1 December 2010
President of COSATU;
General-Secretary of COSATU and other national officer bearers;
Presidents and Leaders of Affiliated Unions;
Ladies and gentlemen
I am deeply honoured to have been invited to join you as you mark a significant historical milestone in the history of this great trade union movement - the 25th anniversary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
Given that this is a dinner and not a lecture, I would not like to spoil your appetite by dealing with hard stuff that is not easily digestible.
This year, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of COSATU, we also mark the 50th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chief Albert Luthuli.
The year 2010 is also the 150 Anniversary of the arrival of the Indian Indentured Labourers in South Africa.
The contribution of the Indian community to the melting pot that is South Africa is a matter of historical record.
What is worth observing now is the contribution of the leaders of the Indian background in our struggle, including in both the African National Congress (ANC) and COSATU itself.
We must upfront congratulate COSATU for this proud history, during which it has made notable contributions to the development of our country, our history.
The five fundamental principles under which COSATU was founded were:
- one union, one industry;
- worker control
- representation on the basis of paid-up membership; and
- co-operation between affiliates at national level.
These principles were the cornerstone of COSATU from inception and remain appropriate and relevant pillars of the Federation today.
The trade union movement is known to advocate a reformist agenda, as political theory tells us.
In this regard, Lenin expressed the point clearly when he said that:
`The history of all countries testifies that workers left exclusively to their own strength can cultivate only a trade union consciousness—that is the belief in the need to unite into a union, struggle against the bosses, press the government to pass needed labour legislation...`
Our present conditions demand that workers remain engaged in all facets of social, economic and political life in our country.
As we continue with the struggle for reconstruction and development, we still need to mobilise our people to take charge of this phase of our struggle.
Workers have to immerse themselves in local political struggles to gain and deepen their political consciousness.
Historically, members of progressive trade union movement have always had dual membership that underpinned their dual struggles both as workers at a factory floor and as activists waging political and civic struggles for the vision of a better society.
In pursuit of this vision, whose core elements include non-racialism, non-sexism, justice, equality and non-exploitation, and which is driven by theoretical vehicle of National Democratic Revolution, COSATU has, over the years and in different formations, taken up the daily struggles of South Africans even beyond the parameters of the workers.
It should be borne in mind that SACTU, together with the Congress of Democrats, SA Coloured People`s Organisation, and the South African Indian Congress and the ANC played a central role in the run up to and during the Congress of the People, held in Kliptown in 1955.
The impact of the trade union movement at the Congress of the People was articulated well in the Freedom Charter, which declared the following in relation to labour matters:
- All who work shall be free to form trade unions, to elect their officers and to make wage agreements with their employers;
- The state shall recognise the right and duty of all to work, and to draw full unemployment benefits;
- Men and women of all races shall receive equal pay for equal work
- There shall be a forty-hour working week, a national minimum wage, paid annual leave, and sick leave for all workers, and maternity leave on full pay for all working mothers;
- Miners, domestic workers, farm workers and civil servants shall have the same rights as all others who work; and
- Child labour, compound labour, the tot system and contract labour shall be abolished.
This shows that leaders of SACTU were able to connect the dots and correctly see factory floor struggles as inseparable from the daily struggles of the general South African population.
The same sentiment found expression in the words of the then convener of the Congress, comrade Cyril Ramaphosa, that `the struggle of the workers on the shop floor cannot be separated from the wider struggle for liberation. If workers are to lead the struggle for liberation we have to win the confidence of other sectors of society...`
In the 25 years since its formation, COSATU has added immense weight to the balance of forces in our country.
Of note is the reality that the Tripartite Alliance remains inherently indivisible, defined by the vision of creating a South Africa that is united, non-racial, non-sexist, just and democratic.
To the extent that the underlying historical conditions that necessitated the formation of the alliance still exists, albeit in a different incarnation, to that extent will the alliance live on, focused on this historical duty to serve the needs of human society.
Accordingly, a consciousness that the struggles of the workers today still cannot be separated from the struggles of the communities in which the workers live still permeates our alliance.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Challenges embedded in the post-94 period will continue to test our sense of unity and the direction we take as the alliance.
At the level of organised labour, some of the key challenges facing COSATU include the following:
- Globalisation has put continued pressures on developing nations. South Africa, with its accumulated disabilities from the past, such as lack of education and skills among the population, is grappling with these challenges. As a trade union federation COSATU is not unaffected by these difficult conditions;
- Related to this historical challenge of skill deficit among our people is the advancement in technology and its adverse effects generally. For instance the onset of automation has an impact on unemployment to the extent that it compounds the dire situation of lack of skills. Workers who were trained to perform certain duties are now rendered redundant because of automation;
- In the modern economy there is a growing trend towards casualisation of labour, which in our case means increased vulnerability among workers. Changing demographics in terms of age among the working population also exacerbates this dilemma; and
- Flowing from the question of demographics arise the challenge of organising young, educated workers with a tenuous connection with the oppressive past of our country.
Our revolutionary duty is to identify appropriate responses to some of these challenges thrown up by post-apartheid and globalisation imperatives.
As I conclude, I would like to wish COSATU many more years of commitment to the advancement of the interests of the workers.
We look forward to your continued comradeship in the Alliance as we take forward the agenda of the working class and the poor.
The words of the founding President of COSATU, comrade Elijah Barayi ring true here, that:
`...we urge all worker leaders... and all patriots in South Africa to work together, plan and coordinate our actions to win our freedom and break the chains of poverty and cheap labour which bind the majority of people in South Africa today`. (1986 May Day Message)
I thank you.