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Labour, socio-economic transformation and the state: reflections on South Africa's ten years of democracy

Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary

COSATU

5 March 2005

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Introduction

This Conference attempts the ambitious task of assessing the main dimensions of South Afrikcaís transition during the first 10 years of democracy, and to begin to outline emerging challenges for the second decade. The Conference will focus particularly on the role of organized labour, and its relationship to alliance partners, the democratic state, capital, and progressive civil society formations. In analysing this period we will consider the dimensions of state power, and the role of the state in transformation; the role of old centres of apartheid power, and the emergence of new class forces; and the trends, uneven and contradictory as they are, in economic, social, and labour market policies, and the impact of these in addressing the critical questions of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

The Conference will consider whether labour is sufficiently powerful to play its important role, given some of the organisational challenges, which have emerged. At the same time, we attempt to reflect on international developments during this period, alternative development paths, and the space open to South Africa to make different policy choices.

We have the benefit of various international thinkers and activists, to allow us to escape the temptation to be narrow and inward looking. We also have the benefit of critics, as well as supporters, of the labour movement, from both sides of the political spectrum, to allow for a vigorous engagement, and testing of our ideas. Equally we have representatives of government, to outline their perspectives on the key challenges.

As we go into our second democratic decade, some exciting new trends and possibilities are opening up, which suggest that space exists for innovative approaches to move us forward. This Conference will therefore not only reflect on the past, but also look at the possibilities for charting new directions.

We encourage debates in the best traditions of the labour movement: open, vigorous, without nursing anyoneís egos; constructive, seeking solutions and alternatives; inclusive, ensuring all voices are heard and engaged with.

This input attempts to introduce the key debates which the Conference will address, in the context of a special emphasis on labourís engagement strategy during the first decade of democratic governance, achievements and setbacks, and implications for the way forward.



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