2011 May Day Rally: Gauteng -Speech by Comrade Mugwena John Maluleke, General Secretary SADTU

1 May 2011

Consolidate Peoples Power!
Mobilise for ANC Local Elections Victory!
Advance the New Growth Path for full Employment

Comrades allow me to greet you on behalf of the leadership of our mighty federation - COSATU - on this the international workers day - when workers all over the world will be marching and meeting either to celebrate gains or to protest against the conditions they find themselves in.

First some history comrades. May Day is traced back to a strike in Chicago USA on 1st May 1886, when four unionists were killed and many others wounded. Angered by this, workers mobilised a massive protest demonstration in Haymarket Square on 4th May. Near the end of the evening, an individual, possibly a police agent provocateur, threw a bomb that killed 7 police and injured 67 others.

City and state government officials rounded up eight demonstrators, tried them for murder, and sentenced them to death. On 11th November 1887, four were executed, even though their prosecutors found no evidence that any had actually thrown the bomb. For trade unionists everywhere, Haymarket became a symbol of the injustice of capitalist society. It led to the decision of the founding congress of the Second Socialist International in 1889 to make 1st May 1890 a demonstration of the solidarity and power of the international working class movement. May Day has been a celebration ever since, as workers around the world come together to celebrate their victories and demand better working conditions.

Workers in South African fought for many years for recognition of May Day as a special holiday. The first May Day celebrations were in 1904. Then in 1986, the five-month-old COSATU staged one of the biggest-ever stayaways to demand recognition of May Day as a paid public holiday.

Shocked by this wave of worker militancy, P.W. Botha responded by declaring the first Friday in May as Workers` Day, a paid public holiday. COSATU announced that it would stop work on both the first Friday and the real May Day. Faced with this, the apartheid regime backed down and in 1987 recognised 1st May as a public holiday.

This public holiday is a testimony to the hard battles that workers in this country and in other parts of the globe have waged for workers` rights and social justice over many decades.

It is also a reminder of the many challenges that still confront working people and the poor in South Africa - and which remain obstacles to sustainable human development among all developing nations.

The South African working class has been at the forefront of the struggle for a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, prosperous and united nation. It has understood and consistently maintained that workplace struggles cannot be separated from broader social struggles; that economic justice and equality cannot be achieved without national liberation. And it has argued that these struggles cannot be separated from the struggle for gender equality and, specifically, women`s emancipation.

We pay tribute to the millions of workers who fought for a democratic South Africa and the many who sacrificed so much so that all South Africans could today enjoy rights of citizenship in their own country.

In preparing for this day, I looked back at my notes for the speech I gave to a May Day rally in 2010. Comrades, I got worried. I see that most of the issues we raised are still as relevant today. Let me list them:

  • Importance of Engagement and Solidarity - and maximum unity in order to tackle the five Alliance and ANC priorities.
  • Entrenching revolutionary discipline in our movement - to combat the new tendency hell bent on using our movement for narrow personal gain
  • Consequences of corruption "Reclaiming the ANC as a disciplined force of the left for ‘all of us` and not for ‘each of us`. Culture of crass materialism. We said "corruption is tantamount to stealing from the poor and must be fought." corruption and tenderpreneurship is rampant and threatens to undermine the gains and the struggle for social transformation.

A Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu said this about man in 350 BC:

When he tries to extend his power over objects
Those objects gain control of him
He who is controlled by objects
Losses possession of his inner self.
If he no longer values himself,
How can he value others?
If he no longer values others,
He is abandoned
He has nothing left

These "accummulists", the "reformists" and "revisionists" of today and amagundwane are all possessed by objects and have lost their inner self.

COSATU is of the essence of the NDR. This is what gives content to COSATU`s claim that it is a revolutionary trade union Federation; this, and also COSATU`s class consciousness. COSATU exercises an option for the poor, and an option for the working class.

As workers, we reject the reduction of any human being to the level of a mere commodity. This stance by itself sets workers at loggerheads with capitalism, and we proclaim that. We are not ashamed of that.

  • Apartheid Economic Fault Lines - We said "the apartheid spatial economy remains unshaken. The highest levels of poverty and unemployment are still concentrated in the former Bantustans. Black workers still live far away from their places of work. Education and health is still skewed in favour of whites and the middle class.
  • Struggle against apartheid economic legacies - "The working class finds itself wearing a political crown without the economic jewel," we said.

