The Congress of South African Trade Unions held a scheduled meeting of its Central Executive Committee (CEC) from 22-24 February 2021, attended by National Office Bearers, the leadership of affiliated unions and provincial structures.
The meeting remembered all those who have lost their lives from COVID-19 and other diseases over the last year, especially the members of the CEC, who recently passed away, Cde David Sipunzi (the late NUM General Secretary) and Cde Koena Ramatlou (late SAMWU General Secretary). May their Souls Rest in Peace!
We also congratulate the newly elected SAMWU leadership elected in its last Congress. This is a huge step for Municipal workers, and we hope that the organisation will work on its revival and unity.
Building a strong and focused organisation
Year of Local-The CEC discussed this year’s organisational programme that speaks to last year’s resolution to ensure that Year 2021, becomes the “Year of the Local” that will focus on building the organisation at the workplace level.
The meeting resolved to intensify and consolidate the recruitment campaign that has started to yield some results. All COSATU unions have been mandated to focus on waging real struggles at the workplace level,and adjust their recruitment and servicing strategies to reflect changing workplaces and mode of work.
Defending Collective Bargaining– In defence of Collective Bargaining, the federation is finalising the process of developing its Retrenchment tool kit that will ensure that retrenchments are indeed the last resort for companies.
This includes strengthening bargaining councils so that they are equipped to deal with the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is unsatisfactory that only four out of twenty-seven bargaining councils were able to draft agreements to ensure that workers in their sectors would collectively receive the UIF’s COVID-19 TERS.
To defend Collective Bargaining the CEC has also decided to apply for Section 77 Notice in preparation for a planned protest action against the brutality of this ANC government.
Living Wage Campaign– We will launch a solid and robust living wage campaign, building on the foundation that was laid through the adoption of the legislated National Minimum Wage. We shall continue with our tried and tested approach of engaging in all the different sites of power, and mobilising our mass base, with a much more assertive drive to build powerful social coalitions.
May Day -The May Day celebrations format for the Year 2021 will be finalized over the next coming months, when a thorough assessment of the COVID-19 situation has been done But the priority for the federation is to save lives and not host any gatherings that can act as super-spreaders of the deadly COVID-19. No Provincial Congress will take place before May and the May CEC will ultimately determine the form and approach, with July 2021 as the projected time.
Provincial Congresses– We shall be convening our Provincial Congresses, as per Constitutional obligations and Gender conferences to focus on myriad of challenges that relate to gender, inside and outside the workplace, but the final details would be concluded by the May CEC 2021 meeting.
Solidarity and mass mobilisation: 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. Our main task is to unite the working class as a whole.
35th Anniversary-The CEC adopted a programme to celebrate COSATU’s historic 35th Anniversary. Provincial activities will be communicated at a later date. This will focus on fostering intergenerational dialogue and also acknowledge stalwarts who have built this giant organisation, especially women. This will be a decentralised programme that will take place mainly at provincial level.
On Lily Mine- The CEC also took a moment to remember the three workers who perished at Lily Mine in Mpumalanga that is Pretty Nkambule, Yvonne Mnisi and Solomon Nyerende.It has been five (5 years since the Lilly Mine tragedy happened and their bodies are yet to be recovered. The federation has always been at the forefront and committed to the resolution of the impasse. The process of business rescue has proven to be futile and not producing the desired outcomes.
Following our persistent efforts of raising the plight of the workers and the affected families, a breakthrough was made which led to the current owner Vantage Goldfields, reviewing its decision of not continuing with operations in the mine. The mine will be reopened.
There is an understanding that prior to the reopening, the potential bidder is obliged to pay the outstanding debts owed to the employees, that all former employees are reinstated, that all outstanding debts owed to all other creditors are settled in full, and that the retrieval process for the container is resumed to last for 6 months.
We note that the competing bidder which is Aqua Amanzi led by Fred Arendse lodged a court application to litigate the re-opening of the mine. COSATU supports the communities and the former employees who have signed a petition to oppose the litigation and fully support the reopening of the mine by Vantage Goldfields.
Health and the National Health Insurance- The meeting has resolved to mobilise all COSATU leaders, members, shop stewards and staff to take the vaccine. The affiliates of COSATU will coordinate their work to develop sector-specific COVID-19 vaccine rollout promotion campaigns. The National Office Bearers have been mandated to meet with the People’s Vaccine Campaign (PVC) to explore joint co-operation programmes.
The Federation is calling for more urgency to be injected into the production and distribution of locally manufactured
vaccines, including the utilisation of already existing government infrastructure. The domestic trials and registration need to be fast-tracked and expanded. We are calling for a high-level NEDLAC engagement on how to expand and fast track the sourcing and procurement of COVID-19 vaccines.
The vaccine rollout campaign needs to be used as part of the process to implement the NHI, especially in the national procurement by the government of the vaccine. We continue to mobilise for the immediate introduction of the NHI. We shall join forces with civil society and Alliance to demand the addressing of the current two-tier health system – one for the rich and the powerful and the other for the overwhelming poor majority.
