COSATU’s End-of-Year Statement for 2019

The Congress of South African Trade Unions wishes its members and the workers in general a restful and happy holiday season followed by a positive and a happy new year. We wish all those travelling on trains, planes and on the roads, a safe journey. We also caution them against abusing alcohol and needless expenditure during this festive period.

The year 2019 has been a very difficult year for the workers with our economy continuing to shed jobs, resulting in growing inequality and deepening poverty. The battle to determine the country’s economic future has been intense because of our economic challenges. We saw policy battles taking place in several arenas, in key institutions and policy-making forums.

The private sector continued to boycott investment in productive sectors of the economy, retrenched workers, CEOs paid themselves hefty salaries, committed fraud and corruption and then blamed the workers for what is wrong with the economy. The privatisation furore has broken out again and big business and right-wing intellectuals and economists have focused their attention and resources on discrediting and attacking many progressive policies like NHI, while championing privatisation.

This is a sign of battles ahead and we call on our members to remain battle ready because things are going to get worse before they get better. The biggest battle is going to take place over the restructuring of the State-Owned Entities (SOEs) and the transformation of the public service. The voluntary austerity measures imposed by the National Treasury to the public service and the attempts to privatise SOEs will not just need a stronger COSATU but a united trade union movement.

COSATU remains adamant that privatising South Africa is not an option. We have no problem with the restructuring that is about improving the competitiveness and efficiency of all public utilities. We need a competent management layer and a skilled workforce to run the SOEs. The process of restructuring the SOEs will be monitored closely by the federation because we do not believe that it is ideologically neutral.

Economic programmes reflect the dominant political force within the government. The implementation of conservative economic policies favouring the moneyed class at the expense of the working class is a political programme reflecting the balance of class forces within the government. We continue to argue that privatisation adds nothing to the economy, but it is just about the private sector taking over utilities set up with taxpayers’ money and maximising profits.

South Africa cannot afford the conversion of basic needs into commodities. The brutality of capital makes it impossible to delegate the responsibility of delivering basic needs to big business. But we need to make it clear that the debate is not just about anti-privatisation but it is about the role of the state in the economy.COSATU wants the state to play a significant role in the economy, including some state ownership of the means of production and the provision of basic needs. 

At the beginning of the year, we are going to be dealing with a hotly contested budget process because of the state of our economy. COSATU wants to see greater transparency and more debate before the budget is presented. The budget should be progressive and should be judged by the extent to which it moves the tax burden away from the poor to the rich.

Government needs to rethink the various tax concessions to promote economic and industrial growth because this does not happen. Businesses just keep putting the money into the stock exchange and not into the direct investment such as new factories.We also, want the government to restore the system of prescribed assets as have been done in many developing economies. We are ready to discuss how much should be invested and what the interest rates should be.

We also are deeply worried by the failure of many departments to spend their money. There must be consequences for underspending and poor accounting in the public sector if we are to fix this economy.

On our priority campaigns, we need a strategic national campaign to not only fight jobs losses but to also promote job creation. This campaign will not only be about uniting labour but also all role players and those who are allies of the workers. Job creation and job preservation will be a central focus for COSATU next year. A much clearer multi-pronged and systematic plan for job creation must be negotiated and that consensus should be first reached throughout the Alliance.

We are already making progress in reconfiguring and uniting the alliance. We are clear that alliance member organisations will not necessarily agree on every issue and we accept that certain differences should be expected. The challenge is to manage those differences in the interests of the revolution. We are happy that attempts to boost alliance coordination and communication are slowly showing positive results, although they have not gone far enough. Our priority is to make sure that there is a common alliance approach to the socio-economic challenges facing the country.

The Alliance remains a force that can give political leadership to the present situation. The guarantee to a political future lies in strengthening the ANC and the SACP. As workers, we cannot rely on others to lead the struggle for economic emancipation while we watch from the side-lines. We need to take our rightful place on all platforms as part of the working class

In order to achieve this, we need to work to strengthen our organisations and maintain our democratic values. We need to ensure that we create enough checks and balances for the leadership at all levels so that we do not have a situation where leaders abuse power and weaken our unions. 

Self-criticism remains the key principle of all progressive formations. We must maintain the culture of militancy, preserve the principle of workers control and continue to integrate an alternative which will avoid a centralised and bureaucratic organisation. Worker control should never be replaced by bureaucratic and centralised unionism. We expect all our unions to investigate policy options in their own sectors, focusing on the 4IR, employment creation and the living wage. Unions should also work to ensure that employers improve health and safety in the workplace and do not abuse and exploit workers.We also expect unions to intensify our ongoing recruitment campaign in the build-up to next year’s planned Collective Bargaining Conference. 

We just finalised the 16 Days of Activism campaign against abuse of women and children, but the situation is getting worse. This means that workers must intensify our efforts and be at the forefront of this campaign if we are to succeed in stopping this scourge. This is not only the campaign that is going to receive a lot of attention from us working with other unions. The last Central Executive Committee meeting resolved to work with other federations to wage these following campaigns:

·         Fight against retrenchments and demand job creation.

·         Prioritize the campaign against executive pay.

·         Campaign to gain control of workers’ pensions. This money should be invested to benefit workers without jeopardizing workers returns.

·         Oppose the privatisation of Eskom and other key strategic SOEs.

·         Demand a Forensic Audit of Eskom to investigate looting.

·         Demand that Eskom renegotiates the prices with IPP’s or cut ties if there is no agreement.

·         Demand that coal suppliers reduce the exorbitant prices they are imposing upon Eskom.

·         Encourage those who can afford to pay for their electricity, especially government departments, municipalities and businesses.

·         Push for the reduction of wasteful expenditure and bloated salaries of senior government leaders, political office bearers and SOE managers.

·         To ensure that on the 4th Industrial Revolution, a just transition takes place and that workers and their communities are not left behind.

·         Strengthening our campaign against e-Tolls. The focus should be on supporting the public transport system, especially the train system that is letting workers down daily.

·         Defend the NHI. We are not going to allow the opponents of NHI to win and those who want to undermine it should be ready for a fight.

·         We also demand that President Cyril Ramaphosa implements the recommendations of various Commissions with immediate effect. We are happy that some people are being arrested regarding Eskom corruption, but we want more people held accountable and the Assets Forfeiture Units needs to do its job.

Lastly, with over 14 million South Africans struggling to have three meals a day, this is going to be a black Christmas for many families. We urge all those with means to show ubuntu by sharing with those at the bottom end of the economic pyramid. We wish all our members and every South African an enjoyable holiday, a well-earned break and a happy and successful new year.

Issued by COSATU

 Sizwe Pamla (COSATU National Spokesperson)

Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 679