COSATU May Day Message delivered by COSATU President Zingiswa Losi

COSATU President Zingiswa Losi – Workers’ Day Speech

01 May 2021

My fellow South Africans,

President Cyril Ramaphosa,

General Secretary of the SACP, cde. Blade Nzimande,

Leadership of COSATU and our unions,

And most importantly the workers of our beloved land,

Before we begin, allow me first to acknowledge and mourn the loss of our dear comrades, the late General Secretaries of the National Union of Mineworkers, David Siphunzi and Koena Ramatlou of the South African Municipal Workers’ Union and John Dlamini, the former President of SAMWU, amongst many other comrades, friends and families whom we have lost over this past painful year.

Their families’ losses are our losses.  If we are to honour their lives, let us intensify our struggles on behalf of the working class.

We are commemorating Workers’ Day today. As the German-Polish Marxist revolutionary socialist, Rosa Luxemburg concisely put it, “As long as the struggle of the workers against the ruling class continues, May Day will be the yearly expression of our demands”.

Our labour is the source of all wealth and life.

We honour the sacrifices, the struggles, the contributions of millions of workers and their families, from the clothing factories of Salt River to the farms of Limpopo.  We applaud the nurses of Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and the teachers in rural schools in Qhibirha where learners lack decent sanitation.

The police and security personnel, who ensure the safety and comfort of all even at the cost of their own lives in KwaMhlabuyalingana, as ordinary workers who do the hard work and sometimes very despicable tasks, without due recognition and fair compensation for it

This day is the day when we say thank you to workers.  When we reflect on our victories and remobilise for our battles.  This is the day when we tell government and employers that we as COSATU will continue to fight the struggles of the working class.

Comrades and fellow South Africans, the lives of workers remain tough, but there are also victories that we have achieved.

During the past year, as a result of COSATU’s interventions at Nedlac, Parliament and with government, we have released over R60 billion from the Unemployment Insurance Fund into the pockets of workers who lost wages to make sure they can buy food to feed their families.  This has helped more than 5 million workers.  It has helped save jobs and keep companies open.  It is the single largest injection of cash into the economy.  This is the largest contribution of workers to saving this economy.

We have ensured that UIF retrenchment benefits were increased from 8 to 12 months, that maternity leave and retrenchment pay-outs were increased.  Workers are now entitled to paid paternity and adoption leave.

During the pandemic we have ensured that all workers have the right to refuse dangerous work.  Any employer who forces them to work without the necessary protection can be prosecuted.

Workers who have been infected by Corona at work can claim from the Compensation Fund.  Workers required to undergo quarantine can claim from the UIF.

We have been able to force government and the banks to extend the Loan Guarantee Scheme to help save companies.  But we are disappointed that due to its excessively strict conditions it has only distributed R18 billion.

We put pressure on banks to provide relief for struggling consumers.  Though this was far too little.

We have achieved an above inflation increase in the National Minimum Wage.  Farm workers from 1 March 2021 now earn the full National Minimum Wage of R21.69.  Domestic workers will earn the full National Minimum Wage from early 2022.

COSATU’s Eskom Social Compact has been agreed to by government and business.  At its heart is an agreement that no Eskom worker may be retrenched.  Government must clean up the corruption and mismanagement that has brought Eskom to its knees.  Those who have looted there must be arrested.  Eskom must embrace a Just Transition that will see jobs being created not destroyed.  The economy needs reliable and affordable electricity if it is to recover.

COSATU played a leading role in developing the Economic Recovery Plan.  Key pillars of the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan include:

• The Eskom Social Compact is a central pillar of the Economic Recovery Plan.

• A national buy local campaign.  All of us must buy local goods not imports.  This will save and create thousands of jobs.  This includes us as workers, businesses and government.  There are no goods that we cannot produce.  

• A massive infrastructure programme that has already secured R1.6 trillion for investments in roads, electricity, rail, ports, water and agriculture.  These will spur manufacturing and economic growth and create jobs.

COSATU overhauled the Public Investment Corporation Act to ensure that the PIC is forced to root out corruption and to account for how it invests workers’ pension and insurance funds.  For the first time, workers are now represented on the PIC Board.

