Cosatu secretariat Report to the Ninth National Congress to be held on 18 to 21 September 2006, Gallagher Estate, Midrand

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COSATU Secretariat Report to the Ninth National Congress to be held on 18 to 21 September 2006, Gallagher Estate, Midrand


The Eighth National Congress of COSATU was a watershed in all respects. It adopted a medium-term vision and programme for COSATU aimed at building working-class power. The 2015 Plan, as it is commonly known, argues that we need to connect efforts to build our organisation with struggles for quality jobs in order to strengthen the power of the working class.

This Ninth National Congress is critical for the future of COSATU because it serves as a key platform to assess our work based on the programme we adopted three years ago. Our central task is to answer crucial questions: Are we still on course in relation to the implementation of our 2015 Plan? How do we judge our performance in the last three years? What can be done between 2006 and 2009 to cement areas of success and address weaknesses?

The three pillars of our 2015 Plan are:

  1. Defending our political gains and opening space in society and the Alliance for a working-class agenda.

  2. Systematic and rigorous implementation of an organisation-building programme so that COSATU has grown to four million members by the Tenth National Congress, with improved ability to serve our members, protect vulnerable workers and maintain unity and political coherence.

  3. Retention and creation of quality jobs based primarily on work around sector strategies.

The Eighth Congress was a success, not only because it adopted the 2015 plan, but because it positioned COSATU in relation to the challenges of the time. It helped to unite the Alliance and to focus the movement as a whole on the challenge of defending our electoral victories. Immediately after the Congress, the Alliance achieved a landslide victory for the ANC in the 2004 elections.

We have made some progress in all the areas identified by the 2015 Plan. Still, to achieve our goals by 2010 will require much more consistent efforts. Our key weaknesses remain inadequate capacity, inconsistency and perhaps even a lack of political will to implement key decisions of the Federation.

As part of the preparations for the Congress debates, we developed and circulated a political discussion paper summarising and analysing developments over the past three years, located in broader trends over the twelve years since the democratic transition. We won’t repeat that analysis in this report, but will pull out the main issues where appropriate.

Part I: Political Report


The 2015 Plan’s political vision is anchored around the following elements,

  1. Democratising the state: We committed ourselves to asserting a working class agenda in the programmes of the state; deepen social dialogue and participatory democracy; revise the electoral system and ensure that the Alliance drives transformation.

  2. Building the Alliance: We set criteria to assess the Alliance and guide our work in strengthening it in line with our vision. To that end, we also set ourselves the task of building the ANC, the SACP and the mass democratic movement. As part of this, we agreed to mobilise our members and the public strongly around the elections.

  3. Ideological development: We committed ourselves to all-round ideological work to assert and defend the ideas of the working class in the public arena and to deepen the class-consciousness of workers.

This report first reviews the political environment. It analyses key elements, including the nature of the state and class formation, as well as political developments since the Eighth Congress. The second section reports on political engagements.

2The political environment

2.1Transformation of the state - strengthening our democracy

The main question for this Congress is whether we made sufficient progress to allow us to proclaim that we are on course. Sections of the COSATU discussion paper on the balance of forces and the state should help us in this analysis.

At the Eighth National Congress we argued that the Alliance and even the ANC operate mostly as an adjunct to the state, instead of being the driver. This has not changed in the past three years. At the same time, economic power remains firmly in the hands of white monopoly capital. In this context, we can argue that we have a kind of the dual power, with political power in the hands of the democratic forces and economic power residing with white capital.

This does not mean that no progress has taken place. Since the Eighth Congress, the ANC increased its electoral strength, and now controls all provinces and indeed most of the local governments. Its political and electoral power is uncontested. In addition, we have seen substantial efforts to transform the state, especially the major social services, to meet the needs of the majority. In contrast, serious challenges remain in the economics functions (the DTI and other departments as well as regulators for electricity, telecommunications, and so on) and the security system (the judiciary, the army and the police).

The exercise of political power led to workers and the poor registering a number of important gains during the past twelve years. As a core element and beneficiary of democracy, workers’ rights at work have been protected. Workers have also benefited from provision of basic services and social grants.

Despite these gains, the condition of the working class has not improved in many areas. Capital uses its power to find new ways to extract cheap labour by bypassing labour laws through sub-contracting and increasing reliance on atypical labour. Workers’ share in the national income continues to decline even though it increased very slightly from 2002 to 2005. Unemployment remains stubbornly high and in many cases the quality of jobs has dropped.

South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in this world, although the incomes of poor households have increased slightly in the past three years. An opportunity for upward mobility and to amass wealth coexists with mass poverty, leading to a deepening gulf between the rich and poor.

This analysis of economic trends led COSATU and the SACP to argue that in economic terms capital has gained more from democracy than the working class. Based on this conclusion, both formations declared that they want the second decade of freedom and democracy to be a working-class decade. This conclusion is critical because it talks to the failed economic expectations of the majority. That conclusion goes to the fundamental question about the nature of our democracy and the NDR.

In contrast, government has tended to downplay the failure to improve the economic situation for most of our people. This reluctance to accept that economic progress for the majority has been slow led us recall how Gorbachev, as cited in the recent African Communist, captured this type of denialism:

“Government and the Party Leadership gradually became alienated from the ordinary working people; they formed an elite that ignored the opinions and needs of ordinary people. From the side of the leadership came the propaganda of success, notions of everything going according to plan, while on the side of the working people there was passivity and disbelief in the slogans being proclaimed … the leadership organised pompous campaigns and the celebration of numerous anniversaries. Political life became a move from one anniversary celebration to another.”

The leadership becomes intolerant of criticism and masks failure by promoting conspiracies of imperialist plots to subvert the revolution and encourage a general siege mentality. Anyone who dares criticise the leadership is labelled a counter-revolutionary and their integrity questioned.

As this is happening, liberal institutions run a huge onslaught to impose a neo-liberal hegemony praising what it terms “pragmatist” and bold leadership whilst condemning as naïve and dangerous populists those who point to an alternative development path. The bourgeoisie’s institutions run opinion polls every few months to inform the masses trapped in poverty and unemployment that the majority of them are very happy.

Areas for debate and Policy proposals

  1. The economic ruling class in our country remains predominantly monopoly white capital, although like any group there are fractions with somewhat different interests. The 2015 Plan contends, however, that our state remains a contested terrain. The working class within the liberation movement seeks to impose its values and agenda whilst the ruling class resists these efforts and encourages the state to continue to defend the current accumulation path. Despite this fierce contestation, we now must ask if the pendulum has shifted to a point where capital has fully captured the South African state. Have things moved to a point where the post-1994 state essentially serves the agenda of capital? What does it mean to say the state inevitably acts as an instrument of class rule, to defend the interests of the ruling class?

  2. What are our specific demands about the structure and systems of the state? What are specific demands to deepen our democratic transformation and empower working class forces to better shape the character of our state? In particular, what do we mean by participatory democracy, and what is the role of the mass movement in a developmental state?

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