The Strikes in South Africa

Speech delivered by COSATU 2nd Deputy President Zingiswa Losi at the YCL Rally
9 August 2010

National Secretary of the YCLSA, comrade Bhuti Manamela,
National Chairperson comrade David Masondo,
The entire leadership of the YCLSA,
The Alliance Leadership present here today,
Comrades and all the communist combatants gathered here today!

I greet you in the name of the fighting workers of South Africa organised in all sectors of the economy under the leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

I also greet you in the name of the brave women who took to the street and confronted the merciless apartheid regime. Today we pull out our huts and salute the great freedom fighters that chose the possibility of arrest and death instead carrying a compass.
Today comrades we continue to carry with us the stamp of apartheid that remind us of the struggle that still needs to be pursued even with more vigour. This is the point I will address later.

Before I can proceed please allow me to start by addressing something which I think requires an immediate explanation.

We meet here today just a day before the public sector unions take to the street to make the employer understand that public sector workers are as important as the those workers in the state owned enterprises, that public sector workers must also receive an increment that is more or the same as that of other sectors in the south African economy.

We have heard some sections of the media saying that the teachers do not take the education of our children seriously. We want to tell them today, that actually it is the employer who does not take education seriously and the media knows that negotiations in the public sector started a long time ago. Even during the world cup these negotiation were in process. The employer did not want to listen and we were told that we must not spoil the spirit of the world; we listened because we always want to see our democratic government become successful against the wishes of some prophets of doom.

Beyond the world cup we said we want to see all the positive thinks that proved that our government is able to deliver to continue happening that include its capacity to provide financial resources that saw some in the world cup project making millions of profits.

The public service workers are not asking for government to give them what it cannot afford. We have seen the same government making available billions of rands for the world cup to succeed. We want to see the same political will when it comes to the salaries of public servants and in making service delivery programmes succeed.

These people who write and speak in the media against the demands of the public servants are earn nothing when compared to their counterparts in the private sector and in the state owned enterprises. The people who write and speak in the media to criticise the demands by the public servant do not tell the public about the reality of income disparities in South Africa.

They do not tell the public that in 2008 alone the top 20 directors of JSE-listed companies, the overwhelming majority of whom are still white males, earned an average of R59 million per annum each, whilst in 2009 the average earnings of an employee in the South African economy was R34 000. Each of the top 20 paid directors in JSE-listed companies earned 1728 times the average income of a South African worker.

On average, between 2007 and 2008, these directors experienced 124% increase in their earnings, compared to below 10% settlements that ordinary workers tend to settle at including what is being demanded by the public service workers.

Directors in state-owned enterprises also experienced the same rate of increase to their earnings, thereby contributing to income disparities in the economy. Hefty increases were also seen in state-owned enterprises. The top 20 directors experienced a 59% increase in their earnings, collectively raking in R132 223 million. This amounts R6.6 million per director, which is 194 times the average income of the South African worker.

What is even more worrying about these income disparities is that they have a racial and gender dimension in that generally in South Africa today approximately 71% of African female-headed households earned less than R800 a month and 59% of these had no income. Income inequality is still racialized and gendered: an average African man earns in the region of R2 400 per month, whilst an average white man earns around R19 000 per month. Most white women earn in the region of R9 600 per month, whereas most African women earn R1 200 per month. At the centre of these demands is a call to address these disparities.

Yet we are expected to be silent about this reality and accept an inhuman offer that government has put on the table. No we will not do that! History has taught us that power concedes nothing without struggle!

The media is being used to create a perception that some in the public service are irresponsible and they aim at teachers perhaps as the soft targets against whom they can easily muster public support or a sector if when attacked successfully can have a multiplier effect to undermine the planned public strike action since the majority in the public service have been declared essential services.

Today we want to invite all who think that public service workers are selfish to walk with us to at least understand the environment under which educators are working.

Let us enter into a discussion about education seriously not in an opportunistic fashion that does not seek to find a genuine solution but to mobilise society against workers in the public service.

Let us talk about the reality that our schools are not healthy, safe and are not conducive for quality learning and teaching. It is a known fact that an important aspect of the education system is quality. Five aspects define quality education: (a) the learning environment, (b) what learners and educators bring, (c) curriculum content, (d) teaching and learning processes and support systems for learners and teachers and (e) outcomes of the education system. Although the education system is in crisis in all these aspects, it is the learning environment that is the most pressing.

