Cosatu’s big cracks there for all to see

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@ city­press. co. za

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.

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