This is a rapid response and may be qualified later.
Cosatu may be the only national union centre to hold such regular conference on international policy. This could itself be positive if other inter/national unions or labour movements were to respond. Further, I note that in all its practical policies and strategies, Cosatu seems to endorse the Global Neo-Keynesian economic policies of the Eurocentred ITUC and the equally Eurocentred ILO. Whilst its references to working-class power, Marxism, Lenin, are not action-oriented and therefore come over as rhetorical gestures. References to the South and South-South solidarity come over as also rhetorical in so far as 1) The Hugo Chavez international was abandoned by Chavez, soon after he floated it, a couple of years ago, and 2) That it does not distinguish between inter-state relations and international working-class ones, 3) It simply ignores the World Social Forum - a worldwide process of Southern origin - with which Cosatu has been affiliated and which is surely a platform for South-South anti-capitalist solidarity. Finally, why the silence on Cosatu's past public criticisms of the ITUC, and on the Communist WFTU (World Federation of Trade Unions), to which major Cosatu member unions have recently affiliated? I can only assume that this is too hot a potato to be spoken of openly, leaving commentators to interpret the tea leaves. I look forward to commentaries both from local labour specialists and international ones.
Now read on...
COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi’s, Keynote Address to the
COSATU International Policy Conference, 16th May, 2012
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;
Cosmetics in the United States
Ice cream in Europe
Perfumes in Europe and the United States
Pet foods in Europe and the United States
Business entertainment in Japan
Cigarettes in Europe
Alcoholic drinks in Europe
Narcotics drugs in the world
Military spending in the world
This should be compared to the spending on basic needs for all
Basic education for all
Water and sanitation for all
Reproductive health for all women
Basic health and nutrition
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
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
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
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
§ Forms of regional economic organisation and ‘deglobalisation’ which
delink especially countries in the South from current patterns of
§ 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
· 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
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.
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
· 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
· 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
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
· 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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