Let us talk about improving the working conditions of health workers. Let us talk about why there is dragging of feed in the implementation of NHI.

As COSATU and all our affiliated unions in the public service we are at the forefront of the battle to instil new work ethos in the public service as a whole

The challenge is to ensure that initiatives to improve the quality of public service must have, at the core, the creation of decent work.

What society must know is that the conditions of work for most of public servants are intertwined with that of the people who are expecting to receive a service. The Conditions under which learners live in schools constitute working conditions for educators.

The fact that 42% of schools depend on boreholes, rainwater or have no access to water on or near site and that 88% of schools have no laboratories, or laboratories are not stocked or that 21% of schools have no toilets on site or have more than 50 learners per toilet or that 62% of schools have a learner educator ratio that exceeds 30means that no effective teaching and learning can take place under such conditions. If one nurse has to provide a service to hundreds of people per day means that we will not achieve the dream of quality health care.

When these people have seen these conditions and the worse conditions under which many other public servants work they will stop expecting them to deliver miracles instead we will expect them to join us in our campaigns to make our schools and public sector to work efficiently and effectively.

These problems cannot be addressed through outsourcing and tenders; who sap away resources from the state through profit-making, do not guarantee local procurement of inputs into infrastructure development and do not guarantee decent work. We therefore are of the view that the state should bear direct responsibility in addressing these challenges. As COSATU we will demand that we stop tendering on public services instead employ and make that an internal central function of government.

Tomorrow the strike action will go on and no amount of media propaganda and intimidation can stop us. We are prepared to negotiate but we can only do so when the employer puts a new and improved offer on the table!

Comrades and compatriots we are concern that 16 years into democracy we still carry with us the compass - like stamps of apartheid in the form of unemployment , poverty and inequality which remains defined in terms of race, class and gender. COSATU is inspired by the manner in which the Young Communist League is taking up issues that affects the young people of our country. We are proud of the leadership provided by the young communist league at all levels of the organisation. We hope that you will not be diverted and defocused by the unnecessary leadership battles towards your national conference. The Young Communist league must be different from the rest and you can only do that through your action and clarity of the plan you present to society as a whole.

There is actually no time for infighting if we were to consider seriously the challenges confronted by our revolution. We cannot afford the luxury of having our energies misdirected when 16 years into democracy we are still confronted by the reality that the fundamental colonial contradictions remains intact in our country.

The reality is that throughout these 16 years after the democratic breakthrough the working class has been severely marginalized from effectively participating and staking its claim, in the economy in a number of ways: through the scourge of unemployment, flexible labour market in the form of casualisation, outsourcing and the use of labour brokers, the retreat of the state from the delivery of basic needs for working class and poor communities and the suppression of workers` wages below productivity gains. All these factors are meant to break the power of the working class, increase the power of capital and to boost the profitability of the capitalist system as the basis to support economic growth.

Whilst it is true that indeed political democracy has been deepened in many respects, it is in the field of the economy and ideology that it has failed to take root. In class terms, democracy was deepened through the pocket more than it was through the ballot box. Decisions about the nature and pattern of capital accumulation, social and economic policy, legal institutions and cultural expressions, political practice and the administration of the state, are still biased towards capitalist class interests. To a large extent, the state remains insensitive to the plight of the working class majority.

If we were to ask a question as to what are the real challenges confronting our country today around which shows that even though the compass had been abolished but we continue to carry it with us wherever we go. The answer will point around the following areas:

The first area is Unemployment: If we are to realistically take stalk about what has happened since 1994 until today it can be found that unemployment among Africans was estimated to be 38% in 1995 and it stood at 45% in 2005. Overall, the unemployment rate in the South African economy was 31% in 1995 and increased to 39% in 2005 . This is a massive wastage of human resources, which could be mobilized for development. As of 2009, the rate of participation of Africans in the labour force was 52% and for whites it was 68%.

Because of the continued structures of domination and exclusion, it will not be wrong to conclude that most Africans do not participate in the labour force because they are the least absorbed in employment. Among Africans of working age (between 15-64 years), only 36% are absorbed into employment whilst on the other hand, 65% of Whites of working age are absorbed into employment. Among emerging markets, South Africa has the lowest labour force participation rate.

