Thank you for honouring me with your invitation to address this important Congress. I bring greetings and best wishes from COSATU's National Office Bearers and our 2.2 million members for a successful Congress.
PAWUSA is one of our smaller affiliates but one of our oldest, with a long and proud history. Formerly known as the Public Servants League (PSL), or Staats Diens Liga (SDL), PAWUSA dates back to 1967 when it was established in Cape Town to represent employees in the public service and changed its name to the Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa in 1995 after the advent of our new democracy.
Although it was established by so called Coloured people, the PSL was in effect the first truly 'non-white' union in the public service. It is a union which, as you say on your website, has “a rich history of proud members united in the struggle for the rights and freedoms of workers”.
We meet today at a very important moment in our history. On 27 April, we shall be celebrating the completion of two decades of democracy, 20 years since the overthrow of the hated racist, apartheid regime.
Then, on 7 May, we shall be taking part in our national and provincial elections, the fifth since we won the right for all South Africans to vote in free and fair elections in 1994.
We are also meeting against the backdrop of massive levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality, strikes in the mines and more and more community protests.
We meet too at a moment when our own workers' movement faces major challenges. Our hard-fought-for unity is under threat. We all have a duty to find ways to defend that unity, because we all know that “Unity is Strength! United we Stand, Divided we Fall!” and that the only people who will benefit from any disunity are the employers and their friends in the pro-business political parties.
In the next few days we shall be issuing a booklet - Why workers should vote for the ANC, which gives flesh to the federation's Congress resolutions to support our ally, the African National Congress, and I would like to give you a preview of some of its main arguments.
We have seen many parties coming forward in the recent past, some of them new, presenting various claims which are more about what's wrong with the ANC than what they will do for the country, and particularly for the working people. We see new political parties formed on the bases of anger against the ANC and promising heaven on earth... but they have all failed to present anything better than the record of the ANC since 1994, and what the ANC offers the workers and the working class as a whole in its current manifesto.
Comrade Nelson Mandela warned about the danger of what may seem as revolutionary solutions which will deliver long-awaited solutions immediately: “The struggle that will free us is a long, hard job. Do not be deceived by men who talk big with no thought for tomorrow. Freedom is not just a matter of strong words. Neither is it simply brave men and heroic deeds. Impatience, which makes men lose their heads, will not bring freedom”.
The booklet concludes that the working class and the country have made significant gains since the democratic breakthrough of April 1994, thanks to ANC-led governments. These gains need to be defended at all times as they are under constant threat from the right-wing and neoliberal ideologues.
“It was on this basis,” the booklet concludes, “that we took a resolution to mobilise for the decisive victory of the ANC in these coming 2014 General Elections.”
But let me reassure those union members who support other political parties that you remain just as welcome in the federation and its affiliates. As a trade union movement, we are a home for all workers irrespective of political affiliation. As the booklet says:
“Our main agenda is to unite all workers so that they can improve their wages and working conditions and defend their jobs. At the same time, we do however want to ensure the successful transformation of our country...
“That is why COSATU decided to enter into alliances with progressive forces with a track record, and a mass following amongst the people, in order to end the exploitative and oppressive apartheid system. Based on these criteria, we combined forces with the UDF internally and the ANC, SACP and SACTU Alliance in exile. Soon after their unbanning of political organisations, we entered into a formal alliance with the ANC and the SACP.”
Time does not allow me to go through them all the many advances we have made under ANC-led governments, but of particular interest to workers are the many provisions under the constitution and a succession of labour laws which have given protection and basic human rights to workers who were treated as little more than slaves before 1994.
Just to summarise some of the main points, the booklet reminds us that we have won the following constitutional guarantees:
a) The right to fair labour practices,
b) The right to form and join trade unions, strike and picket.
c) The right to conclude union security agreements such as closed and agency shops;
d) The right to collective bargaining
We refer as well to some of the pledges in the ANC Election Manifesto, which reflect demands made by COSATU in the process of drawing it up. Although it is far from a perfect document, it commits the ANC government to:
a) Strengthen the enforcement of the Employment Equity Act which requires that employers report unequal incomes in all wage levels and submit plans to reduce inequalities. This was openly opposed by the DA because it threatens white privileges
b) Ensure that collective bargaining takes place and is strengthened in all sectors of the economy.
c) Investigate the feasibility of implementing a statutory national minimum wage, which builds on the decisions reached at the Alliance Summit, where there was an in-principle agreement on the national minimum wage.
d) Enforce legislation to eliminate abusive work practises in atypical work and labour broking and to improve the capacity of the Department of Labour to enforce this and all other labour laws. We will be working with government to ensure that this happen
e) Create decent work and sustainable livelihoods for inclusive growth.
f) Provide accessible, reliable and affordable public transport.
