Capital wreaking havoc while workers suffer - Zwelinzima Vavi

COSATU GS says humans and environment are on the receiving end of marauding capital

COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi's, response to the General Secretary's Report to the 3rd World Congress of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)


General Secretary, Sharan Burrow

President, Michael Sommer

Delegates from all countries

Comrades and friends

It gives me great pleasure to greet the over 1500 delegates representing ITUC's 180 million members from 161 countries and territories and from all the 325 national trade union centres.

Firstly I rise to congratulate the General Secretary on her excellent presentation of the report on the activities of the ITUC.

Secondly let me remind all that COSATU, together with her allies from the south, CUT of Brazil and KCTU of South Korea, wrote a joint letter complaining that the format of our last congress in Vancouver did not allow a free flowing engagement among delegates. 

I can't tell you our excitement that the General Council have changed the format and moved us away from the traditional resolutions committee that only stifled debates and made the congress a rubber stamp of behind-the-scenes deals. At this congress we will engage with a programme of action arising out of the three main themes - union growth, realising rights and sustainable jobs.

These three themes go to the core of the challenges facing the trade union movement today. We have said the independent democratic trade union represents a mere 7% of the global workforce. Never ever did the slogan ORGANISE OR STARVE become as relevant as it is today. The single most important challenge we face is to lift this figure to more respectable levels. We can only do so if we go back to the basics and make the union movement relevant to workers today.

Telling them how brutal capital or the capitalist system is not what workers want to hear. COSATU, in preparing for its own Congress in 2012 conducted a study asking workers why they joined and remained in unions. The response was very interesting. A third of members said they joined unions so that they could be protected from unfair dismissal and around a third said they joined because they wanted to improve wages and conditions of employment, with 10% saying they joined for solidarity. 

This takes me to the second theme of the congress - realising rights, which is so connected with the theme of union growth and sustainable jobs. The reason we are excited about this 3rd congress is the connectedness of the three main themes. What we have to learn is that power concedes nothing without a struggle and that what we have not won in the streets won't be won at the negotiation table.

Building union power has become a matter of life and death for the trade union movement. Seven years into the worst economic crisis, workers are reeling from its devastating impact. 200 million have become unemployed. More workers than ever before are employed in precarious forms of jobs - casualisation, temporalisation, subcontracting and use of labour brokers have increased.

Everywhere the share of workers in the national income is on the decline. In Africa more workers are pushed into the informal sector, with more giving up on ever finding decent jobs. Confidence in government ever finding solutions to this is on decline as demonstrated by the ITUC global poll.

Whilst this is unfolding capital has been wreaking havoc, leaving sheer destruction in its wake as it moves from one continent to the next in search of opportunities to maximize profits. Our environment is facing unprecedented pressure and governments'power and political will to make polluters pay is on the decline, demonstrating that both humans and environment are on the receiving end of marauding capital.

The time has arrived, in this historic congress taking place in this historic city of Berlin, for us to make a stand to counter that power of capital by:

  • Multiplying our numbers through effective organising,
  • Mounting more global campaigns,
  • Chasing the multinationals and holding them to account,
  • Building more cross border shop stewards councils,
  • Educating and training our shop stewards, organisers and leadership at all levels,
  • Effective coordination of ITUC and the Global Union Federations,
  • More and more local action that links to global action,
  • Advocacy and use of propaganda that will instil confidence of workers across the globe from the most depressed areas of Palestine to Colombia and Swaziland,
  • A more effective coordination with more progressive civil society formations. 

That's what our challenge is. Workers all over the world look to this conference. They are itching for action and they want demonstrable evidence that we are moving away from bureaucratisation of our structures into opening more space for them on the shop floor to take a lead and emancipate them from the yoke of their oppression and exploitation - we dare not fail them

Issued by COSATU, May 19 2014

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