Comrades whilst we have secured these and many other victories, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.  The challenges facing workers are too many.

President Ramaphosa and the leadership of the ANC, workers in their numbers voted for the ANC.  Workers ensured the ANC was returned to office with a clear mandate to create jobs and deal with corruption.  Workers are angry, hurt and disappointed.  

We have seen government impose a 4 year wage freeze on public servants.  These are the very same nurses, doctors, police officers and teachers that we praise for serving us during this pandemic.  Yet government honours them by abandoning a signed wage agreement and does not even have the courtesy to engage workers.  

Private sector employers have taken heart from this and are joining this unholy attack on the constitutional right of workers to collective bargaining.  This will cause untold labour market instability.  Workers have the right to a living wage.  We will not allow government and employers to destroy collective bargaining.

The real reasons why government’s finances are in a crisis is because politicians and their friends have looted it to the point of collapse.  It is politicians and their friends and family who have destroyed our State-Owned Enterprises.  It is business who have robbed SARS of billions.  Now government wants to dump the bill for corruption on nurses earning R186 000 per annum.  This is the height of immorality.

If government wants to deal with government’s budget crisis then it must stop the looting of R150 billion every year from the state.

It is time that government showed the moral courage and banned politicians, their spouses and children from feasting off public tenders.  Those who steal must go to prison.  We have all seen them at the Zondo Commission.  Can we now see them in locally produced orange overalls?

Unemployment has gone past 40%.  Thousands face retrenchments, not only in the private sector but also in the public sector.

Key SOEs have collapsed or are collapsing.  Thousands have lost their jobs at SA Express, SAA and SABC.  More are at risk in DENEL, Transnet and elsewhere.  PRASA has been stripped but we do not see a plan by government to save it.

We need a plan that will save our SOEs and their workers’ jobs.  Throwing workers into the unemployment queue is not a plan.

Taxis are notorious for the abuse of the rights of passengers and the labour rights of taxi drivers.  It is time we intervened to bring sanity and the rule of law to this sector.

Employers are allowed to retrench and only pay workers a week’s pay per year served.  This must be changed.  Our labour laws are too soft and need to be strengthened.

Our labour and health inspectors are too few.  They must be reinforced and move from their comfortable offices to the workplaces where workers are abused every day.

The Extension of Tenure Security Act was strengthened to protect farm workers and their families from evictions, yet government is failing to enforce it.

The National Credit Act was amended by Parliament to protect the essential possessions of workers from repossession.  It needs to come into effect now.

It is to our eternal shame that millions of women and girls are subjected to horrific violence at home, schools, public transport and work.  Where are our men?  Parliament must move faster and pass the 3 Gender Based Violence bills before it.  Parliament and government need to ratify Convention 190 on sexual harassment at the workplace by no later than August 9.

The entire world has been held hostage by Covid-19.  Great progress has been made in developing vaccines that will save millions of lives.  Yet we have not even vaccinated 1% of South Africa.  Not only are we far behind the world, we are behind the continent.  This threatens to collapse our tourism industry as 95% of the world has placed severe travel restrictions upon South Africa.  This is a national tragedy Mr. President.  All South Africans must receive their vaccines by December 2021. We are pleased that the majority of the vaccines will be produced eGqeberha!

Comrades we will be going to local government elections in October.  The unions of COSATU have reaffirmed the decision of our members to endorse the ANC and call upon workers to vote for it.

This is not a blank cheque.  Councillors who have looted must be removed.  The ANC must fix local government and ensure basic services are delivered.  Municipal workers who have been dismissed for exposing corruption must be reinstated.  Municipal workers who have not been paid their salaries must receive what is due to them.

Government must pass legislation to ensure that Election, Workers and Freedom Days are non-trading holidays.  Workers should not be forced to choose between feeding their families and exercising their right to vote.

Workers are disappointed with the behaviour of many ANC leaders.  It is up to the ANC if it wants workers to continue to support it.  Workers love the ANC but their patience is not indefinite.  Clean up your act Luthuli House or face the consequences.

We must be careful not to be seduced by the promises of opposition parties.  What is common to the opposition parties is their determination to destroy the hard won rights of workers to a minimum wage, to unionise, to work in safe conditions, to time off.

