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COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi’s, Keynote Address to the COSATU International Policy Conference
16 May 2012
COSATU NOBs,
Members of the COSATU CEC,
Leaders of Alliance partners,
Distinguished International guests,
Esteemed delegates and Comrades,
Allow me to convey special greetings from the leadership of the federation and its structures. We are gathered here today to soberly reflect on the changing global balance of class forces and imperative of how best to reposition the federation and the whole working class movement in order to deepen the crisis of the capitalist system and simultaneously build a solid foundation for real alternatives.
During the recent period we have preoccupied ourselves with a need to understand the global financial crisis, which erupted in 2008, as a systemic crisis, a crisis of a capitalist accumulation, a crisis of over accumulation and overproduction. Such a crisis gives us concrete examples of the inherent battles for social surplus produced by workers and accumulated by a capitalist class. This is a crisis of a capitalist greed that is forever in search of possibilities to exploit and accumulate, through whatever means possible, be they be legal or not, be they moral or immoral.
The centre of gravity of this all-round economic crisis has been the advanced capitalist countries of the North, but with even more devastating impacts for the countries of the South.
World unemployment stands today at 210 million - the highest recorded level of unemployment in history; 64 million more people have been pushed into extreme poverty; 34 million more people unemployed as a result of the crisis, according to the ILO;
23 million more people would be without a job today, were it not for the stimulus packages adopted to confront the crisis - programmes which apparently now stand to be phased out rapidly over the time ahead, as governments (particularly in Europe) fall over one another in their rush to exit from the crisis
And this “decent work deficit” can only worsen in the coming years, as there are also a record number of young people entering the labour force all the time - 45 million new job seekers each year… many increasingly desperate for opportunity as we have seen in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and neighbouring countries but also Spain, Ireland, the US, Africa, Latin America, Asia; youth unemployment is a global fear for our young people.
The estimates of unemployment of 210 million people is a significant underestimate of its true depth since many millions of people seeking work, particularly women, are not registered and the informal economy is growing with the struggle to soak up these unregistered individuals who have given up hope of secure, formal livelihoods.
Inequalities between and within nations of the world is demonstrated more dramatically by the statistics of priority spending in most developed countries is as indicated below; Global Priority | $US billions | Cosmetics in the United States | 8 | Ice cream in Europe | 11 | Perfumes in Europe and the United States | 12 | Pet foods in Europe and the United States | 17 | Business entertainment in Japan | 35 | Cigarettes in Europe | 50 | Alcoholic drinks in Europe | 105 | Narcotics drugs in the world | 400 | Military spending in the world | 780 | This should be compared to the spending on basic needs for all | Global Priority | $US billions | Basic education for all | 6 | Water and sanitation for all | $9 | Reproductive health for all women | 12 | Basic health and nutrition | 13 | | |
The struggle for a new and just world order should be firmly anchored in the perspective of transforming the global economy to re-orient its priorities, spend more on human and basic needs for all and cut spending on the war industry, which is responsible for not only mass destruction, but excessively unnecessary expenditure for human development.
Therefore, the spread of neoliberalism must be understood against the context of the global crisis of profitability that began in the 1970s, through which neoliberalism provided the necessary leverage for the opening of new markets, tapping into the vast resources and reserves of cheap and docile labour, and cutback on the rights won by organised labour in the “golden age” of capitalist growth.
At the last Central Committee held in June 2011, we observed the phenomenon of an increasing aggressive posture being taken in developed capitalist countries, including against their own people: * The adoption of economic austerity measures which threaten to plunge the world into an economic depression; * The rise of right wing governments and ultra-right parties in the North * The intensification of dangerous military adventures being undertaken in the pursuit of economic and geopolitical interests.
Between that Central Committee and now Greece and Spain have completed the trend of social democratic and socialist oriented parties being replaced by centre rightwing and a rise of extreme rightwing and fascism represented by the mowing of innocent civilians in Norway allegedly by Anders Behring Breivik.
At the same time we have seen resistance against the austerity measures almost everywhere in the world. From Wisconsin, USA, to the ever growing movement of occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring in North Africa and today in most of the European countries including Britain, Greece and Spain.
Interestingly and a very critical lesson for us is that it is the very same workers who are today occupying the streets in these countries after having voted into power the rightwing political parties who wasted no time in showing their true colours. These parties are systematically attacking century old hard won rights and social gains all over Europe.
Yesterday we witnessed the inauguration of François Hollande, the first Socialist to hold office since the defeat of François Mitterrand. The recent elections in Greece point to the fluidity of the political situation in the developed north. Both left and far right parties have made significant electoral gains but none of them are big enough to create a government on their own.
