Build a strong, united trade union movement – Blade Nzimande

SACP GS says SA remains locked into the colonial minerals extraction for export

Delivered by the SACP General Secretary, Cde Blade Nzimande 

21 June 2018

President of the NUM – Cde Piet Matosa

General Secretary of the NUM – Cde David Spunzi

The entire leadership collective

Distinguished guests – both local and international

Dear Delegates

It is indeed a great honour for me to deliver a message of the Central Committee of the SACP and the more than 300 000 members of the Party to this 16th National Congress of the NUM. The theme of your congress “Re-build and re-engineer NUM towards reclaiming its historical posture” is quite an appropriate call to the mine workers of our country workers.

Today the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi is releasing the National Health Insurance Bill. There has been a greedy campaign, mainly driven by private monopoly wealth accumulation interests, directed against the introduction of the National Health Insurance (NHI) in our country. Comrades, as the SACP we stand here before you. We declare to all in our country and the world to know, that we are combat ready for this battle. In particular, we want the NHI to equalise access to quality health care and make it accessible to all, regardless of one’s employment or income category. Access to quality health care for all, among other needs, is very important to the fundamental right to life. It will be unjust, and cruel, if not also barbaric, to subordinate the right to life to profit motives. The SACP will be looking at the Bill in order to strengthen it where this is necessary. We are calling on all workers to unite behind the introduction of the NHI and therefore in pursuit of universal quality health care coverage.  

This important Congress of our country’s mineworkers takes place during a very complex period for revolutionary and progressive forces globally. There is no end in sight to the global capitalist crisis of 2008. The trio of the collapse of the banking system in the US which had the snowballing effect worldwide; the Euro debt crisis which affected mostly Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain experiencing the worst weakened economic output and financial instability; and the increase in debt levels of developing countries (often referred to as emerging markets) are still with us despite some moderate improvements that have been registered in the world capitalist economy and in future projections.

The imperialist countries are extending their world hegemony and are using their institutions, the World Bank, IMF, WTO and others to manage their internal contradictions. But this is not resulting in the decline of global political conflicts and wars, which are spreading into new areas.

The global capitalist crisis has resulted in a more rightward shift politically globally but it has been met with resistance as witnessed in parts of Latin America, in Europe itself and many other countries. The Presidency of Donald Trump, representing one of the most reactionary ruling circles in the USA, is symptomatic of this global rightward shift. The USA is unrelenting in its attack on the progressive Latin American forces. Attempts to destabilise Venezuela and Cuba, and now seemingly Nicaragua as well, and to disrupt regional unity have gained some tempo. The US collaboration with Israel, which continues to illegally occupy Palestine, in attempts to control the region and its oil production, has gained momentum with the provocative unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital having sparked worldwide anger. We must use your congress to salute militants in Gaza who have staged heroic acts of resistance against the occupation.

There are transitions that have taken place in our SADC region, including here in South Africa. Beneath these changes was a protest not only against the personalities that where in powerful positions of national leadership but the political decay that has taken root within the state and some of the former national liberation movements during their tenure. In most cases of similar changes in our region imperialism was caught off balance. There was a handover of power in Angola and in Botswana. The changes in Zimbabwe and in South Africa have once more forcefully put on the agenda the strategic questions for working class forces on the continent. These include the questions on how to overcome and transform the colonial structure of African societies. The questions include whether the national democratic revolution can be rejuvenated and revitalised by maintaining the strategy of alliances with forces linked to the structure of capitalist accumulation.

Mining output has not improved in our country. Whilst most would like us to believe that it is due to China’s policy direction, the decline points to the deeper issue of the strategic orientation of the sector.  It cannot be that, 24 years down the line, we have not developed the mining value chain and increased our localisation of the production of finished products. We remain locked into the colonial minerals extraction for export. The discourse around minerals beneficiation has gone for far too long without much tangible victory for the workers. It is about time we address the issues raised around lack of research and innovation to drive beneficiation, the production of finished products, issues around skills and stable supply of electricity in order to create the much needed jobs.

The SACP has put forward the proposal for a sovereign wealth fund to be established to ensure that the so-called free carry shares in the mining sector are held by the state on behalf of the people as a whole, with the working class at the centre. The proceeds of the fund must be used to advance national transformation imperatives, including the expansion of democratic public control in the mining sector. The ANC has discussed and supported this proposal at its 54th National Conference. A convergence has now emerged and as the SACP we are happy about it. We are looking forward to your input on this matter in the context of your broader input into the revised mining charter as recently released by the Minister of Mineral Resources, Cde Gwede Mantashe.  We also wish to point out that whilst the mining charter is important, it would be a mistake and a very narrow approach to reduce the transformation and repositioning of the mining industry to the charter. Transformation of the mining industry is much more than the charter.

