COSATU President Zingiswa Losi: Address – AGOA Forum Labour Leg

02 November 2023

Programme Director Moss Lekota,

United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Katherine Tai,

South African Minister for Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi,

The leadership of our sister unions and federations from the United States and the length and breadth of our continent as well as those from South Africa,

Welcome to South Africa.  We are honoured by your presence and positive response to our request to join us for this important Forum for the jobs and rights of workers.

We are especially pleased that our comrades made this long journey from as far a field as Liberia and Central Africa, not even the hassles of waiting for visas could deter you! 

We know at times the many bureaucratic obstacles placed in front of you have been deeply frustrating.  Please accept our sincere apologies for these.

This is the first time Organised Labour has been invited to participate in an AGOA Forum as a dedicated partner with a focused leg.  We applaud the efforts of Ambassador Tai and South Africa’s Minister for Trade, Industry and Competition, Ebrahim Patel in this regard.

It is important our voice as the trade union movement is felt in these engagements and most critically in ensuring that AGOA is not only renewed but also enhanced.

Your attendance matters.  Workers’ lives matter.  Your voice must be heard whether you are a steel worker from Philadelphia, a cocoa worker from Cote D’Ivoire or a Ford Motor factory worker in Tshwane.  Government and business need to hear the views, the frustrations and anger, the aspirations and ideas of workers.

The challenges facing the working class are daunting.  Coal workers in West Virginia and Mpumalanga fear losing scarce jobs.  Mine workers in the copper belt of Zambia want to work in a safe environment.  The young people of South Sudan dream of having a job and a better life.  Generations of Mauritanians wish for a day when they would not be subjected to the most exploitive forms of modern slavery.

The South African trade union movement is a diverse and at times noisy crowd!  But we are united on the need to save and create jobs, to support the economic and industrial development of not only South Africa but the entire continent.  We believe in the principles of international solidarity and take hope from the relentless efforts of our sister unions in the United States to defend workers’ hard won labour rights.

We are united as the South African trade union movement in support of AGOA.  It has helped secure and create thousands of badly needed local jobs from the motor manufacturing industry in the Eastern Cape to the mines of the Free State, to chemical plants in Gauteng and the wine farms of the Western Cape.

We have worked closely with our government in its efforts to renew and enhance AGOA.  We have been heartened that we are united as the trade union movement across Africa and America in support of this progressive stance.

Whilst we support AGOA, we must as Ambassador Tai boldly reminds us, not settle for simply renewing AGOA.  Yes, we urge the US Congress to expedite its renewal.  But equally we must brainstorm together on how it can be improved.

We are concerned that much of AGOA exports to the US are dominated by mineral and petroleum exports from the continent or South African exports.  Some countries barely exploit the opportunities.  This is deeply worrying.  Is it because companies in Chad are not aware of the opportunities, or conflicts in the Central African Republic disrupted logistics, or farmers in the Comores lack access to trade routes?

Let’s table practical proposals, whether it is unlocking seed capital for farmers in Gambia, transport assistance in Malawi or support for beneficiation in Mozambique.

We have been discussing as Organised Labour how trade agreements can be marshalled to support the cause of decent work, reward employers who embrace fair labour practices and penalise those who undermine workers’ rights.  We are keen to hear from our colleagues in the US on their experiences and lessons learned, including measures to support workers who have lost jobs due to trade.

South Africa, like the United States, Nigeria and many other countries can be a chaotic democracy.  At times we irritate each other with our views.  Our governments commit unnecessary own goals.  There are contradictions in international relations, more so given the many conflicts the world must continuously navigate. 

Whilst we seek to end the many painful conflicts around the world and to settle our differences, and these will always exist, we must at times help as Organised Labour, to ensure these challenges are managed and resolved, and in a way that does not threaten the livelihoods of millions of workers wherever they may live. 

At the relevant time, we will need to apply our minds collectively to two important matters.  One is how AGOA can be linked to and support the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, including measures to protect and nurture fragile African industries? 

Second is what a future trade agreement between Africa and America look like?

The Forum is an important step forward in the journey to renewing AGOA and provides critical unity and momentum in our campaign to extend and enhance AGOA. 

It is imperative we maintain this unity and momentum as workers.  There is a need for us to continue to collaborate and coordinate our efforts to ensure we succeed.  Much work must be done between now and September 2025 when AGOA is due to expire.    

Looking at this august audience, I see the sons of Cesar Chavez and Rosa Parks, the daughters of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and Amilcar Cabral, the children of Nana Abrahams and Ray Alexander.  I am filled with pride and confidence that we will emerge victorious in our battles going forward. 

Amandla!  Thank you, comrades.  Merci beaucoup.  Obrigado.  Gracias.  Asante.