What do we do with this situation how could we help tilt the balance of forces so that we can realise our historic demand that another world is possible?
In the paper to the Central Committee we observed that the developments in North Africa and Latin America constitute a tectonic political shift. This shift, combined with the tectonic economic shift in the balance of power to the South, (emerging with the economic crisis, and the rise of China), is a major opportunity for progressive forces in the South. However within the South there will also obviously be contestation, including between countries, e.g. within BRICS, and by anti-worker forces, aiming to determine the character of the new agenda.
Therefore trade unions and left parties need to develop a coherent joint strategy to consolidate and take forward a progressive South-South platform. But how do we do that, bearing in mind the contradictions we have pointed out? For example what type of an alliance do we pursue with China in the context of its dumping on South African and its discrimination of the mineral resources of the continent to industrialise on the back of deepening under-development of Africa?
Many have called this a new type of colonialism, meaning that China is replacing Europe in the colonialisation drive. But at the same time, should we condemn China for pursuing their interest at all costs whilst we in South Africa are doing next to nothing to pursue our own national interests?
Why are we not beneficiating our mineral resources and then complaining that China is stockpiling chrome from all over Africa? Why is our much-celebrated R300 billion-infrastructure plan mostly about building new railways and roads to the nearest harbour to export to China and elsewhere?
Notwithstanding these internal contradictions, the South-South agenda has begun to make an impact at the WTO, the climate change negotiations etc, and looks to the G77 plus China to play a significant role.
Strengthening political alliances and cooperation have led to rapid expansion of South to South trade, joint production and infrastructural investment, technological and scientific, health and educational cooperation, etc. We have pointed out the cooperation between Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as good examples that show South-South relations t are possible.
In the context of the international crisis, various states, international bodies, and global unions are putting forward concrete progressive alternatives to this neoliberal response.
These centre around the follow co-ordinated economic responses: * To promote global economic stimuli, which advance redistribution, fair labour standards and social protection; * Reforms to international financial architecture and international wage bargaining; * Forms of regional economic organisation and ‘deglobalisation’ which delink especially countries in the South from current patterns of domination; and * Far-reaching interventions to promote a green economy.
Many have pointed out that all these initiatives can be better described as mere ‘radical reforms’. But implemented together in a package they have potential to lay the basis for transition to a different type of international order, and a movement away from the current dangerous threats of economic implosion (as well as military aggression), on an even larger scale, and promote more far-reaching economic democratisation.
They would tilt the international balance of forces decisively away from the current patterns of domination, and could lay the basis for progressive new international economic and political arrangements. In that sense, if taken forward effectively, they would constitute a qualitative break from the current international order.
On 19 June 2009, The ILO’s International Labour Conference, with the participation of government, employers’ and workers’ delegates from the ILO’s member States, adopted a Declaration entitled Recovering from the crisis: A Global Jobs Pact, which is similar to the Framework for South Africa’s response to the Global Economic Crisis, adopted on 19 February 2009.
The ILO Global Jobs Pact proposes fairly far-reaching interventions to respond to the crisis, with a heavy emphasis on macro-economic stimulus, decent work, redistribution, social dialogue and social protection.
The notion of a wage-led economic recovery acknowledges that: * Growing inequality, and poverty amongst workers, is an underlying cause of the global crisis; * Far- reaching redistribution is needed to redress this imbalance; * Attacks on wages, and ‘wage moderation’ will ‘lead to a deflationary wage spiral’ and exacerbate the crisis by reducing economic demand and that therefore measures are needed to protect and improve workers real wages.
While the language is moderate, it is significant that a tripartite body, which includes employers, is committing itself to the notion that real wage increases are an important part of the response to the crisis.
Yet here at the home UASA just released its 11th Employment Report, authored by Mike Schussler, who as someone else put it succinctly, is an economist known more for his ability to get press coverage than for his academic rigour, argued that South African workers, in particular the semi and unskilled, are overpaid and that we must accept drastic reductions in the salaries in order to create more jobs.
Yesterday the DA marched to COSATU essentially to reinforce this onslaught on the working class, demanding that we should accept that the taxes we pay must be handed over to capital so that they can employ young workers as part of a strategy to address youth unemployment crisis in the country. What nonsense!
An ILO collection called ‘don’t waste the crisis’ advocates a ‘public investment and wage led recovery’, emphasizing the fact that “the crisis happened in the wake of years of lower taxation for the rich and a decoupling of productivity growth and wage increases…a rebalancing of economies necessitates a functional wage policy that ensures sufficient levels of internal aggregate demand based on real income.
