Message to the COSATU 14th National Congress, Delivered by Solly Mapaila, SACP General Secretary

Together, let’s build a powerful, socialist movement of the workers and poor to roll back the neoliberal macroeconomic framework

We bring you revolutionary greetings from the entire leadership and membership of the Communist Party.

First and foremost, we wish this 14th National Congress of COSATU a resounding success and COSATU to grow from strength to strength in both membership and influence in advancing and defending the interests of workers.

The political tasks facing COSATU at its 14th National Congress and beyond

One of the critical tasks facing the national democratic revolution is to deepen strategic relevance against waning hope among the masses. There are many reasons the revolution is facing this situation. Key concerns include the betrayal of the Alliance’s revolutionary historical mission, commitment to neoliberalism, and a decline in the influence of the working-class on the strategic content and direction of the transformation process.   

Here are some considerations on the strategic tasks facing the national democratic revolution and COSATU at this National Congress and going forward.

1.    There must be a definite change in the balance of class forces in favour of the working-class both inside and outside of the movement. To achieve this, the COSATU 14th National Congress has to come out with a radical economic, social and political programme anchored in a militant posture on taking up working-class struggles. The erosion of working-class gains will continue if the working-class fails to grasp this moment and to rise to the occasion. We will all become an irrelevant relic, even though we will be proud of our past history.  

2.    A militant programme to reclaim the leadership role of the working-class struggles and mobilisation. This would require, amongst others, supporting the SACP’s mass programme for socialism by building a powerful, socialist movement of the workers and poor in the here and now. 

3.    Stopping the neoliberal economic trajectory pursued by the government. The National Treasury and the Reserve Bank are the leading institutions in pursuing the neoliberal trajectory. In fact, stopping the neoliberal trajectory must be considered as a precondition for supporting the ANC electorally if this support has to continue. The working-class must not sign a blank cheque.

4.    A clear working-class agenda for accelerated transformation of society, for retention and reconfiguration of political power to drive radical economic and broader social transformation in favour of the working-class and to advance towards socialism. This radical agenda must be placed on the agenda of society. No one will free us except ourselves, let us sharpen the class contradiction towards socialism.

5.    Reconfiguration of the Alliance and driving agreed framework of renewal, including contesting the ANC as a class force to achieve the renewal. The working-class cannot fold its arms while other class forces and even lumpen networks are contesting the ANC. The working-class must contest the ANC to alter the balance of forces both inside and outside the movement in pursuit of revolutionary renewal, working-class interests and the broader programme to complete our liberation and advance universal social emancipation. 

Roll back the stranglehold of neoliberalism and its austerity agenda on our economy and society 

Given the urgency with which we need to build maximum working-class unity to roll back neoliberalism, the SACP proposes the following working-class programme of action.

1.          Overthrow the neoliberal macroeconomic policy regime and its austerity agenda to a truly new people’s economy. This should include rejecting any social compact that excludes the adoption of a new macroeconomic framework. Therefore, monetary, fiscal and international trade policies must all be reviewed to prioritise manufacturing and minerals beneficiation and localisation in pursuit of industrialisation to create employment massively towards the right to work for all. This requires the adoption of a high impact, comprehensive industrial policy to take the lead and for macroeconomic policy to follow and support the industrialisation imperative. Industrialisation and employment impact of existing master plans must, therefore, be re-appraised and strengthened as part of formulating the much-needed coherent industrial policy.

2.          Poverty eradication and radical reduction of inequality as economic and social development policy goals, with clear targets. This must include a decisive advance towards a universal basic income grant. Instead of terminating the SRD Grant at the end of March 2023, the government must maintain and improve it towards a universal basic income grant.

3.          A more progressive tax structure, including wealth and inheritance taxes, and re-examination of the corporate income tax regime to support the ability to meet the needs of the people.

4.          Structural transformation of the financial sector to rollback commercial banking monopoly and make the banks and other financial service providers serve the people. The funds in the hands of the banks and other financial service providers considerably include deposits, savings and premiums from the people. How they deal in these funds cannot be left to the unelected and unaccountable capitalist bosses alone.

5.          The transformation of the financial sector must include building the presence of the state in the sector. Immediate steps must include state takeover of the stake held by the Reserve in African Bank instead of selling that stake to profit-driven interests. However, we are not referring here merely to pursuing one state bank but to building a developmental public banking sector, including sectoral banks, to support building national production and supporting industrialisation. The prevailing regulatory universe must be reviewed to make this possible, among others, by distinguishing state-owned banks at the national, provincial and municipal levels from commercial banks. This review must also foster an enabling environment for worker- and community-controlled co-operative banks and financial institutions, credit union leagues and savings schemes to thrive.

6.          The adoption of a differential interest rate policy to direct credit according to transformation and developmental priorities.

7.          Amendment of the Reserve Bank mandate to target and account for employment creation.

8.          Reduction in financial services fees to tackle financial exploitation.

9.          A massive public infrastructure rollout and maintenance based on public led programme and not tenderisation madness. 

