Address to the Second NEDLAC Summit presented by John Gomomo, COSATU President, on behalf of COSATU, NACTU and FEDUSA

Deputy President Thabo Mbeki
Leaders of COSATU, NACTU and FEDUSA
Distinguished guests
Comrades and friends

Two years ago, we came together to launch NEDLAC. We committed ourselves to utilise this institution to promote Growth, Equity and Participation on behalf of workers such as Jabu Xulu and Cynthia Gumede. Through it we would ensure the effective participation of civil society in decision making on a range of issues.

As Labour we never saw NEDLAC as a replacement for parliament as some argue. Nor does it take away the right of government to govern as one minister would want the country to believe. Instead it provides a platform for the governed to engage with the government directly, and for the government to explain its policies and to justify them.

The alternative as we have said very often, "is for the new democracy to flounder on the rocks of continual strife and conflict over all matters of production and distribution". Approached correctly, NEDLAC can and has in most cases played a positive and empowering role to parliament and the government.

The last summit resolved to identify priority policy areas and to develop a broad framework for their implementation. Progress has been made on a number of process issues in terms of the effective functioning of meetings, and of the formal NEDLAC processes. We would be less than frank if we were to acknowledge that any progress has been made in forging a common strategic agenda, and a common view of how to tackle our country's major challenges.

Our input today must be located within the needs of workers and the broader working class. The question that workers are asking is whether NEDLAC's role is only to deal with process issues or whether its role should extend to its real mandate - that of reaching consensus and agreement on socio-economic issues that will alleviate poverty, inequalities in wealth and incomes, create jobs, build houses and provide basic infrastructure. I hope to take back answers to workers in this regard.

At the last summit, the Deputy President informed us that the government was still discussing its proposals on macro economic issues. We were promised that once the proposals were ready, they would be made available to the parties at NEDLAC. This has not happened.

Instead we have seen increased reluctance by government to place policy proposals for discussion and as far as is possible to reach agreement in NEDLAC. As organised labour we find this totally unacceptable, and we pledge to tackle such ministers, and such an approach to policy. We acknowledge that the exception has been the Minister of Labour, who has been prepared to engage us in discussion on policy matters.

While we remain committed to NEDLAC and pledge to defend the existence of the institution we are disappointed with the conduct of business and government. In fact some of us are fast losing our patience - not with NEDLAC, since this would be playing into the agenda of those who want to destroy it but - with the government and employers since they only pay lip service to NEDLAC but (elements) would be very happy if we walked out. In fact they would prefer it but have no guts to say so. They do not want an effective NEDLAC but a toy telephone.

Our message to them is that Jabu Xulu and Cynthia Gumede are ready to defend their role in policy formulation. In consultation with the communities and students from as far afield as Uitenhage, Bolobedi, and Kwa Mashu, they are ready to take whatever action is required to force business and the government to respect the letter and spirit of the NEDLAC act, and the founding declaration.

I know that I will be accused of creating straw targets. Let us take GEAR as but one example.

In spite of the resolution of the last summit as well as the position that was outlined by the Deputy President to place government proposals on the table, which position we fully supported, in practice, what happened? We learnt of the existence of this strategy not through it being placed on the negotiating table, but when it was announced and declared to be non-negotiable in parliament, by the Minister of Finance.

Business for its part, realising that this was the Growth For All dressed in struggle language, welcomed this approach and called on the government to implement it without delay. Their battle cry became: Government must govern. The same defenders of the right of government to govern would not support that right if government was to implement those policies set out in the RDP around housing, anti-trust policies, labour rights, a national public works programme, and a massive investment in the human potential of our people. It is at such moments that sections of business discover the virtues of consultation and negotiation.

As Labour we remain opposed to the basic thrust of the GEAR strategy. We reject its approach to fiscal and monetary policies which continue to see major cuts in government spending on social security and basic infrastructure as well as continued rising interest rates. The effect of these policies are to choke the much needed economic growth and employment creation. It will also perpetuate the gap in wealth and incomes between the rich and the poor.

After almost a year of the unveiling of the famous GEAR, the reverse gear for our society, the promised jobs have not materialised. Only last week, a senior bureaucrat in Trevor Manual's department acknowledged what we have been saying all along; that the projections of GEAR on jobs will not see the light of day. Were it not for the seriousness which we place on job creation, we would be saying to the government: We told you so!

There is a vast difference between programming a computer to project on jobs and the real thing. Predicting that business will invest in jobs is a far cry from getting them to invest. All they will do is to ask for more. We hope that this will make the government to realise that business pay lip service to transformation. They would prefer to have Jabu and Cynthia bear the brunt of transformation alone.

The irony is that those who told us that this programme was cast in stone as well as those who have been calling for its immediate implementation are now asking us to help them implement it.

Our response is a simple one : "Se kganang se nthula morwalo. A sisoze si nincede. Qhubekani ngo kwenu. Uma ni funa uku sebenzisana nathi, vumani ukuba i GEAR mayiphume ku buye iRDP".

