Address by the SAFTU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi to the SALIPSWU Founding Congress, held in Thaba Nchu

We bring revolutionary greetings from the National Office Bearers and members of the South African Federation of Trade Unions and wish you a very successful founding congress of the young SALIPSWU.

The prophets of doom, never gave you a chance that you would be able to assemble at a National Congress to launch this little baby giant. But SAFTU disagreed and joins your members in congratulating each one of you for the tenacity, vigour, determination and courage you have demonstrated in the face of all the stumbling blocks placed in your way by those who are threatened by the emergence of your union.

Today, whilst we celebrate our triumph against the forces of evil, we once again dip our flags as we remember the very first ancestor of SAFTU and of your union, comrade Paul Bazooka Mbhele. Surely Bazooka is smiling today as he watches over this conference humbly meeting in a school hall.

If you do take the right decisions and you build solid foundations and more importantly if you build unity based not on emotions but sound principles, the future generation of members will always remember this school, the Albert Moroka Secondary School, here at Selosesha, Thaba Nchu.

The members whom you represent today will have made this school a venue that they will either emotionally remember with pride, or a place where the dream was aborted. You have been given a rare privilege. We invite you to make that choice today comrades; each one of you has an opportunity to choose how you wish to be remembered by history. Take a decision comrades!

We know if we were to ask you to declare which side you are choosing – the side of the builders or the side of the aborters of the dream – everyone will stand up and declare that, she or he is choosing to be a builder. Yet we know that it is not beautiful words that history will remember, but our actions.

Whilst you are still searching within your reserves of knowledge, understanding and moral principles, to decide on which side you truly belong, let me remind you of what, in a different context, is a lesson that must be central to your the issues which we hope this congress will debate.

Antonio Gramsci, a respected and towering Italian communist intellectual, once described the contradictions within society as basically as a clash between a crisis-ridden capitalist system and a new more humane socialist system, which was not rising to fill the vacuum of the crisis ridden immoral capitalist system. Let us remind ourselves of what he said:

“The crisis consists of precisely the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born. In this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”

[Antonio Gramsci describing the phenomenon of a capitalist crisis from Selections from the Prison Notebooks]

Let us remind ourselves that we have decided to start a journey inspired by the Chinese saying that a journey of a million miles starts with the first step.

Lenin in a different context, but so relevant today, said:

“We are marching as a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation.

“And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there.

“Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!

[Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, “Dogmatism And ‘Freedom of Criticism’” (1901)]

Today as we define our character and let us remind ourselves why we are undertaking a mission bigger than ourselves. Let us remind ourselves why we are “marching as a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand… surrounded on all sides by enemies, and (why) we have to advance almost constantly under their fire”.

We are marching, as a compact group because we seek to respond to the horrifying statistics issued by the Department of Labour in February 2016, that there were 182 unions registered in our country, but another 400 unions waiting to be registered.

The South African trade union movement has been divided, fragmented and weakened. The Workers Summit recognised that it is thanks to this state of affairs that a scandalous situation exists where the employers themselves set the level of a staggering 62% of all wages without any negotiations with any union or any worker.

Only 23% of wages are set through collective bargaining and a mere 9% of wages through centralised bargaining structures. The remaining bargaining councils are under pressure as employers are attempting to weaken them and collapse established bargaining structures that were created as a result of union pressure.

Behind the falling share of wages in GDP, the stagnation of wages and the growing income inequalities, record-breaking profits and massive CEO salaries rests this fragmentation and weakening of the trade union movement.

Unions in our country represented 45% of all workers as recently as 2007. The free-fall began thereafter with the mass exodus of workers from unions who were seen as being the sweethearts of government and the employers.

The 2012 Marikana and De Doorns farm workers’ uprisings epitomised this crisis. Mine workers who were members of COSATU’s long-time biggest affiliate, the NUM, decided to take matters into their own hands and to represent themselves, whilst accusing the NUM of sleeping in the same bed as management.

They resigned from the NUM en masse and joined AMCU. Today those workers have won the principle that they must be paid a living wage and have a timetable to reach their historic demand of R12 500. De Doorns farm workers, also on their own, fought against the insulting and slavery R67-a-day wages set by the sectoral determination, and succeeded to push this to R104.

Some will dismiss this as a phenomenon playing itself out only in the private sector and not in the public sector, which is the sector you seek to organise. But let us respond to that and remind comrades that in the public sector you are facing a different kettle of fish.

There are 1.3 million workers employed by the state. Just 120 000 or 9,24% of these do not belong to any union. This means 1.1 million or 90% of workers employed in the public sector already belong to unions.