10.      Clamp down on destruction and looting of public infrastructure, state capture and other forms of corruption, including through a comprehensive response to the report of the Commission of Inequity into State Capture.

11.      Intensification of the struggle to eliminate racialised and gendered inequalities and gender-based violence in the workplace, the economy and society at large.

Together, let us build a powerful, social movement of the workers and poor to drive these and other transformation and development priorities. 

The energy crisis and the environment

The SACP proposes the following on the electricity crisis and the dilapidating nationwide load shedding.

1.    The electricity crisis disrupts production and the provision of public services, including healthcare. Under this situation, all talk of industrialisation and employment creation sound like nothing but hot air. Cuts in water supply in other parts of the country have the same effect and disrupt care and social reproduction in households and communities.

2.    South Africa needs a different, people-centred approach to undo the damage caused by the legacy of successive colonial and apartheid regimes, neoliberalism, and lawlessness. As things stand, as a matter of urgency, measures must be put in place to exclude hospitals, clinics and other healthcare institutions and activities from load shedding to save life.

3.    In the same vein, as a matter of urgency, we need to go all out to dismantle the entire structure of the neoliberal policy regime and its continuation by the government of the day. Our priorities, we propose, must include campaigning for public investment in new power generation capacity. Both fiscal and monetary policies must play a decisive role in ensuring public investment in new power generation capacity. This must include adequate support for innovation, research and development in clean coal technology.

4.    Related to the point we just made, there can be no just transition through strategies that will lead to retrenchments instead of protecting workers and creating employment for the unemployed. There can be no just transition through strategies that will produce ghost towns. There can be no just transition through strategies that will continue to increase electricity tariffs, making it unaffordable for the workers and poor, as well as for the lower sections of the middle class. As a matter of principle, electricity must be accessible on a developmental basis. This will also support industrialisation and employment creation.

We need to go all out, dear comrades, to build a powerful, socialist movement of the workers and poor to fight the battle.

State-owned enterprises and co-operatives development

The causes of the crisis facing other state-owned enterprises or public entities do not differ any much from the trajectory that has weakened the capacity of Eskom to live up to the energy needs of the people and the economy. There are many similarities in the causes that have resulted in the crisis faced by the SAA, PRASA, the South African Post Office, DENEL, the SABC, PetroSA, Transnet, the list goes on. In no small measure, neoliberal policy choices and failures, state capture and looting have coalesced in weakening or virtually destroying these and other public entities.

The SACP proposes to the 14th National Congress of COSATU that the federation, building wider trade union and working-class unity, working together with the Party, should go all out to intensify the struggle in pursuit of the working-class demand for the government to turn around state-owned enterprises and other public entities. This must be part of the wider working-class demand for the varied public economy characterised, among others, by well-managed and thriving public utilities, state-owned enterprises, and worker and community-controlled co-operatives.

Earlier this week, someone speaking from the ranks of the opposition, possibly displaying what V.I. Lenin, identified as an infantile disorder, opportunism and childishness, accused COSATU and the SACP of privatising public entities.

That person was showered with media coverage for spreading the claptrap. By the look of things, that person is a new arrival in the entire history of our well-known gallant struggle against privatisation. Going forward, and as part of the reconfiguration of the Alliance, no one must be allowed to attack the SACP and COSATU in parliament without a response in parliament or elsewhere.  

Workplace restructuring and defence of collective bargaining

Capital has restructured the workplace to maximise profit. This has taken place hand in hand with creating oligarchs. It is the context in which the Sibanye-Stillwater paid its CEO Neal Froneman an astronomical R300 million in 2021.

Similarly, MTN, which together with Vodacom, makes up a duopoly in the mobile information and telecommunications technology network sector, paid its CEO Ralph Mupita R84,2 million in 2021. FirstRand paid its CEO Alan Pullinger R48,29 million, including the value of long-term incentives awarded in 2020 and 2021. Within the same group, FNB paid its CEO Jacques Celliers R41,61 million. There is one thing in common that the oligarchs at these and other companies are driving. They are curtailing the peanut wages that they pay the downtrodden, saying they are unaffordable. This is capitalist barbarity.  

Hand in hand with strengthening capacity to tackle workplace restructuring, including engaging on matters relating to the introduction of new production technology, the progressive trade union movement has to unite workers regardless of affiliation and federation to intensify the distributive struggle in the workplace and on a sectoral or industrial basis.

Technological change and work restructuring require trade unions to invest in research and development and continuous training of shop stewards and appointed officials as part of building the capacity to engage on these matters. Workplace restructuring by the capitalist bosses to maximise profits has produced a situation where retrenchments and unemployment overwhelm employment creation.      

The SACP pledges its unwavering solidarity with the workers and trade unions currently in collective bargaining processes, both in the private and public sectors.   

Strengthening the socialist axis of the Alliance and building wider worker unity.

We need to jealously guard the relationship between COSATU as a progressive trade union movement and the Communist Party. We must not allow wedge drivers from inside or outside our movement and country to drive a wedge between our organisations. Our organisations, despite their own weaknesses, remain the central organs of the workers and working-class interests.

