THE following speech was given by the former general secretary of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), dismissed in 2015, and now Vice Chairperson of the Millennium Labour Council, Zwelinzima Vavi to the congress of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) following its recent decision to leave COSATU.
Vavi covers the recent history of the ruling ANC alliance, as its support falls in a deepening political and economic crisis, marked by a powerful strike wave:
AMONGST the changes that have taken place since your 2011 National Congress are the following:-
1. COSATU has imploded – the CEC, or just 34 of its members, dismissed 340,000 members of NUMSA for purely political reasons. SADTU disbanded its whole PEC and purged or disbanded others regions. SAMWU literally now has two NECs, and this is after it dismissed 186 of its national, provincial, regional and branch leaders and officials.
NUM is no longer the biggest affiliate of COSATU. It has been overtaken by the public sector unions and is now smaller than AMCU, a union led by its former shop steward, Joseph Mathunjwa. SATAWU has completely imploded and has lost its status as the biggest transport union in Transnet. CEPPWAWU has not held a congress or any constitutionally quorate NEC for years. The list goes on.
2. Who would have thought that the police could open fire, using automatic rifles killing 34 mine workers on strike to back their demands for a living wage?
3. Today there are 186 registered unions in South African and a total of about 600 unions exist. Ironically the more our unions multiply through fragmentation, the more the numbers of workers who do not belong to any union seems to grow. As we speak 76% of workers do not belong to any union.
4. COSATU once the most powerful union in the continent and the fastest growing union movement in the world with 2.2 million members has now lost hundreds of thousands of its members either through purges or just sheer neglect of members’ needs.
5. These days employers set 54% of all wages without any negotiations with workers, either with their union or bilaterally. Only 9% of wages are set through centralised bargaining structures, while another 23% of wages are set through negotiations between individual companies and unions. A whopping 10% of workers do not receive any regular increases.
6. Wages of workers have stagnated to the point that by 2014, workers’ median salary was R3,200. This means that half of all workers earn less than R3,200 a month. Can you imagine one of your bosses trying to live on that?
7. The share of wages in the national income (GDP) has continued to plummet and is now well below 50% from 57% in 1991. A drop in the wages share means that the profit share for the bosses has increased.
8. Income inequalities are now on record levels. South Africa has become the most unequal society in the world.
9. More jobs have been shed. In the last three months of 2015 alone 21,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, with another 80,000 gone in the first three months of this year. That’s over 100,000 manufacturing jobs gone in six months! A large number of these were in food processing, including in grain milling, starch processing, and animal feed.
The picture in agriculture is similar, and has been made worse by the drought. In six months from October 2015 to March 2016 we lost 21,000 farm worker jobs, mostly in the Western Cape and Limpopo. And we know that more and more farm worker jobs have become casualised or seasonal, so many of the remaining 870,000 jobs are very insecure and low paid.
10. Unemployment is at record levels with 8.9 million unable to find job opportunities. This is 36.4% – more than one out of every three adults of working age nationally. But this catastrophe is much higher in the townships and rural towns.
11. The economy has stagnated further. It shrank by 2.5% in the first quarter of this year, and we may already be in a recession.
12. According to StatsSA a staggering 54% of our population lives in poverty. In fact according to the National Minimum Wage Research Institute the real figure is closer to 63%, considering the fact that a person with 5 dependents requires an income of R5,400 to just survive. What poverty means is that 13 million people in this country go to bed every day without food, and another 14 million face hunger at some point in the month.
13. Politically we have been on a roller coaster:
• The ANCYL (ANC Youth League) was imploded by its mother body to address its militancy. Its NEC, PEC, REC and even some BEC were disbanded for the purpose of domesticating and hollowing it out. As a result of the actions, today a new political party called EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema) exists.
• The ANCWL (Women’s League) has itself been domesticated and is not regarded as a friend of genuine gender struggles.
• The SACP (South African Communist Party) has amended its constitution to allow its principal leader, the General Secretary, to serve in the Cabinet whilst retaining his position. Every leader of note except a Second Deputy General Secretary serves and is paid by the legislatures. Every failure of the neoliberal policies pursued by government has therefore discredited the SACP leadership.
• The ANC itself has embraced neoliberalism and moved from GEAR (Growth Employment and Redistribution) to the NDP (National Development Plan) – in the process embracing market oriented solutions including privatisation, commodification of basic services etc.
• The ANC has fully embraced austerity measures. During what we called the 1996 class project of the Thabo Mbeki government, expenditure was 13.5% above inflation by 2008. As we speak, the government of our so-called Polokwane moment, the expenditure has fallen to 1.3% above inflation in the 2015/16 financial year. That does not consider the population growth of 1, 7% a year. Per person then, government spending is actually going down.
• Almost every state-owned enterprise is in crisis. There is a common theme in all the crisis: the appointment of people linked to the President and the Gupta family that has grown so powerfully since your congress.
• Under the leadership of President Zuma and the new NEC which we celebrated as heralding a new beginning in the politics of the alliance, the ANC has staggered from one crisis to the next.
