COSATU Special CEC Statement

Congress of South African Trade Unions convened a Special Central Executive Committee meeting to discuss COSATU’s perspective and approach to the upcoming Local Government Elections in the light of the serious crisis faced by workers as a result of the deepening crisis of capitalism and the intensification of austerity attacks on the working and living conditions of the poor.

 The current tensions between workers and the ANC government over the ongoing budget cuts and attacks on collective bargaining are a manifestation of the deep-seated and systemic crisis workers are facing, in all sectors.

This periodical exercise of assessing the state of the Alliance is done every time before any round of elections because our vote for the ANC is not guaranteed and workers do not give the ANC a blank cheque.

 On the Onslaught against the working class-The, SCEC meeting noted that the meeting is convened at a time when the country’s official unemployment rate has increased to 32%, with many workers losing their jobs both in the public and the private sector.

 While COVID-19 has worsened an already bad situation, the reality is that South Africa has been sitting on a ticking bomb since the 1994 democratic breakthrough. Sadly, government has done little to tamper with this flawed system of apartheid capitalism and instead its inappropriate macroeconomic policies have exacerbated the situation.

 Only capital and the small but dominant black and white elite have benefitted from the socioeconomic policies implemented by successive ANC governments since 1994. The broader sections of the working class and the rural poor have been on the receiving end of these policies, as manifested by mass retrenchments, casualisation, the commodification of basic municipal services, growing unemployment and deepening inequalities and poverty.

 The government’s austerity strategy that was adopted in February last year has seen many critical labour market institutions like the CCMA struggling because of a lack of funding. Many State-Owned Companies are struggling to pay workers’ salaries and some of them have resorted to retrenching them in big numbers.

 The SCEC meeting robustly debated the plight of the working class and the impact that corruption and the budget cuts are having on the working class as whole. The budget cuts are not just destroying jobs, but they have created a crisis that is destroying working-class communities. These severe and needless cuts have weakened the public service’s capacity to deliver services.

The SCEC denounced the National Treasury’s drive to improve the composition of public spending by narrowly and almost exclusively focusing and targeting workers and the working class, while giving unwarranted tax cuts to the private sector. They have also done nothing to sort out the muddled pay and benefit structures in underperforming agencies and public entities. This is another reminder that these budget cuts are not innocent, but they are ideological and targeting the working class.

 This misguided austerity strategy is also suffocating the economy by depressing domestic demand and thus plunging the economy into what is becoming a serial stagnation, characterised by episodes of technical recessions and rising unemployment rate.

 Local Government elections– The meeting reiterated its position that the postponement of local government elections will mean the prolongation of the ongoing corruption and the indirect endorsement of mismanagement of municipalities. After robust and fraternal debates, the SCEC concluded that the problems facing workers are mainly driven by political choices and decision-making by those in government and other sites of power. This, therefore, means that the federation needs to also combine mass mobilisation with a clear political programme to resolve and undo them.

 The meeting concluded that workers do not have the luxury to indulge in political abstentionism in the face of deepening class contestations of both the ANC and the state. This will also be a fallacy of composition, where we end up dismissing an entire party as rotten on the grounds of one or two components we do not agree with.

 COSATU’s political programme comes from the fact that we are not a gumboots federation but a transformative organisation that links its shopfloor struggles with community struggles. We will continue to engage and mobilise to resolve the identified frustrations and serious disagreements that have poisoned relations with government.

 The meeting concluded that despite the challenges facing the working class and the current tensions, the Federation will not boycott the elections and will implement its resolution of supporting the African National Congress in the upcoming local government elections, while also contesting its direction.

 We are not abandoning the ANC yet because as part of the Alliance, we do not want to open a political vacuum that will see the organisation hijacked by the reactionary and criminal elements who have been attempting to capture it since the 1994 democratic breakthrough. The Central Committee will continue to assess the state of the Alliance and its reconfiguration, taking into consideration the offensive against the working class.

 What will complicate this year’s campaign for local government elections is that COSATU will also be having a parallel campaign to defend collective bargaining. There is a real possibility that workers in the public service and the public sector, in general, will be on strike fighting the wage freeze and retrenchments during elections. We will not compromise on this campaign and we are encouraging all our unions to mobilise and fight back against retrenchments and

This is the reason SCEC also resolved to convene urgent political bilateral meetings with both the ANC NEC or NWC, and the SACP CC within 14 days to discuss all the challenges facing the workers and the society in the country.

