COSATU Address – SACTWU Central Committee

Comrade Chairperson,

National, provincial and local leadership of SACTWU,

Comrade delegates,

Good morning,

It is good to be home with you with this morning.  Of course, it is a pleasure to see Table Mountain and the sea but being with SACTWU is always a moment to remember what progressive trade unionism is really about.  It’s a chance to hear the excellent work SACTWU has undertaken and how you have managed to overcome real challenges that have stumped many.

It is a chance for us as COSATU, to appreciate what we have and to reenergize ourselves as we prepare for COSATU’s National Congress on the 26th of September.

The theme of this Central Committee captures in one sentence what SACTWU is all about.  “United together, let’s build SACTWU, our industry, our country and our continent”.

Comrade chair, in December 2019, we were all busy preparing for our festive holidays, few of us had really paid much attention to the outbreak of Covid-19 in China.  How things were turned upside down over these past two years.  None of us could have imagined what we would go through.

At times, we all wondered, how would we persevere through these storms.  And they truly were storms.  We had to deal with a global pandemic, an economic recession, a total lockdown, organizing PPEs, dealing with corruption and collapsing State Owned Enterprises and municipalities. 

We had to deal with the criminal orchestration of riots that engulfed KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.  We had to convince often outright skepticism and persuade society to vaccinate. We had to survive municipal elections.  And then floods in KZN and surrounding areas. 

Yet against all these odds I am pleased on how we have performed.  There were and are massive challenges.  But I can say without contradiction that South Africa would have been in a much worse place if we did not have COSATU and our Affiliates.

I can equally say that if all unions undertook the level of work, the depth of leadership, the element of creativity and sheer dedication that SACTWU at all levels has displayed, we would be far better off as a nation and workers.

Whilst we have won many victories on the socio-economic front, workers are bleeding and struggling in so many ways.

We must at all times remember that 45% of society is unemployed and that 3 out of 4 young people cannot find work.  We must not forget that we remain to our shame, the most unequal nation in the world.  We must not think it is acceptable that poverty, homelessness, gender-based violence and our many other socio-economic challenges are intrinsically linked to race, gender, disability and geography.

We are often accused as unions of only looking after the interests of workers.  Yes we must look after workers.  That is why we exist.  We should close shop if we don’t.  Our critics forget that workers are the difference between life and death for the unemployed.  That it is workers who ensure the elderly have a bed to sleep in, that young people are able to go to school or university, that the goods our factories produce can be sold and bought.

Those who complain when workers want to be paid a living wage, forget that poverty wages will not buy tickets to keep our sports stadia open, buy the clothes produced in our factories in Salt River, fill the hotel rooms in Durban or pay the loans the banks never fail to remind us of are due!

The heart of our crises as a nation is our unemployment rate.  If we are to resolve our many challenges, then we must slash our unemployment rate. 

We have our Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Plan.  We must do more to accelerate its implementation.  We need to ramp up our efforts to support local procurement.  I know that we cannot lecture SACTWU about this.  But we need to raise our voices in support of locally produced goods.

We are heading towards our National Congress in two months.  Can this CC mobilize SACTWU to push the proudly SA campaign to greater heights at our Congress?  I am raising this because if we are honest, too many unions, workers and society at large simply pay lip service to local procurement.  Yet it is the simplest way to create jobs.

The President will make announcements on additional measures to ease load shedding shortly.  Central to these are three interventions.  One is to drastically reduce the blockages to bringing additional generations on board. 

Second, we are pushing as COSATU for the finalization of the Eskom debt relief package as per the Eskom Social Compact.  We need to cut its debt by R200 billion by October.  This will immediately free up cash for it to focus on accelerating its maintenance programme and to invest more in new generation.

Third is to finalise the Cop26 Just Energy Transition funding of R131 billion.  This can provide the funds for Eskom to drastically expand its own generation capacity.

Our SOEs are in real trouble.  We are engaging government on measures to stabilize, repivot and rebuild key SOEs.  A fully operational Transnet will enable our mining, manufacturing and agricultural goods to reach their destinations on time.  Modern ports will make our exports competitive.  A revitalized Metro Rail will boost productivity in our cities.

We need to see DENEL, the Post Office, SABC and other SOEs rebuilt and reimagined.  They can provide contribute to our economy.

We need government to take the crises affecting our municipalities with the urgency they require.  A decade ago, 10% of our municipalities were in trouble.  Today, it’s 90%.