“Across-the-board wage moderation carries the high risk of a competitive race to the bottom, with hugely negative impacts on demand and overall price levels. This could drive the world economy into the deflationary trap experienced by several Asian countries in the 1990s. The measures endorsed by the ILO Global Jobs Pact - a minimum wage, stronger collective bargaining institutions, comprehensive social security provisions and labour clauses in public procurement, public investment and public employment - are important policy tools for reversing the wage slide.”[1]
This assertion of the importance of improving wages internationally, particularly of low paid workers, as a key element of the response to the crisis, is a significant element of a new platform for economic justice.
However, none of this will be achieved without workers being mobilised into strong unions, waging struggles both for a living wage, and building the institutions ns required, to combat conditions which have led to the prevalence of ‘precarity’ (precarious work), undermined collective bargaining, and promoted the race to the bottom. Unions’ ability to do this will also be enhanced by effective alliances with progressive governments and international institutions, committed to this strategy.
If we are to tilt this balance at the local and international level we require alternative strategies and centres of power to counterbalance and outmanoeuvre the multinational corporations whose power and speed has increased manifold since the emergence of the unipolar world. One such important intervention is to develop institutions, which build the power of international worker solidarity, to begin to reduce the power of corporations to divide and undermine workers.
A key element of this will be to find ways to develop international institutions of collective bargaining. A commentator argues that this would require both international collective agreements, as well as transformation of unions into real international structures so that we can bring to life our international slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all”.
This means we must assess our participation in the Global Union Federations (GUFs) in order to ensure that the precedents for international shop stewards councils are multiplied many times. COSATU unions have done some work on this front including SACCAWU’s attempts to standardise bargaining agreements in Checkers stores in Africa, and initiatives by NUMSA, NUM, and SACTWU to broaden collective bargaining in Southern Africa and elsewhere.
Lastly we need to champion more aggressively the need to transform and diversify the financial sector internationally, since in its current form, it probably constitutes the major obstacle to a new international development path.
The capitalist crisis we are experiencing is a direct result of that and how capitalism as a system functions. This has resulted in two contradictory tendencies resulting from the global economic crisis; * Increased suffering, fragmentation and weakening of working class organisations, and the * · Increased militancy, improved ideological depth and heightened focus on strategic issues of contesting working class power and building alternatives to the capitalist system
COSATU’s role must be to help deepen power of the working class. It certainly would be un-Marxist to deepen fragmentation and divisions at this critical moment.
The task of genuinely left and progressive formations such as COSATU is to buttress the call that has been made by the President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela for a fifth Socialist International. Chavez outlined the primary tasks of this international as being about bringing together left parties and social movements. It must be an “instrument for the unification and the articulation of the struggle of the peoples to save this planet”.
These important rallying points, around which the broad revolutionary front can be based, could include: * An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist programme of emergency demands, which starts from the demands and the social needs of the popular classes, proposes a new distribution of wealth, public and social appropriation of the key sectors of the economy and leads on to the revolutionary transformation of society * Unity of action of all the organizations, currents and progressive and revolutionary forces against the attacks of the capitalist classes and their corrupt ruling allies in most countries. * Ideological and organisational independence of the social movements, associations and trade-union organizations with respect to parties and states. * Solidarity with all struggles of peoples against all the imperialist powers and local elites. * The fight against oppressions and the defence of the rights of women, workers, young people and immigrants. * The fight for governments of the workers and popular classes, which satisfy the principal social and ecological demands and base themselves on the mobilisation of the population and its control over the principal sectors of the economy. * The central character of the self-emancipation and self-organisation of peoples, in the struggle to overthrow capitalism. * An eco-socialist project, which combines both the satisfaction of social needs and the respect and balance of our ecosystem. We have much to learn much from the indigenous peoples of South America and their relationship to the land. * · Socialist democracy as a project of society: self-management of the economy, democracy and pluralism of parties and social movements.
These are some themes for discussion in order to advance along the road to bring together all anti-capitalists on an international level. They are the first ideas that we could synergise in the process of constituting a new International.
Let me return to our local political reality. We have over and over warned about the ticking time bomb of unemployment, grinding poverty and deepening inequalities. This is our reality as we celebrate our political medals for the 18th year whilst the other side is celebrating its economic jewellery over the past 300 year of colonialism, including now more painfully, the 18 years of our democracy.
Unless we re-embrace a radical policy platform to confront this reality, our revolution will regrettably only make our commitment as reflected in the ANC Morogoro conference resolution sound hollow:
“In our country - more than in any other part of the oppressed world - it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation.”