The scourge of unemployment affects the youth the most. Of the unemployed 72 percent are young people aged between 15 and 34 years of age. Of the unemployed youth, 78 percent are African. The proportion of Africans in total youth unemployment is 90%. Already, there is a significant number of youth that has never engaged in any type of employment. This situation shows that South Africa may be in an "inequality trap". The key drivers of unemployment are race, gender, location and education. Unemployment affects those with less than Std 10 the most. Almost 50% of African heads of households have less than Std 7 and in contrast, only 8% of white heads of households have the same level of education.

As a country we are emerging from the worst global economic crisis since the 1930`s. As a result of the crisis (which many said will not affect us) we have lost at least 1.038 million jobs between 2009-2010. This amounts to an average of R35 billion worth of employees incomes being lost, given the average wage of R33 773 . This has plunged almost 5 million South Africans into poverty. The speed, with which jobs have been lost, in the context where income distribution has worsened, shows that the types of jobs that have been created are vulnerable. But this also shows the failure of past policies to build a strong internally cohesive productive base and shifting away from reliance on mineral exports. It also shows the weaknesses in existing macroeconomic policies to respond to shocks, and to promote jobs as the first priority.

The second area is Poverty which remains high: There is no official poverty line for South Africa. Yet, based on measures that are sensitive to household size, one study found that 57% of individuals in South Africa were living below the income poverty line in 2001, and this remained unchanged from 1996 . But measures that assume individuals need R322 a month to survive show that individual poverty has declined from 52.5% to 48% . This decline is said to be driven by an increase in the number of beneficiaries from government`s grant system from 2.5 million in 1999 to 12 million in 2007. This means that 25% of South Africa`s population lives on grants, and it is evidence of the anti-working class character of the post-1994 growth path. The economy peddles poverty, and the state throws money at this problem, without intervening to change its structure.

The third area is Redistribution of income which has not occurred: Besides the decline in the real incomes of African households between 1995 and 2005, income inequality has increased across the board. In 1995, the Gini coefficient stood at 0.64 but it increased to 0.68 in 2008. The share of employees in national income was 56% in 1995 but it had declined to 51% in 2009. The top 10% of the rich accounted for 33 times the income earned by the bottom 10% in 2000. This gap is likely to have worsened, given the fall in the share of employees in national income and the global economic crisis of 2008. Approximately 20% of South Africans earned less than R800 a month in 2002, the situation is worse for Africans. By 2007, approximately 71% of African female-headed households earned less than R800 a month and 59% of these had no income; 58% of African male-headed households earn less than R800 a month and 48% had no income. Even the Minister of Finance has acknowledged that 50% of the population lives on 8% of national income in South Africa.

Income inequality is still racialised, and has deepened within racial groups. An average African man earns in the region of R2 400 per month, whilst an average white man earns around R19 000 per month. The racial income gap is therefore roughly R16 800 among males. Most white women earn in the region of R9 600 per month, whereas most African women earn R1 200 per month. The racial income gap in monthly incomes among women is therefore R8 400. The race gap is therefore overwhelmingly severe among males. The gap in monthly income between African men and White women is R7 200. In addition, 56% of Whites earn no less than R6 000 per month whereas 81% of Africans earn no more than R6 000 per month.

These income disparities are deeply connected to the social relations of production at the factory floor and other places of work, and macro-policies that violate the historical commitment to redistribution. Inequality has increased the most among the Coloured population, by 9 percentage points, whereas among Africans it has increased by 1 percentage point.

The fourth area in the means of production and power which remain concentrated in white capitalist hands: Crucial sectors in the economy continue to be dominated by a few large conglomerates with cross directorships. These conglomerates are vertically integrated and therefore limit entry into the economy by smaller firms. In addition, there has been a rapid increase in foreign ownership of these conglomerates. This has served to consolidate their domestic power through their global networks.