Of course there have been huge successes - and we must never allow the right wing and the media to take this away from us. As we approach the 18th May local government elections we should remember that under ANC governments at every level, the lives of thousands of South Africans have been improved:

  • We have one of the world`s most democratic constitutions, a bill of rights, and a constitutional court which checks that the laws and courts comply with that Constitution.
  • Over 2.5 million houses have been built for the poor, giving shelter to over ten million people.
  • Six million households have gained access to clean water since 1994 and electricity has been connected to nearly five million homes.
  • In 1994, only 62% of households had access to clean drinking water - today 93% do.
  • In 1994, only 50% of households had access to decent sanitation - today 77% do.
  • In 1994, only 36% had access to electricity - today 84% do.
  • By 2010, 14.5 million people were receiving social grants. Of those, 9.5 million are children less than 14 years old (compared with 2.4 million in 1996).
  • This year the Child-Support Grant will be extended to children aged below 18 years, an additional 2 million children.
  • There has been a gradual and progressive reduction of the pension age for men from 65 to 60.
  • The number of people on anti-retrovirals has greatly increased, and a campaign launched to test 15 million by June

We have every reason to celebrate what we have achieved, but the struggle for workers` rights did not end on 27th April 1994. Workers still need to mobilise on 1st May and beyond to confront the many challenges we still face.

One of the biggest is the casualisation of labour, which has seen tens of thousands of previously relatively secure and reasonably paid jobs being replaced by short-term casual jobs with low pay, few if any benefits and no job security. The number of workers employed by labour brokers has risen to 6.8% of total employment. This is having a disastrous effect on the working conditions and the right to join unions of hundreds of thousands of these super-exploited workers.

Now we face the threat of Walmart taking over Massmart stores, bringing their union-bashing tactics into South Africa and procuring products from wherever in the world they are cheapest, regardless of the conditions of the workers producing them. This is putting the jobs of thousands more workers in jeopardy, in manufacturing industry and other retail stores.

The bosses and in particular the DA which represents the capitalists keep moaning about our ‘inflexible` labour laws and the unions` stranglehold on the labour market. They like labour broking so much because it relieves them of the responsibility to respect workers` human rights, treat them decently and comply with the labour laws.

Many want to pay the ‘market` rate of wages rather than sit down and negotiate in bargaining councils. Some are trying to blackmail workers with the argument that if you don`t want to work for what we are offering, there are thousands of others out there desperate for a job at any price.

A typical example is the KZN United Clothing and Textile Association who are refusing to pay workers even the reduced amount of 70% of the wages negotiated at the national Bargaining Council for the Clothing Industry, and threatening to move production to neighbouring countries where they can exploit workers even more ruthlessly. Trade unions can never submit to this kind of blackmail.

The government is amending the labour laws and we shall continue to insist on measures to stop casualisation and ban labour brokers.

Our core challenge is our levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality, whose effects seep into every corner of our national life. Unemployment is a national crisis. It is higher than in any comparable country - 25.3% at the official level without those who have given up looking for work, 36.6% by the more realistic, inclusive definition. Creating jobs, eradicating poverty and reducing inequality has to be the top priority for government, business and labour.

We welcome the publication of the Industrial Policy Action Plan from the DTI and the New Growth Path from the EDD, with its aim to move away from the over-dependence on the export of raw materials to an economy based on manufacturing industry, and for the creation of five million new, sustainable jobs by 2020.

There are many good short-term proposals, including such relatively simple tasks as filling vacant positions in the public service, employing young workers to fill pot-holes and creating ‘Green` jobs, such as the rapid installation of solar water geysers.

But we have serious concerns about the achievability of the NGP`s longer-term targets. One is the lack of any clear indication of how government departments will be equipped to implement the far-reaching proposals and for measuring and monitoring the targets.

The more fundamental problem is the glaring contradiction between the ambitious, developmental goals and the very conservative macroeconomic policies, based on inflation-targeting, a strong rand and high real interest rates, which have been one of the main reasons for the crisis of unemployment. Yet such policies are now expected to be a key component of a policy to end the crisis! This will simply not work. Capitalism cannot create decent livelihood because it is a crisis by its nature.

We cannot rely on the private sector and market forces, to drive economic growth, in the hope that wealth thus created will ‘trickle down` to workers and the poor. Even developed countries are now abandoning this pro-market approach and taking drastic action to try to discipline the private sector, particularly the banks. How much more do developing countries need to build a strong, dynamic, but also democratic public sector and developmental state to drive the agenda of the NGP?

Another massive challenge is inequality, now greater than in any other country in the world and still growing. The workers` share of national income was 56% in 1995 but by 2009 had declined to 51%. On average the poorest 10% of earners get R1275 a month - 0.57% of total earnings, while the top 10% get R111 733 - 49.2% of the total! Meanwhile the country`s 20 richest men enjoyed a 45% increase in wealth in 2010, and the number of billionaires nearly doubled, from 16 to 31. Pine Pienaar, CEO of Mvelaphanda Resources, made R63 million in 2009, 1875 times as much as the average worker.

We must remember these figures at all this year`s bargaining conferences. How dare these super-rich CEOs and their lackeys in the DA (this stands for Die Apartheid as demonstrated by open toilets for the Africans in cape Town), the universities and the media, lecture us on ‘excessive` wage demands. Any increase at or below the rate of inflation will leave our members no better off and will actually increase the wealth gap.

