COSATU May Day Message, 2024 –

Build COSATU unions, Defend Democracy – Vote ANC!

Building a strong and united COSATU in mobilising for the ANC Electoral Victory on the 29th May 2024


1.    Background

Today is Workers’ Day!

This day belongs to the millions of men and women who work tirelessly to produce our food and build our houses, they are the ones we rely on for our essential services, including education, health care, safety and security.

They are the ones who clean our streets and communities, build our roads, work underground for our mineral and industrial necessities, and they drive long distances to deliver much needed goods to far flung communities. Today we honour all these men and women, wherever they are. These are our real heroes!

May Day is born of working class struggles for decent wages, decent working and living conditions and dignity for all. We are gathered here today to demonstrate the importance of solidarity and power of unity in action.

Brief history of International Workers Day:

–          Workers struggles in imperialist centres of capitalism, namely the US and Europe, against very bad working conditions and exploitative wages.

–          Workers struggles in Chicago for an 8-hour work day and safe working conditions.

Today, we pay tribute to the Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions, which hundred and forty years ago (in 1884) at its National Convention in Chicago, in the United States, proclaimed that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labour from and after May 1, 1886”.

–          on 1 May 1886, more than 300 000 workers went on strike across the country. The strike was met with murderous violence by the ruling elites, as scores of peacefully protesting workers were butchered on 3 May 1886.

–          The first session of the Second Socialist International, in Paris 1889 adopted a resolution for working class support of the 8-hour work day.

In our own context, at the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the May Day, the newly established COSATU staged one of the biggest ever stay-aways in South Africa to demand the recognition of May Day as a paid public holiday.

–          supported by the formations of the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) under the leadership of the United Democratic Front (UDF).

–          more than 1,5-million workers observed COSATU’s call, joined by the masses of school pupils, tertiary students, taxi drivers, hawkers, shopkeepers, domestic workers, self-employed and unemployed people. Rallies were held in all the major cities, even though many of these were banned in advance by the state.

–          These forced P.W. Botha regime to succumb and recognise Workers’ Day as a paid public day in 1987.

–          Today, May Day is one of the 12 public holidays, which we celebrate as part of the achievements of the COSATU-led trade union movement and a gain of the broader working class in our democracy.

Importance of Workers Day today

COSATU takes this day very seriously as an important organisational tool of struggle. True to our traditions of worker control and strong organisation as our base, we use this day to account to the working class on the gains, setbacks and challenges of our long journey and struggle.

–          We now host May Day events in all nine Provinces of South Africa, from across all sectors of the economy and workplaces.

–          COSATU continues to be bold to speak the truth and not sugar-coat the naked reality that is experienced by the workers and the broader working class on a daily basis.

International solidarity with all workers of all nations!

COSATU extends warm and fraternal greetings to fellow workers gathered and marching in different parts of the world, particularly on our own continent, Africa. Our destiny is tied to one another by the bounds of extreme underdevelopment, poverty, diseases and hunger throughout the continent that define the common basis of our joint struggles.

2.    Understanding the political economy of the transition from apartheid –  Working with the ANC to build a democratic developmental state to transform and industrialise our economy and create jobs

The democratically elected government led by the ANC in 1994 inherited a state bankrupted by apartheid.

–       Context of crisis of South African capitalism dating back from global capitalist crises of 1973/1979. The deep and prolonged recession from 1989 to 1993, at the height of our struggle against apartheid and the global sanctions momentum.

The new democratic state had a massive task to build a better life for all especially the historically oppressed masses on the one hand, while also addressing dis-investment and capital-flight on the other hand.

The democratic state also guaranteed fundamental rights, including:

–       radical changes in the labour relations regime, away from repressive Apartheid workplace regime. New democratic labour legislation consolidated our (workers) gains, creating new conditions of work, but also new contestations and contradictions. As workers we had to develop different objectives, and new strategies and tactics had to be considered, to ensure we remain relevant and adapt our radical trade union movement in the evolving context of the post-apartheid challenges.

