Their life of opulence explains our life of misery - Vavi

COSATU GS says the wealth of the worker's has been hijacked by a small minority

Zwelinzima Vavi's welcoming address to the 25th Anniversary of COSATU celebrations, 4 December 2010

We are workers of South Africa, united under the banner of COSATU.  We are creators of the wealth that is enjoyed by a small minority, which has hijacked the wealth we create for their private use.

We have built the cities where they trade and yet squalor and poverty is our daily reality. The glass buildings in Johannesburg, Sandton and elsewhere were built by ourselves over many decades. We use scaffolds and often slip and fall many meters to our death.

We have built the streets of those who hijacked the wealth, and yet where we live there are no proper streets and infrastructure.  We build water dams, yet for many years until recently we had to compete with the donkeys and horses for water.

We build their five-star hotels and their private schools and yet our own children have no access to such amenities. We have built the stadiums and other sporting facilities where their children play yet ours are condemned into dusty, stony and dangerous playing fields where their talents are unlikely to develop.

We are construction workers and after many hours at work, taking risks to our lives and health we are paid a minimum wage of R1 345 a month. Today we join all other workers from other industries to rededicate ourselves to a struggle to improve our wages and conditions.

Since they discovered diamonds and gold they forced us all from all over Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa to go down every day deep in the bowels of the earth and dig out precious stones whose price is determined by them in our absence.  We work in most dangerous conditions in high temperatures, in damp and poorly ventilated areas where rocks fall daily, killing many of us and condemning others to a life in a wheelchair and the loss of limbs.

Some of our families have never had the chance to bury their breadwinners, whose bones remain buried many kilometres deep in the soil. Indeed our bones can measure higher than the highest mines dumps you see in Gauteng and the Free State.

For many years we were condemned to life in single-sex hostels where our employers encouraged us to sleep with other men so that we may not ask for leave to visit our families. We are mineworkers who created the wealth that built Johannesburg and other towns. Today, thanks to our many struggles, the minimum wage in the mines is R3 750.

We are now told we will fall into the category of workers who must demand only inflation and a moderate real increase if the government has its way in the New Growth Path proposals. We are here today to say this amount is an insult if you consider how much our bosses are paid for working in air-conditioned offices whilst we sweat for almost 9 hours every day for peanuts that are not adequate to put food on the table.

We clean the streets day and night, exposing ourselves to the marauding gangs of no particular origin, as our legend artist Hugh Masekela put it. Without our labour the streets where they trade, their parks and other amenities will be like the streets where we come from. In cold wintry nights, with temperatures at minus zero and in the summer days where in Phalaborwa temperature can rise into the mid 40s degrees, we shiver and sweat for only a minimum of R4100 a month.  We are municipal workers without whom life will be impossible.

For seven days we prepare, we teach and impart knowledge; we mark exams and sacrifice our weekends and nights.  Our training is elaborate. We produce more teachers and every profession comes through our hands. Without us the world will return darkness and backwardness.

We are the teachers who produced best brains. Karl Marx and Adam Smith went through our hands, together with most powerful heads of states. We are creators of the world yet we are remunerated at a mere R9 537 a month for spending 12 years at schools and 4 years at the university.

Daily we face double exposure to HIV and AIDS and other infectious diseases and accidents. Daily we are traumatised by the death of our patients whom we get attached to whilst treating them. We counsel grieving family members when they lose their loved ones. We often put in overtime to cover dwindling numbers as many leave the public service for greener pastures in the private sectors and even overseas.

Every day we touch the blood of the victims of horrible car accidents. We see the broken bones and listen helplessly to their cries of pain. After 3 years in university a nursing assistant earns a minimum of R5000 per month.

After 6 years in training plus two more years in internship doctors own a lousy R26 250 and some take home only R16 500. This is how they value those who save our lives.

We move goods from city to city and travel as far as Malawi and Angola. For days and even weeks we spend cold nights travelling all the hours of the night and day. Without this they would not trade and our economy would come to a standstill. Yet for this we are paid R4000 for driving their heavy lorries.

This does not allow us to take our children on holiday this coming festive season. We are members of SATAWU our fighting union that has year-in year-out led us into a battle to improve our wages and conditions of employment.

We stand in the gates of their factories, offices and homes on guard - in rain, in cold winter and unbearable sun for up to 12 hours exposing ourselves to danger every day of the week. For all our sacrifices we paid an insulting R1200 a month. We are members of the SATAWU who spent six months in 2006 on a strike to try and improve our salaries.

