite!"
Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
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