We must remind ourselves that:

The apartheid system in South Africa was the political expression of a system of "racial capitalism" based on the super exploitation of the African working class. Capitalist relations of production were built upon relations of colonial domination, which were reinforced for the benefit of capitalism, and of a capitalist class historically derived from the local white population.

South Africa is also home to the most powerful national bourgeoisie in Africa. Around 60,000 large commercial farmers own over 90% of all arable rural land, whilst 5 large corporations control about 80% of all shares on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. In 1991, the richest 10% of South Africans received over half of
the total income in the country, whilst the poorest 40% received only 4%!

Inequality affects workers` lives not only directly, in terms of their take-home pay, but in the quality of their lives and the services they receive.

The crisis in education persists. The poor majority have no access to adequate levels of education for their children in our public schools, or decent healthcare in our public hospitals, while a small, mainly while elite can pay for world-class educational and healthcare services. A 2007 survey showed that a staggering 2 812 471 out of 6.7 million young people between 18 and 24 were neither employed nor receiving any form of education.

The health profile of the population has deteriorated. South Africa has less than 1% of the world`s population, but 17% of people living with HIV/Aids, the highest incidence in the world. We have the highest levels of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world, with 104 babies out of 1000 affected in the town of De Aar alone! We are one of only 12 countries in the world where the level of child mortality is rising.

Life expectancy rates are falling and now stand at 56 for women and 51 for men. The death rate has doubled in nine years! Yet spending on health care in South Africa is higher than in many countries with better health care provision. So it is not just money, but the misallocation of resources, with a private health sector making rocketing profits and an underfunded and mismanaged public sector.

That is why we must keep up the campaign for the urgent implementation of the National Health Insurance system to bring the quality of public health care up to the same and better standard as in the private sector.

The housing challenge is still persistent; nearly two million families still live in shacks. Lack of housing is tantamount to exclusion.

In May we have the Local Government elections. COSATU launched its campaign in December 2010 when it was celebrating its 25the anniversary. We shall spare no energy to ensure that we return the ANC with even greater levels of majority across the country. We are already hard at work building and consolidating support.

We call on workers to join the ANC and the SACP so that we can insure that their bias towards the interests of the workers and the poor is maintained. We further call on workers to be active in our communities including in the school governing bodies, hospital boards and the ward committees. That is the only guarantee we have moving forward.

We have made clear that we support the right of the ANC to defend itself against ill-discipline on the part of some of its members during this period of nomination of candidates. We have condemned a small minority of comrades who have long abandoned the principle of collective leadership in favour of crass individualism that continues to harm the image of this glorious movement.

Leadership must act without any fear and favour against those who assaulted leaders in ANC offices or those engaging in violent activities to advance their personal interests elsewhere, and COSATU will never support disgruntled would-be candidates who stand against the ANC as ‘independents`. Make sure that all our communities Vote the ANC for a landslide victory.

Next year our ANC allies will be celebrating their centenary. We wish them every success in the elections on 18 May and another hundred years of revolutionary struggle for freedom and democracy!

Meanwhile, as representatives of the labour movement today on May 1st - we reflect on the progress made by our class – the working class. Let me quote from the SACP`s statement on Freedom Day last week:

...we must ask the question which class enjoys freedom today? The poorest of the poor who toil for many hours in farms and are subjected to slave like conditions, the poor who are daily victims of labour brokers, the poor who are victims of rising police brutality during strikes and community protests have reason to feel disillusioned about our freedom and democracy.

In asking critical questions, the SACP does not in any way seek to suggest that there has not been major progress in our society. The SACP wishes to point out that our progress has been constrained by our inability 17 years down the line to have drastically changed the colonial apartheid economic structure. It is in this context that the SACP encourages all in society to interact with the newly released New Growth Path and the revised Industrial Policy Action Plan. Unless we do something radical now about the apartheid economy we have inherited our achievements will be greatly undermine by the system of capitalism.

Our attempts at a gradual economic transformation have only landed us with a failed BEE project which is at the heart of the corruption we see today.

On this International workers day COSATU recommits itself to solidarity with our fellow workers under attack in Palestine, Swaziland, Western Sahara, Colombia, Burma and other parts of the world.

As always too, on May Day we raise our red flag in honour of the countless workers who built and sustained our trade union movement over those 25 years into the strong movement it is today. We salute all our forebears, in particular our founding President Elijah Barayi, J B Marks, Leslie Massina, Chris Dlamini, John Gomomo, Oscar Mpetha, Violet Seboni, Mbuyiselo Ngwenda and many more.

Let us dedicate the day to them and remember them in the way they would have wished, by committing ourselves to the struggle for the liberation of humankind and a socialist world order.

Our generation is privileged to have this fine asset – COSATU - and must do more to preserve and nurture it and take it to new heights. We must bequeath an even stronger COSATU to our children and future generations.

Comrades let us work together to ensure that we make real progress in addressing these issues in the days to come.

Solidarity forever!
Workers of the world unite!
The workers united will never be defeated!
Down with capitalist barbarism and forward to a socialist future!

I thank you.