Solidarity with public service workers– The CEC meeting declared its total support for the public service workers and calls on government to move, immediately, to resolve the dispute over the implementation of the third leg of Resolution 1 of 2018.
The federation will not allow a defeat of the public sector workers. We know the full political and economic implications if the public sector workers lose this battle.
We denounce and reject the posture adopted by the government and articulated by the National Treasury. We call on the government to respect the democratic institutions and abandon the unilateral imposition of a wage freeze for the next three years and engage unions at the PSCBC about the way forward. The entire government continues to fail the poor South Africans by failing to provide the necessary leadership to resolve the public service stalemate.
Gender-Based Violence –The CEC calls upon the government to move with speed to complete the process of the Ratification of Convention -190. This will allow workers to hold the state accountable for its implementation, and also translate into national or domestic law which will help address the scourge of domestic violence and sexual harassment. The austerity centred economic framework is also contributing to gender-based violence because reports show that women are the most affected by unemployment. Government cannot claim to be fighting gender-based violence when women are forced to live the lives of brute survival by its economic policies.
On Legislation –In its reflections, the CEC has concluded that the COVID-19 has exposed many gaps in the country’s labour laws. The UIF needs to be modernised to cover atypical workers and the changing nature of work. The Compensation Fund needs to be geared towards future pandemics. The Labour Relations Act needs to be amended to ensure employers are compelled to look for alternatives to retrenchments. The Occupational Health and Safety Act needs to afford workers the right to refuse dangerous work and to force employers to provide a safe working environment.
The CEC also calls on the government to move with speed on the legislative front because too many progressive bills have been stuck with government bureaucracy .for years. These include a raft of land reform and agricultural development bills (e.g., Section 25 Amendment, Expropriation, Preservation and Development of Agricultural Land, Regulation of Land Holding, Land Tenure Amendment Bills). These are critical to accelerating land reform.
Other key bills include the Occupation Health and Safety, Employment Equity, Compensation of Injury on Duty Amendment Bills on the labour front. The tabling of the State-Owned Enterprises Shareholder Bill will be key to restoring good governance in SOEs, which have become synonymous with anarchy and looting.
Treasury must move with speed to table legislation to allow distressed workers to access their pension funds, the Public Procurement Bill to overhaul an archaic and decrepit public procurement system and the Conduct of Financial Institutions Bill to protect the rights of consumers.
The federation will also develop an education and awareness programme to ensure that workers are informed and empowered to be able to fully exercise their rights and benefit from many progressive laws that represent hard-won victories. Such critical victories include the National Minimum Wage, parental and adoption leave, etc.
On Politics –The CEC deliberated at length about the local conditions, the state of the working class and the forces for and against the revolution, and what they mean for our strategy and what should be done. Regarding the domestic balance of forces, the CEC recognised that our revolution has reached a state of stagnation, where the motive force is held at ransom by other class/social forces.
Since NASREC, the lack of discipline in the ANC has become worse with leaders and members at all levels showing disdain for the rules of the organisation. This makes a mockery of the Mangaung Conference that promised that this decade was going to be a “decade of the cadre”.
The ANC is struggling to function as a unitary organisation. Since the Mangaung Conference, when the “decade of the cadre” was declared, we have seen more and more court intervention in political disputes. Political ineptitude and factionalism have created this dangerous reliance on courts.
These in-depth discussions of the current political situation also assessed what progress has been made in implementing the resolutions of the ANC 2017 NASREC Conference and the ANC 2019 election manifesto.
The NASREC Conference was significant because policy positions that had long been advanced by COSATU were adopted. The conference rejected the idea of a slim state and called for the state to define its role and assert itself in the economy. The delegates lamented the government’s slow progress in addressing poverty and the deepening inequality.
On paper, the NASREC Conference and the 2019 manifesto promised key advances towards an economic policy based on decent work, proposals for a new growth path, a new industrial policy, national health insurance, comprehensive social protection, comprehensive rural development strategy and an assault on crime and corruption.
But progress in these areas has been very mixed, and on the whole disappointing. The centerpiece of the new economic policy, the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan has been adopted but both the SONA and the Budget failed to provide details and time frames.
The Alliance is hobbled by the government’s inability to adopt an overarching development strategy or growth path, or sufficiently supporting its industrial strategy, including on macroeconomic policy, which is worsened by lack of decisive leadership. The budget that was tabled yesterday was a huge disappointment and another missed opportunity.
.The concrete impact for working people, since the outbreak of COVID-19, has been devastating. The loss of close to three million jobs since the beginning of 2020 has led to deepening poverty for many families.
In the short term, no major recovery in job creation is likely to come out of the budget speech presented yesterday. The Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan is likely to be frustrated by a conservative macroeconomic policy framework that has not been adjusted to the new realities.
