COSATU Congress Calls for Unity & Cohesion To Advance National Democratic Revolution
Swadesh Dev Roye
THE 12th National Congress of COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) took place on November 23-26 at Gallagher, Midrant, Gauteng Province located in the vicinity of Johannesburg. This time the theme of the congress was ‘Unity and Cohesion of COSATU to advance the National Democratic Revolution’. Total participants in the congress was more than 2,700, consisting of 2,563 elected delegates from eighteen affiliated sector-based apex unions representing a total membership strength of 19,23,436; international fraternal delegates numbering around 50 representing 31 countries and international TU organisations, such as, WFTU (World Federation of Trade Unions). A notable feature is that two sizable delegations, each composed of several representatives including the leaders from the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), were present throughout the congress and also participated in the deliberations on all matters alike other regular delegates. Three Decades of COSATU The 12th National Congress marks the 30th year of foundation of COSATU, launched in 1985. The achievements of the period have been captured in the Report: “COSATU has been built over the past 30 years, based on the traditions of the strong shop floor organisation and militant struggles for workers’ rights, collective bargaining and power, activism, democratic organisation controlled and based on campaigns and mobilisation, incorporation of broader social issues and interests into our programme, thus building alliances with community organisations, with the political movement and with intellectuals etc. because of our conviction that the total liberation of the workers and the working class is priceless. We continue to pursue these revolutionary virtues up to this day.” The congress also marks the 60th year of two very important events – the formation of SACTU (acknowledged as the predecessor of COSATU) and the adoption of the Freedom Charter which declared, “we want a South Africa where the people shall share in the country’s wealth, where the land shall be shared amongst those who work on it and where there shall be work and security.” Reaffirming its class oriented political vision and mission, the report quoted from Walter Sisulu, “The victory can only be won and imperialism uprooted by forging strong ties of alliance between the liberation movements and the trade union movements, by correcting any misconceptions that the trade union had nothing to do with politics.” This congress of COSATU was preceded by a Special National Congress held in July 2015 in which the then General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was dismissed from the post of General Secretary of COSATU. The Special Congress ratified the resolution detailing each and every charges brought against Vavi and the steps followed by the forums of COSATU. The special congress elected Comrade Bheki Ntshalintshali as the Acting General Secretary. The Special Congress also expelled NUMSA (National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) as a COSATU affiliate. Inaugural Address by COSATU President In his inaugural address to the congress, the President of COSATU Sidumo Dlamini noted that the governments all over the world representing interest of capitalist class “have drawn clear class battle lines. It is now an open class war!” And he continued to say, “The question this Congress must provide practical answers to, is whether we have a requisite organisational and political capacity to respond pound for pound and emerge victorious from this class war.” Coming down heavily against the pro-capital and anti-labour policies of the government of South Africa (SA), Dlamini noted that despite serious economic crisis in South Africa, “opulence is on the rise existing side by side with worsening abject poverty, unemployment and inequality.” The pathetic picture of South African workers has been captured elaborately in the speech of the President. The major phenomenon as mentioned is huge job losses and consequent aggravation in the problem of unemployment. Falling share of workers in national income: more than 50 percent of SA workers live on less than 8 percent of national income. More than 54 percent of SA workers receive no regular wage increase and still the employers’ class has been demanding abolishing or de-centralise collective bargaining. Now COSATU being a powerful and militant working class constituent of the ruling Tripartite Alliance of South Africa (ANC), it was but natural that the congress was addressed by the President of South Africa Jacob Zuma, the General Secretary of SACP Blade Nzimande and several central ministers. Congress Documents & Deliberations According to the tradition and practice of South African trade union movement, the documents presented to the Congress were voluminous, amazingly colourful and innovative in form and contents which were politically very rich with clear orientation of class struggle. The main documents may be traced in the Report of the Secretariat composed of four parts in two A4-size paper books - (a) Political (b) Socio-Economic (c) Organisational (d) International. And the other two books – The Resolutions and the Treasurer Report and audited accounts. Four separate presentations in four different sessions of the congress were made. Presentation of each report was followed by deliberation and adoption. Some Facts about Unionisation in South Africa COSATU is primarily a blue collar worker federation. The Federation mainly represents general workers, artisans, technicians, lower level professionals, and others in such occupations. A large number of COSATU members are in the age group between 35 and 45 years. Out of the total 13.4 million workers (as on June 2015) in South Africa, only 3.7 million are unionised. In other words around 9.7 million workers in the country are not unionised. Union density in South Africa stands at a mere 27.6 percent. Of this percentage, men are 59 percent (2.2 million) while women make up the remaining 41 percent (1.5 million). Union density in the private sector had been stagnant from 1995 to 2005 at 32.4 percent whilst in the public sector, it increased from 50 percent to 68.4 percent. This increase in density in the public sector is linked largely to the radical changes introduced through the Labour Relations Act (LRA) which enabled public servants including the police and members of the South African National Defence Force to join