Address at the Launch of the Millenium
Labour Council, 7 July 2000
Chairs of the Millennium Labour Council, Zwelinzima
Vavi and Leslie Boyd,
The Minister of Labour, Mr Membathisi Mdladlana,
The Director of the International Labour Organisation
(ILO), Mr Ken Andoh,
Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, Gill Marcus,
Representatives of Foreign Business Chambers
Business and Labour Leaders,
In 1937 Franklin D. Roosevelt made the following statement
which I believe is still relevant to us today:
"I see a great nation, upon a great continent,
blessed with a great wealth of natural resources. Its
... people are at peace among themselves; they are making
their country a good neighbor among the nations.
I see a... (country) which can demonstrate that, under
democratic methods of government, national wealth can
be translated into a spreading volume of human comforts
hitherto unknown, and the lowest standard of living
can be raised far above the level of mere subsistence.
But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this
nation I see tens of millions of its citizens -a substantial
part of its whole population - who at this very moment
are denied the greaterpart of what the very lowest standards
of today call the necessities of life.
I see millions of families trying to live on incomes
so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over
them day by day.
I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm
continue under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called
polite society half a century ago.
I see millions denied education, recreation, and the
opportnity to better their lot and the lot of their
I see millions lacking the means to buy the products
of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work
and productiveness to many other millions.
I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-
It is not in despair that I paint you that picture.
I paint it for you in hope - because the Nation, seeing
and understanding the injustice in it, proposes to paint
it out. We are determined to make every .... citizen
the subject of his country's interest and concern; and
we will never regard any faithful, law-abiding group
within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress
is not whether we add more to the abundance of those
who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those
who have too little."
Todays launch of this Millennium Labour Council
is a bold stroke, aimed in Roosevelts words at
painting injustice out. We commend this
independent initiative by top business and labour leaders
who are determined to begin the new millennium in problem-solving
mode. Its formation bears witness yet again to the capacity
of South Africans to find innovative ways of addressing
seemingly intractable problems.
Business and labour leaders identified two critical
matters facing the country, when agreeing to set up
the Millennium Council, namely that:
"Unemployment, job losses, and lack of job creation
constitutes a deepening crisis requiring urgent action.
And 2) current levels of poverty and inequality are
unacceptable and require new initiatives to promote
improved quality of life and decent work for all."
This statement may appear unremarkable. This is not
so: the agreement on what constitutes the core challenge
facing our society provides a profound basis for a new
relationship between parties who have historically been
on different continents, philosophically speaking. The
parties may still have differences in their analysis
of these problems, and their solutions. But this initiative
is an important step on an exciting journey.
It is worth noting at this point that the ILO, which
supported and nurtured this initiative, has identified
the issue of social dialogue to be a major plank for
its international programmes. Lasting accords arising
from such discussions require that real solutions that
benefit society as well as the parties directly involved
are found. The notion of a win-win solution
may appear to be a chimera in our context, but the experiences
of post war Europe, the US New Deal, amongst others,
demonstrate that situations, which appear almost hopeless,
can be turned around if parties adopt a long-term vision
which goes beyond the realm of their narrow interests.
The significance of the Millennium Labour Council lies
not so much as an institution of negotiation. For that
we have Nedlac. It is rather a forum to explore innovative
solutions at a bilateral level, a think tank, which
is designed to allow parties to explore options, and
to build consensus. It allows parties to filter ideas,
and engage in open-ended dialogue.
The Millennium Labour Council suggests the formalisation
of a bilateral relationship between business and labour,
which has developed over many years, and a maturation
of that relationship. It reflects an appreciation of
the fact that we need to find new ways to address the
urgent demands of our society.
The history of adversarialism and conflict between
business and labour masks important areas of common
ground. In the first instance, the destiny of both parties
is bound up in the future of one economy. Secondly social
dialogue in South Africa has a rich history. At a time
when the PW Botha regime seemed intent on plunging our
country into total conflagration, business and labour
were able to get around the table, despite their differences,
and use various channels to move our country forward.
Out of these experiences emerged institutions of social
dialogue, including the National Economic Forum, the
restructured National Manpower Commission, and ultimately
The reality of South Africa is that we have hundreds
of negotiations and problem-solving interactions taking
place on a daily basis in our industries, shops and
mines. For every strike we read about in the press,
there are numerous settlements, which go unnoticed.
The many thousands of experienced shop stewards, and
employers with experience of negotiations are an invaluable
store of human capital, which is indispensable if we
are to move our country forward. This is a positive
legacy, which has emerged out of our past, which we
must nurture and develop. One significant weakness,
which is now being addressed, is that some key leaders
have not actively participated in the social dialogue.
The Millennium Labour Council corrects this, by bringing
together the culture of social dialogue at a national
level, building on the experience of Nedlac, and ensuring
that the key decision makers are actively involved in
It would be naïve to believe that the Millennium
Labour Council will end the differences between labour
and capital. It is an important initiative however to
transcend these differences by building a shared commitment
to transform our country. It suggests to the world that
South Africans, and in particular two of the major players
in the economy (the third being government), are beginning
to build confidence in their own economy.
We believe that this initiative advances our objective
of social and economic reconstruction and lays a basis
for business and labour leaders to commit us enthusiastically
to seek creative solutions to common problems, particularly
those concerning the economy. I refer to questions relating
to increasing investments, job creation, labour market,
etc. We require solutions that both create more jobs
and more wealth while simultaneously taking on board
the concerns surrounding job security. This is a challenge
that the social partners have to take up with greater
resolve. We consider that the rapid implementation of
reforms such as the skills development strategy and
employment equity is critical to unleashing the productive
potential of our people. We need to build on the major
successes we have achieved in constructing a viable
framework for addressing grievances and resolving disputes.
The challenge to the Millennium Labour Council is to
identify strategies and instruments which will enable
organised business and organised labour to bring their
considerable power and organisation to bear on the two
objectives identified by the Council as being their
prime target- reducing poverty and inequality; reducing
job loss and raising the levels of employment. At the
1998 Presidential Jobs Summit commitments were made
by both sectors. We need to build on that commitment
to address the social deficit our country has inherited.
A critical question, which needs to be addressed, is
the matter of massively expanding productive investment
by South Africans in our economy. Despite accelerated
economic growth after 1994; the growth in Gross Domestic
Fixed Investment (GDFI) has been slow. As South Africans
we must find ways of saving more and investing more
so as to generate more wealth and create more jobs.
Government has reduced corporate tax, and adopted a
range of other economic policies to promote investment.
It is against this backdrop that the Millennium Labour
Council will have to discuss the concept of a broad
economic accord, which channels the countries resources
into productive investment, employment creation, and
infrastructure. It is our belief that a central element
of such an accord must deal with the question of investment.
Some trade unions have proposed that a certain portion
of the savings of their members invested in retirement
funds should be directed for the purpose of social investment.
Is this not a matter that the Millennium Labour Council
should be examining? Including whether government should
create a vehicle, such as a Reconstruction Bond into
which such investments could be channelled. Business
through its control of the financial sector, and labour,
in terms of its access to union investments, need to
begin to look at how they apply their access to capital
to meet the objectives of the Millennium Labour Council.
It is not governments task to prescribe to these
parties what they should be concluding. But we would
be delighted if they addressed these issues.
It is only through working together in a common project
such as this Millennium Labour Council, that we can
end the impoverishment of our people and that our national
wealth can translate into a better life for all.
I thank you.