Socialism has worked in Cuba! - Zwelinzima Vavi

COSATU GS says the country has been and remains a beacon of hope for workers around the world

Speech by Zwelinzima Vavi at the 20th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between Cuba and South Africa, Johannesburg, August 29 2014

Role of a progressive and radical trade union movement in advancing radical transformation

Ambassador of Cuba, His Excellency, Comrade Carlos Fernández de Cassio

Minister in the Presidency, Honourable Comrade Jeff Radebe

SACP 2nd Deputy General Secretary, Comrade Solly Mapaila

CEC Members

All affiliates and members of Civil Society Represented here

Members of the Media

I greet you all on behalf of COSATU's 2.2 million members. It is always a great pleasure to speak about socialist Cuba and a very special privilege to stand in front of you in this seminar marking South Africa's 20 years of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

For more than half a century Cuba has been a beacon of hope for workers around the world. So often socialists are challenged by our opponents to name just one country where socialism has worked! I am sure the most frequent answer we have given to that question has been Cuba!, which, despite sustained attacks from its rich and powerful enemy across the Gulf of Mexico, has kept the flag of socialism flying high.

Cuba has a proud history of resistance to dictatorship, massive socio-economic advances and exemplary internationalism, driven by the desire to change the world in the interests of all humanity. In the Cuban people, the oppressed, all over the world, have a trustworthy ally and friend, who seek no glory, no narrow material gains, but a total commitment to liberate the human race from oppression.

Our own national democratic revolution could have been delayed for years were it not for the huge contribution of the Cuban combatants, whose victory over the mighty apartheid regime at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale paved the way for the final overthrow of our racist oppressors, culminating in our victory for democracy and national liberation in 1994.

To the Cuban people our struggle was theirs, for which we are ever in their debt. That is why today we must make the Cuban people's struggles ours, because their struggle against the US economic blockade is part of a worldwide struggle against imperialism, exploitation and oppression.

COSATU visited Cuba in 2012 and enjoyed a visit that inspired and renewed our determination to deepen its role in shaping the course South Africa needs to take. The achievements of Cuba since its independence are all the more remarkable as they took place despite the strangulation by the American commercial, economic and financial embargo, that was partially enacted in 1960 and fully in 1962, the longest embargo ever recorded in history.

Cuba reminded the delegation that another world is possible. Life expectancy rate before the revolution was only 59 years and today it is 78 years. In South Africa even now it is only 56 years. Cuba eradicated illiteracy in less than a year. Cuba has the highest number of doctors per capita in the world, which has benefited the whole of Latin America and the developing world in general, including South Africa. Cuba has also proudly proclaimed that "of the millions of children in the world who die annually from malnutrition, none of them is Cuban".

Cuba's challenge now, just like South Africa's, is to solve its massive economic problems, without which there will be no revolution and no socialism. This is becoming more and more urgent, at a time of deep crisis of neo-liberalism throughout the world, where wars and economic super-exploitation of workers are spreading like a deadly epidemic.

Here in South Africa the official unemployment rate - which takes into account only people actively looking for work - has risen to 25.5%, up by 0.3% from 25.2% in the first quarter of 2014. This is the highest level since the first quarterly labour force survey in 2008, when the rate was four points lower, at 21.5%.

The more realistic expanded rate of unemployment - taking into account people who have given up looking for jobs - rose to 35.6% in the second quarter, up from 35.1%. Over 7 million people are now unemployed, one of the highest - as a percentage of the population - in the world, and this figure is on the rise again, after a small drop last year. It means more and more families are being forced into poverty.

Economic growth is at a snail's pace, and continues to benefit disproportionately the wealthy minority, as inequality gets even worse, making us one of the most unequal societies on earth. A still mainly white and male elite own the biggest and most profitable companies award themselves massive salaries, bonuses and perks, from wealth created by the workers who toil in often appalling conditions for poverty pay.

The outrageous levels of inequality in South Africa were exposed when Amplats, one of the companies whose workers were demanding R12 500 a month, announced that its top 12 managers and executives have been awarded R25.3m as part of a bonus share scheme. Even if they won the demand for R12 500 a month, it would take a worker 27 years to earn what Amplats CEO Chris Griffith received, and double that time if the calculation is made on the mine workers' current basic salary.

That is why COSATU insists that the core of the second radical phase of the transition of our NDR must be a fundamental economic shift, to transform the structure of our economy, and address the triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality, based on a programme of action to drive the radical economic shift in line with the demands of the Freedom Charter, including: 

1. Decisive state intervention in strategic sectors of the economy, including through strategic nationalisation and the use of various macro-economic and other levers at the states disposal;

2. An overhaul of our macro-economic policy, with the Treasury urgently realigned and a new mandate to be given to the Reserve Bank, which must be nationalised;

3. The National Planning Commission to be given a new mandate, and to realign the national plan, in line with the proposed radical economic shift. The NDP's anti-worker economic and labour market chapters of the must be completely redrafted to bring them into line with government and the ANC's policy for a radical economic transformation; 

4. Aspects of the New Growth Path to be realigned, in line with the macro-economic policy for radical economic transformation; 

5. All state owned enterprises and state development finance institutions to be given a new mandate; 

6. Urgent steps must be taken to reverse the current investment strike and export of South African capital - including capital controls and measures aimed at prescribed investment, and penalising speculation;

7. A national minimum wage;

8. The urgent introduction of comprehensive social security.

But if we are to fight back, implement this programme, turn the neo-liberal tide and advance towards socialism and the liberation of humankind, we can learn much from the socialist system in Cuba which prioritises job creation, education, healthcare, culture, mutual respect and equality and promotes unity amongst its citizens and workers internationally.

The Communist Party of Cuba Conference in 2011 passed a resolution "guidelines to social economic policy", which highlighted that while transformation was necessary, they need not change socialism but update it, in a way that strengthens and consolidates socialism. The Communist Party mission is to be central and oversee that the guidelines are implemented and this is done to ensure that socialism is sustained.

It is imperative that worker-to-worker contact is promoted amongst our two countries where so workers can learn from each other at trade union level, further a bilateral which is long overdue should take place within the trade union movement, where a battle of ideas can be waged and a map drawn on how to effect change without damaging the structure of socialism.

The trade union is the backbone of any revolution, particularly a revolution that benefits the working class and the poor, based on our principles of internationalism, opposition to capitalism and imperialism, working class unity, a rejection of racism, sexism, homophobia and all forms inequality and oppression and alliances with other progressive social forces.

COSATU will continue to support the struggle of Cuba and has applauded the South African National Assembly for its resolution calling for the immediate release of the three still-imprisoned members of the Cuban Five, to lift the economic blockade of Cuba and engage Cuba more positively.

Cuba's  achievements are largely ignored in  the media, so as to hide from millions of working people the world over, the great successes of a revolution which has inspired millions into action against injustice, inequality and the destruction of our environment for narrow profit interests.

It has kept alive, during the most difficult days, the hope of an alternative to the rule of capital. As we struggle, we face daily the overwhelming propaganda of the bosses that says there is no alternative to the capitalist system of exploitation and inequality.

So I call on every one of us to do more to expose the facts about Cuba, and the jailed heroes in the US. These are our comrades and they have refused to sacrifice their country's interests for their own narrow immediate personal comforts. They are exemplary revolutionaries.

We will drive forward to achieve our objective to building, promoting and defending working class alternatives to neo-liberalism and capitalism. In this struggle, supporting and protecting the Cuban revolution is crucial. COSATU Vows to defend the Cuban Revolution - Our Revolution.

Thank you!

Issued by COSATU, August 29 2014

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