President Jacob Zuma has called on organised labour to add its muscle to stop the illegal outflow of billions of dollars annually from African and other developing parts of the world in a bid to stabilise economies and boost the ability of states to carry out social and economic development.

Addressing the World Federation of Trade Unions 17th congress at Durban’s International Convention Centre this morning, Zuma said that the “perpetual crisis” in capitalism created conditions which badly affected working class people around the world.

Organised labour, Zuma said, needed to look at how it could best represent worker interests in a global environment where massive technological advances combined with computerisation and continued hostile takeovers by multinationals of small businesses caused job losses.

At the same time, massive amounts of money were being stolen from the economies of developing countries through illicit outflows, with the United Nations estimating that more than $50 billion (about R688 billion) was siphoned off from African economies alone every year.

“This deprives developing countries of much needed economic resources,” said Zuma.

“Countries lose money they could be using to develop infrastructure, basic service, education and healthcare.”

The organised international labour movement must add its voice to this call for action to be taken, Zuma said.

“Maximum unity,” Zuma said, was the “key to success” for the domestic and international labour movement, with the ultimate aim a single federation in each country and internationally.

Zuma said the widening gap between rich and poor globally affected working class people first, while advances in industrialisation and productivity in some countries were good for workers there but had a negative effect on their working class counterparts in other countries.

“Economic shocks” like the conflict in the Middle East and Britain’s exit from the European Union “prevented global recovery from gaining momentum” and continued to put pressure on developing economies, while the renewed economic growth in China threatened jobs elsewhere.

All of this, he said, created an increased need for unity among working people globally.

Zuma, himself a former trade unionist, said the federation had long been an ally of the South African labour and liberation movements, with the federation taking an active stance against apartheid long before even the United Nations did so in 1962. The South African Council of Trade Unions had been supported by the federation in exile, with Sactu leader Moses Mabhida occupying office in the international federation.

“The federation became a shelter and home for many of our comrades, especially those from Sactu,” he said.

“The history of the South African struggle against apartheid and the federation is a rich and memorable one.”

The federation will election a new leadership to serve a five year term later this week, with the Congress culminating in a mass rally on Saturday.