COSATU's 2011 May Day Message

Federation says there is growing anger at self-enrichment through misuse of public funds

Every year on May 1st, workers around the world celebrate their victories, remember their fallen heroes and recommit themselves to the fight for a better life. May Day is a day to remind the world that the worker's labour is the wheel around which our world revolves.

It is a day to take stock of the gains made by workers and how far we have come in fighting for workers' rights and economic justice. All over the world, workers come together on this day to demonstrate their solidarity as workers and their support for socialism.

May Day commemorates the historic struggles of working people, and is recognized in every country except, ironically, the United States and Canada, the countries where it all started - in the fight for an eight-hour working day in the 1880s.

In our country, workers fought for many years for recognition of May Day as a special holiday. The first May Day celebrations were in 1904. In 1986, the five-month-old Congress of South African trade Unions staged one of the biggest-ever stayaways to demand recognition of May Day as a paid public holiday.

Shocked by this wave of worker militancy, P.W. Botha responded by declaring the first Friday in May as Workers' Day, a paid public day. COSATU announced that it would stop work on both the first Friday and the real May Day. Faced with this, the apartheid regime backed down and in 1987 recognised 1st May as a public holiday. Today it is one of the 12 public holidays, which we celebrate in a thriving democracy.

COSATU will be celebrating this May Day by taking stock of the strides that the working class has made under a democratic government. This year we celebrate May Day on the eve of the 18th May Local Government Elections. The central message that we want to communicate to all workers is that indeed under the ANC government, the lives of thousands of South Africans have been improved.

We have one of the world`s most democratic constitutions, a bill of rights, and a constitutional court which checks that the laws and courts comply with that Constitution.

Over 2.5 million houses have been built for the poor, giving shelter to over ten million people.

Six million households have gained access to clean water since 1994 and electricity has been connected to nearly five million homes.

In 1994, only 62% of households had access to clean drinking water - today 93% do.

In 1994, only 50% of households had access to decent sanitation - today 77% do.

In 1994, only 36% had access to electricity - today 84% do.

By 2010, 14.5 million people were receiving social grants. Of those, 9.5 million are children less than 14 years old (compared with 2.4 million in 1996).

This year the Child-Support Grant will be extended to children aged below 18 years, an additional 2-million children.

There been a gradual and progressive reduction of the pension age for men from 65 to 60.

The number of people on anti-retrovirals has increased, and a campaign launched to treat 15 million by June and to urge workers to get tested.

We have every reason to celebrate what we have achieved, but the struggle for workers' rights did not end on 27th April 1994. Whilst we have made major gains in winning political rights and certain social rights but in absence of a viable economic system that can reward those who produce the wealth of this country, these gains have amounted to mere drops in the ocean of class struggle. Workers still need to mobilise on 1st May and beyond to confront the many challenges we still face and increase the tempo of the struggle for a just and equitable society.

We celebrate this May Day amidst continued working class suffering. The capitalist class in this country has immensely benefited from our hard won democracy. We are faced with a situation where our rights are at a risk of becoming meaningless due to the privatization of wealth in the hands of a white male minority.

Many of our rights have become paper tigers due to the lack of transformation of our economy.

It does not make sense to speak of the right to food when a minority of white South Africans have a monopoly over land ownership in our country.

We cannot speak of freedom of movement when fuel and transport costs rise higher than the working class wage.

We cannot speak of the right to health care when only a rich minority benefits from a state of the arts health system whilst many of us languish in the public health care system with long queues, shortage of equipment and supplies and filthy wards. 

We cannot speak of the right to life when so many mothers die whilst giving birth and so many children die at the hands of our public health system. 

We cannot speak of the right to education when many black working class children learn in an unsafe, filthy and dilapidated environment.

Indeed we cannot speak of the freedom of association when many farm-workers are denied the right to vote by their racist white bosses.

On this May Day we salute in particular the farm workers of this country who till the soil and bear all forms of weather conditions in their work and endure the worst forms of abuse and exploitation. We are aware of the daily abuse, beatings, murder and rape they are being subjected to by the bosses. We are aware that the justice system is failing many of them. We are tired of racist magistrates who continue to give ridiculous low sentences to the murderers of farm workers. We call for the speedy transformation of the judiciary so that farm workers can have the access to justice that we fought for during the struggle against apartheid.

We also call on the working class to mount a struggle against the capitalists who have turned South Africa into their own republic - looking out solely for their interests.

One of the biggest challenges that we face as workers today is the rise of what been termed the working poor, through casualisation of labour and other forms of atypical employment. We are aware that as we celebrate May Day, more and more companies are pondering different options to casualise workers and further lower their living standards. We are deeply worried by the increase in the use of labour brokers. We know only too well that this practice has relegated many working class families to the doldrums of poverty and hopelessness. 

COSATU wishes to urge workers to step up the campaign against the further degradation of their working conditions and living standards. We are currently facing the threat of Walmart taking over Massmart stores, bringing their union-bashing tactics into South Africa and procuring products from wherever they are cheapest, regardless of the conditions of the workers producing them. This is putting the jobs of thousands more workers in manufacturing and other retailers in jeopardy.

The bosses keep moaning about our ‘inflexible' labour laws and the unions' stranglehold on the labour market. The bosses cling to labour brokers simply because they offer them an easy escape from respecting the hard won workers' rights bin this country.

Many want to pay the ‘market' rate of wages rather than sit down and negotiate in bargaining councils. A typical example is the KZN United Clothing and Textile Association who are refusing to pay workers even the reduced amount of 70% of the wages negotiated at the National Bargaining Council for the Clothing Industry, and threatening to move production to neighbouring countries where they can exploit workers even more ruthlessly. Trade unions can never submit to this kind of blackmail.