We must also acknowledge that the transition from Apartheid to the new democratic order has come with its own contradictions and costs, especially for the working class.

We have observed the fact that the state itself is contested terrain, e.g:

o   The packaging of neoliberal reforms inevitable part of our transition.

o   But, we have also the negative effect of the neoliberal trajectory both on class terms, but also in the general erosion and hollowing of the capacity of the state to drive transformation.

That is why, as workers we should understand the strategy of capital over the three decades of democracy.

–       in consolidating its class power – it has managed to establish its hegemony over the democratic state and society;

–       the manner in which it has decisively influenced the current structure of the economy and the labour relations, e.g.,

o   the sustained attacks on Collective Bargaining and the institutions regulating the labour market reflect the intensity of the struggle by capital to roll back our gains.

o   even pending threat to the Minimum Wage regime if we fail to win the upcoming elections.

Three main elements in the strategy of our class enemy in its agenda to sustain exploitation of workers even under the democratic order, and to weaken militant trade union movement as well as their ploy to maintain key economic features of a Colonialism of a Special Type:

1.    Extensive and generally negative process of workplace restructuring.

a.    Massive capital-intensive investment, replacing workers with machines to weaken shop-floor strength of the militant trade union movement.

b.    Casualisation, externalisation of work, labour brokers and work intensification

c.     The abuse of Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act by bosses to embark on massive retrenchments.

–       This has produced rising unemployment crisis, rising wealth and income inequality, as well as the poverty-wages paid to vast majority of workers.

–       It has also produced growing precarity and vulnerability among workers, mostly with many amendments of the 1995 LRA, all chipping away rights of workers and strengthening the hand of employers to undermine workers’ power.

–       Even today, capital is still calling for amendments to the labour relations legislations to remove the existing protections of the workers.

o   The claim that such reforms would encourage investments.

–       Because of these, many of our people suffer from long-term unemployment. Results of quarter 4 of 2023 showed that 11.7 million South Africans were unemployment, in a labour force of 24.6 million people.

Comrades, the biggest threat to all South African workers and gains of our democracy, is a possible coalition of parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Action SA, that have proudly positioned themselves as the primary political enemy of workers and the representative of our class enemy. The DA and Action SA have openly committed themselves in their manifestos to embark on amendments to the labour laws. To remove the existing protections of the workers and to weaken collective bargaining in order to make it easy for the employers to hire and fire and to heighten the super-exploitation of the workers.

2.    Certain components of domestic monopoly capital took advantage of the goodwill of democratic state to internationalise their ownership, shifting some of their capital reserves to imperialist North stock exchanges, some of which is still taking place even today.

–       The role of capital in complicated networks of fraudulent tax evasion and the illegal financial outflow, including illicit outflow of capital.

–       This is part of the broader play of capital, taking advantage of favourable balance of class forces, through disinvestments that have been taking place since 1994.

–       For example, since 1994 the share of manufacturing in the economy shrunk from 17.3% to 13.5% today, and that of mining shrunk from 19.5% to 8.1% today.

–       We know that the decline in mining and manufacturing has affected COSATU with declined unionisation in key private sector circuits of capital.

–       While public sector unionisation grew under democracy, the decline in private industry sector unionisation resulted in union density of less than 24% of workforce by 2019 DOEL figures. 

3.    Financialisation as a strategic response of capital, through which they again undermine our trade union militancy.

–       With this has been a growing replacement of productive circuits of the economy, by service sector, especially banking, accumulating trillion of Rand, growing influence of speculative finance, etc.

–       Since 1994 the financial industry, anchored on banks, exploded from 13.4% to about 22.4% in share of the economy, thus becoming the dominant economic sector. Finance and including tourism, now constitute about 63% of the economy whilst agriculture remain relatively stagnant at 2.6%.

–       The influence of financialisation is seen in our own provident funds are not growing, because they are not deployed in productive activities like infrastructure projects that would serve to create the long-term potential growth of our economy.

