COSATU Input to the 15th SACP National Congress

Comrade Chairperson,

Leadership of the vanguard party, COSATU and our Affiliates, and the ANC

Comrade delegates good evening,

Please accept warm revolutionary greetings from the leadership and membership of COSATU and its affiliate unions. We are looking forward to robust, frank and constructive engagements over these 4 days. 

We emphasise constructive engagements as the challenges facing the working class are immense.  We need to emerge from this historic congress armed with a clear programme of action and practical solutions to taking working class struggles forward. 

Revolutionary slogans may give us warm and fuzzy feelings, but they will not address crises of unemployment, collapsing State Owned Enterprises and rampant corruption.

We would do well to remember the words of Amilcar Cabral, “Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head.  They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.”

We want to acknowledge the outgoing leadership of the SACP for their efforts to advance the cause of the working class.

Let us remember our many fallen comrades, including John Nkadimeng, Stalin Mtshali, Ronald Mofokeng, David Siphunzi, Koena Ramatlou, Jackson Mthembu, John Dlamini, Joyce Pekani and Kgetsi Lehoko.  We owe it to their memories, to redouble our efforts to build the party and leave this congress united and rejuvenated.

We are pleased that the party has chosen to meet under the theme of Together, Let Us Build a Powerful, Socialist Movement of the Workers and Poor”.

There can be no more appropriate call than this.  This is what back to basics is about.  It takes place in a context when the liberation movement, the National Democratic Revolution and many of our post-1994 gains are under siege like never before.  These are the very issues that COSATU and its Affiliates have been seized with.

We are keen to hear concrete proposals from this congress on this call.  COSATU was founded upon the objective of one federation, one country, one union, one industry.  We have championed the belief that the ANC is the shield and COSATU the spear of the working class and indeed the liberation movement.

COSATU and its Affiliates have been seized with this critical task.  COSATU’s 13th Congress provided a clear mandate to unite the working class.  COSATU and other Federations work closely together at Nedlac and in key interventions in the economy. NUM, AMCU, UASA and Solidarity dealt a decisive blow for workers at Sibanye.  NUM, NUMSA and Solidarity are united at Eskom.  SATAWU and NUMSA have worked together in the aviation and bus sectors.  SACTWU and NULAW are united in the clothing sector.  We welcome the call by this congress to support efforts to unite the working class.

The party has played a critical role in COSATU, SACTU and Affiliates and working class struggles for many decades.  This is symbolised in JB Marks who led not only the mine workers’ struggles but also the party.  It is recorded in the work done factory by factory by Ray Alexander to recruit and unionise fishing, clothing, laundry and many other workers up and down the Western Cape over many years.  Whilst we laud this proud history, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels when workers are under siege.

We need to hear from this congress, what role the party sees for itself in helping to unionise workers?  In helping to conscientise workers?  In helping to build and unite diverse unions into strong sector wide Affiliates?  In helping to popularise and mobilise workers to support the campaigns of COSATU and Affiliates?

We are allies, indeed the SACP and COSATU are the left axis of the movement.  But we must remember that our organisations are independent member mandated formations.  We must respect each other’s organisational processes and mandates. 

We need to learn from our painful lessons.  Factions are dressed up with ideological clothing, but they have divided our organisations and weakened our movement. 

What is the role of the SACP? 

This is a question that Congress should endeavour to answer.  Many have written off the party.  They did so with the collapse of the socialist block across the world in 1990.   Yet the party has survived against difficult odds.  We have seen the membership of the party grow.  We have seen party leaders play critical roles in government.

As the party seeks to grow it needs to reflect on what it is doing to build its organisational capacity?  If it wants to attract workers to its ranks, it needs to be seen to have the ability to implement its revolutionary demands.

Congress should reflect on what is the correct balance between full time leaders and leaders deployed to government and how do those deployees implement decisions of the party in government?

Is it important for this congress to engage upon is what is our vision for socialism in South Africa?  What will be its South African characteristics?  What is its foundation and building blocks?  What is our road to building it, within our lifetime?  We must answer these questions if we are to earn the support of workers. 

Let us heed Amilcar Cabral’s wise words “Hide nothing from the masses of our people.  Tell no lies.  Expose lies whenever they are told.  Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures.  Claim no easy victories.”

The party has been a progressive voice.  The party spoke well when they opposed state capture and the lack of transformation in the private sector.

But this is not enough.  Workers need to hear the voice of the party when nurses and teachers are denied their due wage increases.  Workers did not hear or see the party when the government in which the leadership of the party serves, choose to renege upon a signed wage agreement and blatantly undermine collective bargaining.  The silence has been deafening.

Workers need to hear the party when workers are sent home without their salaries at SA Express, when workers are retrenched at SAA.  Workers need to hear the party when municipal workers in Amathole are paid with Pick ‘n Pay vouchers. 

Police and Correctional Service Officers need to hear the party when government refuses to increase workers’ wages and instead offers non-pensionable cash gratuity whilst members of Cabinet and Parliament pay themselves increases.

Workers need to hear the party when workers are not paid, wherever they are and for whomever they work for.  We cannot condemn private sector employers for abusing the rights of workers and be silent when government and the Alliance does the same.

Our labour laws are passed by our Parliament.  They are presided over by our Minister for Employment and Labour.  They are binding upon all of us.  We must lead from the front when it comes to enforcing and respecting the rights of workers.  We will not be silent when it comes to the rights of workers and the laws of the Republic as COSATU.

Workers are under siege like never before since the 1994 breakthrough.

Unemployment is at an unbearable 45%, 2.2 million jobs were lost since 2020, millions are drowning in debt.  Many key SOEs have or are dying.  Many municipalities are collapsing.  Those who are lucky to have jobs, are drowning in debt. 

