COSATU President Sidumo Dlamini addressed the COSATU union federation’s 25th anniversary celebration last Sunday.

He told his audience: ‘Comrades and friends, we are here today to celebrate 25 years since the launch of COSATU on December 1st 1985.

‘Cyril Ramaphosa was prophetic when he declared that “a giant has arisen!” That giant has grown from 130,000 members when it was launched to well over a 2 million paid up membership today . . .

‘The young giant launched itself into titanic battles against employers and the apartheid regime.

‘In his speech at the launch, founding President Elijah Barayi gave P.W. Botha a six-month deadline to do away with passes. Indeed Botha succumbed and the hated pass laws that had humiliated millions for decades were scrapped. Today we carry proper identity documents . . .

‘We were in the forefront of the campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela.

‘We battled against the bantustans, the black authority stooges, the tri-cameral parliament, the apartheid laws.

‘Today we are celebrating all these victories in the company of our mayors, premiers and President, all elected by ourselves!

‘Whilst we were battling against the apartheid state, we were confronting apartheid in our workplaces. Barely six months after we were born, we launched a campaign for the recognition of May Day as a paid Public Holiday . . .

‘Today we gather here in Johannesburg to remember all these titanic battles workers have waged for so long.

‘We remember the 1946 mineworkers’ strike led by JB Marks, leader of the African Mineworkers Union that rocked the mine bosses and the apartheid state.

‘We trace our history to the militant traditions of our predecessors in South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) who, but for the apartheid regime would have been 55 years old this year. We are the children of the Corrobrick workers whose strike spread like wild fire from Durban to every corner of our country in 1973.

‘We are here to remember the heroes of the 1986 Kinross Mine disaster and all the other thousands of mineworkers who have perished underground . . .

‘We remember the OK Bazaars Strike of 1986 that lasted for over six months.

‘That strike showed that women’s place is in the forefront of our militant unions . . .

‘We remember how the regime unleashed violence and killed workers. Who could ever forget the 1987 mineworkers’ strike involving over 300,000 workers who for 21 days stood toe-to-toe with the brutal private army of the Chamber of Mines?

‘We know that we suffered serious losses in that strike in which 50,000 of our members took part, including the COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi . . .

‘That strike laid the foundation for today’s organisation and the many gains and victories we made since 1987.

‘We recall that the first person to die in detention was a leading unionist . . . the very first cadres to swell the ranks of the glorious MK people’s army, were leading unionists such as Raymond Mhlaba, Wilton Mkwayi and Walter Sisulu.

‘We are here to celebrate the unbreakable worker/youth alliance seen in the 1976 student uprisings and the body punches that brought the monster of apartheid to its knees throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Today we also celebrate the role of the United Democratic Front and other progressive forces who organised thousands of community organisations into a single powerful movement.

‘We are here to celebrate our strategic alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP), which has lasted for many decades . . .

‘Together with the ANC and the SACP, we were part of the final push between 1990 and 1994 that guaranteed 27 April 1994 . . .

‘We know that the fallen heroes who participated in the 1973 strikes, the fearless students of the 1976 revolt, the thousands of MK soldiers whose bones are still buried in foreign lands.

‘Comrades, this year is indeed an important year for the working class movement . . . Today we are addressed by our own President whom we elected. Today we have a new constitution that enshrines our rights as workers, including our right to strike and to bargain with our employers.

‘Yet we know that for a growing number of workers, whose jobs have been casualised and outsourced or are employed by those human traffickers, the labour brokers, the Constitution and all labour laws have no meaning whatsoever. Their reality is that of daily brutalisation and humiliation at the hands of farm bosses and fly-by-night pseudo employers . . .

‘Despite workers having made significant inroads, the context within which we gained our liberation was informed by a hostile global balance of forces. In 1985 when this giant was born, the Soviet Union, the horizon of hope for the working class across the globe, was still a formidable force standing as the alternative idea of development and civilisation.

‘Capitalism has proven over and over again that it has no answer to humanity.

‘We are facing a mounting crises of unemployment, with close to four from every ten people who want to work unable to find jobs.

‘This was worsened by the financial market crisis from 2008.

‘Between 2009 and 2010 alone, more than 1.1 million people have been thrown out of their jobs.