Build a strong, united trade union movement

The hopes of the workers for a better life, for fair working conditions and for the deepening of the national democratic revolution, are all not dependent on favours from the employers but rest on a strong, united working class organisation and actions. It is for this reason that we must congratulate you for providing a united stand among a number of unions in your current wage struggles at Eskom. We must intensify our efforts to organise unorganised workers into trade unions. Every worker must belong to a trade union. For its success a trade union must show in practice loyalty to its members. The importance of quality membership service and its role in inspiring workers to belong to and play an activist role in trade unions cannot be overemphasised. Trade unions must in the first instance effectively protect the economic and social interests of the workers, whilst being part of progressive political struggles in broader society.

Worker unity and solidarity are critical for trade unions. Workers must be organised to fight against capitalist exploitation and for the overthrow of this unjust system. There are attempts by employers to fragment the manner in which industrial relations are handled. In particular, the attempt is centred on fragmenting and subverting the collective power of the workers, with an emphasis on the so-called workplace flexibility.

The NUM from the onset has had to deal with the challenge of uniting workers. It was through the hard work of the union that progress was made in addressing the tribal animosities and rivalries which were deliberately fostered by employers who lived by the ‘divide and rule’ strategy. We must not lose sight of this important achievement of the NUM and allow tribalism to rear its ugly head again in society broadly and in the union. Similarly, genuine working class formations must condemn racialist attacks on different national groups in our country. Yes racism still remains a serious challenge, the task however is not to reinforce it but to deepen the struggle for non-racialism. Whilst significant gains have been made, we must confront the existing challenges.

It is also important in our increased attention on the workplace to tackle the stubborn challenges of health and safety in both the mines and construction sectors. This task requires us to act in unison to expose how the bosses gamble with workers life. The SACP expresses its heartfelt condolences to the families of the mineworkers who lost their loved ones as a result of mine accidents.

We must overcome attempts to weaken and divide the trade union movement. It is for this reason that the SACP calls on the NUM to strengthen itself, COSATU and other affiliates. The NUM remains an important component of COSATU, and it must continue to act as such. In the same manner, we must maintain the historical and revolutionary relationship between the SACP and the NUM.

Your congress theme, to re-build and re-engineer the union, is quite important in the sense that as part of the process the NUM must provide a meaningful response to the challenges of automation. We need to examine the job displacement impact and substitution effect of automation broadly as a democratic movement. The NUM and other progressive trade unions have a leading role to play in this process. Unless COSATU and industrial sector unions study deeply the changes in the production process and how these have impacted negatively on workers and the trade union movement, we will continuously talk of weakened industrial sector unions in nostalgic fashion. Accordingly, your commitment to re-build and re-engineer the union is of paramount importance. This does not suggest diluting the working class consciousness and militancy of the NUM. What it means, on the contrary, is that we must be willing to review the service we offer to members, our level and intensity of their mobilisation to be actively involved in trade union work.

Organise to defeat state capture!

It is worth noting that important advances have been made this year against state capture, despite the ANC Nasrec outcome which many commentators characterised as a stalemate. There is a new hope from many of those who had started to drift away from the movement. We no longer have condescending defence of looting of public resources. SOEs are under new direction and good governance is being restored across the board.

But we must remain extremely vigilant. The struggle against state capture is far from over. And the organised working class has a critical role to play. Those who stole must go to jail. We must remain vigilant against botched prosecutions of those involved. The manner in which certain investigative and prosecutorial aspects were and appear to be still handled in relation to some state capture cases leaves much to be desired. The SACP has welcomed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment of a high level panel to conduct a review of our national intelligence services. It is important to unearth and deal decisively with all rogue operations and abuses of our national security organs, and to ensure that none of the abuses is repeated.

What is required, in addition to the important decision taken by the President, is another decision for a similar review of the police as a whole, including the police crime intelligence and the Hawks.  The question of why state capture took place as if there were no law enforcement agencies in our country must be answered. We need an effective criminal justice system that is not susceptible to infiltration by criminal gangs or to corporate capture.

The President is clearly attempting to lead the struggle against state capture. But it is also clear that the organisation that he leads, the ANC, is still hamstrung by factions. There are clear indications of an attempt at a fight back. The province of KZN has become a hot-bed of this attempted fight-back – but which is being orchestrated to expand to other provinces. In the face of overwhelming popular anger and frustration, the ANC often appears in the eyes of many people to be either hamstrung or at least very slow to move.

The struggle against state capture is not just a general moral struggle against crime and corruption, important as this may be. It is directly a working class struggle, because state capture is the theft of hard-won democratic public power. State capture is a direct threat to jobs and the wellbeing of the workers and poor in our country. It is state capture that has drained our budgetary resources and pushed our country to the brink of a financial crisis. Major SOEs were looted, hollowed out and rendered insolvent. And so we have had an increase in VAT to plug these financial holes.

The SACP also welcomes the investigation into the South African Revenue Service (SARS). We further welcome the investigation into the VBS bank. We agree with COSATU that VAT increases are a blow against the workers and poor. The SACP calls for a wealth tax on the super-rich, and for a land tax on unoccupied land that is not being productively used, and on property speculators. We say no to regressive taxes. We say no to the VAT increase.