 NDR -The SCEC concluded that the current differences and tensions emanate from what are tactical deviations by the ANC and its government and do not amount to more antagonistic and irreconcilable strategic deviations. We plan to continue to meet with the SACP and the ANC to discuss and clarify major strategic questions regarding the NDR as a whole, not just about elections.

We will do this from an understanding that the NDR is a protracted revolutionary struggle passing through different phases and taking different forms as determined by objective and subjective conditions. The meeting noted that the current challenges cannot only be simply ascribed to the subjective qualities of the ANC leaders, but the corrupt and reactionary character of the leaders themselves must rather be understood, in the final analysis, as the subjective expression of more fundamental objective processes

We accept that as the NDR unfold, internal contestation within the broad front of the people’s camp also takes place. Our role, in response to these contestations, is to unite the working class and work to build and strengthen our own independent class organisations. What has led to the weakening of the left forces and the working class in this country is political impatience and the sectarian attitudes of the progressive formations.

The ANC-led democratic movement has over many decades been galvanised by and united around a shared perspective of a working class-led NDR that seeks to overcome interconnected race, gender, and class oppressions in our society.

The SCEC affirmed that this historical and shared perspective of the NDR remains correct and must be defended and promoted by us the workers. It is our task as the working class to ensure that the ANC’s commitment to a perspective of a working class led NDR finds expression in its socioeconomic policies. We cannot outsource that responsibility or abandon it.

Many strategic meetings of the ANC, in particular its policy conferences, NGC and National Conference, have consistently emerged with progressive policies. Most if not all ANC resolutions and policies subscribe to a form of radical social transformation, but the key problem is the inability to enforce and monitor compliance with the ANC policies.

Our role is to push the ANC not to operate as an adjunct to the state but as a driver of the state. We note and welcome the ANC NEC efforts to instil discipline and fight corruption by giving corruption charged individuals thirty days to step down or risk suspension by the organisation. What we need is for the ANC NEC to also wield an axe against those who undermine its resolutions by failing to implement them.

Corruption -The SCEC was resolute in calling upon our movement, the ANC, to be more decisive against the scourge of corruption and parasitism in our country. This is a real pandemic alongside COVID19 and Gender-Based-Violence in the manner it is eroding the gains made since 1994 by workers. This is coupled with the reality of desperation, hunger, and crime in our communities.

COSATU will continue to contest all sites of power and influence, including elections towards advancing leaders who stand firm on matters affecting workers and the poor, such as joblessness, poverty, hunger, women, and children abuse, corruption and disrespect for institutions of our democracy and justice. We affirm our perspectives of a revolutionary, democratic, and transformative NDR based on the fundamentals of the Freedom Charter.

The Alliance – The SCEC took note and acknowledged the gradual progress that is being made to reconfigure the Alliance, but understanding that the Alliance is based not on the sentiment of history of our struggle but on a common programme, the meeting expressed concern about some major shortcomings. Despite an improvement and some progress on the frequency and quality of meetings amongst Alliance partners, since the election of a new government in 2019, the reconfiguration of the Alliance as a strategic political centre has not materialised. The ANC still insists that it is the political centre rather than the Alliance.

Apart from the historic days of commemorations and anniversaries, and during the election campaigns, the resolutions of the Alliance calling for a joint programme of action have not been implemented.

Despite this slumbering pace of change in the Alliance, the SCEC reaffirmed its commitment to the Alliance as the vehicle for advancing and deepening the NDR. The meeting concluded that the deepening of the NDR to overcome the intersecting race, class and gender oppressions can only be possible if and when the working class occupies a leading role in the ANC and the overall struggle of the progressive forces.

As a leading component of the Alliance, COSATU has the primary duty to contribute to strengthen other weaker Alliance components, including the ANC, rebuild the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) and cultivate and agitate for rigorous debates and change.

The meeting resolved to work with Alliance partners to develop proper mechanisms and channels of dealing with the tensions that from time to time arise amongst the Alliance components. The SCEC reaffirmed its long-held position of the Alliance as a strategic political centre, alongside other centres of power including each component of the Alliance – and this is in line with the thrust of the resolution of the May 2008 Alliance summit on the matter.