Yesterday we saw frustrations from both sides of the most marginalised sections of our society playing themselves out in the streets of Johannesburg.
On one hand you had organised workers, extremely angry and frustrated by poverty wages and the ever existing threat to cut these wages and or to throw them in the streets to join the long queues of the unemployed.
On the other hand you had largely unemployed African youth who are the face of the marginalisation of the working class mobilised by a reactionary right-wing parliamentary political party to demand that the organised workers agree to the race to the bottom as a pillar to sorting out the triple challenge of underdevelopment.
These were not only hired and ill-informed African youths but they represent the face of desperation of the part of the youth who constitute 72% of the unemployed. Some of the youth of course will not be misled by what is essentially a pro-business and anti-poor party.
Some of the youth are in the forefront of the ‘service delivery’ protests, which today more often turn violent and happen at the rate of 10 times a month or 120 times a year. In the DA march yesterday you could hardly count the numbers of white males who are in general terms the real beneficiaries of the status quo. It was mainly African youth that formed bulk of the march.
To me this seem to be not very different to what we analysed in the Central Committee and unless we can go back to the basics again this, left on its own, will eventually lead to the replacement of the left forces by right-wing formations as has happened in Europe. Remember an empty stomach has no logic or rationality, no sense of history or complexities we articulate in this conference.
The DA has identified the ‘born frees’ who are deeply marginalised as a base they should work on to challenge the hegemony that the ANC and liberation forces have enjoyed for the past 100 years. The DA seeks to capitalise on the mistakes and own goals some in the leadership score, including on such blunders as the shifting and or redeployment of Lieutenant-General Mdluli when he is facing serious accusations.
But more worryingly, our inability to address the marginalisation of the women, youth and people in the townships and the rural areas is the real threat to our revolution. It is workers and the poor who voted social democratic parties out of power in most parts of Europe yet today it is the same poor and workers occupying the streets in protest against the austerity measures the parties they voted into power are implementing to reinforce the domination of society by a capitalist class.
In the aftermath of yesterday’s events let us again reinforce a few other lessons that demand our attention. Violence, no matter who perpetuates it is wrong. In yesterday’s case we saw casualties of violence from both the COSATU and DA demonstrators. Regrettably the biased nature of the South African media reminds us of one of the challenges we still face - the fact that the media remain in the hands of few and has not been diversified. The class nature of the yesterday protest has brought this sharply to the fore.
Comrades
This is the totality of the context under which this historical COSATU international conference must evaluate our international work and solidarity performance on a variety of issues, including trade, climate change, building solidarity against the ruthless power of multinational companies, and practical solidarity with fellow workers and people suffering different forms of oppression and exploitation all over the world.
At the last International Conference of COSATU, the following gaps and weaknesses were identified: * Lack of an overall framework guiding our international work, which was further identified as a critical problem by the last Central Committee * We are more reactive than pro-active * There is no coordination between COSATU departments, NOBs, provinces and affiliates on international work * Lack of prioritisation of international work * Most often, our international is too broad and general to make maximum impact * Insufficient capacity in the international department, hence insufficient output, resulting from insufficient personnel, resources, etc * Insufficient briefings and orientation for new NOBs and staff * Lack of systematic work in SADC, as well as Francophone and Lusophone countries * Being viewed as arrogant and driven by self-interest
These issues result from a number of factors within and outside the federation and its affiliates. There is evident neglect or half-hearted engagement with international issues, resulting in their relegation to the lowest possible level within the organisation’s hierarchy of priorities.
We have already pointed out that a number of COSATU affiliates are actively involved and doing good work in many African countries and beyond. In addition to the examples we made involving the NUM, SACCAWU, SACTWU, NUMSA, POPRCRU, we must also salute work done by NEHAWU and SAMWU who have been in the forefront of uniting workers in the public sector in many countries of the region, such as Mozambique and Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Botswana.
These are just examples of COSATU unions being actively involved in international work, with many more that I have not mentioned herein, including SATAWU, SAFPU, CEPPWAWU, SADTU, DENOSA, SASBO, FAWU, CWUSA, etc.
The point however, is what happens to these rich experiences? Do they get shared with the International Relations Committee (IRC) of COSATU or they are just for the union only and cannot benefit other unions and the federation itself. Even though there is a platform for sharing and coordination, this platform is not being utilised effectively for this. Our leaders, including the worker leaders, do not attend the COSATU International Relations Committee.
In addition to what we have already said about COSATU that must strengthen unity of the working people, let me go back to one important quote.