–       This shift has also resulted in the growth of the often casualised low-wage jobs, especially in the transport and wholesale & retail, which since 1994 employment grew from 6% to 9.6% and 12.9% to 15% respectively.

o   The SACP’s Financial Sector Campaign and the call for utilisation of prescribed assets on socially useful investments

o   We also call for wealth tax and the increase of corporate income tax to discourage the current investment strike by capital and to reduce inequality.

Comrades, the battle for worker control of retirement and savings funds is at the centre of our decisive struggle as workers.

–       We continue to call for a strongly resourced and proactive industrial strategy, including the beneficiation of our mineral resources.

–       We also call for pulling our economy out of the current semi-colonial relations in its trade with the global North countries in which South Africa is used as a mere source for the extraction of vital mineral resources.

The ANC’s 2024 Manifesto priorities aim at building a democratic and developmental state, reverse the stranglehold of monopoly capital and build state capacity to effectively deliver on its mandate.

3.    Strengthening our Campaign to defend Collective Bargaining and workers’ rights in all sectors of the economy – Building strong unions to defend workers

–    Major gains of the democratic dispensation — progressive labour laws, conditions of employment and robust labour market institutions, which are a result of years of struggle.

–       The vote for the ANC is part of our struggle to defend these gains, because only the ANC has stood with us in defending these legislations during debates in the National Assembly.

Herein is a summary of four specific areas of focus and brief assessment to that end;

  • Employment
  • Unemployment
  • Major victories for workers in labour law
  • Challenges

On Employment – We note some growth in employment, back to pre-Covid-19 levels. Since Covid-19, over 2.5 million more people were employed, with 790 thousand more people employed last year, with Free State, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape most notable.

–       There is persisting gendering disparity in employment, with about 1.9 million more men employed than women.

–       Initiatives to prioritize youth employment are also key.

On Unemployment – The levels of unemployment remain extremely high at 41,1%.  Almost 7.9 million people are unemployed, with a further 3 million discouraged work-seekers. Black women and youths are most affected by unemployment.

On the progressive labour law and workers’ rights – Collective Bargaining remains the key gain of struggles by workers since 1994, which we must defend. Here are cornerstone: 

–          The Labour Relations Act (LRA)

–          The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) – the BCEA now provide that:

a. a worker who works for less than 4 hours per day, must be paid for a full day;

b. Both mothers and fathers can take 10 days parental leave to bond with new born children;

c. A mother or father who adopts a child, is now entitled to 10 weeks of parental leave.

–          The National Skills Development Act (NSDA)

–          The Employment Equity Act (EEA) – to address historical inequalities resulting from years of discrimination of blacks and women in the workplace.

–          The health and safety laws including –

o   The Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Amendment Act (COIDA) – recently extended to cover to 900 000 domestic workers. 

–          A National Minimum Wage (NMW) was enacted in 2018 and has now been increased to R27.58 in March 2024.

Challenges identified by COSATU that require dedicated attention.

–          While organized labour has won major victories, we also face very serious challenges and contestation of workers’ gains.

o   Employers’ tendencies to undermine collective bargaining, abandon signed wage agreements and impose wage freezes on workers who are already drowning in debt and not able to provide for their families.

o   Threats of retrenchments of thousands of workers by companies, state owned entities and even municipalities.

o   Growing number of local municipalities and state-owned enterprises failing to pay their staff. Also instances in which employers failing to submit workers contributions to pension funds, some even SARS PAYE

o   Women still face sexual harassment in the workplace and the critical importance of workplace transformation and equity.

o   Constant attacks on workers’ rights by IMF, World Bank, etc., with calls for privatisation, decreasing employment in the public sector and lowering public sector workers’ wages.

4.    COSATU Calls on workers to defend our Democratic gains – Vote ANC!

Despite numerous challenges, we take pride in celebrating the 30th anniversary of our democracy on this May Day. As workers we appreciate the strides and positive changes because we suffered the most and bore the worst brunt of the apartheid and its repressive employment regime.

