Item 1216 - The continuing struggle for social justice : Article by Mr Nelson Mandela President of the African National Congress on the Occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the International Labour Organisation

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ZA COM MR-S-1216


The continuing struggle for social justice : Article by Mr Nelson Mandela President of the African National Congress on the Occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the International Labour Organisation


  • 1994-03-16 (Creation)

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Transcription of speech made by Mr Mandela

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(18 July 1918-5 December 2013)

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Migrated from the Nelson Mandela Speeches Database (Sep-2018).

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  • English

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It is with great pleasure that I offer these few words to the International Labour Organisation on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. The relationship between the ILO and South Africa affirms that the struggle for social justice is as urgent today as it was in 1919, and that negotiation and cooperation between workers, employers and government, is the soundest mechanism we have for advancing the cause of social justice.
The ILO's consistent support to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa is testimony to its faithful defence of its mandate to protect social justice, but that defence cannot stop at the mere abolition of apartheid. The present situation in South Africa, where a majority of the population is trying to rectify generations of systematic exclusion from the most basic rights and benefits, highlights the ongoing relevance of the ILO's mandate. Many South Africans are only now recognising that lasting peace can only be established on the basis of social justice, 75 years after it was expounded as a founding principle of the ILO. Together, I believe that we can enjoy an extremely productive partnership to establish in South Africa the principles and standards that the ILO has been promoting for over seven decades.
The last four years in South Africa have traced a shift from an entrenched adversarialism to an indigenous brand of co-determination. The process has been far from smooth, and we do not mean to underestimate the difficulties which we still face. However, the political will to negotiate solutions is abundant, and we are confident that tripartism will continue to play a decisive role in the development of South African society. But as we chart our difficult course, the principles and standards of the ILO will help to inform both direction and progress. We look forward to taking up our place once again in the ILO and, in due course, to sign the ILO's central conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining and the eradication of racial and sexual discrimination. We will comply with the findings of the Fact Finding and Conciliation Commission.

But in order to make social justice a reality, the tripartite constituents of the ILO in South Africa will have to negotiate policies and programmes that give expression to the basic standards and conditions that permit people to pursue their material and spiritual wellbeing on an equal footing. The ILO can perform an invaluable service to that process by making available to the social partners the wealth of information, knowledge and expertise that the ILO has gained in the fields that South Africans are now addressing. South African workers, employers and government have established democratic forums to tackle the key policy issues thrown up by the transition from apartheid to democracy, and their endeavours could be greatly enhanced by the accumulated experience of the ILO.
However, as we reconstruct our society and begin to engage with the outside world, there is one lesson that we wish to highlight. We cannot rebuild our society at the expense of the standard of living of ordinary men and women. We cannot develop at the expense of social justice. We cannot compete without a floor of basic human standards. If this is true for inside our society, it is true for the world as a whole. As trade barriers collapse and the mobility of capital, goods and services becomes an increasingly familiar phenomenon, states should not compete for capital, services and goods by condemning the rural and urban poor to permanent penury. Trade must be based on a minimum floor of standards and rights. Poverty should never be the competitive edge. Productivity, entrepreneurship, skills, education - this must be the basis from which a society develops and trades. Trade agreements, both regional and international, must have a social dimension. The ILO's principle of tripartism and standards ought to constitute the floor upon which the nations of the world engage in trade. The World Trade Organisation to be established as a result of the agreement reached in the Uruguayan round of negotiations over the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) ought to establish formal links with the ILO to provide both the process for and the substance of social clauses in trade agreements.
It is disconcerting that as the era of apartheid in South Africa draws to a close, it seems to be exploding elsewhere. The xenophobia, racism and chauvinism raging throughout the world has to be tackled at its roots, in the basic conditions of life experienced by people. It is the uncertainty, deprivation, discrimination and injustices faced daily by people that provoke the negative reactions tearing those societies apart, and the international community has a role to play in helping to establish or restore their social fabrics. In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, the disintegration of societies is ignored by others at their peril,
It is in addressing those underlying social conditions that the principles of the ILO remain as relevant as ever before, and where tripartism has a key role to play. I would therefore appeal to the ILO to actively promote tripartism in societies where discriminatory practices are flourishing, and to help expand the capacity of the social partners to deal with the causes. On the policy front, we look to the ILO to moot new approaches that flow from its global vantage point, and to act as an objective sounding board, off which countries can bounce policy proposals.

We rely on the ILO to continue to follow closely the needs of societies in transition, and to find innovative ways of contributing to those processes. The world is changing too quickly to permit passive approaches to social justice, and we trust that 75 years of ILO precedent and tradition will provide a solid foundation for the changes that the ILO will have to make to enable it to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. But most importantly, we look to the ILO to enrich its objectivity with a sense of responsibility and engagement in continuing the fight for social justice.



Article appears in "Visions of the future of social justice: essays on the occasion of the ILO's 75th anniversary", International Labour Office, Geneva 1994

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: ANC Archives, Office of the ANC President, Nelson Mandela Papers, University of Fort Hare. Accessioned on 20/01/2010 by Zintle Bambata




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