‘Since each worker supports an average of five dependents, this means that 5.7 million were relegated to poverty.

‘Unemployment affects black people, women and young people most. Today 73 per cent of all unemployed people are below 35.

The youth born in the same year as COSATU now bear brunt of neoliberal policies and the capitulation to global market forces.

‘Indeed if we look today through the eyes of the youth, we see how this generation is continuously brutalised by the despotic capitalist system.

‘The youth has been turned into a sweatshop army in factories, retail giants such as Shoprite and Pick ’n’ Pay, in the private security industry, the call centres and the hospitality sector.

In every area of life we see the class, race and gender fault lines we bequeathed from apartheid still in place.

‘The top 20 paid directors in JSE-listed companies earned 1728 times the average income of a South African worker in 2008; even state-owned enterprises paid 194 times an average worker’s income.

‘Meanwhile 48 per cent of South Africans live on less than R322 a month and 25 per cent now survive on state grants.

‘An average African man earns R2,400 per month, whilst an average white man earns R19,000.

‘Most white women earn around R9,600 per month, whereas most African women earn R1 200 per month.

‘Whilst we have made major progress in improving access to education, in particular for the girl child, we have not transformed the education system we inherited from the apartheid regime.

Children in black township schools are still victims of an unequal education system. They live daily . . . watching their white counterparts in private schools top the list of achievers year after year.

‘It is the same story in healthcare . . .

‘Nurses are overworked and underpaid.

‘The HIV and AIDS epidemic has worsened our situation with life-expectancy dropping from 62 years in 1992 to 50 in 2006.

‘Today people leaving with HIV and AIDS occupy 73 per cent of all hospital beds.

‘The life expectancy of a white South African now stands at 71 years and that of a black South African at 48 . . . We have adopted the 2015 Plan to build COSATU and its affiliates, strengthen the ANC the SACP on the ground and build the Alliance and the developmental state. We have called on our members to swell the ranks of the ANC and the SACP to ensure that these strategic allies of the workers retain their bias towards the workers and the poor.

. . . We know that some shop stewards are not well trained and do not defend our members from the bosses. We know that some organisers are easily bribed and compromised by the employers. We know too that some of our leaders are useless and do not deserve the confidence members have placed on them.

We know we are far from achieving our historic goal of creating One Country, One Federation and One Union One Industry.

We know we have not achieved the principle of worker control.

Worker control does not only talk about internal democracy where workers are in charge.

It also talks to the political system where workers will be in charge of their destiny.

On this anniversary, let us recommit ourselves to building a conscious cadre of COSATU, that can be an instrument in the fight against social injustice, landlessness and the commodification of basic services. We must invest all efforts in building a cadre that knows that the shop-floor and the community are part of the same theatre of class struggle . . . In a few months people will be queuing at the polls to one again choose their representatives in the local government elections. The local government system that we have today in South Africa is a product of a bitter and bloody struggle against the unrepresentative, corrupt and racist apartheid local government system.

‘Today also serves a launch of our local government elections campaign in support of the ANC.

‘As the COSATU General Secretary told the ANC conference “This will once and for all remove any lingering doubts as to whether COSATU remains solidly in support of the ANC, with whom we have worked closely together in every one of our first 25 years, since December 1st 1985 . . .

‘Yes, at times we have disagreements with the ANC government and we even march against them when necessary. But no other party could have imagined achieving as much as the ANC government has.

Look at the Western Cape and you will see the disaster we will face if the Democratic Alliance gains any ground next year.

The open toilets saga and mass eviction of poor communities are just the two best publicised examples of the DA’s war against the poor.

It remains the party of the rich and privileged . . .

‘We will not give the ANC a blank cheque and will refuse to campaign or support candidates known to be corrupt or lazy.

‘We are calling on the ANC, the Alliance and the people as whole, to ensure that candidates meet strict criteria of integrity.

‘If the ANC implements the processes it has agreed, it will help us achieve this goal.

‘But this process must create space for Alliance structures to ensure that every candidate is indeed honest and conscientious, interested only in serving our people.

‘I urge all local Alliance structures not to let anyone intimidate them into loosening this criteria.

‘The ANC manifesto must talk to these challenges. Our members must not to be spectators but active participants in the candidate selection processes . . . Amandla.’