Address by His Excellency, President Jacob Zuma, on the Occasion of the World Trade Unions Congress, Inkosi Albert Luthuli ICC, Durban

We wish to extend a warm welcome to South Africa to all international delegates.

I trust that you have experienced the hospitality and warmth of our people since you landed on our shores.

We appreciate the fact that you are holding this congress in South Africa for the first time. We were happy to host you in 2012 as well on the occasion of the meeting of your Presidential Council.

Your presence is significant because the history of the South African struggle against apartheid and the WFTU is a rich and memorable one. You joined the forces of change by mounting magnificent solidarity during our struggle for liberation.

Even before the United Nations formally condemned apartheid in South Africa in 1962, the WFTU was already in the trenches with us.

The Federation became a shelter and home for many of our comrades, especially from the South African Congress of Trade Unions, SACTU.

South Africans were made to feel so much at home in your organisation that one of our own, Comrade Moses Mabhida, even assumed the leadership position in the WFTU at some point.

Comrades and compatriots,

Your choice to host your conference in our country, during this month is also very significant for us because it coincides with our celebrations of the life and legacy of former ANC President, Comrade Oliver Tambo whom we view as an embodiment of international solidarity.

President Tambo’s efforts to galvanise support for the anti-apartheid struggle and to achieve the isolation of the apartheid regime in the international platform is acknowledged world-wide.

His contribution is so noteworthy in this regard to the extent that in the national orders, the highest honour bestowed by our government to eminent foreign nationals for friendship shown to South Africa is named the Companions of OR Tambo.

Your theme for this conference is Struggle, Internationalism and unity for the attainment of the contemporary workers needs, against poverty and wars generated by capitalist barbarism.

At this stage, it is a well-known fact that power concedes nothing without struggle.

As the philosopher and the revolutionary socialist Karl Marx once instructed, Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Workers thus face an on-going struggle globally to respond to the crisis of global capitalism.

It is said that South Africa’s successful struggle for freedom and democracy is one of the most dramatic stories of the late 20th century.

We had a successful transition to a free and democratic South Africa and began the second struggle of achieving the socio-economic freedom of our people.

One of the notable achievements has been the development and adoption of a Constitution that enshrines worker rights as well as progressive legislation which promotes worker rights. This did not come about by accident.

It is due to the contribution of the trade union movement and leaders to the struggle for freedom and in shaping the outcome of that struggle.

Esteemed delegates,

This congress takes place during a difficult period in the global economy.

The global economic environment remains sluggish. According to the International Monetary Fund global growth is estimated at 2.9 per cent in the first half of 2016, lower than in the second half of 2015. Advanced economies are growing at slower pace than previously anticipated.

Global industrial production and global trade remain subdued. Falling investment in many economies have reduced trade and have affected workers negatively throughout the world.

Some countries have increased protectionist policies, benefitting workers in some of their industries but affecting workers negatively in other countries.

The recovery in the global economy remains uncertain.

This sluggish and uncertain recovery threatens the creation of jobs and the living standards of all workers.

Negative economic shocks such as the recent vote by the UK to leave the European Union or the instability in the Middle East prevent the global recovery from taking momentum.

The rebalancing of growth in China is providing long-term opportunities for industries but it is also threatening jobs through its impact on trade and on commodity prices.

The pressure on the global economy also has an impact on the social dynamics in many countries.

The pressures have led to increases in migration as people search for better opportunities outside their own countries. We have seen painful scenes of people drowning in harsh seas in the Mediterranean, escaping poverty or conflicts in North Africa or Syria. Most are workers, fleeing their home countries in search of a better life. Indeed, we live in difficult times.

In wealthier countries, the migration crisis has in turn led to increased xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. The BREXIT vote in the UK, the political climates in many European countries and the rhetoric about building walls in the United States, are all examples of this.

The sluggish global environment has also had a negative impact also on our own domestic economy.

While we have limited control over what other countries do and how they affect the global economy, we have control over our economic environment.

Managing the domestic environment is the responsibility not only of government. It is also the responsibility of labour and business.

And indeed we are working together to reignite growth so that we can save existing jobs and create new ones. We are working hard to boost the performance of sectors such as mining, agriculture, infrastructure and manufacturing amongst others, in order to save and create jobs.

If we get one per cent growth next year as envisaged, this will create over eighty thousand jobs. Three per cent economic growth can create over three hundred thousand jobs.

Ultimately, we want to raise the level of growth to the five per cent stated in our National Development Plan in years to come.

Solutions are being sought globally as well.

During the recent G20 Summit held in China, the Chinese hosts with South African support, proposed a new path for growth in the global economy.

This includes macro-economic policies that create jobs, address unemployment, improve people’s employability and promote decent work. These are policies that will reduce inequality which poses a serious economic challenge.

This congress will no doubt look at various other progressive economic interventions aimed at improving the position of workers in the depressed global economy.

The fact that you are meeting in Africa, provides an opportune moment for the trade union movement to reflect more vigorously on the impact of the global crisis of capitalism on the African working class and engage further to find solutions.

This is also a very critical time for us to work together to close the gap that has divided people between the rich and the poor and which has divided countries between big and small economies.

It is not an exaggeration to say that global inequality and economic exclusion have become a serious threat to global peace, stability and economic development.

All possible solutions must be found to close the gap, and to do so, requires resources. We therefore wish to voice our serious concerns about the loss of resources of the continent through illicit financial flows.

The Joint African Union and UN Economic Commission for Africa’s High-level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa estimates that illicit flows from Africa could be about 50 billion dollars per annum.

Illicit financial flows deprive developing countries of the much-needed economic resources to uplift their economies and people. We lose money that we could be using to develop infrastructure and provide basic services such as education and health care.

We urge the world trade union leaders and representatives gathered here to treat this problem with the seriousness and urgency that it deserves.

We urge the international labour movement to add its voice to the call for action to be taken to arrest this serious challenge globally.

Esteemed delegates,

The current global economic difficulty requires maximum unity of workers.

Workers must unite to respond effectively to the challenge of unemployment, inequality and poverty in the world especially in Africa.

United global action will yield results.

Once again, we extend a warm welcome to you all.

I wish you well with the congress.

Source: The Presidency Republic of South Africa