The crisis of unemployment must also inspire us to intensify our struggle against capitalist greed and destructive market fundamentalism. With unemployment rate of 36.6% when using the more realistic expanded definition - creating jobs, eradicating poverty and reducing inequality has to be the top priority for government, business and labour.

We welcome the publication of the Industrial Policy Action Plan from the DTI, the New Growth Path from the EDD and Minister Ebrahim Patel's recent report to parliament, which spelt out in detail how hundreds of jobs are going to be created.

There are many good short-term proposals, including such relatively simple tasks as filling vacant positions in the public service, employing young workers to fill pot-holes and creating ‘Green' jobs, such as the rapid installation of solar water geysers.

We totally agree with the government's aim to move away from the over-dependence on the export of raw materials to an economy based on manufacturing industry, and for the creation of five million new, sustainable jobs by 2020.

We have serious concerns however about the achievability of the NGP's longer-term targets.

There is no indication of how government departments will be equipped to implement the far-reaching proposals and for measuring and monitoring the targets.

There is a also a glaring contradiction between the ambitious, developmental goals and the very conservative macroeconomic policies, based on inflation-targeting, a strong rand and high real interest rates, which have been one of the main reasons for the crisis of unemployment. Yet such policies are now expected to be a key component of a policy to create jobs! This will simply not work.

We cannot rely on the private sector and market forces, to drive economic growth, in the hope that wealth thus created will ‘trickle down' to workers and the poor. Even developed countries are now abandoning this pro-market approach and taking drastic action to try to discipline the private sector, particularly the banks.

How much more do developing countries need to build a strong, dynamic, but also democratic public sector and developmental state to drive the agenda of the NGP?

We must be reminded of Oliver Tambo's words that a country that does not take care of its youth does not have a future. Last month's occurrence where four young black men were raped by their white bosses who also refused to pay them is a grim reminder of the incomplete nature of our freedom. Young people in this country are at the coalface of the social malaise that confronts us. They are without meaningful employment, are denied quality education, and languish in many of our prisons or simply die of the HIV/AIDs pandemic.

COSATU is adamant that policies such as the Youth Wage Subsidy will not resolve the structural barriers that prevent young people from reaping the fruits of our democracy. Such measures only serve to thicken the wallets of the capitalists whilst dividing and segmenting the working class.

Despite the inroads made by the ANC government in providing millions of South Africans with decent housing, the housing challenge is still persistent. Nearly two million families still live in shacks. The apartheid spatial environment is still untransformed and low income houses are still built on the periphery of cities and far away from our factories. Our public transport system is still inefficient and unsafe.

Workers do not have such a luxury called ‘free time' or leisure time. Whilst the rich in this country have all the time to play golf and take overseas holidays, workers are confined to the factories and toiling the earth with virtually no time to read and build their consciousness. Basic Services continue to be commodified and citizens have become clients of the neoliberal state. This is why we should not be surprised when communities take to the streets in demand of better services.

The horrific murder of Andries Tatane in Ficksburg which starkly revealed the ruthless way in which poor communities are repressed when they march for better services, must inspire us in our onslaught on neoliberalism. To us the murder of Tatane is a grim reminder of the link between police brutality against striking workers in Chicago in1886 and in Ficksburg 2011.

This May Day must revive our call for a new developmental trajectory in which the state drives development and directly provides basic goods and services as opposed to outsourcing everything to the "invisible" hand of the market.

Fuelling the anger of our poor communities is the growing evidence that a small minority of South Africans are not only growing incredibly rich but are doing so through corrupt deals or misuse of public funds. This is not confined to the business community which has always been based on a culture of greed, ‘me-first' and self-enrichment, but is mushrooming in our public service and revolutionary movement as well.

We call on workers to join the ANC en masse so that we can ensure that it remains biased towards the working class. COSATU will spare no energy in ensuring a sweeping ANC victory in the local government elections. We are already hard at work building and consolidating support.

We appeal to the working class to make use of their democratic rights and vote for the ANC. Boycotting elections or worse still voting for pro-business and anti-worker opposition parties will be a huge mistake. It would open a space for the DA to implement its anti-poor policies and pro-rich policies!

The struggle to build a new and better South Africa cannot be led by those who benefitted from inequalities, poverty and our oppression, and continue to pursue policies to entrench these injustices.

Next year our ANC allies will be celebrating their centenary. We wish them every success in the elections on 18 May and another hundred years of revolutionary struggle for freedom and democracy!

We call on workers to build working class organisations and ensure that they do not detour from the struggle for socialism. We appeal to workers wherever they are, to join and build a strong SACP and a strong progressive trade union movement.

We further call on workers to be active in our communities by making local government their preoccupation. Let us swell the ranks of school governing bodies, community policing forums, ward committees and hospital boards. We must be more in touch on matters that directly affect the working class. 

On this International workers day COSATU recommits itself to solidarity with our fellow workers under attack in Swaziland, Palestine, Western Sahara and Burma - and those fighting back - as in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.

As always too, on May Day we raise our red flag in honour of the countless workers who built and sustained our trade union movement over the years into the strong movement it is today. We salute all our forebears, living and deceased and dedicate the day to them and honour the sacrifices they have made by recommitting ourselves to the struggle for the liberation of humankind and a socialist world order.

On this May Day, workers must be resolved and say that no more shall we allow capitalists to use one of us against another and no more shall we be divided and defocused from championing our class interests. May Day is a day to urge all workers of the world to unite in the banishment of the agonizing chains of exploitation.

Forward to the National Health Insurance!
Forward to a Growth Path towards Full Employment!
Solidarity forever! Workers of the world unite!
The workers united will never be defeated!
Down with capitalist barbarism and forward to a socialist future!

Statement issued by Patrick Craven, COSATU national spokesperson, April 28 2011

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