In the same vein, we need to work together to organise the unorganised into progressive trade unions and politically into a powerful, socialist movement of the workers and poor. We need to pay more attention to building stronger COSATU presence in the industrial sectors of the economy, as it is the case in the public sector. Working together, we must grow the federation from strength to strength in all sectors of the economy. We are saying this, dear comrades, welcoming the progress that the federation has registered as detailed in the reports to the congress.

Besides strengthening our own organisation, including through joint membership and leadership capacity building programmes, we need to foster fraternal relations with other worker and working-class formations. The National Union of Mineworkers, for example, has forged a collaboration with other unions in the mining and energy sectors based on the common demands of the workers. The recent National Day of Action involving a joint effort by COSATU, and SAFTU joined by the SACP, and other organisations is another important example. We need to build on these efforts to forge popular left fronts. To build on this work, the SACP proposes the convening of a joint trade union consultative conference to develop a sustained programme of action based on the common demands of the workers in pursuit of their objective interests as a class.

Reconfiguration of the Alliance, a popular left front and a powerful, socialist movement of the workers and poor

Equally important, we need to work together to realise the reconfiguration of the Alliance. The SACP 15th National Congress resolved that the Central Committee should finalise the important issue of Alliance reconfiguration at its next Augmented Plenary. Related to this, the SACP welcomes the proposal in the composite resolutions and reports to this congress for COSATU to convene a Special National Congress or central committee in the coming year to review progress on the reconfiguration of the Alliance, to decide the next cause of action.

We propose that the SACP and COSATU as working-class organisations should march together in one step, reaching out to other worker and working-class organisations to forge popular left fronts and build a powerful, socialist movement of the workers and poor. While we must contest the space to secure a favourable outcome on the reconfiguration of the Alliance and renewal and unity of our movement, we must avoid investing all our hopes in a positive outcome on both fronts.

Building an independent voice and the capacity of the working-class on all fronts of the struggle is critical not only for the reconfiguration of the Alliance but also for future state power considerations in the event of a negative outcome on the reconfiguration of the Alliance and the renewal of the movement.

For there can be no unity with thieves if they prevail. Similarly, there can be no principled and programmatic unity with the leaders who are not prepared to give practical effect to the reconfiguration of the Alliance and the achievement of a successful renewal of the entire movement.

To be sure, renewal must embrace a renouncement of neoliberalism in favour of elaborating national democratic revolutionary policy to advance towards the aims of the Freedom Charter decisively. Therefore, not only COSATU but also the SACP may have to convene a Special National Congress as part of ensuring that we march together as one in every step we take, while forging wider working-class unity and building inviolable and unbreakable programmatic ties with the masses on the ground.

There is one issue that we need to state as a matter of record.

Someone was saying the SACP is not ready to contest elections. Please allow us to respond to that in one sentence: “The SACP is ready to contest elections: FULL STOP.” Do not ever say the SACP is not ready. What is necessary, however, are engagements with the broader working-class population, with worker organisations and, yes, with our allies. Principled and programmatic unity remains essential. We ourselves as the working-class will need it more going forward. Especially, the process of democratic engagement is important to ensure that, as the Party of the working-class, we move together with and for the workers and poor in every step we take.

The international situation

The world is characterised by a deepening threat to the emergence of a multi-polar world based on co-operation for peace and human development equality. The threat is driven by the insecurities of declining influence by the US, backed by its imperialist allies.

The bipolar axis of the imperialist US and Europe seeks to impose its worldview, using the institutions they control, such as the IMF, and their military alliance, NATO, to force other states to follow their neoliberal policy prescriptions and expansion in Eastern Europe. Expansion by the US-dominated NATO in Eastern Europe aimed at encircling the Russian Federation, with China as another target. This is the context in which the US has been provoking China in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.

We live in an era of war and indeed shall only know peace once war is permanently abolished. But as V.I. Lenin observed: “War cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished, and socialism is created”.

The provocations against Russia and China by the United States directly or through NATO saw the people of Russia and China responding firmly in defence of their national independence and sovereignty.

We express our solidarity with the people of Cuba against imperialist aggression, including economic blockade and occupation of the Cuban territory on Guantanamo Bay by the United States.

We pledge our solidarity with the progressive forces in Latin America, with the people of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, to mention but a few, for a leftwards advance, and against the United States-led imperialist aggression.

We stand in solidarity with the people of Western Sahara against the occupation of their country by Morocco.

The SACP supports the people of Swaziland struggling for democracy, and against the autocratic regime of the absolute monarch. 

We stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine against occupation by the US-backed apartheid regime of Israel.

In the same vein, we stand in solidarity with the people of Syria and the Kurds in the Middle East. We support the Freedom of Abdullah Öcalan Movement.

Once more, we wish the COSATU 14th National Congress a resounding success.

In sharing our message to this congress, we will supply a resource pack that gives background details to some of the key proposals we have made in this main text of the message.

Thank you.