[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Cosatu May Day statements
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sat May 2 07:58:12 BST 2009
Embargoed until 10h00, Friday 1 May 2009
Consolidating working class power in defence of our revolutionary
movement for decent work!
COSATU May Day speakers’ notes 2009
The origins of May Day
“Hundreds of thousands of American workers, increasingly determined to
resist subjugation to capitalist power, poured into a fledgling labour
organization, the Knights of Labour. Beginning on May 1 1886, they took
to the streets to demand universal adoption of the 8-hour day.
“Chicago was the centre of the movement. Workers there had been
agitating for an 8-hour day for months, and on the eve of May 1, 50,000
were already on strike.30, 000 more swelled their ranks the next day,
bringing most of Chicago manufacturing to a standstill.
“Fears of violent class conflict gripped the city. No violence occurred
on May 1 — a Saturday — or May 2. But on Monday May 3 a fight involving
hundreds broke out at McCormick Reaper between locked-out unionists and
non-unionist workers McCormick hired to replace them. The Chicago
police, swollen in number and heavily armed, quickly moved in with clubs
and guns to restore order. They left four unionists dead &many others
“Angered by the deadly force of the police, a group of anarchists, led
by August Spies and Albert Parsons, called on workers to arm themselves
& participate in a massive protest demonstration in Haymarket Square on
Tuesday evening, May 4. The demonstration appeared to be a complete
bust, with only 3,000 assembling. But near the end of the evening, an
individual, whose identity is still in dispute (possibly a police agent
provocateur), threw a bomb that killed seven police and injured 67 others.
“Hysterical city and state government officials rounded up eight
anarchists, tried them for murder, and sentenced them to death. On 11
November 1887, four, including Parsons and Spies, were executed. All of
the executed advocated armed struggle and violence as revolutionary
methods, but their prosecutors found no evidence that any had actually
thrown the Haymarket bomb. They died for their words — not their deeds.
“250,000 people lined Chicago's street during Parson's funeral
procession to express their outrage at this gross miscarriage of justice.
“For radicals and trade unionists everywhere, Haymarket became a symbol
of the stark inequality and injustice of capitalist society. The May
1886 Chicago events figured prominently in the decision of the founding
congress of the Second International (Paris, 1889) to make May 1, 1890 a
demonstration of the solidarity & power of the international working
class movement. May Day has been a celebration ever since.
“For all these 119 years, workers around world traditionally come
together to pursue their demands for shorter working hours and improved
working conditions as well as to celebrate their victories.”
[From A Brief history of May Day, on ‘Our Daily Bleed’
South Africa and May Day
Workers in South African fought for many years for recognition of May
Day as a special holiday dedicated to their demands for justice and
freedom. Initially it was migrants from Europe who brought in the
militant traditions of May Day celebrations, which later were to inspire
all other workers to establish unions of their choice. Thus the first
May Day celebrations in South Africa were in 1904. COSATU was barely
five months old when it pulled one of the biggest stayaways to demand
recognition of May Day as the paid public holiday in 1986. Shocked by
this wave of new worker militancy, P.W. Botha responded by declaring the
first Friday in May as the workers day – a paid public day. COSATU led
by the uncompromising Elijah Barayi and the General Secretary, Jay
Naidoo made it clear that it would take both days. Faced with the
reality that workers were going to take the first Friday of May as well
as the real May Day on the 1st of May, the stubborn P.W. Botha apartheid
regime threw in the towel and recognised the 1st of May – the May Day -
as a paid public holiday in 1987. Today May Day is one of the 12 public
holidays in South Africa.
What are South African workers celebrating in 2009?
Just a few days ago on 27 April 2009 we celebrated 15 years of freedom
and democracy. We thus celebrate this year’s May Day under conditions of
South African workers have their basic fundamental rights protected in
the constitution. Through working together with our ANC government we
have ensured that those rights are further entrenched in progressive
legislation and extended to cover workers historically excluded – the
most vulnerable sections of workers including the farm and domestic
workers. It has been 15 years of advancing worker rights!
In an addition to these gains, workers have also benefited immensely
from the rolling out of basic services by the ANC government. We
celebrate that today 88% have access to water, 80% have access to
electricity, and 3.1 million houses have been subsidised, with 2.7
million free houses for the poor providing shelter to 14 million people.
We celebrate that an average of 500 000 new jobs a year were created
between 2004 and 2008. We celebrate that more than 480 000 people living
with HIV and AIDS receive antiretrovirals from state health
institutions. We celebrate the improved access to health care and
education and celebrate all these gains.