We need worker unity to ensure that the struggle against state capture is not dominated by those who want to go back to before the ANC’s Polokwane Conference, to retreat back to 1996. Let us ensure that the “New Dawn” does not turn out to become a return to neo-liberalism and the policy substance of the 1996 class project which we jointly defeated.

One issue we wish to raise with you the workers is the danger of economic populism from those responsible for state capture. Most of them made unrealistic promises to workers; promises that in the short term are quite attractive but their long-term impact on workers include measures such as increased VAT. In any case we know as workers that nothing is as sweet as that which we have struggled for and not some “favours” from the employers or patronage. The answer of the 1996 class project to the plunder of workers and the poor was some sort of a top-down “welfarist” delivery, whilst that of the state capturers was to appease workers by revolutionary sounding phrases and short-term populist rhetoric. We must remain vigilant against such.

Just transition – moving away from coal to clean energy

If as a country we are to contribute towards the reduction of carbon emissions and build a cleaner environment, the challenge we wish to throw for discussion by this Congress is that of securing a just transition from coal to clean and renewable energy. As part of confronting the Minerals Finance Energy Complex that served as the backbone of apartheid economic strategy, we cannot continue to have an economy in our democratic country permanently dependent on coal given its harmful ecological and social impacts and its contribution to global warming.

However, the transition to clean energy must be a negotiated process between the government, labour and affected communities.

Both the SACP and the NUM must develop a perspective around the transition to clean energy. At the centre of the perspective must be a strategy to mitigating job losses, given our already high unemployment rate, and ensuring that the new jobs that are created are indeed decent ones. For the workers we must demand that no one loses their job. Most workers who have worked for a long time in fossil fuel industry may not have the requisite skills for the transition – the NUM must help us lead a campaign for skills development and retraining of workers instead of a situation where the workers will be discarded.

Furthermore the move to clean and renewable energy must secure an increase in the availability of energy for social and economic use. With our transition to renewable sources and production of energy, the unit cost of energy must decrease for the worker households and therefore the poor. Furthermore we need a strategy that drives small-scale, community-based co-ops renewable energy investments so that it is not only left to big business if we are to enable a just transition to renewable energy for the people. The development of democratic public control in energy production remains absolutely important also – the millions of our country’s workers do not have the capital commanded by private corporations to become IPPs. A move to clean energy production and renewable sources of energy must never bring in privatisation of the energy sector through the backdoor.

The NUM has a strategic role to play and leadership responsibility to the workers in defining the terms and condition of the transition, ensuring that it is just and people centred.

SACP, state and popular power

Our 14th National Congress discussed the question of the relationship of the SACP to state and popular power. In that context our congress sought to resolve the question of the way in which the SACP must participate in elections, through a reconfigured alliance or a popular left front. It is significant that we highlight the context that underpinned the discussion at our 14th National Congress. Firstly, at the time, the ANC-headed Alliance relations had deteriorated with the leading organ of the alliance having suffered a major crisis of credibility. The ANC was showing serious signs of inability to self-correct, to unite society and was increasingly being reduced into a sectarian instrument to pursue the self-interest of factionally elected leaders.

Our 14th Party Congress mandated us to engage our Alliance partners and other progressive forces on the future possible modalities of SACP electoral participation, as well as on forging a broader popular left. The Central Committee has been working hard to implement the resolution – which mandated us to campaign for an electoral contest within a reconfigured alliance. This was an acknowledgment by congress that the current mode of operation of the Alliance is outdated and in all likelihood not suitable both for the new and future conditions. Thus far, all Alliance partners have expressed support for a discussion on the reconfiguration of the Alliance.

Congress further mandated us to engage our alliance partners on the tasks of building a popular left front platform, not as an alternative to the alliance but as a structural insurance to securing working class interests. We are also aware that, as Lenin warned, it is suicidal to throw the vanguard of the working class into the battle alone, without firm support from the broader working class. The forging of a popular left front still has to be pursued, with or without being an electoral platform or option, but more so as a strategy to consolidate left unity and working class power to drive the second radical phase of the national democratic revolution, the most direct road to socialism in our South African reality.

A relationship forged in struggle

As I move towards concluding, Cde President and delegates, allow me to briefly comment on the historic significance of the relationship between the SACP and the NUM. It is communists like Gaur Radebe, Thabo Mofutsanyane, Moses Kotane and JB Marks who played a pioneering role in the formation of the NUM. Our relationship with the NUM, COSATU and its affiliates is unshakable.

There is a renewed attempt to rewrite our history and belittle our relations, including by sections of individuals who resort to apartheid and liberal tactics of red herring, of accusing the SACP of being interested in manipulating trade unions and reducing them to a pliable conveyor belt. The SACP dismisses the allegation with the contempt that it deserves.

Our bonds in the struggle for Socialism in written in the indelible blood marks of the martyr’s of the 1946 Mine Strike.

We wish you a successful Congress. Thank you!

Issued by Alex Mohubetswane Mashilo, Head of Communications and National Spokesperson, SACP, 21 June 2018