COSATU: 35 Years of relentless struggle against oppression and exploitation

The Congress of South African Trade Unions is celebrating 35 years of existence since it was formed on the 1st of December 1985 at Curries Fountain Stadium in Durban. The Federation plans to roll out a campaign that celebrates this important milestone for the next twelve months in 2021. This is important because it will allow the federation to reflect on its achievements without masking the setbacks.

From its very founding, the federation committed itself to unite all workers, fight oppression and economic exploitation, and connect trade union struggles with community struggles.

As we mark this milestone, we acknowledge the contributions of countless martyrs and members that built this organisation. Since the federation was formed three decades ago, it has managed to make its presence felt on a wide range of workplace, policy, legislative and political issues.

During this period, workers have achieved concrete victories, partial gains and although there have been some setbacks, interventions by the federation have disrupted the progress that has been made by anti-worker reactionary forces.

All of this has happened in a rapidly changing, and constantly evolving environment and the federation has had to learn to adapt to different terrains to advance its positions. These include, advocacy, negotiation, engagement through political processes, as well as mass mobilisation.

While this is a time of reflection and appreciation of the strides we have made in the last thirty five years, we also note that we celebrate this anniversary in the midst of a pandemic and both the global capitalist crisis and COVID 19 have exposed the crisis of capitalism.

We also note that the capitalist system has now reached its limits in that it is now experiencing all three interrelated crises: namely a crisis of sustainability, a systemic crisis, and a structural crisis. The structural crisis is shown in the movement of industrial production away from the rich countries in the West to regions of the world, where there is cheap labour.

A crisis of sustainability related to its impact on the environment and climate. A systemic crisis relates to the nature of the system itself, whereby the rich are forcing the poor to keep their wage levels low, combined with worsening levels of unemployment. This has seen the emergence of narrow nationalism, xenophobia, and protectionism in the West.

Therefore, our task is to strengthen COSATU at all levels so that we are ready to navigate the challenges ahead. Our organisational machinery must be adapted to the new realities and new forms of organising. The aim is not only to build a strong organisation but to ensure maximum unity of the working class.

Acknowledging that members are the lifeblood of the federation; therefore, the federation cannot successfully operate without a mass-line, an integral programme that places our recruitment and listening campaign at the centre of our work. This is going to be part of the mainstream of the work of all our structures.

The CEC resolved to declare Year 2021, as the “Year of the Local” that will focus on building the organisation at a workplace level. We shall use our ongoing recruitment campaign to anchor this enormous task of building the organisation on the ground.

We shall be waging real struggles at the workplace level. We shall be focused on rebuilding our locals to reflect the structural economic changes associated with the changing workplace organisation and mode of work.

The Federation will also be preparing for its Central Committee which will be convened next year and will adopt general and specific policy measures which further the aims and objectives of the Federation. The purpose, powers and duties of the Central Committee include but not limited to assessing resolutions; implement resolutions that have been adopted and draft resolutions on urgent matters.

In the prevailing political context, the mass-line is not an option but a must. The collective bargaining round that is currently unfolding in the public service is going to put us to test on this question of the mass-line, as it is clear that government expect our members to make sacrifices because of an economic crisis that has been compounded by the looting and mismanagement. A failure to defend the interests of our members in the face of this offensive would be unforgivable.

The crisis engulfing our movement is primarily an ideological crisis. Even corruption, nepotism, only becomes stand-alone entities, if the analysis is bereft of a scientific outlook in approaching the South African revolution. Only a mass return ideological training can help us provide solutions to the ideological crisis in our movement.

The Federation plans to introduce a systematic programme on ideological and organisational education and training. We will also develop a mass mobilisation programme geared at responding to the unfolding socioeconomic crisis involving progressive mass-based organisations in particular and progressive civil society structures in general.

We also have clear programme of maintaining COSATU’s influence internationally. We commit to building a strong, vibrant, and influential COSATU on international affairs, including a strong campaigning influence, especially in the continent. This includes mapping a clear strategy for our international work, identifying modern challenges and implementing our solidarity work.

In the last 35 years, COSATU has shown a remarkable resilience and capacity to analyse and evolve with the changing times. We remain the best organised and class-conscious labour federation of the South African workers. It is within this spirit and commitment, to remain a fighting, militant and campaigning federation of workers that we will approach our work going forward.

Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)

Tel: 011 339 4911
Fax: 011 339 5080
Cell: 060 975 6794