SA needs its 'Lula moment'
COSATU'S founding principles include a commitment to internationalism and worker solidarity.
"Workers of the world unite!" is one of the oldest and most important slogans of the trade union movement.
This has never been just a good sentiment but an absolute necessity for all workers, in a world economy in which ownership and control of industry and finance is concentrated in the hands of a few giant multinational monopoly companies who can shift money, factories and workers' jobs around the world at the touch of an iPad.
Here in South Africa we were reminded of the threat it poses to workers when the biggest company on the globe, and one of the most notorious employers - Walmart - took over Massmart. Many other "South African" companies are wholly or partly foreign-owned or based in foreign countries.
Workers are constantly being bullied into moderating their wage demands or not going on strike for fear of frightening off overseas investors. Thousands of South African jobs are threatened by floods of imported goods from Asia and elsewhere.
It is for all these reasons that international issues, and the impact of these issues on South Africa, will be debated at next week's Cosatu national congress.
In the background is the global financial crisis, which erupted in 2008 and is still with us. Its main centre has been the advanced capitalist countries of the north, but it has had even more devastating impact on the developing countries of the south.
World unemployment stands today at the highest recorded level in history - 210-million; 34-million more people are unemployed as a result of the crisis and a record number of 45-million new job seekers are entering the labour force each year. The economy must be transformed so that its priority is to create jobs, end poverty and narrow inequalities.
In developed capitalist countries, however, governments are doing the opposite, taking an increasingly aggressive posture against the workers and the poor, enforcing austerity measures and systematically attacking century-old hard-won rights and social gains.
We see the rise of right-wing governments and ultra-right parties, and the intensification of dangerous military adventures in pursuit of economic and geopolitical interests.
At the same time we have seen resistance against the austerity measures almost everywhere in the world, from Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring in North Africa to most European countries, including Britain, Greece and Spain.
Interestingly, we are now seeing the beginning of a shift back to social democratic parties, with the victory of François Hollande in France, and in Greece the emergence of a more radical socialist party.
Developments in South America are much more encouraging. In Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador left-of-centre governments are challenging the neo-liberal consensus imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and northern developed countries.
They know the cost they have paid by accepting IMF and World Bank "structural adjustment programmes" which compel them to open up their markets to "free competition", particularly when these programmes are drawn up by countries whose own industries are protected by tariffs and subsidies.
So in Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula and his successor Dilma Rousseff launched a "Brazil without Poverty" plan, to eradicate the entrenched poverty that afflicts millions of Brazilians, even as the rest of the country has benefited from strong economic growth.
It targets the more than 16million people, 8.5% of the population, estimated to live in extreme poverty, earning the equivalent of $44 (about R361) a month or less.
In Lula's second term (2006-2010) he engineered a dramatic turnaround, which saw a series of amazing improvements of the living standards of the working people, which continue today.
It is reducing poverty, creating decent work and reducing inequality and unemployment. It is what we call the "Lula moment".
The other key leg of this strategy is the introduction of social protection measures to ensure that all the poor, including the unemployed, have access to basic income.
These redistributive policies have been effectively combined with state-driven industrial and investment strategies. Their achievements of the last decade have been dramatic.
As the ANC debates its second phase of the transition in Mangaung, they should look at Brazil, which has shown that there is an alternative to the unemployment, poverty and inequality which the neoliberal agenda dictates. South Africa must follow their example.
Cosatu delegates must help engineer that South Africa has its own Lula moment.
They must give content to second phase of transition and adopt a radical programme to take it to every member of society, particularly the delegates to ANCconference.
The Cosatu congress will also not forget those fellow workers and oppressed people who are under attack, and once again recommit South African workers' solidarity with the people of Palestine, Western Sahara, Burma and Swaziland, where we have just finished a week of solidarity with the people's struggle against the absolute and corrupt monarchy of King Mswati III.
In an increasingly global world market, it is essential that the workers' movement is more united, and is able to mobilise solidarity action in support of their comrades who are under attack anywhere in the world.
"An injury to one is an injury to all!"
- Zwelinzima Vavi is general secretary of Cosatu