Progress on Policy Implementation– Despite some very obvious weaknesses in the ANC government; the SCEC noted that there has been some progress and victories for the workers and the working class delivered by the ANC government that cannot be ignored nor downplayed.

On the National Minimum Wage, the farm workers have now been equalised and domestic workers will be equalised next year.  NMW Commission established to monitor its implementation.

The LRA Amendment Act limits temporary employment to three months and the UI Amendment Act provides for reduced time benefits, increased maternity leave and retrenchment and dismissal benefits.  The National Health Insurance Bill is discussed at Parliament and Nedlac, and a Pension Withdrawal proposal for workers is being engaged upon.

The Expropriation Bill and Amendment of Section 25 is being pursued to provide for expropriation without compensation and the Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment Act is meant to tighten protections of farm workers and their families from evictions.

There is also the recent adoption of the Eskom Social Compact to save Eskom and its employees’ jobs and ensure the power utility is cleaned up so the economy can have reliable and affordable energy.

May Day -The meeting received a report on the preparations for May Day celebrations and resolved that May Day 2021 will be centralised and virtual, given the pandemic and government lockdown protocols. The SCEC reaffirmed its position on the program of action fighting against the attacks on collective agreement in all sectors, job losses, health and safety, Gender Based Violence, and corruption

Faltering Vaccination Programme– The meeting noted the announcement by the Minister for Health, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, of developments in securing various vaccines and government’s intention to resume Phase 1 and begin Phase 2 of the vaccination roll out from the 18th of May. While we welcome this, we are deeply alarmed by the extremely slow pace that government has rolled out vaccines.  To date, of the 1.25 million targeted frontline workers, only 250 000 have been vaccinated.  Government is now talking about only meeting a 67% immunisation rate in June 2022 and is delaying the immunisation of essential workers in the public and private sector because it has failed to secure the necessary vaccines on time.

This is gross incompetence with deadly consequences. We reject this proposal; workers cannot be sacrificed because of government incompetence. Delaying the vaccinations of teachers and police officers, of mining, energy and transport workers is not the solution and must be rejected by all sane people who understand the need for the economy to recover. 

Only nine (9) countries in the world have not banned or placed severe restrictions upon travelling to and from South Africa, thus threatening to collapse the tourism industry.  The public has the right to expect better from government.  The government needs to produce an actual vaccine programme with real timeframes, the necessary logistics and a target date of December 2021 for reaching the 67% population immunity rate.

Fuel Price Hikes-The SCEC expressed concern about a steep rise in the price of fuel that has seen the petrol price rise to R1 per litre and 65 cents per litre of diesel. The projected increase of 62 cents for paraffin will leave many poor families worse off. The cold winter conditions will force many poor families to resort to dirty energy like coal and leaving them vulnerable to health hazards.

This fuel price hike will create more hardship for the working class that is already suffering from high levels of unemployment and stagnant or declining real wages. Low- and moderate-income families are going to plunge further and further into debt because their wages are now inadequate to afford the basic amenities. Workers are already bleeding with many of them spending on average 25% of their wages on transport.

These higher fuel prices will also drain away the purchasing power of most South Africans and this will retard economic recovery. This coupled with the government austerity measures that have seen below inflation adjustments for social grant spells disaster for many households.

COSATU calls on government to release the research report that was conducted by the department of energy looking into possibility of a fuel price cap because workers cannot be left to the vagaries of the markets indefinitely. We are also calling on our government to consider increasing subsidies for public transport and improve the quality and efficiency of our public transport system, particularly in poorer communities and rural areas.

The Federation is also concerned that government’s adjustment of the fuel levy only serves to feed a bankrupt Road Accident Fund that has been mismanaged into the ground by an incompetent management and milked dry by voracious road accident lawyers.  Most of the RAF payments do not even reach the deserving claimants.  The RAF’s deficit of almost R300 billion is the greatest threat to the fiscus after Eskom’s debt burden. 

We still find it scandalous that Parliament rejected the RAF and Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bills that were meant to set the RAF back onto a sustainable path and to ensure that payments reach claimants, and not fuel a rapacious legal industry.

Issued by COSATU
Sizwe Pamla (Cosatu National Spokesperson)

Tel: 011 339 4911
Cell: 060 975 6794