Our celebrations are taking place today while we are also still
celebrating last week’s historic fourth election victory for our
revolutionary movement – the African National Congress. Today’s rallies
are therefore a double celebration. We have succeeded in defending our
revolutionary movement the ANC, the tripartite Alliance and the congress
movement as a whole.
We have succeeded in defending worker rights and the progress registered
in our country under the leadership of the ANC. We have defended the
gains workers made in the 52nd national conference of the ANC held in
Polokwane in December 2007.
The commitment the ANC has made through its progressive elections
manifesto has invigorated a new spirit of hope and determination in all
of us workers. We do believe that the ANC, under its new leadership
elected in the Polokwane conference, will ensure that these commitments
are taken forward, and we will mobilise to see that this happens.
The pessimism that was beginning to set in, over the last 10 years, has
been replaced by a new hope that workers’ priorities have been made
national priorities. Detailed programmes are being developed to realise
the workers goal of decent work for all. As the manifesto eloquently
states, the ANC will “make the creation of decent work opportunities and
sustainable livelihoods, the primary focus of our economic policies”.
We have defended our liberation movement – the ANC! We have defended the
revolutionary tripartite Alliance – we have defended the congress
movement! We have defended our gains and our space.
The election result is a massive demonstration of the power of the
working class and the poor majority of South Africans, and of their
confidence in the liberation movement that they built. Workers and our
people in working-class communities can be proud of the crucial part
they played in this victory, and the defeat of the opposition, the
media, and all those determined to protect and entrench the minority
interests of the rich and powerful.
Workers saw through the opposition’s barrage of attacks, misinformation
and lies, and came out as never before to protect and advance our movement.
COSATU wishes to thank the thousands of our shop stewards and activists
who worked so hard to ensure this victory and all its members who voted
in defence of the revolution and to take forward the fundamental
transformation of our society.
The election result is a vote for decent jobs, for healthcare, education
and rural development, and against crime and corruption. It is the
latest stage in a process, which began at Polokwane, and the Alliance
Summits that followed it May and October 2008, and the adoption of the
ANC 2009 manifesto. These delivered a new leadership led by President
Jacob Zuma, and a decisive move towards pro-poor and pro-worker
policies, which gave us new hope that workers’ priorities had been made
We stand here excited that we can declare with certainly that at the
national level and in most parts of our country the Alliance has never
been in such a healthy state. The days of our marginalisation belong to
the past. Consultation about every sphere of transformation, including
the appointment of the new cabinet, is the order of the day.
Gone are the days of using state institutions to pursue factional
battles. Gone are the days of using state resources used for personal
accumulation of wealth and sidelining of the real peoples’ interests. We
are happy but we did not pray for this to happen. These are the fruits
of the 2015 plan COSATU adopted in 2003.
But whilst we rightly claim these achievements of the people and our
movement, we know that much more still need to be done. Far too many of
our people remain unemployed and too many workers are in temporary and
casualised jobs or employed through the labour broking system. Too many
of us live in poverty, while a tiny minority control most of the
country’s resources. Our country’s wealth is still unfairly distributed
and we live in one of the world’s most unequal societies.
We know that our biggest challenges still lie ahead - to ensure that the
ANC government now implements the manifesto policies without delay. We
are confident that our new President will take these policies forward,
and COSATU will mobilise its members to back him up.
The first priority is to ensure that the manifesto pledges are swiftly
translated into an implementable programme of action to radically
improve our people’s lives.
These tasks are all the more urgent against the backdrop of the global
economic crisis, which has already led to thousands of retrenchments.
There will undoubtedly be many more employers shedding jobs or shelving
plans to create new jobs. And thousands more jobs are disappearing
without trace, because of the growing number of permanent jobs being
casualised or outsourced to labour brokers, where it is virtually
impossible to track the number of jobs.
COSATU applauds the ANC’s pledge to “intervene to ensure that
Government, together with labour, business and other sectors work
together to develop practical solutions that will ensure that in the
short, medium and long term South Africa's economic prospects continue
to improve and that jobs losses are avoided or minimised.”
We are even more pleased that even before the election, the ANC
government working with labour, business and community organisations
began to implement this manifesto pledge, through the Framework Plan,
agreed in December 2008.
This is a most significant example of social partners coming together to
produce a strategy to counter the impact of the economic crisis and to
protect jobs and livelihoods. We fully support the agreement by all
parties “to increase the level of employment as well as improve the
quality of jobs”.