We need to be frank with ourselves.  Put our slogans aside and be realistic.  Many of our municipalities are simply not sustainable.  They lack a sufficient rates base.  Can we afford for Prince Albert to be its own municipality?  With an economy of a petrol station and a few sheep farms?

We need to move towards a District Development Model which focuses on well capacitated District Municipalities with the requisite skills and financial support with community service offices in local towns and communities.  We cannot afford to continue to pay 259 Mayors whilst Clover is closing dairies in Lichtenburg and Frankfort because the municipalities cannot provide roads, water and electricity.

We must have a frank discussion on which sectors of the economy should the state be involved in?  And what is the appropriate model or models for the state?  Again 700 plus SOEs are simply not affordable.

Some must be consolidated.  Some may require strategic partnerships.  What is clear is that the SOE model of the 1950s apartheid sanctions era is over.  We need to learn from China, Vietnam, Cuba, Norway and Sweden on how they have positioned SOEs to fulfill their developmental mandates, contribute towards growth and not bleed the state dry or suffocate the economy.

We need to debate, and here SACTWU should guide us, on what are the lessons learned from union investment funds?  How can they be pivoted to benefits members and ensure they can retire in comfort, how can they sustain unions, how can they contribute towards economic development and job creation?

We need to debate what safeguards are needed to protect these workers’ funds from being looted as we have seen too often that comrades will disappoint us.  We have seen unions being destroyed by this cancer.  Ask what happened to CEPPWAWU now under administration for 2 years with no congress date in site.

As we rebuild the economy, we must continue to provide relief to workers and the unemployed.

We must applaud the painstaking work that SACTWU did during the past two years as we battled Covid-19 on so many fronts.

When it came to preparing to lockdown the economy, SACTWU was there.  SACTWU strategically quickly moved to reopen factories so workers could remain employed and paid.

SACTWU moved with speed to work with government and industry to localize the production of PPEs and literally go from government department to government department to demand they prove they are buying locally produced goods.

When others were watching Isidingo and Sewende Laan, SACTWU was sitting with the UIF and employers to ensure that all workers received their UIF Covid-19 TERS.  This alone saw more than R1 billion released from the UIF to help workers receive their salaries, save jobs and keep their factories running.

SACTWU has worked with the UIF to help workers affected by the July 2021 violence receive support.  We hope to hear movement from the UIF to provide relief for those affected by the recent floods in KZN and surrounding areas.

The archaic systems and at times gaps for corruption in the UIF speak to the urgent need for us to ensure that government modernizes the UIF, COIDA, CCMA, labour courts and SETAs.  They need to be run as efficiently as SARS and become key institutions that workers can receive support from and depend upon to help in their times of need.

Whilst some chose to engage in bizarre conspiracy theories, SACTWU showed sober leadership, went factory to factory, engaged and addressed workers’ questions and ensured that more than 80% of clothing and textile workers received their vaccines.  We are however deeply concerned by our declining vaccination rates and how few have gone to receive their booster shots, this includes us sitting here today.

Don’t be complacent.  New variants will occur.  New Zealand and China are seeing rising infections.  We did well to open a factory producing vaccines eGqeberha.  Yet it is going to close and retrench workers as vaccine demand plummets.  So if we support locally produced goods, then go and vaccinate.  A little needle is not that scary cdes!

Treasury has committed to tabling the long-awaited pension relief bill at Parliament by the end of August and that it would come into effect by April 2023.  We are continuing to engage with Treasury to ensure that it allows for immediate relief to struggling public and private sector workers.  This is fundamental.

It will also provide workers with a new pension model in future, where one third will go to a savings pot which workers can access when in need and the other two thirds will go towards the pension savings.  We need to ensure that when workers lose their jobs that they will still be able to access all their pension funds.

Key to building an inclusive economy, is a capacitated developmental state.  Key to rebuilding a progressive state is to cleanse and heal the ANC.

It is normal for a political party that has been in office as long as the ANC, to blunder and at times to lose its way.  What is not acceptable is the behaviour of so many of our comrades.

We are in this mess because some from our movement chose to steal everything they could from the state.  Our comrades were concerned about padding their pockets and not building the state or growing the economy. 

We have a choice, we can allow the ANC to die, to lose the 2024 elections.  Or we can go to our ANC Branches and ensure they elect cadres not crooks, that they focus on building their communities not destroying the movement.

