COSATU must do everything possible to avoid a split - Gwede Mantashe

ANC SG calls on Federation's leaders to lock themselves in one room and deal with the contradictions



Programme Director


When we talk about advancing we are assuming that there are gains that have been made which must be taken to a higher level. As a starting point we must quantify the gains made by the working class since our freedom. Our labour laws are progressive and protect workers to a great degree. The first gain made was the recognition of workers as employees and granting them the right to organise and join unions. Those rights guaranteed in the democratic constitution give workers the right to bargain and engage.

Safety in the working place is covered by law and employers do not have the right to retrench as they like, within the confines of the law. Many employers complain that they do not have the right to hire and fire with ease. The right to bargain talks to workers participating in the setting of wages and salary rates in their respective sectors. It is this right to organise in a secure environment that has helped us build a strong trade union movement. It is the trade union movement that constitutes the organised working class. It is these rights that the organised working class is beginning to take for granted.

The African National Congress looks after the interests of the broader working class, not only the organised section of the working class. When we talk of the good story of the last twenty years we talk of the redistribution role of the state which was in the form of providing basic services to the working class, the majority of which is poor.

When the ANC government extends the access to social grants to 16 million South Africans it takes them out of abject poverty. When the ANC declares all the schools in working class areas no-fee schools the beneficiaries are the working class. Appreciating that many of the kids in these schools are from poor households the policy of one meal a day in school is adopted.

This keeps the children in school for up to the age of eighteen years. The NSFAS is money availed to children from poor households for higher education. It is a grant for FET colleges and converted into a grant for the final year in university if the child passes. When the ANC took over in 1994 R21 million was availed for this purpose. Today, R8 Billion is set aside for children from poor household to access higher education. The 250% growth of the Black middle class in the last ten years is testimony of the success in taking a big chunk of the working class out of poverty.

In 1994, the various racist regimes had connected about 5 million South Africans to electricity. Over the last twenty years an additional 6.5million connections have been made, mainly benefiting the working class. Upon analysing every government programme; one will not miss the focus on improving the lives of the working class and the poor. Even if we take the most controversial programme the e-Toll, the exemption of taxis, busses and trains is a conscious effort to cushion the working class.

The Labour Relations Amendment Bill is a law on temporary work that has been passed by Parliament which outlaws temporary work beyond three months, protecting such workers from inferior conditions and granting them the right to take to court the actual employer he or she is working for is a massive step forward. This law amounts to a practical banning of labour broking as demanded by the organised working class. The introduction of the NHI seeks to ensure universal access to quality health care, mainly by the working class. The middle class and the bourgeoisie have the access to first world health services, funded by their medical aids. This scheme is arresting the trend towards Americanisation of health care.

As we approach the 2014 elections we must consolidate these gains and forward with them. The ANC is pre-occupied with how best to deal with the high levels of unemployment, high levels of poverty and inequality. Over the last five years when the world was going through the global financial crisis the only real investor in the massive infrastructure programme was the state. This infrastructure roll-out is an example of government investment spending which sustains the economy. Our economy is not growing fast enough for it to absorb new entrants to the labour market. This trend will continue until the private sector comes to the party. Organised labour has the responsibility to be constructive in supporting these efforts. If it plays an oppositionist role we must at best ignore it or engage it as such.

Organisationally, the alliance remains the home of the progressive forces in South Africa. Both the right wing and the ultra-left are on the ascendency and attack our movement relentlessly. The re-emergence of the old debate about forming a workers' party in COSATU, led by NUMSA as it was the case in the 1980s, demonstrates the shift in the balance of forces in the federation. The congress movement is under siege in the federation more intensely than in the country in general. Those who want to collapse the alliance have nothing to lose, hence the determination we see we trying in to split COSATU.

We must remain vigilant to the interest international forces opposed to our movement take in the intra-alliance conflict. They will sponsor it if need be as they see the collapse or weakening of the alliance as creating space for them. This offensive on our movement is articulated in revolutionary terms. One of our own comrades accused the ANC of protecting capital to the applause of many.

What was missing was the Marxist understanding of the relation with capital, the one of unity and struggle of the opposites. Capital is not our friend but a necessary evil that you love and hate. Failure to understand the contradictory relation led to the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. As that economy was collapsing the revolutionary rhetoric was being shouted with the loudest voice. For us it provides lessons for things we must avoid.

Let me conclude by emphasising that we have a duty to defend the Alliance and its components. We must not give up on advising COSATU leadership, including the leadership of the various affiliates, to do everything they can do to stop the efforts to split the federation. Leaders must have the courage to lock themselves in one room and deal with the contradictions.

The founding principles of COSATU are as relevant today as they were twenty-eight years ago. Worker leadership has been weakened beyond recognition. One industry one union is the foundation for industrial unions. Unifying the various federations in the country remains a challenge. Moving away from these principles will kill the federation.

I thank you

Issued by the ANC, November 27 2013

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