In case you have forgotten, here are the main pillars of the RDP:

  • meeting the basic needs of our people
  • rebuilding the economy
  • promoting the rights of workers
  • the eradication of poverty
  • job creation for our people

If we really want to succeed as a nation, we have to respond to the verdict of the electorate. Unlike business who were cynical of the RDP, dismissing it as a wish list, the masses voted for a better life as contained in the RDP and not GEAR. The same goes for business's Growth For All. It could never have seen the light of day in an election.

The past few months have seen speculations about a presidential job summit. We have now heard that the Minister of Labour is looking at October this year as a possible date. We wish him success in his new endeavours.

We are aware that both the Labour Market Commission and GEAR calls for a Presidential Job Summit. We have no in principle problem with a forum which will look at the problems around unemployment and job creation.

We however wish to place on record that in our view, what drives Business and government's approach to the Job Summit is to get us to help with the implementation of GEAR. This is where their proposals for job creation are to be found. We refuse to be co-opted towards the implementation of GEAR.

What is needed - if we are going to have a successful summit of any kind - is for the parties to agree on a broad framework for the summit, its aims and objectives, terms of reference, etc. By the time a summit is convened, we will have forged consensus on most of the issues underpinning a strategy for employment creation. Rushing into a summit with the parties holding positions which are diametrically opposed to one another is a sure formula for deadlock. This we should avoid.

We have taken note of the draft declaration placed before us. As Labour we are ready to adopt it. I however need to outline our understanding of the declaration.

For us "global realities" are not about a set of tired arguments of why we should cut social spending, remove exchange controls, reduce company tax to even lower levels, privatise state assets, retrench public sector workers and deregulate the labour market. For us the global realities include:

  • an unequal access to resources by developing countries
  • a constant attempt by some business to shift resources to where wages are low
  • a systematic attempt to discredit, and weaken, the state and the public sector as a provider of social services, as a force for modernising the economy, and a protector of the weak and vulnerable
  • a set of policies followed by the Bretton Woods institutions, which promote an agenda of rising income inequalities, and a lowering of social protection

South Africa must unite with other developing countries to challenge this pattern of global policies. Our response to these realities must not be to lapse into a fatalism, and merely accept the bitter consequences for humanity of these uncaring policies. We also do not argue for policies founded on closing our borders, and cutting ourselves off from the potential benefit of economic activity across the world.

We seek in place of the current form of globalisation, and the subservient attitude of government to the power of capital in the global market, to promote a developmental approach to the integration of economic activity.

What does this mean in practice?

It means support for efforts to build an explicit social dimension into trade policies, so that open markets go hand in hand with the promotion of trade union rights in Indonesia, the ratification of the core ILO Conventions in the United States and the elimination of child labour on the Indian sub-continent.

It means support for efforts to write off third world debt, whose level and repayment terms keeps poor and developing nations from accumulating capital for growth, and resources for social programmes. In our own country, we need to consider the appropriateness of repaying foreign debt that was accumulated to finance the maintenance of racial oppression.

It means support for efforts by developing countries to implement appropriate policies in the areas of trade tariffs, regulation of capital and financial markets and the role of public sector corporations, which are geared to fostering the building of a strong manufacturing base in their countries, instead of the emphasis of neo-liberal solutions which causes de-industrialisation and the loss of jobs and incomes.

Above all, the needs of our society to develop the human potential of our people, reduce the wage gap, eliminate inequalities and foster programmes to create jobs for all at a living wage, must be at the very centre of our efforts in the next twelve months.

In so far as specific goals for the period ahead is concerned, we propose the following:

  • Job creation through areas such as public works and mass housing programmes, job sharing, training the workforce, increasing productivity and land distribution;
  • Redistributive fiscal policies through measures like social spending and tax policies;
  • Breaking the concentration of economic power and promoting small and medium enterprises;
  • Improved worker rights - dealing with collective bargaining, strong union rights, investing in training of the workforce, ending the apartheid wage gap and disclosure of information;
  • Industrial democracy, through a range of shopfloor and board mechanisms;
  • Promoting economic development and worker rights internationally.

I want to conclude with an issue which is pertinent to COSATU. This is the issue of the current deadlock on basic conditions of employment. As COSATU we want to warn both the government and business that the game that they are engaged in will not in itself resolve the dispute. Instead, it leads to the escalation of conflict and may have the effect of undermining industrial relations.

We reject the assertion by the Minister of Labour and his ministry that what we are engaged in are new negotiations and that the bill is different from the previous ones which we have been negotiating for over a year

In so far as Business is concerned, they are free to continue to refer us to last year's positions. If this is what they prefer, we are ready to meet them on the battlefield on 2 June 1997. No amount of litigation or any amount of intimidation will halt the strike. The only thing that may stop it is an agreement on the core issues raised by COSATU.

I hope that the issues that we have raised will be taken into account as we move forward in seeking consensus. I thank you.