COSATU General Secretary Solly Phetoe’s Address at the COSATU North West Provincial Executive Committee(CEC) Meeting

Build Working Class Unity for Economic Liberation Towards Socialism!


COSATU held its Central Executive Committee meeting from 29-31 May 2023 just after peaceful and successful May Day celebrations and the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1973 Durban strikes. The Central Executive Committee’s assessment has concluded that our Federation and its Affiliates have steadily regrouped despite some challenges and many of our Affiliates have gradually regained their focus and strength.

The Federation is deeply concerned by the rising costs of living, a stubbornly high unemployment rate and poverty levels and towards this end, workers are facing occurrences of attacks on their hard-won bargaining rights and are suffering massive retrenchments and loss of livelihood. This is the real state of the nation, the decimation of our hard-won democracy and the rights of all workers and the poor, from their political to economic and to social rights all are under attack.

The electricity crisis is too large for the government on its own to fix. COSATU convened an energy summit on 20-21 June 2023 as per the resolution of the 14th National Congress to discuss modalities to overcome the energy crises. 

The Federation is grappling with the many contradictions that currently face the ANC government which is struggling to ensure a radical improvement in the conditions of work and living standards of workers.

The May 2023 CEC made it clear that we cannot afford to retreat to a sectarian approach, but we need to continue to play a pivotal role in the transformation of society and the interests of workers should be advanced through the thoroughgoing transformation of society.

Unity of workers and the Working Class

The South African labour movement is facing many challenges, both external and internal. These challenges have long roots and are not unique to South African unions. The economic context suggests continued uncertainty for workers, the medium-term indicates short-term pressure on real wages due to inflation and high interest rates. These conditions are likely to encourage workers to join trade unions or maintain their membership so that they can protect their employment and income security.

It is on this basis that the 14th National Congress resolved on the unity and solidarity of workers as key to fighting exploitation by employers and re-asserting the strength of trade unions. As Karl Marx has said: “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains”. We call on all our affiliates to recommit to this teaching by collaborating and working together with other unions in all sectors they are organising. We need to unite in defending jobs, fighting corruption, gender-based violence and fearlessly express our determination to protect the integrity of collective bargaining, and to resist all attempts by employers to undermine it.

COSATU’s battle cry of “an injury to one is an injury to all” should be echoed in every, city, town and in every village as workers intensify the war against neo-liberalism, capitalism and imperialism through demanding a job creating economy, defending their jobs and hard-won gains including collective bargaining as we continue to lay a solid foundation for a future Socialist South Africa.

We remain guided by the fivefold tasks well-articulated by the Political Report of the 14th National Congress, which are;

·       Building and strengthening COSATU and its affiliates;

·       Building unity in action with unions and federations;

·       Building and strengthening the socialist axis;

·       Building campaigns with mass based organisations and progressive NGOs; and

·       Building and fighting for the renewal of the ANC.


Unemployment numbers – The Federation noted the regression in the narrow unemployment rate from 32.7% to 32.9% in the 1st Quarter of 2023. The Federation is deeply worried that last year’s momentum in reducing unemployment may be lost with the current rampant levels of load shedding suffocating the economy.

Rising Cost of Living – we are deeply concerned by the rising costs of living, a stubbornly high unemployment rate and poverty levels.  COSATU will be ramping up its campaigns to help protect the working class from the rising costs of living and poverty.

NEDLAC – The Federation welcomes progress in processing and passing of various progressive legislation that will advance working class struggles at NEDLAC, Parliament and Government. Key legislative developments including:

Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Act which will extend coverage to over 900 000 domestic workers as well as expand protections for all workers, has been signed into law by the President and will come into effect from 1 September 2023.

Employment Equity Amendment Act provides a more inclusive approach by recognising regional demographic variations and require companies doing business with the state to follow the Employment Equity and National Minimum Wage Acts; has been signed into law by the President and will come into effect from 1 September 2023.

Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Bill is being reviewed by the Department of Employment and Labour and will soon be re-tabled at NEDLAC. 

National Health Insurance Bill has been passed by the National Assembly Committee on Health and is now before the National Council of Provinces.  It is critical that Parliament ensures its adoption before the end of the 6th Parliament.  The building of an NHI is key to ensuring all workers have access to quality and affordable health care.