unions of their choice. The strengthening of centralised collective bargaining mechanisms in the public sector also mean that public sector workers have continued to enjoy better wages and working conditions, and more importantly, employment security. On the contrary, unionisation in the private sector has experienced significant downward shifts largely because of the effects of a rapidly expanding services sector, slow economic growth, higher rates of long-term unemployment, and the increase in labour broking, casualisation and informalisation, among others. In 1991, COSATU’s membership constituted 93 percent private sector workers and only 7 percent public sector employees. By 2012, private sector membership had dropped to 61 percent while that of the public sector had risen to 39 percent. This is a significant shift as it means that COSATU has succeeded in attracting public sector workers but at the same time, it has lost or is not attracting private sector workers in substantial numbers. On Contract Labour COSATU acting together with its affiliates fought a major battle to have Section 198 of the LRA amended. This culminated in the changes that took effect from April 1, 2015. These amendments provide greater protections to labour broker, fixed and part-time employees. For instance an employer may now only employ an employee on a fixed term contract or successive fixed term contracts for a period of up to three months. The employer also bears the onus of proving that there exists a justifiable reason for fixing the term of the contract, or extending it beyond the three months period. In the absence of a justifiable reason, the employee is deemed to be a permanent employee of that employer. COSATU’s call was and remains that labour broking must be banned entirely because it is a modern form of slavery, it does not create employment, and it benefits the labour broker and the employer at the expense of the employee. Anti-Imperialist Stance in Focus The Report of the Secretariat is very forthright and focused in its direction for fight against imperialism led by the US. The Report noted that global capitalist economic crisis has seriously impacted the economies of developing nations including South Africa. This global economic crisis has taken place in the context in which the international balance of forces is dominated by the US-led imperialist forces and part of their strategy is to undermine the sovereignty of developing nations. A powerful coalition of nation states, transnational corporation and international financial institutions is driving an agenda to expand the market by forcing developing countries to open their economies. This is underpinned by the ideology of neo-liberalism which has blind faith in markets. Whilst there is a common appreciation about an emerging counter hegemonic block represented by developments which include the formation of BRICS which has established a BIRCS Development Bank, developments in Latin American countries and China, this however does not enjoy ideological coherency in opposition to Imperialist ideological orientation. COSATU on ANC and SACP COSATU is a constituent of the ruling Alliance of South Africa: ANC-SACP-COSATU. The congress clearly spelt out its political aims and objectives in so far as the ANC and the SACP are concerned. The congress demanded that an Alliance Summit should be convened in the first quarter of 2016 and must be preceded by an Alliance Political Council to assess progress and confront the challenges in the NDR, and chart a way forward based on commitment to qualitatively move away from the neo liberal policy paradigm and to advance a people driven and people centered radical economic transformation. On the SACP it said, in deepening the relationship with the SACP, COSATU should provide resources that will help strengthen the SACP and transform it into a formidable force capable of meeting the challenges and leading the struggle for socialism. COSATU should have a focused campaign to re-establish party units in workplaces and strengthen the SACP branches where they are weak and help and build new ones where they do not exist. As COSATU we believe that the SACP should stand for elections on its own, which will be in alliance with the ANC based on its own political terms guided by the needs of the working class and nothing else. The SACP is the vanguard of the working class, and we seek to build it into a strong, mass-based organization that truly can be the bedrock for workers. It is the ideological responsibility of the workers to ensure existence of the SACP and its strength. WFTU in the Congress The WFTU was represented by a strong delegation consisting of George Mavrikos, general secretary, Swadesh Dev Roye, deputy general secretary, Divanilton Pereira, head of International Relations, CTB, Brazil, Alexandra Lymperi, head of Media Department and George Bazionis, Telecom Department, WFTU headquarters, Athens. Through elaborate democratic engagement with the affiliates and friends of South Africa and deliberating in the Presidential Council of WFTU held in June this year at Geneva it has been decided that the 17th World Trade Union Congress of WFTU will be held in South Africa in October 2016. In the sideline of the congress the WFTU delegation had meetings with a delegation of SACP led by the General Secretary and with trade union teams consisting of President and General Secretary of COSATU, the Presidents and the General Secretaries of CEPPWAWU, NEHAWU, NUM, and POPCRU. An elaborate review of the preparatory steps so far taken and further plan and steps to be taken was undertaken in these meetings. In the meantime, the speech delivered by Mavrikos in the congress was acknowledged by the delegates with thunderous applause. Mavrikos spoke on the present challenges before the working class worldwide due to the crisis of capitalism. He said, “All of us believe that capitalism cannot solve the problems of the working class. Capitalism produces poverty, unemployment, hunger, slums, privatizations, state violence, wars, diseases, environment disaster. Capitalism produces profits for the few and misery for the many.” Concluding Session The Declaration adopted by the congress highlighted the burning demands of the workers, reiterated the strategy for short term and long term aims and objectives, appealed for action and resolved to strengthen the organisation to achieve the task outlined in the Declaration. Sidumo Dlamini and Bheki Ntshalintshali were re-elected unopposed as president and general secretary of COSATU, respectively.