The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) wishes the South African Students' Congress (SASCO) a cheerful 20th twentieth birthday.
The history of SASCO underlines the importance of having a critical and radical student movement that openly and decisively takes sides against oppression and exploitation and identifies itself with the working class and the poor.
As the organized section of the working class, the trade union movement has benefitted immensely from the contribution of SASCO and its predecessors.
SASCO as an organization carries on its shoulders a formidable history of activism and resistance against apartheid injustices.
Its predecessors AZASO - which adopted the Freedom Charter in 1981, and subsequently changed its name to SANSCO, was a trusted regiment in the struggle against oppression of black people and women as well as the exploitation of the working class.
SANSCO as an organization understood the links between workers' struggles in the factories, community struggles against apartheid and its stooges in local government and students' struggles in racially segregated campuses.
SANSCO (South African National Students' Congress) understood that the majority of black students in institutions of higher learning under apartheid South Africa were descendants of the working class and therefore the struggles for black trade union recognition, against low wages and harsh working conditions, against unemployment, poor housing and lack of services occupied a special place in the heart of the student movement.
Through the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), black trade unions, which were denied recognition by the apartheid regime could benefit from labour centres run and organized by students who openly identified themselves as part and parcel of the forces opposed to the inhumane system of apartheid.
The merger of SANSCO and NUSAS to form SASCO twenty years ago was the realization of the dream of forming a single, united and non-racial student organization in South Africa.
As an organization, SASCO has been a consistent defender of the oppressed and exploited. We applaud SASCO for echoing working class slogans and consistently reflecting the struggles of the oppressed and exploited majority. SASCO was amongst the most reliable ally in the fight against privatization, outsourcing and the sale of state assets under an anti-working class policy called GEAR. Students in various campuses have been reliable allies of workers particularly when workers faced massive retrenchments and the downgrading of their working conditions and benefits.
SASCO branches in many campuses continue to play a pivotal role in assisting workers in their everyday confrontation with untransformed university management. The underpaid and overworked cleaners and security guards who labour from night into the early hours of the morning must always be confident that in SASCO they have an ally.
SASCO must be a first port of call for unorganized, casualised workers who work under labour brokers and have little knowledge of their rights as workers. SASCO must assist trade unions to organize the unorganized and equip workers in insecure jobs with theory and class consciousness.
As part of its historic mission to transform higher education and make it accessible to the poor, we call on SASCO to join forces with the trade union movement in holding universities to account on the Recognition of Prior Learning.
We call on SASCO to revive the call to make universities centers of people's power and not ivory towers which are divorced from neighboring communities. SASCO must lead literacy campaigns for neighboring communities in order to equip workers and the unemployed with reading, writing and computer skills.
In celebrating this historic milestone, SASCO must recommit itself to fighting the commodification of services for the poor. Side by side, the student movement must struggle with those for whom decent work is an illusion, decent housing a distant reality and for whom clean water, electricity, tarred roads, employment, a roofed school class room and university access are mere fantasies.
We call on SASCO to never abandon its role as an intellectual pool of the progressive trade union movement in this country that has always armed it with ideology and a fresh sense of zeal, energy and radicalism!
SASCO must strengthen its campaigns for quality student services, for the expansion of the higher education system, for the strengthening of the FET sector, the building of universities in Mpumalanga and Northern Cape and for free, quality, public education. The struggles against financial and academic exclusions, skyrocketing fees, racism and sexism in institutions of higher learning must remain the core focus of SASCO's program in the coming years.
SASCO's history is one that has understood and appreciated the umbilical cord that connects students with the working class struggles. In the same way that the children of the working class in institutions of higher learning challenged the apartheid regime, SASCO must also join forces with the working class in the struggle to defeat capitalism.
Statement issued by Phindile Kunene, COSATU shopsteward editor, September 7 2011
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