Public Procurement Bill has been approved by Cabinet for tabling at Parliament. It will lay the foundation for a single transparent public procurement system for the entire state.  This will be a crucial weapon in the fight against state capture and corruption.

On Recruitment.

Our focus is on retaining and servicing of existing membership in all sectors and recruit vulnerable sectors like constructions and fishery which in the main are less organized and are more exploited with less or no social benefits. We are pleased that CEC resolved that SACTWU should start organising in the fishing sector. However, we remain concerned about the continued low trade union density in many sectors considering that 70% of workers remain unorganised.

National Day of Action

The CEC expressed its anger with the heightened offensive against the working class which expresses itself in government policies, which include cuts in real wages, retrenchments, and an increase in unemployment rates. We are also unhappy with the government’s failure to accelerate the fight against corruption, end the energy crisis and the Reserve Bank’s unaffordable continuous interest rate hikes.  

In response, the Federation resolved to embark on a National Day of Action on the 6th of July 2023 in defence of collective bargaining and pushing back against this offensive. This will also be building towards the 07th of October International Decent Work Day.


COSATU and SACP called for the radical reconfiguration of the Alliance to ensure that it is the political centre of the nation, sets the policy discourse for the state and holds government accountable for its implementation. 

COSATU continues to support the SACP as the vanguard of the working class.  The SACP needs to strengthen its the basic organization within the party, e.g. the factory cell as this provides a direct link between the party and daily struggle of the working class.

The party must consist of the advanced section of the poor and the working class, it must first be the advancement of the detachment of the working class, the party must absorb all the best elements of the working class, their experience, their revolutionary spirit, their selfless devotion to the cause of the proletariat.  It must be armed with revolutionary theory, knowledgeable about the struggles of the working class and the poor.  The SACP must put forward political ideas that can appeal to and interest the masses.  It must act in defence of the masses, win the masses to their side, raise the level of the consciousness of the masses.  It must ensure that the Alliance is grounded amongst the people and enjoys popular support.

The point I am trying to make is that the masses, the millions, should be engaged to support the SACP and help connect it with working class struggles.

COSATU rejects any attempt to divide workers.  We will continue to be on the ground working with workers and visiting workplaces and tackling workplace grievances.

Victory cannot be won with the vanguard alone, the immediate task that we must jointly confront is the class conscious of our masses. The SACP must be able to lead the broader masses of our movement .


We are witnessing increased attacks on the Palestinian people by the apartheid state of Israel, using the cover of the world attention taken by the Russia-Ukraine War.  Israel is at daily war with the Palestinians.  This requires that we step up our solidarity campaign with the people of Palestine and the whole Middle east experiencing conflict and war.

We welcome the decision of a group of leaders from seven African Countries who met with the Ukrainian President Wlodomyr Zelensky and the Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the need for negotiations to end the war in Ukraine..

Our beloved continent, Africa remains in deep crises, feeling the impact of geo-political conflict, being undermined by world powers, the looting of our natural resources, corruption and oppression by dictatorial governments, and extreme under development leading to hunger, poverty and inequality.

We continue to witness crises in our own region, SADC. eSwatini has reached an alarming point, with the murder of activists, forced exiling and brutal persecution and jailing of many human rights activists and trade union leaders. The CEC resolved that we should take lessons from other transitions and develop mass rolling programs to assist our workers in ESwatini in their struggle for democracy.


We need to intensify our campaigns on shop floor and bread and butter struggles as workers battle for the most basic necessities, their daily survival and livelihoods. Equally we must not lose sight of the overall NDR fundamentals that safeguard what workers need today and tomorrow.

The role of COSATU as a revolutionary labour movement, is to advance the basic and immediate interests of the working class, in sync with the struggle for socialism. This means harnessing the often contradictory and sectoral issues facing unions in the Federation, towards a harmonious and broader focus. COSATU should always, remain vigilant in working with all its Affiliates to represent the best interests of workers and members, inclusive of their diversity.

COSATU remains a campaigning Federation and all workers should be in the battlefront in defence of the national democratic revolution!