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Cosatu: Final political report

COSATU Central Executive Committee

5-7 November 2002

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In the past year, COSATU has faced growing challenges. The year saw major political events - the Alliance Summit, the SACP Congress and the ANC's Policy Conference, the WSSD, the launch of the African Union and NEPAD - as well as our general strike and the resulting tensions within the Alliance. COSATU celebrates its 17th anniversary on the December 1, 2002. Amongst both friends and foes, there is consensus that COSATU is a factor in the continuing process of transformation of our country. After just 17 years, we have consolidated workers' power into a social force whose influence and power no one can ignore. As we celebrate these years of uninterrupted struggles by South African workers, we reflect on the challenges facing our class and the country from the perspective of the working class.

Workers have continued to make important advances, in particular in the area of social delivery and the transformation of labour market. August 1, 2002, saw the coming into effect of the new labour law amendments, which further consolidated the gains of the past eight years. This victory is particularly significant as it demonstrates how our strength sometimes enables us to grab victory out of the jaws of defeat.

But in the course of the year, workers also took some heavy economic blows. We have seen a persistent rise in unemployment combined with casualisation and outsourcing on a massive scale; soaring food prices; and a 4% increase in interest rates. Despite the social and political progress since 1994, ordinary workers face harsher economic conditions, mostly because of high joblessness.

Actions by capital remain the cause of most of these problems. Overall, the government has failed to intervene decisively to address the strategies of capital that worsen poverty, unemployment and inequalities. Eight years into our new democracy the primary contradiction in national terms is still between black and white; in class terms, between capital and the working class.

We reflected on these trends in the discussion document for the 7th Congress, Social Transformation in an Era of Globalisation, as well as in the secretariat report to the Central Committee in November 2001. The Congress Discussion Paper argued that the national democratic revolution (NDR), both before and after the transition to democracy, must seek to liberate black people in general and Africans in particular. To do that, because race, class and gender oppression are interlinked, it must address all three simultaneously. For the first time, the Congress document also described class formation within the black population. It noted that a significant number of black professionals have gained tremendously from post-apartheid South Africa. As a result, inequality amongst blacks is widening, leading to the possibility of divergent class interests.

This paper builds on COSATU's past work to analyse the challenges we face as a result of developments in the past year. It aims to deepen our understanding of socio-economic trends and assist us to assess political developments in the past year. This should guide our work in the run-up to our 8th Congress next year.

In particular, in light of the new challenges that have arisen in the past year, we need to reflect on our strategy and tactics. This leads to a number of questions.
  • How should we define our central demands? On the one hand, they must reflect workers' needs and lay the basis for achieving our long-term aim of a more equitable, democratic and progressive society. On the other, we do not have the capacity to address every issue. To be effective, we need to ensure that we focus clearly on mobilising effectively around our core strategic demands, without neglecting issues which are of critical concern to our constituency.
  • We need to reflect on the combination of power and engagement. Using power always annoys our negotiating partners. Government seems particularly angry about popular mobilisation, irrespective of the cause or source. Yet if we do not use power, politicians and bureaucrats routinely say they do not even have time to engage.
  • We need to decide where engagements in the Alliance fit in. Do gains within the Alliance lead to changes in government policy? Do agreements with the ANC ultimately affect government decisions at all?
  • We need to refine our approach to coalitions to take into account the diversity of civil society and our principled differences with some of its groupings.
In this paper, we first describe the socio-economic conditions facing the working class in more detail. We then analyse the balance of forces in terms of capital, opposition parties, the state and the democratic movement. On that basis, we review COSATU's strategy, especially in the past year, and reflect on the role of progressive unions in the current phase of our struggle. Finally, we point to some key questions for discussion, and propose central priorities for COSATU for the period between now and Congress.

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