We know that in 2014, 52% of public sector workers are organised by COSATU unions. We also know how workers have paid for the fact that COSATU holds this majority. In 2014 the COSATU unions that constitute 52% of the PSCBC signed a completely unfavourable three-year wage agreement with the government. There is no doubt that these unions will do the same in 2018 if this serves the interests of their factions inside the Alliance. Only this week, the government bureaucrats made a presentation in the PSCBC in the presence of all unions, that the government has reached an agreement with COSATU and FEDUSA that retrenchments has to happen in the public service.

The strategic challenge we face is to ensure that we reduce the COSATU 52% to below 50% so that they may no longer sign sell-out agreements with employers with whom they are sleeping in bed.

Let us break down these numbers more, so that every delegate may understand the magnitude of the task at hand. There are 350 000 educators, 350 000 workers in the government administration, 198 000 police, 43 000 correctional services workers, 400 000 health workers, 156 000 workers in the army, 170 000 of them civilians.

Our challenge today is not to think about winning the 150 delegates present in this congress but the 1.3 million workers the majority of whom are organised by sweetheart unions.

Let us ask ourselves the obvious question: how many of the 1,3 million workers are represented in this congress? The next question we should ask is: what is that we must do differently that will make SALIPSWU appeal to all these workers?

Central to our answers to these fundamental questions must be to act very differently from the unions in which we were members before joining SALIPSWU.

The SAFTU congress enjoins us to rebuild the trust workers should have in the union movement by being:

  1. Consistent in our actions to represent the interest of workers.
  2. Reliable so that we become more relevant.
  3. Responsible to act both in the best interests of members and the broader working class and society;
  4. Intimate with workers’ issues

We have agreed that the New Federation should be based on three central values: dignity for all, equality for all and opportunity for all!

We are building a trade union movement, but a broader labour movement, not a narrow trade union just to negotiate wages of the employed in big workplaces, and to ensure they have safety helmets and gumboots.

We are building a movement for the future of a South Africa that strives to meet the needs of its entire people and which is committed to an alternative to the world we currently live in.

Again in the SAFTU congress we were inspired by the amended Constitution of the People`s Republic of China, which enshrines the “Three Represents” as one of the approaches to guide actions. Following Mao Zedong’s spirit of the “two musts”, the principle of the “three represents” is that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must:

  • Always represent the development trend of China`s advanced productive forces,
  • Always represent the orientation of China`s advanced culture, and
  • Always represent the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people.

The “two musts” were that we:

  • Must always be modest and prudent,
  • Must preserve the style of plain living and hard struggle

We strive to advance these interests in our daily lives as organised workers. As educators, we commit not to act against the interests of black children or children of the working class or against any child for that matter.

As health practitioners we will not act against the interest of patients, especially working-class and poor patients in the hospitals where we are organised.

In other words, in all spheres where we are organised, we will seek to ensure that the working class is properly serviced, engaged, and protected. We shall advocate and advance a progressive culture that is in the best interests of the broader motive forces for change.

We refuse to act against the interests of the working class and the poor, not least because this will benefit the whole of society. We are patriots! We love our country more than any other party or even our unions and will never act against the common good of all the citizens of our land.

We must be truly democratic and worker-controlled. There must be mass members meetings, transparent mandate making, report-backs, and the holding to account of leadership at all levels. Workers must feel they collectively own the Union. We must be truly campaigning and taking up workers and working class issues in the workplace and in society.

We must be truly against corruption within our unions and in society. We must be self-sufficient and be accountable. We must be truly non-sexist and non-racial. We have to show that there is a real relationship between our principles and our practice, and that we practice what we teach!

If these principles remain as words on paper we will soon be exposed as being no different from those who have been captured, paralysed and politically compromised. A compromised union cannot attract workers and it cannot serve as a home for workers in the long run.

Let us again go back to Mao Zedong’s presentation to the China Communist Party on building the organisation and Marxism. Let us quote Chairman Mao, and as we quote him bring the essence of his message to SALIPSWU’s situation.

“We stand for active ideological struggle because it is the weapon for ensuring unity within the Party and the revolutionary organizations in the interest of our fight. Every Communist and revolutionary should take up this weapon.

“But liberalism rejects ideological struggle and stands for unprincipled peace, thus giving rise to a decadent, Philistine attitude and bringing about political degeneration in certain units and individuals in the Party and the revolutionary organizations.

“Liberalism manifests itself in various ways.

