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Opening speakers stress role of solidarity

2 August 2006

Kate Matlou of Satawu*
Kate Matlou of Satawu, speaking at the opening of Congress*

Congress took off this morning when almost 1,200 registered participants stood to hear South Africa’s national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa) performed by the workers’ choir of Satawu (South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union).

It was an apt way to begin an opening session in which guest speakers referred to the solidarity shown by international transport workers for their South African brothers and sisters during the long struggle against apartheid, and called for renewed campaigning against social injustice worldwide.

The Director General of the Ministry of Transport in South Africa, Mpumi Mpofu, offered her strong support to the meeting, saying that “any threat to the rights of workers anywhere in the world is a threat to workers everywhere”.

She was not the only speaker to condemn the continued detention in Iran of Mansour Osanloo, leader of the Tehran bus workers’ union, who has been in prison since December 2006 charged with illegal trade union activity.

Essential role of transport
Mpofu underlined the crucial role of transport for African countries striving to meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for eliminating the scourge of extreme poverty on the continent. She explained how the ANC government planned to make these goals reality, for example by ensuring that transport improvements could bring better access to essential services for the rural poor.

Almost every speaker called for transport unions to take action against HIV/Aids in affected countries, where road transport in particular has picked up negative associations.

Mpofu said: “In South Africa, trucking is viewed as the culprit for spreading this epidemic.”

Randall Howard, General Secretary of host union Satawu, said: “HIV/Aids is a matter we must pronounce on and we will do so.” He called on Congress to remember the poor and marginalised, adding: “We shall organise every corner of the globe… We are here to stay until democracy and justice are achieved for all transport workers and poor people of the world.”

There were powerful speeches too from ITF President Umraomal Purohit, Zwelinzima Vavi, President of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Satawu President Ezrom Mabyana and Kate Matlou, Satawu’s Limpopo region chair.

Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), used his address to explain changes to the global trade union movement, which would see the creation of the new International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The objective he said, was to “bring together all the democratic and independent forces of world trade unionism”.

Fred Van Leeuwen, General Secretary of Education International and current coordinator of the Global Union Federations (GUFs), welcomed the foundation of the Global Unions Council, representing a structure for cooperation between the new ITUC and GUFs like the ITF.

What they said…
“Trade union unity is something for which we have for long struggled and worked in India and globally. That doesn’t mean coaxing workers against their will to be a part of a single organisation, but it does mean that trade unions which share the same values and principles have to work together in defending and promoting the rights of their members and confronting employers and governments more closely than ever.

“The only difference today is that our opponents pay no attention to national frontiers. The forces of capital are now truly global, and therefore unions have also to be global. The ITF has the huge advantage that for over a hundred years, that transport – particularly shipping and ports – has long needed coordinated international union solidarity and the ITF has been there to provide it.”
Umraomal Purohit, ITF President

“There is reason still, to be optimistic. The voice of workers continues to grow. We are more organised now than we have ever been. Our solidarity both local and international is growing from strength to strength.”
Ezrom Mabyana, President of Satawu

“We need to find common demands around the rules for international trade and finance that will provide space for the economies of the South to develop. At the same time, we must ensure that the costs of adjustment in the North are not borne by workers and the poor.”
Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of Cosatu

“On the day this Congress closes, it will be 50 years since the women of South Africa stood up with one voice to say “No” to apartheid.

“On August 9, 1956, 20,000 women marched on the apartheid government in Pretoria. They sang and chanted the now famous words: ‘You have struck the women, you have struck a rock, you will be crushed.’

“The 50th anniversary of the women’s march to Pretoria reminds us that women have taken their place not only in the trade unions, but in the liberation movements of the world. We must celebrate that. But we must also recognise that women continue to be faced with many challenges…

“I want to call on the ITF affiliates to enhance the position of women in the ITF at all levels, including in the regional and section structures. We must even look to the future of a woman president or general secretary at the next Congress in 2010.”
Kate Matlou, chairperson of Satawu’s Limpopo region

“A distinguished president and a great leader of railway workers in his country. In the ICFTU we all know him to as a historic leader of our affiliate the HMS. In any case we all know him as a dedicated internationalist.”
Guy Ryder on Umraomal Purohit, one of several tributes paid during the opening session to the ITF’s outgoing president, who will be standing down at the end of the Durban Congress

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