The alliance COSATU, SACP and SANCO with the ANC have been central to promulgate progressive gains of our democratic advances.

–       We cannot take for granted the significance of defending and advancing towards more of these gains.

Here are significant gains that COSATU and the alliance must defend:   

·       About 89% of the country’s households now have access to water, from 60% in 1994.

·       About 85% of South African homes have access to electricity.

·       More than 18 million vulnerable people receive social protection in terms of social grants, from only 2.5 million in 1999.

·       Nearly every young person aged 15-24 years is literate, and adult literacy now stands at 85%, up from 64% in 1996.

·       While still a challenge, the poverty rate declined from 71% in 1993 to 55.5% in 2020.

·       The ANC government set up the largest HIV/AIDS programme in the world, with more than 5.8 million people on antiretroviral treatment.

ANC Manifesto 2024 Six priorities

COSATU throws its full weight behind the six priorities outlined in the ANC’s 2024 Manifesto, especially those related to the economy and the broader developmental agenda.

In the Manifesto, the ANC-led Alliance has committed to anchor the economic and social policies of the seventh administration towards “a developmental macroeconomic framework”, to build the developmental state.

In line with the key socioeconomic commitments of the manifesto, amongst others, this developmental macroeconomic framework means:

·      A moratorium on budget-cuts and the stimulation of the economy in alignment with the economic and social priorities.

·       The creation and sustaining of 2.5 million work opportunities in delivering public goods and services to communities.  

·       Alignment of monetary, fiscal and trade policy, along with transformation of the financial sector, to support job creation and industrialisation.

·       Strengthening income support through existing social grants and use the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grants as a mechanism towards phasing in a basic income support grant.

·       Promulgate the National Health Insurance (NHI) to make quality health care affordable and available to all.

·       Build a capable and developmental state, strengthen links between government at all levels and the people, rebuild and improve local government, build a professional and developmental public service based on Batho Pele principles, and strengthen cooperative governance through the District Development Model.

·       Build on achievements opening access in the higher education, by strengthening NSFAS, to ensure South Africa realises NDP 2030 target of 1.6 million enrolments for universities, 2.5 million and 1 million for TVETs and CET colleges respectively.

o  Achievements – presently, black students in universities increased from 49% in 1994 to 71% in 2021 and 60% of the university students are women.

o  From 1991, when TEFSA was established to 2020 the student population grew by nearly seven hundred percent and in 2024 the student population that is funded by NSFAS for the first time surpassed a million (1.1 million).

Vote for the ANC campaign

NB: Comrades, this 2024 May Day coincides with the momentous seventh democratic elections on the 29th May. This is our solemn message, this campaign is both to mobilise workers towards a decisive victory of the ANC in these elections

–       the ANC remains a workers’ choice in defence of democracy and workers’ rights.

In March we launched the Eijah Barayi Brigades and the Violet Seboni Brigades which require all our effort and support.

–       For the first time since 1994, our movement led by the African National Congress (ANC) is facing a realistic possibility of being unseated by all sorts of coalition of reactionary forces, spearheaded by DA’s so-called Multi-Party Charter (MPC).

Why is our revolution facing real threat of reversal in these elections?

We are not saying that this DA-led group has suddenly become popular amongst the masses of our people more than the ANC itself.

Our key message is that a decisive victory or a defeat of the ANC depends on what we are going to do as workers, leading to the very last day of the official campaigning period and the 29th May 2024.

All hands on deck

First, between today, 1st May and 29th May, with the Siyanqoba Rally to be held at the FNB Stadium, we are all hands-on deck, on the ground and in the realm of ideas to shape the narrative.

We must unleash all our resources and personnel to ensure that the ANC decisively wins this seventh elections and the reactionary forces are defeated.

Second, we have to ensure the most optimal turnout of our people to cast their ballot at these elections. We must guard against complacency and ensure our people come in their numbers to vote.