  1. To let things slide for the sake of peace and friendship when a person has clearly gone wrong, and refrain from principled argument because he is an old acquaintance, a fellow townsman, a schoolmate, a close friend, a loved one, an old colleague or old Or to touch on the matter lightly instead of going into it thoroughly, so as to keep on good terms. The result is that both the organization and the individual are harmed. This is one type of liberalism.
  2. To indulge in irresponsible criticism in private instead of actively putting forward one’s suggestions to the organization. To say nothing to people to their faces but to gossip behind their backs, or to say nothing at a meeting but to gossip afterwards. To show no regard at all for the principles of collective life but to follow one’s own inclination. This is a second type.
  3. To let things drift if they do not affect one personally; to say as little as possible while knowing perfectly well what is wrong, to be worldly wise and play safe and seek only to avoid blame. This is a third type.
  4. Not to obey orders but to give pride of place to one’s own opinions. To demand special consideration from the organization but to reject its discipline. This is a fourth type.
  5. To indulge in personal attacks, pick quarrels, vent personal spite or seek revenge instead of entering into an argument and struggling against incorrect views for the sake of unity or progress or getting the work done properly. This is a fifth type.
  6. To hear incorrect views without rebutting them and even to hear counter-revolutionary remarks without reporting them, but instead to take them calmly as if nothing had happened. This is a sixth type.
  7. To be among the masses and fail to conduct propaganda and agitation or speak at meetings or conduct investigations and inquiries among them, and instead to be indifferent to them and show no concern for their well-being, forgetting that one is a Communist and behaving as if one were an ordinary non-Communist. This is a seventh type.
  8. To see someone harming the interests of the masses and yet not feel indignant, or dissuade or stop him or reason with him, but to allow him to continue. This is an eighth type.
  9. To work half-heartedly without a definite plan or direction; to work perfunctorily and muddle along–“So long as one remains a monk, one goes on tolling the bell.” This is a ninth type.
  10. To regard oneself as having rendered great service to the revolution, to pride oneself on being a veteran, to disdain minor assignments while being quite unequal to major tasks, to be slipshod in work and slack in study. This is a tenth type.
  11. To be aware of one’s own mistakes and yet make no attempt to correct them, taking a liberal attitude towards oneself. This is an eleventh type.

“We could name more. But these eleven are the principal types. They are all manifestations of liberalism.

“Liberalism is extremely harmful in a revolutionary collective. It is a corrosive which eats away unity, undermines cohesion, causes apathy and creates dissension. It robs the revolutionary ranks of compact organization and strict discipline, prevents policies from being carried through and alienates the Party organizations from the masses which the Party leads. It is an extremely bad tendency.

“Liberalism stems from petty-bourgeois selfishness, it places personal interests first and the interests of the revolution second, and this gives rise to ideological, political and organizational liberalism.

“People who are liberals look upon the principles of Marxism as abstract dogma. They approve of Marxism, but are not prepared to practice it or to practice it in full; they are not prepared to replace their liberalism by Marxism. These people have their Marxism, but they have their liberalism as well–they talk Marxism but practice liberalism; they apply Marxism to others but liberalism to themselves. They keep both kinds of goods in stock and find a use for each. This is how the minds of certain people work.

“Liberalism is a manifestation of opportunism and conflicts fundamentally with Marxism. It is negative and objectively has the effect of helping the enemy; that is why the enemy welcomes its preservation in our midst. Such being its nature, there should be no place for it in the ranks of the revolution.

“We must use Marxism, which is positive in spirit, to overcome liberalism, which is negative. A Communist should have largeness of mind and he should be staunch and active, looking upon the interests of the revolution as his very life and subordinating his personal interests to those of the revolution; always and everywhere he should adhere to principle and wage a tireless struggle against all incorrect ideas and actions, so as to consolidate the collective life of the Party and strengthen the ties between the Party and the masses; he should be more concerned about the Party and the masses than about any private person, and more concerned about others than about himself. Only thus can he be considered a Communist.

“All loyal, honest, active and upright Communists must unite to oppose the liberal tendencies shown by certain people among us, and set them on the right path. This is one of the tasks on our ideological front.”

We are meeting at this congress at a time when we are dogged by disunity, tensions, accusations, circulation of rumours, character assassination of each other and allegations against one another.

This internal lack of cohesion is the main reason why Antonio Gramsci’s. notes are so relevant: “The crisis consists of precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born”.

Allegations that have been made cannot just be brushed aside and or pushed under the carpet. We cannot be seen to be in defence of anything we cannot defend tomorrow, nor can we afford to appear to be papering over cracks and then claim to be building principled unity amongst ourselves.

Let us remind ourselves of how we landed here in this school, Albert Moroka Secondary School.

Let me tell you of my personal experience. I was a General Secretary of COSATU and universally loved by both its leaders and members. I can say this without any fear of a contradiction. I am a recipient of many COSATU affiliated unions’ highest awards in recognition of the role I played in building these unions.