As a result of all this, amongst our working-class constituency, there is a degree of despondency and frustration. There is the danger that the next quarter of a century of democracy like the first, will belong to capital and not the workers and the poor in economic terms. Big business continues to receive tax incentives, despite no evidence presented to show that the previous ones have worked.
The Alliance faces a serious crisis of legitimacy in the build-up to local government elections. The meeting instructed the NOBs to convene a Special CEC to focus on and deliberate at length on the matter of the Local Government Elections and COSATU posture in that regard.
Local government elections-The planned Special CEC meeting to discuss COSATU position on its support for the ANC in the 2021 local government elections is informed by the political reality on the ground. The CEC meeting acknowledged that there are major problems facing workers that will make it hard to convince workers to support the ANC during the upcoming elections. Some of these challenges have left many workers feeling like they are being asked to vote against their own interests.
Workers have always made it clear that their support for the ANC does not amount to a blank cheque and have previously refused to campaign or support candidates known to be corrupt or lazy, just because they succeeded in manipulating the ANC internal processes. The Federation will also be convening a Central Committee to grapple with these big political issues.
SACP –The CEC has resolved that we need to hold a bilateral meeting with the SACP to share with them and to discuss the current situation. The question of the SACP and State power remain unresolved. We believe that the conditions will never be perfect for the Party to resolve this question. The federation believes that the Party should create these conditions.
In addition, we shall demand of our vanguard party of the working class to address some its internal weaknesses. The Party must lead us to build a platform on the struggle for socialism and must also help build the foundations of a socialist economy.
Our assessment is that the NDR is at a crossroads, and therefore the role of the Party has become even more important in developing political strategies that will rescue it and set it on the right path.
The COSATU NOBs Bilateral engagement with SACP will also focus on the Africa Left Network to synergise with the left forces and coordinate all the work already done and increase progress throughout the continent.
ANC National General Council- We have noted the release of the ANC NGC draft discussion papers, but we believe that none of the papers go far enough in confronting the challenges the ANC is facing. The COSATU CEC Political Commission will meet to discuss the ANC NGC discussion papers and formulate a programme around which delegates can intervene.
Supremacy of the Constitution and Judicial Transformation-The CEC affirmed the principle of the supremacy of the country’s Constitution. We denounce any attacks against the Constitution and this should not be tolerated. While we admit that the Constitution is an artificial and imperfect document, it remains the supreme guiding document that was democratically adopted by the people of this country.
There are orderly ways of amending sections of the Constitution if people feel they are inadequate. Tolerating misguided and opportunistic attacks on the Constitution has derailed many revolutions, plunged them into chaos and even gave birth to populist dictatorships.
While the need for judicial transformation is real, we reject political opportunism by those who are tainted by the cancer of corruption. COSATU will continue to push for judicial transformation in a principled way.
In a lawless country where rules do not apply, the working class will be the biggest losers. We need to take a stand in defense of the Constitution and affirm its supremacy in the governing of this country.
On Palestine, the CEC called upon Israel to adhere to its international obligation to immediately ensure Covid-19 vaccines are equally and fairly distributed to Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, where the battered and impoverished healthcare systems are struggling to cope with the high caseload. These should include all Palestinian healthcare workers and prisoners.
Noting the upcoming Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) on the 15th – 21st March 2021, COSATU will host and form part of multiple activities during that week, nationally and in the provinces, to amplify the voice of the Palestinian struggle, as we fight for their freedom.
On Western Sahara, the CEC called upon US President Joe Biden to uplift the executive order signed by former President Donald Trump which recognises Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. COSATU will also mount a campaign that the Kingdom of Morocco be taken out of the African Union, as it does not comply with the principles of the AU.
On Swaziland, the CEC called upon the SADC community of nations to engage the Swazi King on the need for democratic processes in Swaziland, and the freedom of association for trade unions and all pro-democracy organisations. As trade unions in the SADC countries, we shall encourage our governments to sever relations with Swaziland’s dictatorial King. The Federation plans to organise a befitting Memorial Lecture in celebrating the life and times of Cde Mario Masuku, the late former President of PUDEMO ,as a true tribute to the great son of the Swazi people and Africa.
Solidarity Campaigns– The CEC further reaffirmed all COSATU’s Congress resolutions on solidarity with Swaziland, Palestine and Western Sahara, Cuba, and Zimbabwe, extending this solidarity with people in the North of Mozambique.
On Mozambique– COSATU is deeply worried about the situation of an Islamic insurgency in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. The brutality taking place there is unacceptable, and we call on SADC and the people of the region to act decisively in taking steps to protect the people from the brutality happening there.
On building the African Trade Union movement-The Federation plans to develop a new strategy to revive the African trade union movement as it is weak and COSATU has a central role to play in building that force of workers power on the continent.
On Tanzania-We express our total support to the unions of Tanzania in calling for a vaccine, since workers on the frontlines are dying, while the President there is in denial.
Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)
Tel: 011 339 4911
Cell: 060 975 6794