Comrades, a higher voter turnout spells a decisive victory for the ANC.

So, the writing on the wall is very clear comrades – if we want to secure a decisive ANC majority victory, then all of us must make sure that all the members of our affiliates understand as to what is at stake in this election and come out in numbers on the 29th of May to vote.

Third, dealing break-away reactionary MK Party a decisive blow.

Political education to show our people how MK Party, similar to Bantu Holomisa’s UDM and Julius Malema’s EFF, one-man neo-fascist shows

MK Party’s most regressive pronouncements, e.g., support for a return of corporal punishment on children by parents, the abolishment of the gay and lesbian rights, the reintroduction of death penalty and the elevation of the tribal authorities over the elected representatives.

Why our emphasis on the MK Party?

Because it’s a break-away party from the ANC likely to affect the outcome of this 2024 elections at the expense of the ANC especially in KZN. If we don’t mount a formidable campaign, together with the EFF, the MK Party would pose a threat of eating directly into the ANC constituency, thus indirectly raise the voter share of the DA-led counterrevolutionaries.

Education and campaign to those legitimately angry at neoliberal austerity and corruption and want to punish ANC

–       What are disastrous consequences of an ANC loss of power to workers and poor communities?

–       A possible ascendence of a DA-led coalition, which

o   promises “to go after COSATU”, and workers’ benefits.

o   regards the NHI and provision of universal health coverage for all as disastrous. A DA-led government will reverse, and more empower private health sector.

o   wants (together with Action SA) to phaseout the National Minimum Wage, even to overhaul the LRA and aspects of BCEA in order to introduce flexible employment terms, empowering employers to hire and fire workers.

o   wants trade unions to pay a deposit to an appropriate independent body before they can embark on legal strike action, again undermining the right to strike, which is guaranteed by the Constitution.

o   wants to make students from the working-class households earning more than R180 000 per year to pay for 44% of the fees, in terms of its financial aid model that excludes any of the current provision of funds for the living allowance, accommodation and the study material. This would be a receipt of disaster in terms of the gains in access for the working-class households.

o   wants to replace the Public Service Act with a new legal framework, towards a confrontational posture towards the radical trade union movement in the public sector, unstable public service apparatus and therefore poor service delivery.

Only workers can defend our gains and make advances in line with the four pillars of our programme of action going-forward.

A decisive victory for the ANC in this 2024 elections would provide the best possible scenario but requires every worker to cast our votes. It also requires that we remain focused ahead as we are still going to face massive challenges as workers, regardless of the outcome of the elections.

Our strategic outlook and tasks that we have set out for ourselves as the federation at the COSATU 14th Congress in September 2022, centre on:

1.     Resisting the deepening of the neoliberal trajectory and to continue to fight for an alternative developmental path around the perspective of the Developmental State.

2.     Provide practical alternatives in our campaigns and demands that place socialist solutions at the centre.

To practically pursues this agenda, the 14th COSATU Congress adopted five elements laying out our immediate to medium-term integrated organisational and political strategy, as follows:

1.    Building and strengthening COSATU and its affiliates at the workplace.

2.    Building unity in action with other unions and federations.

3.    Building and strengthening the socialist-axis.

4.    Building campaigns with mass-based organizations and progressive NGOs; and

5.    Building and fighting for the renewal of the ANC.

The starting point in carrying out this integrated organisational and political programme is the building and strengthening of COSATU and its affiliates at the workplace.

Roll out of our back to the basic programme of the Listening Campaign, to root our unions on shopfloor at the workplace.

The campaign to organically establish our unions at the workplace through sustained efforts to:

·       Entrench workplace democratic renewal of branch congress, election of shop stewards, establishing activist branch substructures and workplace programme of action for transformation.

·       Shopsteward education and leadership training together with accountable organisers, properly supervised, to ensure support for branches and service to members.

·       Strengthening our organisational substructures, especially at the regional level, as engines of service delivery to members and structures of our unions at the workplace.