g) Allow space for further engagement on grey areas in the National Development Plan in line with the Alliance Summit decision to discuss concerns raised by the SACP and COSATU.
h) Strengthen support for co‐operatives in marketing and supply activities so small-scale producers can enter formal value chains and get better access for small-scale producers' to municipal markets.
i) Expand the Food for All Programme as part of the national integrated food and nutrition policy for distributing affordable essential foodstuffs directly to poor communities.
j) Promote local procurement to increase domestic production and the creation of decent jobs by directing the state to progressively buy at least 75% of its goods and services from South African producers and support small enterprises, co‐operatives and broad‐based empowerment.
k) Ensure all South Africans have access to adequate and quality housing through programmes to provide a million housing opportunities for qualifying households over the next five years, and basic services and infrastructure in all informal settlements.
And as well as defending what we have already gained and campaigning for more, we must never ignore the threat to all these advances for workers posed by many of the opposition parties who will be competing for your votes on 7 May.
The Democratic Alliance in particular wants to weaken collective bargaining rights, make labour-laws “more flexible”, (in reality make it easier to fire workers), remove the restrictions the government plans to regulate labour brokers, reduce entry-level wages for young workers, privatise state-owned enterprises and, of particular concern to you, use consultants, rather than public-sector workers.
Your comrades in NEHAWU recently gave us a glimpse of how the DA acts when it gets a bit of political power.
Commenting on the findings of the Auditor General (AG) on the Western Cape Provincial Government, NEHAWU condemns “the extensive pillaging of the public resources by the DA-led provincial government to the tune of R10, 3 billion, through the use of consultants”.
“The amount of money spent on consultants is staggering... The DA has been exposed time again that it is in bed with the private sector and they are intent on weakening and looting the public service. Corruption has never done this country any good, and it needs to be fought against, not put under new management for different groups.”
A vote for any party other than the ANC risks letting the rabidly anti-union DA into power through the back door. So we are again calling to workers and their families to vote ANC, the only party interests of workers and the poor at heart. Only the ANC has a vision to continue changing our country away from the apartheid and colonial legacy. Only the ANC fought, in the face of hard opposition in parliament, for the advancement and protection of workers' rights.
Only the ANC has an unquestionable track record of being a reliable ally of workers since its inception in 1912. Whatever apartheid apologists have to say, it is a fact that the struggle for liberation in our country was led by the ANC and its alliance partners.
It is important however, particularly in the light of certain discussions taking place within the federation, to stress that our support for our ANC ally does not mean that we are surrendering our independence or becoming the ANC's ‘labour desk'. We will never flinch from criticising our allies, and even take to the streets, if we believe they are no longer acting in the workers' interests.
The booklet I was quoting earlier spells out in detail the areas where we feel the ANC government could and should do more to protect and advance workers' rights and interests. These include:
a) Strategic nationalisation of key sectors of the economy;
b) Banning labour brokers;
c) Enforcing an upper limit of a 40-hour work week across the board;
d) Taxing firms that pay below the statutory minimum wage, and the distribution of such tax proceeds back to the workers concerned;
e) Tax reform to target executive pay and to set targets to close the apartheid wage gap;
f) Targets and timeframes to extend maternity leave and all other leave benefits to all workers;
g) Extend social protection and ensure that there is an income floor below which no South African worker or household should fall;
h) Set targets for the reduction of "low-wage" employment, through the introduction of solidarity measures in wage formation. This should be an integral part of realising our demand that the income gap between the highest paid and the lowest paid should be 16:1.
i) Strategic nationalisation of key sectors of the economy;
These demands will form part of our ongoing campaign for the fundamental transformation of our economy and the achievement of our “Lula moment”, inspired by the policies adopted by the former president of Brazil, who faced very similar problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality as we face, but chose the route of economic expansion, and higher minimum wages and social grants.
He did not solve all the country's problems, but undoubtedly made Brazil a better place to live for millions of workers and the poor, and at the same time accelerated economic growth, increased employment by creating more demand for goods and services, and this did not cause the runaway inflation which critics had predicted would result. Our challenge is to do the same here.
Finally I must return to the internal challenges we face. This is not the occasion to go into details about all the issues we are discussing - the call for a Special National Congress which you and eight other unions have called for, the suspension of the General Secretary and the facilitated processes into internal political, organisational and administrative matters.
All these matters are being processed and we are all striving to resolve them in the best interests of all our members. We are in the process of trying to resolve the differences and reunite the federation of Elijah Barayi.
I must do is appeal to you all to do everything possible to avoid the public spats and debates through the media. I am confident that COSATU will continue to grow and remain as the powerful force for workers' rights and social change that we all want to see.
I am confident that PAWUSA will play its full part in the crusade to build a united and even stronger workers' movement.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson), Congress of South African Trade Unions