Address by ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa at the workers day rally in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro

President of COSATU, Cde Sdumo Dlamini,

General Secretary of COSATU, Cde Bheki Ntshalintshali,

President of SANCO, Cde Richard Mdakane,

Provincial Chairperson of the ANC, Cde Oscar Mabuyane,

Premier of the Eastern Cape, Cde Phumulo Masualle,

General Secretary of the SACP, Cde Blade Nzimande

Members of all COSATU affiliates,

Leaders and members of Alliance formations,

Comrades and compatriots,

I convey revolutionary greetings to you all on behalf of the National Executive Committee of our glorious movement, the African National Congress.

I am pleased to be with you here today as you join millions of workers throughout the world in celebrating your heroic struggles which resulted in the entrenchment of workers’ rights as an integral part of many constitutional democracies, including ours.

Workers Day is a significant day in the life of our country.

It is a day on which workers remember the struggles they have fought, the victories they have achieved and their ongoing role in building a better society.

It is a day on which workers remember those who have fallen in the course of struggle, the many courageous leaders, shopstewards and union members who have strived to build a powerful workers movement, and all those formations that have aligned themselves with the working class.

We remember all those workers who have lost their lives because of unsafe working conditions and the many workers who today are suffering from debilitating illnesses due to the neglect by employers and authorities of the health of employees.

But today is not only a day for workers.

It is a day for all South Africans, because the well-being of our nation depends on the well-being of workers, the rights that we all enjoy are nothing if workers are not able to realise their rights.

In their name we shall continue to work collectively and tirelessly for a truly democratic society, whose central objective is to meaningfully improve the conditions of the poor and address the plight of the workers.


One of the great strengths of South Africa’s liberation movement is that it has been rooted in a solid revolutionary alliance of the progressive trade union movement, the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress.

Over many decades, these formations have brought together South Africans of all classes and all races in a common struggle for a National Democratic Society.

It was through united action that the Alliance was able to lead our people in defeating apartheid, and it is only through united action that we will be able to defeat poverty, unemployment and inequality.

From its earliest days, the workers’ movement in this country has been distinctly political in character.

The conditions under which workers lived and worked were the result both of an exploitative capitalist economy and a racist and sexist political system.

In the workplace, they were denied basic rights, exposed to dangerous working conditions, restrict to performing menial labour and paid poverty wages.

Apartheid kept them far from their places of work, denied them a decent education, discriminated against them in every sphere of life, violated their basic human rights and kept them in conditions of servitude.

It was for this reason that, as trade unions fought for the rights of workers on the shopfloor, they also confronted the political system that impoverished their communities and enabled their exploitation.

It was for this reason that the African National Congress adopted a working class bias.

It was for this reason that the Freedom Charter declared that, ‘There Shall be Work and Security’, articulating the demands of workers for the right to form trade unions, to receive equal pay for equal work and for a 40 hour working week, a national minimum wage and an end to child labour,compound labour, the tot system and contract labour.

Workers have always constituted a massive revolutionary front in the struggle for democracy and freedom.

Various leaders of the revolutionary movement, Walter Sisulu, JB Marks, John Gomomo, Elijah Barayi, Chris Dlamini, Vuyisile Mini, Archie Sibeko, Moses Kotane, Oliver Tambo, Emma Mashinini, Dora Tamana and many others were living examples of the link between the national liberation struggle and the struggles of workers.

The victories of the South African people are the victories of workers.

The victories of workers are the victories of the people.

On this Workers Day, we must recognise and celebrate the great victories that workers have achieved in this country.

We recall the leading role that COSATU played inthe mass democratic movement, in bringing the apartheid regime to the negotiating table and in achieving a negotiated democratic settlement.

It was the power of the workers, organised through COSATU, that brought the apartheid state to its knees.

The advent of democracy was a victory of workers and for workers.

It laid the basis for a Constitution that entrenched the rights of all workers, regardless of colour, sex or affiliation, to fair labour practices, to form and join a union, to embark on a strike and never to be subjected to slavery, servitude or forced labour.

It was through the struggles of workers that we introduced transformative legislation like the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which have put in place a labour relations regime that empowers workers and safeguards their interests.

Since the advent of democracy, the trade union movement has not retreated into a narrow labour agenda, which focuses on the workplace and cares about little else.

The labour movement, and particularly Cosatu, has been integrally involved in the political, social and economic transformation of our country.

The delivery of houses to the poor, the supply of electricity, water and sanitation, the return of land to those who work it and the provision of social grants to over 17 million South Africans are all the victories of workers.

The expansion of access to education, social services and health care are all the victories of workers.

Within the next few months, workers are going toachieve another historic victory with the introduction of a national minimum wage for all working South Africans.

This is a victory for Cosatu in particular, which has been fighting for a national minimum wage since its formation.

We salute once again all social partners that worked together over the course of nearly three years to reach agreement on this far-reaching measure to improve the conditions of millions of poor families.

The national minimum wage will begin at a level of R20 an hour, which will increase the income of over 6 million working people, while also ensuring that there is minimal negative impact on job creation.

The social partners agreed to begin at this level because it will make a significant difference immediately, but will also allow us to measure its effect on the economy.

We have put in place mechanisms to ensure that as we increase the minimum wage over time, we do so in a way that meaningfully reduces poverty and inequality and contributes to the inclusive growth of our economy.

All social partners recognise that at its introduction, the national minimum wage will be less than what we consider to be a living wage.

The social partners also agree that it must be our firm determination to move as quickly as possible to a living wage.

To do this, we need to grow our economy, improve levels of productivity, develop the skills of our workforce and create jobs on a far greater scale.

The Accord on Collective Bargaining and Industrial Action entered into by the social partners is also a victory for workers.