The economy is in its deepest recession.  Thousands of companies have closed.  Our economic recovery is being crippled by load shedding.  Thousands of jobs in the mining, agricultural and manufacturing sectors are at risk due to cable theft in Transnet and port blockages.  Productivity is disrupted by the collapse of Metro Rail.  Workers are battling to afford to travel to work and take care of their families with galloping fuel price, interest rate and inflation increases.  It is critical this congress be seized with developing practical solutions to these real crises devastating the lives of workers. 

We commend the work done by the Department of Employment and Labour and the Unemployment Insurance Fund during the past two years.  DEL and the UIF worked hand in glove with COSATU at Nedlac to ensure that we dispensed more than R64 billion from the UIF to more than 5.5 million workers across the private sector to ensure that they were able to take care of their families and help save millions of jobs. 

Yes, there are real crises in the UIF, including instances of corruption and archaic IT systems.  These need to be fixed.  But we must appreciate the spirit with which the comrades worked with COSATU to help protect workers.

COSATU helped draft the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan with government, business and community at Nedlac, our legislated social dialogue forum. We acknowledge the role played by leaders of the party deployed as to Cabinet who played a key role in developing the ERRP.  The ERRP is not a policy.  It is about implementing existing commitments and immediate interventions to kick start the economy and in particular to save Eskom and other key SOEs. 

The ERRP is a plan to enable the economy to recover from state capture, corruption and Covid-19.  Further engagements are needed on the long-term transformation of the economy.  We need to hear the voice of the party in these engagements.  We need to see the party at Nedlac as part of the community delegation once again.

There can be no economic recovery without a capacitated developmental state.

Our state is in real danger of imploding.  The damage done to it by members of the movement is unbelievable and will cost us for many years.

Companies are closing because municipalities cannot provide basic services.  Workers are being denied their increases and pickpocketed by the state because of the billions lost to corruption.  The public services workers and the economy are choking because government is simply running out of revenue.

We applaud the work being done by workers at SARS to tackle tax evasion generating an additional R60 billion enabling government to extend the SRD Grant and the Presidential Employment Stimulus.  These positive efforts need to be extended.

We must not further decapacitate the state with reckless austerity and neo-liberal budget cuts.  Why should we be surprised with rising levels of crime when we have cut the SAPS headcount over the past 5 years from 192 000 to 172 000?

Our SOEs are dying as we meet here.  A decade ago, they were world class institutions that delivered upon their developmental and economic mandates, spurred economy growth and supported jobs.  Today, they are bleeding the state, retrenching workers, and suffocating the economy.

The party spoke passionately in defence of SAA, but we have not heard the party speak out in defence of other key SOEs, in particular Eskom, Transnet and Metro Rail.

We believe that these SOEs can and must be saved.  They have a critical role to play in the economy.  We are hoping that this congress will table practical proposals on how these SOEs can be saved, repivoted and supported.  We need to hear the voice of the party join us in the fight against privatisation.

What is the party’s view on the appropriate SOE model?  Are there best practises from China or Vietnam that we should learn from?  Which sectors of the economy should the state be involved in?  And in what manner and form? 

COSATU welcomes the amendment of Regulation 28 to allow pension funds to invest in infrastructure.  This will be a positive injection in the economy.  We must remember that pension funds, the UIF and the Compensation Fund, belong to workers.  It must be workers who decide how they are spent.  They are not a slush fund for corrupt politicians and their relatives. 

The UIF and Compensation are funded by workers and employers.  Government has run away from contributing to them.  It is incorrect for community organisations to be represented on the UIF and COIDA Boards.  We hope that the party will support organised labour in these demands.

COSATU appreciates the close partnership that we have enjoyed with some members of the party in Parliament.  Key legislative victories advancing the cause of workers were achieved because of the support we received from Members of Parliament from the party, including the amendments to the Labour Relations Act restricting labour brokers, the introduction of a National Minimum Wage, the PIC Amendment Act appointing worker representatives to the PIC and providing an unashamedly pro-worker investment mandate, and efforts to cushion workers from the VAT increase and the carbon and sugar taxes.

If we are to salvage and save the NDR, then we must cleanse the ANC, and rebuild the Alliance.

We cannot afford to see the ANC further deteriorate.  The ANC needs the party and COSATU to help cleanse it of its demons, corruption, factionalism and hooliganism.

If we fail to help rebuild the ANC, then we are in real danger of losing the 2024 elections.  An ANC which fails to secure 51% will struggle to form a coalition with opposition parties determined to destroy the Alliance and reverse the many gains we have secured since 1994.  This will be a devastating blow to the working class.

Former President Mbeki is correct.  There can be no unity with criminals.  Those who have broken the law must go to prison no matter their status in life.  In fact, the failure of the NPA, SAPS and judiciary to ensure that the most senior criminals amongst us go to jail is exactly why the nation, movement and workers are in these crises.

COSATU and workers were not wrong to place their faith in President Ramaphosa in 2017 and the ANC in 2019.  We need to help restore the ANC to its path.  To once again make it a movement that OR Tambo and Chris Hani would be proud of.  To do this we need a vibrant, a united, a working class orientated SACP at the forefront.  We need a party that provides the clarity of vision that Joe Slovo so often did. 

Allow me to conclude by wishing this congress well on behalf of COSATU.

Your tasks are indeed daunting.  The challenges facing the working class are immense.  Workers are looking to the party to provide a concrete and sober plan of action in defence of the working class and a clear road map to building socialism.

This congress must play its role in restoring the liberation to its historic path and in saving the NDR and our gains.  I thank you.  Matla!