Comrade Chairperson, delegates, guests and members of the media
I bring greetings and best wishes from the National Office Bearers of our seven month-old dynamic, independent and revolutionary trade union federation.
I must congratulate our members in the Western Cape Province on the magnificent work you have done to build our new federation. It is no accident that yours is the first province to hold its Congress; it is because of the hard campaigning you have been doing to mobilize your members. As delegates it is now your duty to repay those members by giving bold leadership,
We meet as we celebrate the most important anniversary in working-class history – the great October 1917 Revolution in Russia, when for the first time the workers swept on to the stage of history and overthrew the Tsar, the feudal aristocracy and their capitalist allies, and created the first-ever workers’ state.
It is not just an event in history. 1917 still has important lessons for workers in 2017. One of the main slogans on which the Bolshevik Party won majority support amongst the workers was Peace Bread and Land! With just the addition of Jobs! That slogan would be just as relevant today in South Africa and most other countries in the world today.
We no longer have Tears or feudal aristocrats but we have their equivalents in the owners of the monolithic capitalist monopolies like Walmart, Unilever and Microsoft. Inequality is even wider than in 1917; half of the world’s wealth is now owned by one percent of its population.
In the USA: Walmart sells more than half of all groceries, Amazon sells 74% of all e-books and 64% of all print books sold online.
Despite a century of advancing technology, almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than R35 a day and at least 80% of humanity lives on less than R140 a day.
The global unemployment rate is forecast to rise from 5.7% to 5.85% in 2017, representing an increase of 3.4 million people, bringing the number of unemployed people to over 201 million! And an additional rise of 2.7 million expected in 2018 – as the pace of labour force growth outstrips job creation.
The call for Peace! is also highly relevant given all the wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and several African countries There is the threat of even bigger wars as political leaders adopt exactly the same kind of aggressive, nationalistic propaganda as in the run-up to the horrific carnage of the 1914-1918 World War which became one of the triggers for the October Revolution, as angry mutinous soldiers and sailors swelled the ranks of the workers.
South Africa suffers from all these problems and in many areas we are worse than the average, particularly unemployment where our real rate of 36.85% is six times the world average; more than half the population live below the poverty line and inequality is the widest on the globe.
It is all the more extraordinary that we should be in his situation under an ANC government which claims to be implementing ‘radical economic transformation’.
The reality is that it has been doing the exact opposite by imposing counter-revolutionary neoliberal policies which has strengthened the dominance of the very same ‘white monopoly capital’ which the ANC leaders pretend to be opposing.
What is even worse is the tsunami of evidence pouring our of emails, whistle-blowers’ testimonies and, most recently, Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers, that leaders of the government, state-owned enterprises, public officials and private business people have been systematically looting the country’s wealth and amassing fortunes for themselves, their families and cronies.
Despite all the evidence, no-one has been prosecuted, because they have also demobilized the organs of state, like the Hawks, the NPA and key government departments by filling them with stooges who will protect the guilty, and themselves, from any consequences for crimes which threaten to plunge the whole country into a catastrophic slump.
We should note as well, as SAFTU foresaw, that the unravelling network of corruption is far wider than President Zuma and the Guptas, as the names of one big multinational monopoly company after another is implicated in joining or aiding and abetting the corrupt racketeers. It confirms our view that the capitalist economy is inherently corrupt and based on the theft of the wealth created by our members – the workers and the swindling of poor consumers.
The most damning evidence of all is Pauw’s book is that political leaders have been associated with known gangsters and crooks. When SAFTU claimed we were becoming a kleptocracy – a country ruled by thieves – we were not exaggerating at all. That has now been proved to be the reality of South Africa today!
All these disasters have confirmed how right we were to launch SAFTU. Workers face colossal problems. As well as the job-loss bloodbath and the continued exploitation by labour brokers, workers are seeing their democratic rights whittled away, as employers have started undermining collective bargaining and finding ways to push down wage levels and worsen working conditions, knowing that there are thousands of desperate people, willing to work for any wage at all.
The existing trade union federations have failed to respond and are seen to be too close to the government and ruling party. COSATU and FEDUSA have agreed at Nedlac to to a pitiful R20 an hour minimum wage (even lower for farm and domestic workers) and the slaves on EPWP schemes are to get just R11 an hour.
This NMW legitimises poverty and institutionalizes inequality; President Zuma will be taking home 71 times as much as a worker on the minimum wage, and that is based just his official salary, before we add his unofficial and allegedly untaxed income from ‘state capture’.
SAFTU’s momentous task is to reverse all this, give workers confidence that there is a way out and organize the fightback. We can all take heart from the stunning victory go the former Midrand Municipal council staff who spent 23 years fighting to get their jobs back, and finally succeeded a few weeks ago. That is the kind of commitment and dedication we must emulate.
The federation has rightly prioritized organizing the unorganised, the millions of casualised, marginalised and informal workers and traders who are not members of any union, but have the greatest need for one.
I look forward today to hear how far you have gone in implementing this policy. How many previously non-union members have each affiliate recruited? We know it is not easy, but it has to be better than recycling workers from other unions, especially our fellow SAFTU affiliates.
I also want to hear what actions you have planned, under the protection of our hard-won Section 77 certificate, to protest against the job-loss bloodbath and to demand a new growth path based on the nationalization of the banks, mines and monopoly industries.
Finally you have to discuss a range of tricky organisational issues, which I cannot cover now, but the main principle that must always apply is our constitutional commitment to worker control. We will never reach our targets if we have not built organizations from the ground up, in which workers debate and decide on issues in their branches and locals and leaders follow the mandate their members dictate.
I wish you a very successful Congress and every success in the coming year