Vladimir Lenin in his article on ‘Leftwing Communism: an infantile disorder’ in answer to the question, ‘Should revolutionaries work in reactionary trade unions?” had this to say: “We are waging a struggle against the "labour aristocracy" in the name of the masses of the workers and in order to win them over to our side; we are waging the struggle against the opportunist and social-chauvinist leaders in order to win the working class over to our side. It would be absurd to forget this most elementary and most self-evident truth. Yet it is this very absurdity that the German "Left" Communists perpetrate when, because of the reactionary and counter-revolutionary character of the trade union top leadership, they jump to the conclusion that ... we must withdraw from the trade unions, refuse to work in them, and create new and artificial forms of labour organisation! This is so unpardonable a blunder that it is tantamount to the greatest service Communists could render the bourgeoisie.”
He went on to say, “This ridiculous theory that Communists should not work in reactionary trade unions reveals with the utmost clarity the frivolous attitude of the "Left" Communists towards the question of influencing the masses, and their misuse of clamour about the masses.”
He finally said, “If you want to help the masses and win the sympathy and support of the masses, you should not fear difficulties, or pinpricks, chicanery, insults and persecution from the "leaders" (who, being opportunists and social-chauvinists, are in most cases directly or indirectly connected with the bourgeoisie and the police), but must absolutely work wherever the masses are to be found. You must be capable of any sacrifice, of overcoming the greatest obstacles, in order to carry on agitation and propaganda systematically, perseveringly, persistently and patiently in those institutions, societies and associations -- even the most reactionary—in which proletarian or semi-proletarian masses are to be found.”
Dear comrades, we must use this opportunity to ask ourselves hard questions and not fear hard and uncomfortable answers about the situation we face today in our own revolutionary programme. We offer no apologies for our profound commitment to the fundamental transformation of the international trade union movement, but how to go about doing that in the most effective way is the question we must answer honestly during our deliberations in this conference.
COSATU stands for the unity of the working class. How best should we use the space we occupy and the moral high ground we are standing on to advance that objective more effectively? It would be a fatal mistake to leave the ranks of majority of workers and isolate ourselves purely on the basis of shared ideological foundations and common history.
No matter what we think of our strength and let us emphasize it is not a small strength, but we must at the same time not exaggerate our importance in the world today.
At all times we must be guided by our principles listed below: * Working with all progressive forces who want to change the balance of power in favour of workers and the poor, which is essentially about changing the current world system and not embracing it or elements of it * Genuine independence from governments and employers. In this regard, we stand firmly on the side of workers who are free from undue external influences by governments and business, but who stand firmly for independent working class power. However, we do note that there are varying meanings attached to this principle and wish to clarify that in cases where workers, together with revolutionary proletarian movements to transform a capitalist order, as in Cuba, we do not regard it as meaning the form of organisation should be purely as under a capitalist order like ours. * We must warn against the dangers of conveyor belt unionism. In doing so, we wish to clarify that whilst the pursuit of profound anti-capitalist changes require alliances with other revolutionary class forces to defeat capitalism. But even under such circumstances, the line must be drawn in order to avoid a repeat of the Soviet experience, where trade unions were mere conveyor belts of their so-called revolutionary parties. Being a conveyor belt can at times be more sophisticated than just mere organisational independence as we have seen in some of the western countries where organisational independence is confused with total independence, whilst ideological or class collaboration (lack of ideological independence) is the order of the day. These are the two extremes we should guard against. Our emphasis is clear: trade unions must be accountable or answerable to their constituencies or to workers only. * We work with militant unions, not yellow or sweetheart unions. Only through militant struggles can the working class liberate itself from all forms of oppression and exploitation. We do not believe that press statements or boardroom lobbying must replace militant action on the ground, because that substitutes workers from being the principal actors in the main theatre of struggle into becoming passive followers of their leaders, regardless of the direction pursued and interests being advanced. * We support fully the unity of all workers across race, nationalities, sex and all other forms of divisions. In this regard, we don’t encourage splinters, though certain circumstances in history have warranted breakaways from reactionary formations that were not advancing the interests of workers and formed to contain workers struggles, but we emphasise firmly our commitment to working class unity.
With these few words, allow me to thank you all for the opportunity to share these views and hope they have assisted in laying a solid foundation for the crucial and historic decisions we shall be taking in the coming two days on a wide range of issues affecting workers all over the world, most particularly in our country and continent, Africa.
Workers and our allies all over the world are keenly awaiting your answers to the many pressing issues facing humanity and workers in particular, because they have full trust in you and your ability to confront more directly, the issues that hold progress back.

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