But however good this agreement is on paper, it has yet to be
implemented in practice. Business leaders who signed the agreement must
convince all their CEOs to abide by the letter and spirit of this plan.
We urge our affiliates to monitor the undertaking from organised
business “to urge and encourage CEOs of companies to do everything in
their power to avoid retrenchments as a result of the global economic
crisis” and to make sure they are abiding by it.
COSATU is working hard in the five task teams, which are meeting to
implement the Framework Plan. The unions are represented at the level of
General Secretaries and we appeal to the new government to reciprocate
this level of seniority. Faced with a crisis that is threatening all the
gains registered in the past 15 years, we need the direct involvement of
President Zuma and his Ministers to drive this process forward, so we
can minimise the impact of the crisis and emerge with a stronger
economy, more quality jobs and significant reductions in poverty and
It has never been more vital to unite as a nation to protect and create
employment in our manufacturing industry by buying local and breaking
the traditional cycle of exporting raw materials, allowing them to be
converted into manufactured goods overseas and then imported back at a
huge profit to foreign companies. We must seize the chance to build and
strengthen our manufacturing sector.
We shall be monitoring the new government to make sure that all its
manifesto promises are urgently and fully implemented. We will not win
the fight for decent work without sustained pressure from the trade
union movement, to back up the measures the new government has pledged
COSATU will never stop representing the workers and campaigning for
policies to address their problems. In particular we shall be checking
on the implementation of the ANC manifesto’s declaration that “decent
work is the foundation of the fight against poverty and inequality and
its promotion should be the cornerstone of all our efforts”.
COSATU will not relax until we have put an end to poverty and the wide
inequalities that disfigure our society. We shall continue to campaign
for the expansion and improvement of public services for the poor, and
strongly oppose privatisation and commodification. We shall keep
battling for honest, accountable government, and the stamping out of
corruption and the use of state institutions for self-enrichment.
We will not however change anything unless we unite our movement and
build strong trade union and alliance structures, from branches and
locals up to the provincial and national committees. Only then can we
mobilise our forces on the scale necessary to ensure we carry forward
the great work done in the election into the next five to ten years. We
need to translate the incredible energy and mobilisation we have seen in
this campaign into a mass movement for transformation to propel our
country to greater heights.
Among those challenges is to protect the May Day holiday itself.
Employers are eroding the significance of all our historic holidays -
May Day, Freedom Day, Women’s Day, Human Rights Day and even Election
Day – by forcing more and more of us to work. Some bosses do not even
pay workers double time for working on a public day or give them a day
off in lieu. COSATU demands that these days be declared non-trading
public holidays, on which no employers, apart from those genuinely
providing emergency services, can open their workplaces.
On this international workers’ day, COSATU recommits itself to
solidarity with our fellow workers under attack - in Palestine,
Swaziland, Western Sahara, Colombia, Burma and other parts of the world!
We have dedicated our election triumph to the ANC’s greatest leaders –
Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Chris Hani. It is also a
victory for our late 2nd Deputy President, Violet Seboni, who tragically
died while campaigning for the ANC victory.
As always too, on May Day we raise our red flags in honour of countless
workers who build and sustained our trade union movement. A gala dinner
will be held in East London on 30 April to honour the contribution of
SAAWU and other leaders of the trade union movement in the Eastern Cape.
We shall confer the highest award COSATU gives to individuals – the
Elijah Barayi award - to Thozamile Gqwetha, Yure Mdyogolo, Mbuyiselo
Ngwenda, Eric Mntonga and John Gomomo.
We salute not only these leaders but all our forbears, in particular
Elijah Barayi, Chris Dlamini, Moses Kotane, Leslie Masina, JB Marks,
Steven Dlamini, Moses Mabhida, Ray Alexander Simons, Gana Makhabeni,
Vuyisile Mini, Oscar Mpetha, Billy Nair, Rita Ndzanga, Liz Abrahams,
Curnick Ndlovu, John Nkadimeng, Archie Sibeko, Violet Seboni and many more.
Let us remember them in the way they would have wished – by rededicating
our movement to the struggle for the liberation of humankind and a
socialist world order! The struggle for a socialist South Africa continues!
Solidarity forever! Workers of the world unite! The people united will
never be defeated! Down with the capitalist barbarism and forward to a
socialist future forward!
Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
1-5 Leyds Cnr Biccard Streets
P.O. Box 1019
Tel: +27 11 339-4911/24
Fax: +27 11 339-5080/6940/ 086 603 9667
E-Mail: patrick at cosatu.org.za
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