COSATU General Secretary Address – COSATU Free State PEC

Comrade chairperson and members of the PEC of COSATU,

It is a pleasure to be with you at this important PEC meeting, more so when we have a busy year ahead and as we prepare for the most difficult elections since 1994.

Vladimir Lenin once wisely said “there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen”. This can be said for South Africa today.

The working class is experiencing some of its most difficult challenges in recent years.  It is up to us as the Federation of Elijah Barayi to rise to the occasion in defence of workers’ jobs, wages and rights.

We have seen collective bargaining under siege in the public and private sectors.  It is critical that we as COSATU are there to assist our Affiliates in their battles, whether it is in the PSCBC or SALGA Bargaining Council, whether it is in the mines at Welkom or the clothing factories in Harrismith, we must be there with our members.

But we must go to battles prepared. Slogans will not win any victories. Our negotiators must be armed with coherent demands.  Our shop stewards must be on the ground with members. Our members must guide us on their mandates. And we must be honest with our members on what we can achieve and what we cannot.  The worst thing we can do is lie to members.

Today we must offer our support to our militant affiliate, NEHAWU as it defends workers across the public service in defence of collective bargaining and the right of workers to earn a living wage. We must intensify our support for our tried and tested SACCAWU as it battles an intransigent employer at Makro.

Whilst we must defend the right of all workers to strike, we must equally guide our members on the need to be disciplined at all times.  We cannot afford for violence and vandalism to be synonymous with COSATU. Workers’ right to strike must be protected.  As must we respect the need for essential health workers to report for duty and the rights of all patients to seek medical treatment from our hospitals. 

Our fight is with the employer, not with each other as workers, nor with working class communities who depend upon our public facilities.  We must be guided by the principles of working-class solidarity at all times.

If we are to emerge victorious in our campaigns on behalf of our members and workers, then we need to take seriously the tasks of building our structures.

We are not happy as NOBs by the absence of membership recruitment campaigns?  What happened to the red Friday campaigns that the Free State used to lead us in? 

It is worrying that there are millions unspent in the SETAs where are unions are represented, yet our members need to be empowered to understand how the BCEA and Minimum Wage Act protect them. The CCMA offers free training for our Shop Stewards, are we tapping into these?

The leadership of the Free State PEC has consistently raised the crises crippling many of our Affiliates, from SATAWU to CEPPWAWU, from SASBO to PAWUSA.  Please continue to speak truth to power.  There is no COSATU without strong and vibrant unions in every corner of the country. 

We need strong unions, so we are able to champion working class struggles.

It is because of the respect and power of this Federation of John Gomomo, that we were able to achieve the National Minimum Wage that has raised the wages of 6 million workers, in particular farm and domestic.  But we are receiving reports of many employers refusing to pay it.

We have asked each province to develop programmes to monitor its implementation and report delinquent employers to the Department of Labour.  Where are our plans for farm workers in Hoopstad and domestic workers in Ladybrand?

Every week at least one mine worker and one police officer dies at the workplace.  Are we working with NUM and POPCRU on workplace safety campaigns?

Many women are harassed at the workplace.  Are we working with Affiliates on campaigns to ensure women are aware of the protections put in place under the 3 new GBV Acts passed by Parliament in September?  Are we working with POPCRU to ensure all SAPS members understand their new powers to deal with GBV?

As workers are retrenched, what have we done to work with AFADWU or CWU to ensure that all workers are registered with the UIF and able to access their benefits when in need? It cannot be correct for us to collect workers’ membership fees, and then to disappear when workers struggle to access the UIF.

We are making positive progress in Parliament on amending the pension laws to allow workers early access to their pension funds. Treasury has agreed to an implementation date of 1 March 2024.  Much work remains to be done at Parliament, in government and the pension funds to ensure this can happen. It will also need us to empower workers to understand how the new two pot regime will work.

Workers need a capacitated developmental state if we to uplift their lives.

We must be deeply worried about the state of government, the SOEs and our municipalities. Whilst we appreciate that much of the damage to the state is as a result of the decade of state capture, we need government to move with greater speed to fix and rebuild the state.  This rebuilding cannot be based upon pickpocketing workers and sending them to the unemployment queue.

A turnaround plan for the Post Office must not include retrenching 4000 staff and cutting the remaining 9000 staff wages by 40%.  We welcome the Hawks investigating the non-payment of workers’ medical and provident funds at the Post Office. DENEL needs a plan to save that company and pay its employees what is due to them.

COSATU is pleased that the President heeded our call to declare a state of disaster to reduce and end loadshedding. We will be meeting the new Minister, cde. Sputla Ramakgopa next week to see how we can help in this national crisis.

Similar interventions are needed to save Transnet and Metro Rail which are key to transporting workers and our mining, agriculture and manufacturing goods to their destinations on time and safely.

We are deeply distressed by the collapse of local government in the Free State. The situation in Mangaung is very worrying.  We have requested an urgent meeting with the new Minister for COGTA and the Premier to see how this crisis can be resolved.

We need to hear from yourselves on how you are helping SAMWU with the issue of workers not being paid in Kopanong, Mohokare, Masolonyane and Mafube?

We must commend the Province for consistently raising the alarm bells on the collapse of Maluti o Phafong.  Let us develop concrete proposals on what we believe needs to be done to fix these municipalities before it is too late.

If we are to rebuild the state, then everyone must pay their taxes.  SACTWU has done a lot of work with SARS to tackle customs evasion.  Let us help our comrades at SARS tackle those companies and shops who refuse to pay taxes.  If we want the state to invest in our schools and pay our nurses, then we need everyone to pay their taxes.

2024 will be our most difficult elections.

If the Alliance is to emerge victorious then we need to end loadshedding, deal with corruption, grow the economy, reduce unemployment and rebuild the image of the ANC in the eyes of workers. This can only happen if all of us help.

The leadership of the ANC is committed to the renewal campaign, but there are those who are married to corruption. The ANC needs to be unrelenting in its efforts to renew if it is to survive.

We need to continue our engagements on the radical reconfiguration of the Alliance. The Alliance must be the centre of leadership for the National Democratic Revolution.

The SACP is undertaking internal engagements on its stance on contesting elections separately or under the umbrella of the ANC. Affiliates have been asked to seek mandates from members on this as well as how should the Alliance be reconfigured.

Whilst we have these discussions, it is critical to remember that if we are divided as Affiliates or as COSATU, then we will collapse. We cannot afford to treat unity as a slogan. Unity must be a unity of principles and practice. It must be in our programmes.

Look at many of our Affiliates which were once vibrant and strong and today are under administration or hanging on for dear life, simply because leaders valued themselves more than the unity of workers.

Leadership allow me to conclude here. I look forward to robust engagements with yourselves over this important meeting. More importantly we look forward to working with you across the Free State as we prepare to host Workers’ Day in Bethlehem in honour of our fallen SAMWU members. I am confident that you will do their memories proud. Thank you. Matla!