Cosatu’s big cracks there for all to see
Behind a very flimsy screen of unity and cohesion promoted this week by Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini, the divisions in the country’s largest labour federation have become even greater. And, amid a welter of contradiction and debates about constitutionality, it is not surprising that so much confusion reigns.
On both sides of the divide, the message of unity and cohesion is touted. This was the very reason, as acrimony surfaced within Cosatu, that nine affiliates called for a special national congress to resolve matters of policy direction and leadership.
Behind this was concern about what was perceived to be a move away by the executive from radical proposals advanced at the previous 2012 congress. There were also questions about the attitudes adopted on issues such as the Marikana massacre and the controversial spending on President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence, about which Cosatu has been uncharacteristically quiet.
But although the Cosatu constitution – as this column consistently pointed out – made it obligatory for the Cosatu president to call a special national congress, Dlamini refused, stating initially that there were insufficient funds.
Had a special national congress been called at that stage, and the arguments and differences openly thrashed out by delegates from all affiliates, it is probable that the existing acrimony and fragmentation might have been avoided. But this might also have meant a change of leadership and a move away from almost unconditional support for the ANC and the SA Communist Party.
Instead, and over months, this fairly straightforward issue was complicated by political manoeuvring, the involvement of an ANC task team and the suspension of general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
Within much of the media, the original arguments were lost as the issue was presented as a clash of personalities: Vavi vs Dlamini.
Then came the expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), which, over the preceding 18 months, had become the fastestgrowing union in Cosatu, overtaking the National Union of Mineworkers as the federation’s largest affiliate.
The reasons advanced for Numsa’s expulsion added to the confusion because they appeared to contradict both reality and Cosatu’s constitution.
Numsa was expelled because the union allegedly breached Cosatu’s constitution and the policy of one union, one industry, and questioned the ANC-led alliance. However, the reality is that Cosatu unions have never adhered to – or been forced to comply with – the one industry, one union policy. And neither the Cosatu constitution nor its policies compel affiliates to support the ANC-led alliance or any political party.
The federation’s constitution is also clear that the executive has no ultimate power to expel any affiliate or office bearer. This power resides only with a national congress. And, as Katishi Masemola of the Food and Allied Workers’ Union pointed out, there is no distinction between a special or scheduled national congress.
Numsa and Vavi should, therefore, have been present this week to make their arguments and submit to delegate votes.
But they were not allowed to attend and the timing and manner in which the special national congress was organised and conducted tended to exacerbate the divisions in the federation, while adding to the confusion.
The exclusion from the special national congress of the media for nearly nine hours did not help. Instead, it strengthened the arguments of the dissident unions about the existence of autocracy and lack of transparency at leadership level.