We must tell our communities, now, not in 2024, what we are doing to turn things around, that the SIU has been arresting and the courts convicting persons who stole from the UIF and Eskom, that we are working in our master plans to build the clothing and agricultural sectors so that workers can have jobs, that we worked with the UIF and the Minister for Labour to ensure that R64 billion was released to help 5.5 million private sector workers feed their families.

We must own our mistakes, explain and show what we are doing to fix them and our plans and interventions to build a better South Africa.

What we must not do is to give up, to sit on the sidelines and walk away.  Yes we are tired, fed up and in pain.  But we were elected to lead, not to cry.  Workers depend upon us to improve their lives.

With all our irritations we know that it is the ANC which worked with COSATU to deliver the National Minimum Wage benefitting 6 million workers.  This has seen the wages of 800 000 farm workers rise from R6 an hour a decade ago when workers rebelled in De Doorns to R23.19 today.

The wages of 900 000 domestic workers rose from R15 in 2019 to R23.19 in March 2022.  We are engaging government to ensure that EPWP and CWP workers equalize with the NMW.

We will not find another political party that will elect a founding father of COSATU and NUM as President, which will entrust the GS of SACTWU to lead the nation’s economic development, which will deploy trade union leaders as Ministers of Treasury, Minerals and Energy, Employment and Labour, Trade and Industry.

A DA led government will scrap our labour laws.  An EFF led government will work to displace our unions with an EFF labour desk.  An ANC led coalition will have less space to engage unions.

We have two years remaining in this administration.  We need to redouble our efforts to fix the economy, rebuild the state, cleanse the ANC and go to workers and voters.  If we fail, then workers will be in real trouble.

Let us go to the ANC conference with a clear mandate to restore it to the movement that Dullah Omar and Violet Seboni would be proud of.

Whilst we are busy with our many challenges, let us remember that key to a successful SACTWU, is a well-oiled union.

We have seen what happens when we neglect recruiting, training and education, strategizing, campaigning, collective bargaining, fundraising.  Unions die.

We have seen among our own comrades, what happens when you elect criminals and factionalists to lead.  Unions die.

We have seen what happens when we focus on politics at the expense of collective bargaining, and servicing members.  Members leave.

SACTWU has long been a source of pride for COSATU.  You have collectively done so well on so many fronts.  But we and you cannot afford to be complacent.  One wrong congress and all that you have painstakingly built can be lost.  I am not saying this lightly.  Ask what happened to CEPPWAWU.  It’s a tragedy.

A weakened SACTWU will have a devastating blow not only for clothing, textile and farm workers, but in fact COSATU and workers at large.

So please comrades, protect what you have built.  Invest in your recruitment, education and training, put in place safeguards to protect workers’ funds, invest in your next generation of leadership, be sober, do not take unity lightly.

I am confident that you will do so.  But do not rest on your laurels.  We cannot afford to be complacent for a single moment.

Workers across the world are battling. 

Workers in Newcastle in KZN and England are feeling the pain of rising fuel prices.  Workers in Langa and Lagos battle to feed their families when electricity is disrupted.  Workers in Khayelitsha and Palestine yearn for a life where their children would not be exposed to violence.

We have done well to raise the banner of international solidarity with Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Western Sahara and Palestine.  But it’s not enough.

Can this CC develop bold creative proposals on how we could promote trade with Cuba?  Can we engage Tsogo Sun to invest in Cuba’s hospitality sector?

Can we develop practical problems to work with unions in Bangladesh and Madagascar to promote decent work?  Can we engage with DTIC to ensure that decent work and local procurement are the pillars of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement?

We are approaching the ITUC congress soon.  SACTWU has already begun preparing for it.  Let’s brainstorm on what key demands and positions do we want to table at ITUC?  How do we ensure synchronization with SATUCC?

Comrades allow me to conclude here. 

There are many more things that I could still say but I hope that I have helped contribute to this CC, provoked and sparked your creative juices.

Let me leave you with the following wise words.

The famous African American trade union leader, Phillip Randolph eloquently said “the essence of trade unionism is social uplift.  The labor movement has been the haven for the disposed, the despised, neglected, the downtrodden, the poor.”

That is who we are, that is SACTWU.  Let us continue to provide hope for the workers from Atlantis to Komatipoort, from Bethlehem to Uitenhage, from Kimberly to Tzaneen.

Please accept the best wishes of the leadership of COSATU and the membership of your sister unions.  We look forward to seeing the outcomes of this important Central Committee.  We are confident that SACTWU will continue to set the bar high for the entire trade union movement.  Thank you. Matla!