We clean their offices and clean their surroundings, picking up dirt and exposing ourselves to diseases every day for a mere R1 100 a month. We are members of SATAWU. Most of us are not in the unions and do not even get these peanuts guaranteed to others.

We make the clothes that cover the bodies of everyone, protecting them from both heat and cold. For many hours and often in sweatshop conditions we put in hard work to meet impossible targets our bosses impose on us. Yet the legal minimum rate for qualified clothing machinist is non-metro areas such as Newcastle, Botshabelo and Qwaqwa is R479 per week. In reality many employers in those areas pay between R250 and R280 per week.

The employers of small and big companies continue to make mega profits. Their life of opulence explains our life of misery. We are members of SACTWU our fighting union which year in year out in difficult conditions leads us into battles to improve our wages.

You find us in the shops as you buy your groceries and other necessities. We are more likely to be casualised, young and women. We work for many hours and many of our bosses don't even respect the sectoral determinations that give us a minimum wage of R 2 084.39 per month when we work in big cities and R 1 819.21per month if we have the misfortune of being in the rural towns.

We work in hotels where they spend their weekends spoiling their wives and children. We work in the restaurants where enterprises employing less than 10 employees are paid R 1 981. 48.

We are from the farms that produce food that we all need. In many cases we hear from the radio that there is freedom and important dates are being celebrated. The constitution, celebrated as the best in the world, has no meaning to us. No labour law is applied to us. No union organiser reaches us.

The few we have seen often get arrested for trespassing before they reach us. We have also seen department of labour inspectors being arrested before they can reach us. Sometimes our hopes are raised when we see police and labour inspectors coming to the farms to investigate our complains of abuse including rape and murder, only for us to see them carrying half a sheep into the boots of their cars, never to be seen again.

We hear that government has introduced sectoral determinations that should provide us R1 316 and a R1 228 for forest workers, yet in many cases our bosses do not pay us even these peanuts! Some of them make us pay rent for the few goats and horses we own as a way of undercutting the government minimum wages.

Many of us come from Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Our governments have not delivered for the more than two decades they have been in power. Now we are forced to risk crossing the crocodile-infested rivers to South Africa only for the farm bosses and other unscrupulous employers to take advantage of us. They often do not pay us any salary! We receive a bag of mielies after a long day of hard labour when we are not even allowed to speak to one another as the bosses fear that we will discover that we come from everywhere in our continent of Africa.

We hope that the new Minister of Labour and the Minister of Agriculture will speed up implementation of the ANC manifesto so that the state helps us organise ourselves and overcome the many obstacles that have been put in place to make it impossible to organise us.

We are the workers who are employed from the car boots of the human traffickers. Our hearts bleed every end of the month when we see the extent of our super-exploitation and discrimination. For example labour brokers pay workers a mere R2 700 while permanent workers earn R7 200 at the ABI. In Early Bird a labour broker worker gets R1 480 but the permanent worker gets R3 373 a month. We are members of FAWU we have come here to share our pain with you.

Some of us are forced to sell our bodies in the streets of our cities. We know this amounts to our exploitation by men who see us as just objects to satisfy their sexual lusts. Some rich ones hire us only to eat sushi from our half naked bodies as they demonstrate their power over us.

Today, together with all other workers whose professions I have not mentioned, we have come here to salute our federation COSATU, as it celebrates the milestone of reaching 25 years. We know that COSATU has been an important instrument we have used to achieve many gains we are celebrating today.

With unemployment increasing every year, we support more and more of the unemployed family members.

We are the creators of the wealth that has been privatised and is enjoyed by the few. We are workers of South Africa. We hate this barbaric system of capitalism that allows this to happen.

We know that it is better to in the union than outside the union. All studies show that members of the unions have better pay, better conditions of employment and better job security than those outside the unions.

But we know that we must still do much more to strengthen COSATU so that it can continue to improve our wages and conditions of employment.

We cannot afford to have a neutral government under these circumstances. We want a more active government that has a capacity to enforce the laws of the land. We want our ANC black, green and gold flags in all our marches, we want our SACP red flags in every of our marches so that we show that solidarity is critical. We want the support of our communities when we go on strike to improve this situation

Today there are only 2 million of us in COSATU! We know that our challenge is to organise everyone of the 12 million active in the labour market. But today we shall for the hours we shall spend in this stadium, forget all our suffering, our pain and tribulations and enjoy a party with our families. Yet we know that beyond today we must redouble our efforts to build improve our situation.

Welcome all workers who are here and those at home watching these proceedings on their television sets.


Issued by COSATU, December 4 2010

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