14. In the 2014 elections the ANC support was reduced to 62% and around 54% in the economic hub of Gauteng. In the 2016 elections the ANC support was further reduced to 54% nationally and in the process gained below 50% in all metropolitan areas except in Durban where it is just 6% away from a coalition government.
So what happened comrades – how did we arrive at this point – how could it be that the movement FAWU gave birth to – COSATU – has been reduced to a shadow of its former self?
Let me use few lines from the ‘9 plus’ (breakaway unions from COSATU) analysis of the implosion of COSATU. We have rejected the superficial and misleading explanations that the crippling paralysis in COSATU is because: COSATU General Secretary, comrade Zwelinzima Vavi has fallen out with a pro-Zuma leadership faction inside COSATU, and that he is himself supported by the anti-Zuma faction. This is arguably the most publicly punted explanation for the crisis in COSATU by the media and in many instances said to be supplied by its faceless ‘reliable sources’.
Whilst these superficial explanations may contain some elements of truth, they really go no deeper than describing symptoms of much deeper underlying class contradictions in the Liberation Movement itself and in its formations, including COSATU. These superficial explanations fail to offer us the insights needed to fully understand the basis and causes of the crisis in COSATU and cannot assist us to advance appropriate solutions to the crisis.
The real basis of the crisis in COSATU is the complex and contradictory class relationships which it finds itself having to deal with, on a daily basis, in the multi-class and un-restructured ANC-led Alliance, to which it belongs.
The second basis is the failure of the liberation movement as a whole to resolve national oppression, class exploitation and the triple oppression facing women post-1994, and letting the Black and African capitalists in the Liberation Movement win the day on the policy front.
As a result of this, the colonial and capitalist mode of production and its social relations have been strengthened in South Africa, thus worsening unemployment, mass poverty and extreme inequality.
Therefore all those leaders of COSATU and its affiliates who are fighting to preserve a socialist-oriented, militant, transformative, anti-imperialist, democratic, worker controlled, anti-racist, and non-sexist Federation on the one side, and the so called anti-Vavi forces on the other side, must be understood as representing specific class interests and positions. The two sides are proxies of the ongoing class struggle in South Africa in general and in COSATU itself.
The crisis in COSATU must be understood as reflecting the contradictions between those leaders in COSATU who have been won over to the side of the defenders of a neo-liberal South African capitalism under the guise of taking responsibility for the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) and those who are determined to continue to pursue a radical NDR and the struggle for socialism as the only viable solution to the national, gender and class questions in South Africa and the world.
The political theorist Antonio Gramsci described the phenomenon of capitalist crisis thus: ‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born. In this interregnum a great variety of morbid systems appear’ (from the selection from prison notebooks).
The ‘morbid symptoms’ that Gramsci was talking about are manifesting themselves in South Africa in the following: –
1. The emergence of powerful interests in our political movement and in society as a whole, which are resisting a radical forward movement. Their interests have found expression in the National Development Plan and the lack of progress in the implementation of the Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP)
2. The rise of a predatory elite, which focuses on using criminal and semi-criminal means to advance an accumulation agenda through abuse of access to state resources and contracts. Corruption and tender fraud are the most obvious manifestations.
3. If we do not succeed in stopping this, a danger exists that we will move towards a failed state and a society where there is no accountability, run by kleptocracy, driven by a particular brand of predatory and parasitic capitalism.
4. The implosion, blunting and domestication of COSATU and the ANCYL, the working class axis that historically propelled the movement forward.
5. The efforts to domesticate the organs of people’s power have been extended to other important institutions of democracy as witnessed by the turmoil created at the NPA, intelligence services, SAPS and SARS.
6. State-owned enterprises have also found themselves impacted upon by the agenda to domesticate institutions. The turmoil of suspensions and management crisis has visited PetroSA, SAA, Eskom, SABC, Post Office, etc.
7. The continued protection from public scrutiny and debate of the holy cows of monetary and fiscal policy, and financial regulation.
8. Stalemates on critical areas of society policy including National Health Insurance, comprehensive social security system.
9. Crisis in delivery of the two most basic social services – health-care and education.
10. Rising levels of both white-collar and violent crimes including the rise of xenophobia as the working class turns in on itself and against the most vulnerable, as it competes for scarce resources.
11. The tightening of immigration controls by the state as it seeks to reinforce a conservative message that seeks to scapegoat undocumented migrants.
12. Service delivery protests that are not coordinated but a spontaneous response of communities to neglect and deepening marginalisation of the poor. The free fall of many small rural towns has become the face of the triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
The impact of the crisis and accompanying political paralysis on COSATU’s programmes and activities. We should not be at all surprised that the class battle over the resolution of the economic and social crisis has impacted on the internal life of not only COSATU, but also of the ANC (particularly its Leagues) and the SACP. Neither should we be surprised that interests within the political formations have taken positions on the COSATU crisis.
We should also not be surprised that the Alliance has never functioned in line with COSATU National Congress resolutions, primarily because of a lack of agreement on strategic direction including on how the persistent triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequalities should be resolved.
Our focus here is less on the political formations and on the Alliance than on COSATU itself. Above all, the divisions within the COSATU CEC and amongst the COSATU National Office Bearers are a reflection of the on-going contest over how the current economic crisis should be resolved.