Cosatu’s lead­er­ship has in­dicted it­self

CityPress - - Voices - An­drew Chirwa voices@ city­press. co. za

The Cosatu spe­cial na­tional congress sched­uled for to­mor­row un­til Tues­day could be a his­toric turn­ing point in the history of our labour fed­er­a­tion.

For the first time since di­vi­sions erupted be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter Cosatu’s na­tional congress in Septem­ber 2012, the rank and file mem­ber­ship will have a chance to make its voice heard. Only it has the power to pull Cosatu back from the brink of a cat­a­strophic im­plo­sion and split.

The cri­sis in the fed­er­a­tion lies not in per­sonal dif­fer­ences, but in con­tra­dic­tory class re­la­tion­ships and the fail­ure of gov­ern­ment and the ANC-led tri­par­tite al­liance to re­solve the cri­sis of the triple op­pres­sion of the work­ing class based on class, race and gen­der, and by al­low­ing cap­i­tal­ists in the lib­er­a­tion move­ment to dom­i­nate eco­nomic pol­icy.

The cri­sis re­flects a strug­gle be­tween the de­fend­ers of a ne­olib­eral South African cap­i­tal­ism, jus­ti­fied by a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the na­tional demo­cratic revo­lu­tion, and those who are de­ter­mined to pur­sue a rad­i­cal na­tional demo­cratic revo­lu­tion as part of a strug­gle for so­cial­ism.

The fail­ure to ad­dress un­em­ploy­ment, poverty and in­equal­ity in the post-1994 pe­riod threat­ens to de­stroy the lib­er­a­tion move­ment as a whole, and Cosatu in par­tic­u­lar.

The cri­sis in the fed­er­a­tion and the al­liance was starkly ex­posed in the state­ment is­sued af­ter the al­liance sum­mit last week.

It was com­pletely silent about ba­sic bread-and-but­ter is­sues fac­ing the work­ing class, say­ing not a word about the cri­sis of mass un­em­ploy­ment, poverty and in­equal­ity; noth­ing about the out­sourc­ing and ca­su­al­i­sa­tion of labour, the con­tin­u­ing use of labour bro­kers, and our dys­func­tional public ed­u­ca­tion and health ser­vices.

It was silent about bury­ing the apartheid wage struc­ture and progress made on the na­tional min­i­mum wage. It said noth­ing about com­pre­hen­sive so­cial se­cu­rity or na­tional health in­sur­ance; there was noth­ing about macroe­co­nomic poli­cies, in­clud­ing com­mit­ments by al­liance part­ners to rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion. It con­fined it­self to vague com­mit­ments to “a demo­cratic and pros­per­ous South Africa” and “work­ing to­gether to put in place a bet­ter life for all”.

Ei­ther the sum­mit did not dis­cuss these crit­i­cal is­sues, or they were not con­sid­ered im­por­tant enough to men­tion. It is a crush­ing in­dict­ment of the Cosatu lead­er­ship that they signed a state­ment that ig­nored such mat­ters, and con­firms that they are no longer an in­de­pen­dent, mil­i­tant work­ers’ voice, but have be­come un­crit­i­cal sup­port­ers of gov­ern­ment poli­cies.

The state­ment also said noth­ing about the lack of any mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion by the al­liance for many years, and showed no at­tempt by lead­ers to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the cur­rent dis­unity.

It amounted to an endorsement of the Cosatu lead­er­ship that brought about this dis­unity.

These lead­ers have been un­able to im­ple­ment many of the man­dates of the 2012 congress and the 2013 col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing con­fer­ence. They have made no progress in get­ting closer to the 4 mil­lion mem­ber­ship fig­ure in the Cosatu 2015 plan to re­cruit and ser­vice the most vul­ner­a­ble work­ers; there have been no no­tice­able im­prove­ments in the ser­vic­ing of work­ers or im­ple­ment­ing the ed­u­ca­tion plan de­signed to em­power or­gan­is­ers and shop stew­ards to im­prove ser­vice to work­ers.

Yet the lead­er­ship has found time to di­vide the fed­er­a­tion by ex­pelling its largest af­fil­i­ate, the 365 000strong me­tal­work­ers’ union Numsa, as well as for­mer gen­eral sec­re­tary Zwelinz­ima Vavi. In­ter­ven­tions to cre­ate unity by the ANC task team, Cosatu’s for­mer lead­ers and a fa­cil­i­tat­ing team ap­pointed by the cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee came to noth­ing as the fac­tion pur­sued its di­vi­sive agenda with the clear sup­port of the SA Com­mu­nist Party lead­er­ship – con­trary to its lead­er­ship’s claims to the con­trary.

The lead­er­ship fac­tion now says Numsa, Vavi and hun­dreds of purged ac­tivists in some af­fil­i­ates will not be at the spe­cial congress, in­sist­ing they can only ap­peal to the next “or­di­nary congress” – for which a date has not been fi­nalised. This is yet another bla­tant dis­re­gard of Cosatu’s con­sti­tu­tion.

The nine or more unions who are op­posed to these purges have jointly de­cided they will at­tend the spe­cial congress and use it as a plat­form to ag­i­tate for gen­uine unity of the fed­er­a­tion based on in­de­pen­dence, a so­cial­ist ori­en­ta­tion and mil­i­tancy. Gen­uine unity and co­he­sion is im­pos­si­ble, how­ever, with­out the re­in­state­ment of Numsa, Vavi and the scores of purged union ac­tivists and mem­bers.

They will pro­pose that the ap­peals of both Vavi and Numsa should be heard at the spe­cial congress. Should the na­tional of­fice bear­ers of Cosatu con­tinue to refuse to in­clude these items on the agenda, the nine or more unions will move from the floor amend­ments to the agenda. It is stan­dard prac­tice that one of the first items of any agenda of any fed­er­a­tion meet­ing must be the adop­tion of the agenda – with room to move amend­ments. The spe­cial congress must be no ex­cep­tion.

The nine or more unions will also en­gage in the sub­stance of de­bates in the pro­posed com­mis­sions that will sit in the congress on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Cosatu congress res­o­lu­tions, and open­ing a path­way to unity and co­he­sion.

Given the op­por­tu­nity, shop stew­ards and work­place ac­tivists un­der­stand the un­der­ly­ing cri­sis in Cosatu is an ex­ten­sion of the class strug­gle. Work­ers, re­gard­less of the union they be­long to, will want to be part of the so­lu­tion, not the prob­lem, and en­sure that we have a trade union move­ment that is mil­i­tant, pro­foundly demo­cratic and ac­count­able, and un­am­bigu­ously in favour of a so­cial­ist so­lu­tion to the prob­lems we face. We must en­hance what used to be the finest and most en­vied as­pect of our move­ment in the past: a clear com­mit­ment to work­ers’ con­trol. We must break the paral­y­sis that is to­day be­ing ex­ploited by those who want to stop the for­ward march of labour.

Chirwa is the pres­i­dent of Numsa

Zwelinz­ima Vavi and Sdumo Dlamini

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