Johannesburg - Workers should think about how to politically organise themselves so they are represented in government, suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Tuesday.
“Workers around the world, not only in Africa, have always elected political elites that have implemented policies that do not serve their political and economic interests,” he said in a speech prepared for delivery.
“Perhaps we need to think very hard about how we should politically organise workers to represent their own interests in the state.”
Vavi was speaking in his personal capacity at the Eighth Pan African Congress in Johannesburg.
He was suspended as Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary after admitting to, among other things, an affair with a junior employee.
Last week, Vavi and his ally, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), denied allegations that they were meeting the Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema.
Numsa, which is Cosatu's biggest affiliate, has decided not to support the African National Congress in this year's elections, and has called for a “movement for socialism”.
Vavi, who was speaking about the conditions of the working class, said Africans, and the working class around the world, continued to suffer from oppression and exploitation.
“One of the criticisms we usually make of ourselves is that we, the Africans, spend more time articulating our historic deprivations than searching for solutions and acting decisively to undo our colonial past.”
He said Africa was unable to develop because of the untransformed colonial economic structure that still provided raw material and cheap labour to advance and develop capitalist countries, such as China.
“This makes Africa to largely depend on these countries for their economic needs,” he said.
“Furthermore, the profits that are generated in Africa are taken out of the continent through legal and illegal capital flight channels, thus leaving Africa without investable surplus to build her economy.”
This called for workers to organise and mobilise for the industrialisation of Africa.
African trade unions had made calls in the past for a growth and development plan to drive this agenda in the interests of the continent and the people, said Vavi.
This strategy should draw lessons from the experiences of developing countries in general and the economic history of Africa.
However, interventions would not be possible without the promotion of democratic governance.
“To this end, African governments should take measures to improve their internal system of political co-ordination and use their human and material resources in a collective manner to increase their visibility, interests and bargaining positions in intergovernmental debates,” he said.
“Our calls extend to general mobilisation to rescue the continent from the shackles and failures of neo-colonialism, neo-liberalism and capitalism through the active mobilisation of the people, stakeholders and communities.”