Traditional South African conglomerates, such as Anglo-American have undergone significant restructuring, encouraged by opportunities to globally diversify their operations, thanks to financial liberalization. Nevertheless, significant vertical and horizontal linkages continue to define the South African corporate landscape. For example, the links between mining and finance, construction and mining activities, wholesale and retailers and food processors, remain the main building blocks of the South African corporate structure. In addition, little by way of black ownership and worker control has been achieved over the past 16 years. Almost all the top 20 paid directors in JSE listed companies are white males.

The fifth area is the structure of the economy which remains mineral-dependent and is now finance-led: The economy is still very much reliant on mineral exports for foreign exchange earnings. Although some have found that manufacturing exports have increased, surpassing minerals, such exports remain driven predominantly by the core minerals-energy-complex. Petrochemicals, mining and Basic Iron and Steel make up 69% of total exports, and are highly capital and energy intensive. Many studies have found that the manufacturing sector has rapidly increased exports, attributing this to trade liberalization, which is said to have increased productivity and competitiveness. This is misleading, because the so-called manufacturing that has increased exports, especially basic iron and steel and petro-chemicals, constitute the key pillars of the minerals-energy-complex.

In fact, over a long-haul the structure of exports has failed to break the dominance of core minerals-energy-complex sectors, and imports continue to be made up of sophisticated manufactured items such as machinery and equipment. Between 2003 and 2008 manufacturing imports rose by almost 10 percentage points, thereby contributing problems in the external balance. Since 1975 the financial sector outperformed the non-financial sector in terms of growth performance. By 2005, the financial sector was growing almost twice the growth rate of the non-financial sector. A combination of the increase finance and the capital-intensive MEC core puts further limits to job creation.

The sixth area is the control of the economy is still in white hands: Top management and senior managers continue to be predominantly drawn from the white population. This perpetuates historical networks that determine the probability of promotion and recruitment. In turn, this determines whether one moves to a higher income bracket or not. That 45% of all top management promotions went to white males and 17% went to white females in 2008 is one indictment on the socio-economic quality of our democracy. African males and females account for 13% and 6% of all promotions and recruitment in top management respectively. In short, 62% of all promotions and recruitments were drawn from 12% of the South African population . The current democratic dispensation thus peddles the colonial character of the control of the forces of production in our economy.

The seventh area is the health profile of the population has deteriorated: In 2006, a black female South African expected to live 12 years shorter than a white male, and an average male in Sweden expected to live 30 years more than an average black South African female. The life expectancy of South Africans was the highest in 1992, at 62 years.

Ever since then life expectancy fell to 50 years in 2006 . The situation seems to have worsened since 2006. The life expectancy of a white South African now stands at 71 years and that of a black South African stands at 48 years, according to the South African Institute of Race Relations Survey (2009). Whites therefore expect to live 23 years more than blacks according to the study.

The implications of all this is that the democratic forces in our country need to rise up and demand that it must be the people who decide on the pace of transformation and not government bureaucrats as it is currently happening.

We have reached a point in which the youth section of our movement must become more vocal about the need to have a functioning alliance and to have leadership that have a sense of urgency to improve the lives of our people and not a sense of urgency to enrich themselves.

We have reached a point in our revolution where the youth section and the revolutionary working class within the movement (as a majority component of our movement) must make a statement that there is no place for demagogy. We now have leaders who speak fiery revolutionary language to deceive the masses about their commitment to the revolutionary course when in fact during the night they do everything to protect their business interests.

We have reached a critical point in our revolution where we must make a statement that corrupt leaders are obstacles to us achieving the goals of our revolution which is to construct a non racial, non sexist, unitary and democratic South Africa whilst at the same time we lay the bases for a socialist future.

Our revolution has reached a tipping point in which the masses must assume leadership and direct our organisations towards the people`s vision for a socialist South Africa.

Unless we act now and redefine the content of South Africa`s growth and development path, unless we act to make our organisations focus on their initial mandate to liberate our people from apartheid and colonialism of a special, unless we confront each other and tell each other where our revolution have lost track, unless we act now we may wake up tomorrow and discover that all our formations and the revolution itself have only become instruments for self promotion and enrichment!

The Young Communist league is our hope when it comes to the truthfulness of our revolution!

If we fail to execute this tasks all the struggled by the women who marched to Pretoria and the reasons for going to exile and take up arms , all the marches and conferences we continue to have in the name of the struggle for economic and political liberation will have been in vain!


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