POPCRU is one of the unions that gave me every award they have ever given to any human being. One day myself and the President of COSATU listened to allegations of corruption levelled against the leadership of the union by its former 1st Deputy President, comrade Meshack Mpemva and the then serving Vice President, comrade Ntombikayise Rubber Mcaba.

We convened a joint meeting of COSATU and POPCRU NOBs and asked the leadership of that union to respond to what appeared to be overwhelming and concrete evidence backing up these allegations. We insisted that they should also respond in writing to refute these allegations as otherwise they would damage the reputations of both POPCRU and COSATU.

They did not respond to these allegations. Instead they launched a Hate Vavi campaign that quickly gained credence in their structures. It gained credence precisely because over a period of time, the union had ceased to be a democratic institution. Its entire leadership had become a product of leadership arrangements that were brutally enforced by its NEC. There were casuals who had before tried to get me and COSATU to intervene. But we had failed to do so.

Let is now go back to what Mao Tse Tung called the first kind of neoliberalism.

I know it; I moved from a hero to number-one enemy. Partly I was to blame that workers were now defending corruption. I had allowed “things to slide for the sake of peace and friendship”.

The revolutionary morality had flown out of the window and replaced by accommodating of one another on the basis that “we all have skeletons in our cupboards and that if these skeletons were to be taken out all, hell will break lose”.

I can make similar examples about SAMWU, NEHAWU, SATAWU, CEPPWAWU, etc.

SALIPSWU comrades gathering in this historic conference to launch this new union know this history too well. That’s why you have given up on those COSATU unions. That’s why you have given up on the much better material conditions they provide, including the possibility of landing in cushy jobs as even Ministers, MECs, Director Generals and school principals.

But, comrades, let us be different from those unions, not through making the most beautiful speeches but through our revolutionary practise.

This union has not taken off the ground comrades. Its political capital is in danger of being squandered. Workers who were so excited in KwaZulu Natal are today morose and some have been dismissed from their employment.

Workers who joined us in East London with such enthusiasm are today asking themselves serious questions. Workers who joined us in Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp are demoralised and disgusted by our conduct.

Teachers are not joining us comrades! Administrative staff and other professionals have not joined us as we expected. They will not leave their unions to join us when clearly our house is not in order.

Our membership has fallen from 8000 to 5000.

“The crisis consists of precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born”.

It is time to ask ourselves tough questions and not shy away from answering those uncomfortable questions. Mobilising against Zwelinzima Vavi and SAFTU, as POPCRU and others did, is not an option.

You are meeting at an historic moment for the trade union movement. In just 18 days, on 25 April, SAFTU, its affiliates and allies in civil society, will be on the streets of the country in a general strike in protest against the biggest attacks on working-class people, the trade unions and the poor majority of South Africans.

We are mobilising the workers of South Africa to raise their voices against a ferocious declaration of war by the ruling class of white monopoly capitalists.

SAFTU want a SALIPSWU that can play a role in mobilising public servants. We don’t have that SALIPSWU today comrades. Our wish is that things must change from Monday. It all depends on your actions not words.

Let me end this rather long presentation with a quote from the bible.

Kings 3:16-28 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Solomon Makes a Difficult Decision

16 One day two women[a] came to King Solomon, 17 and one of them said:

Your Majesty, this woman and I live in the same house. Not long ago my baby was born at home, 18 and three days later her baby was born. Nobody else was there with us.

19 One night while we were all asleep, she rolled over on her baby, and he died. 20 Then while I was still asleep, she got up and took my son out of my bed. She put him in her bed, then she put her dead baby next to me.

21 In the morning when I got up to feed my son, I saw that he was dead. But when I looked at him in the light, I knew he wasn’t my son.

22 “No!” the other woman shouted. “He was your son. My baby is alive!”

“The dead baby is yours,” the first woman yelled. “Mine is alive!”

They argued back and forth in front of Solomon, 23 until finally he said, “Both of you say this live baby is yours. 24 Someone bring me a sword.”

A sword was brought, and Solomon ordered, 25 “Cut the baby in half! That way each of you can have part of him.”

26 “Please don’t kill my son,” the baby’s mother screamed. “Your Majesty, I love him very much, but give him to her. Just don’t kill him.”

The other woman shouted, “Go ahead and cut him in half. Then neither of us will have the baby.”

27 Solomon said, “Don’t kill the baby.” Then he pointed to the first woman, “She is his real mother. Give the baby to her.”

28 Everyone in Israel was amazed when they heard how Solomon had made his decision. They realized that God had given him wisdom to judge fairly.


We wish you a fruitful and constructive meeting.

Please follow and like us:

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.