Through this accord, all social partners have committed themselves to take all steps necessary to prevent violence, intimidation and damage to property and to improve the capacity of employers and employees to resolve disputes peacefully and speedily.

Stability in the workplace, together with the strengthening of collective bargaining, is good for workers.

In reducing the potential for conflict in the workplace, we are determined that we must do nothing to diminish the right of workers to go on strike.

We know that a strike is the most potent weapon that workers have to advance their interests when all other avenues have failed.

We know that strikes are intended to inflict harm on the intransigent employer, but we also know that strikes inflict harm on the broader economy and indeed on workers themselves, who lose out on wages.

Workers therefore only embark on strike action as a last resort, by way of a democratic decision, understanding that it demands a sacrifice from them and their families.

As a revolutionary Alliance, as a government, we will do nothing that will take that right away from workers.

This is a fundamental democratic right for which our people fought a very long and difficult struggle.

As we meet here on Workers Day, we celebrate the many victories that workers have achieved.

But we know that many challenges still remain and many victories still lie ahead.

With vigour and determination, we must further advance the realisation of the demands of the Freedom Charter. Specifically, the injuction that there must be equal pay for equal work for men and women of all races.

We must pay more attention to issues of women in the workplace and work to close the persistent wage gap between men and women.

For far too long, women in the workplace have been discriminated against through the payment of lesser wages as compared to men doing the same work.

We must confront widespread poverty, severe unemployment and vast inequality.

These are challenges that organised labour, business and government must work together collectively to address.

Our most immediate and pressing task is the creation of jobs for the millions of South Africans who are unemployed.

That is why we are convening a Jobs Summit later in the year where government, labour, business and communities will finalise practical actions to create new jobs.

The social partners have agreed that this somewhat must not emerge with vague agreements, but with a clear plan on extraordinary measures to create workand a clear commitment from each social partner on what they will contribute to this effort.

At the same time, we have embarked on an ambitious drive to mobilise new investment in the economy.

We need investment to increase the pace of growth, and we need much faster growth to create more jobs and improve the conditions of workers.

Workers need to be part of the preparations for the Investment Conference, through which we plan to raise $100 billion over the next five years.

These efforts must be accompanied by a intensive skills development effort which ensures that workers have the skills needed to participate not only in the economy we have now, but also the economy of the future.

From the investment we are making in early childhood development through to the provision of free higher education for students from poor backgrounds, we are transforming our education system.

Workers and employers need to cooperate more effectively in developing the skills of those already in employment and the many young South Africans looking for employment.


Workers Day has been commemorated across the world since the late 19th century.

It remains one of the most important occasions to celebrate internationalism and solidarity among workers across the world.

As we repeat the call for workers of the world to unite, we must reaffirm our commitment as South Africans to fight for the rights of the working class and the poor in all countries.

We must work with fraternal unions and federations across the continent and the world to entrench the rights of workers, to end exploitation and to build a new, more equal world order.

As we celebrate Workers Day, let us look ahead to the victories we must still achieve.

The May Day celebrations this year take place at a time when our movement has entered in earnest into a period of renewal and the restoration of its moral credibility, all of which is necessary for it to put our country firmly on the course of radical economic transformation.

We know and are encouraged by the fact that Cosatu as a revolutionary federation is totally committed to radical economic transformation and is fully capable of executing its tasks in relation to this second phase of our transition from apartheid colonialism to the National Democratic Society.

Indeed radical economic transformation remains our key objective and priority. The consistent public pronouncements of Cosatu on matters of the economy are indicative of the federation’s resolve to continue playing its role as part of the progressive forces in our country that are determined to reverse the legacy of apartheid and colonialism.

Radical economic transformation requires that we work together in unity and move with speed to address the needs of our people with specific focus on the following areas:

• Creating more jobs, decent work and sustainable livelihoods

• Access to education

• Access to health

• Rural development, land and agrarian reform

• Fighting crime and corruption

The clarion call for radical economic transformation enjoins us to strive for a higher economic growth which should necessarily translate into increased employment, reduction of inequality and a decisive advance in rolling back the frontiers of poverty.

Radical economic transformation also means that we will accelerate the pace towards the total deracialization of our economy. All our people, especially workers who are the creators of wealth, will benefit immensely from our efforts to undermine the glaring legacy of apartheid and colonialism in the economy generally and at the workplace particularly.

When our economy starts growing at 4, 5 and 6 percent a year – and when the benefits of that growth are shared among the poor and working class – that is a victory for workers.

When new factories are built, when new land is cultivated, when more tourists arrive, when more finished products are exported, that is a victory for workers.

When poor black farmers take ownership of land, when poor families move into houses closer to places of work, when agricultural productivity increases and food security improves, that is a victory for workers.

When our state owned companies are properly managed, when our government provides services to our people efficiently, when municipalities maintain social infrastructure, that is a victory for workers.

When mining exploration starts again in earnest, when new shipyards are built, when our special economic zones are flooded with new investment, when small business flourish and black industrialists multiply, that is a victory for workers.

When our streets are safe, when corruption is curbed and state capture is defeated, when violence against women and the abuse of children ends, when people with disabilities assume their rightful place in society, that is a victory for workers.

When the children of the poor graduate from universities and colleges in great numbers, when more than a million young people are given work experience opportunities each year, when every young child is in an early childhood development centre, that is a victory for workers.


We have travelled a long path to where we are.

Working together, we have achieved many victories.

We need to undertake the tasks that now lie ahead with the same determination, unity and militancy that has brought us this far.

We owe it to our people, to our children and to our grandchildren to continue the struggle for the emancipation of all our people.

We owe it to them to end all forms of exploitation, discrimination and oppression and to build a better future for the workers of this country, of this continent and the world.

I thank you.

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