What is to be done?

Unite the working class- This is a big question that is directed at all employed people in South Africa. Can we do anything about this situation when we are divided and weak as labour?

The labour movement needs to first acknowledge that it is weak in South Africa. If we are honest and acknowledge that we are weak, we will know what needs to be done.

To prove that we are weak, we have 205 Trade Unions and 24 Trade Union federations registered with the Department of Labour. Yet all these trade unions only organise about 27% of the workforce.  This means that about 73% of all workers in South Africa are unorganised.

We cannot win any battles when we are a divided minority. Comrades- we should be having 73% of the workforce organised and then be talking about organising the remaining 27%.

Let us unite our unions and organise the unorganised. Employers are crushing us, they are reversing our gains and replacing us with machines. Forget about what is written on your union T-shirt. If we do not unite, we will only wear our different T-shirt when we go to UIF to apply for unemployment grants.

If you do not have a 50+1 threshold in a workplace, then you are not organised in that workplace. There are almost 10 million workers that are unorganised in South Africa.

In recruiting, we need to deal with the structural economic changes that are also associated with the changing workplace organisation and mode of work for us to successfully recruit.

The workforce demographic composition has changed, its more youthful and relatively better educated. Some of this workforce has no direct sentimental attachment and experience to popular struggles. Unions should find ways of recruiting those workers.

At home, if you are not a member of a union, you cannot blame anyone, when employers abuse you. Let us stop outsourcing our responsibilities. Join a union and participate or perish.

Fight corruption in the labour movement. Why are our unions fragmenting and splintering? Why are they being put under administration by the Registrar of Labour? The answer is corruption. Corrupt organisations cannot wage and win struggles. Corrupt organisations breed corrupt leaders and corrupt leaders sell-out and compromise with employers. The solution is to fight corruption inside our organisation.

If we continue to allow corruption in our unions, then we cannot fault those who are crushing us. We are not victims, but we are enablers then. Do not elect corrupt leaders and do not allow your unions to be divided by corruption.

The labour movement needs to be self-sustaining. We cannot fight employers who are also our funders. If you have to fundraise for a strike, they you are in big trouble. If you depend on your enemy for your existence, you are in big trouble.

Unite and fight Thirdly comrades- As workers, we are on our own. We cannot outsource our responsibilities. What is happening to us is all across the economic sectors is blatant provocation. The solution is to unite and fight.  

If the current challenges do not force us to unite and fight back against these austerity measures and the capitalist onslaught, we are doomed as workers and we deserve our misery.

Starting with the current deadlock in the public service wage negotiations, unions and social organisations should respond with militancy and programmes of the mass-line. This means embarking on mass picketing; sympathy strikes and solidarity rallies embracing the widest sections of workers both in the public and the private sector.

Trade unions need to unite with a range of mass formations organizing students, women, religious groups, and youth to build and strengthen working class power in society. Permanent mobilization of the working class and the poor, through variety of their organizations is necessary to build capacity and momentum against this working-class onslaught.

Let us also come out with alternative ideas. If we are unhappy with capitalism, what is an alternative economic model to stand up to and replace Neoliberalism and the “free market”. We agree that its socialism, but in theory what does that mean? Practically, what needs to be done? Our SOEs are collapsing, we agree that they should not be privatised, but how do we fix them. Let us get talking as the working class about alternative ideas.

Local Government Elections- In October we have the Local Government elections. COSATU in its recent Special CEC has reaffirmed its support for the ANC. It is up to our ally the ANC to determine the success of this upcoming campaign. The ANC government needs to intervene and resolve the issues that workers have raised or else we will have a parallel campaign preparing for a massive strike.

We have also made it clear that we support the right of the ANC to defend itself against ill-discipline on the part of some of its members, who are ill-disciplined. We cannot continue to pander to a small minority of comrades who have long abandoned the principle of collective leadership in favour of crass individualism that continues to harm the image of this glorious movement.

Internationally-On this International worker day COSATU recommits itself to solidarity with our fellow workers under attack in Palestine, Swaziland, Western Sahara, Burma and other parts of the world. We also salute the people of CUBA who continue to showcase what it means to be progressive internationalists.