New union federation may face launch hurdles
Union officials who never earn more than the national average income of a skilled worker and can be recalled at any time by members.
Free membership for marginalised workers and a rejection of the “one industry, one union” rule championed by Cosatu.
These are two of the more practical “proposed principles” for the new labour federation being planned under the leadership of former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
According to spokesperson Patrick Craven, creating a new federation could take longer than expected.
A summit in Boksburg last weekend drew about 29 independent unions that do not belong to the three federations – Cosatu, Fedusa and Nactu – to discuss the possible launch of a new federation.
All of them needed to go to members and come back to the table with a mandate to join and determine the policies of the new organisation, said Craven. “We want it discussed at all levels. We can’t take short cuts.”
The National Congress of Trade Unions (Nactu) also attended, technically representing about 20 more unions, but says it is a “huge misunderstanding” that it has decided to be part of the new federation.
Nactu general secretary Narius Moloto told City Press that they attended the summit to support the agenda of revitalising unionism.
The new federation had “a different agenda”, he said. “There has been no decision to dissolve Nactu. “That would be undermining ourselves.” Instead, the summit was about addressing the “new, interesting challenges” faced by the labour movement as the boundaries between economic sectors dissolve and small, new unions proliferate.
“The question is, should we have so many unions ... or get together,” said Moloto.
The announcements about a new federation had confused Nactu members, Moloto added.
“We have met with Vavi to clarify. Members are asking about it.”
A founding congress to launch a new federation will hopefully occur by early 2017, reads the declaration issued after the weekend’s summit.
In the meantime, all the attending unions are meant to study discussion documents on possible policies and principles.
Most of the core policy positions are not very different from those officially taken by Cosatu when it comes to major national policy questions.
On political affiliations, the proposal is that the new federation supports political parties on a conditional basis, depending on what policies they propose.
This leaves the door open for electoral support for the Economic Freedom Fighters, which many commentators assumed would be the case.
The need to stop outsourcing and organise the masses of ununionised casual, part-time and informal workers is a recurring theme.
The Expanded Public Works Programme and Community Health Worker Programme are also criticised.
Municipalities in rural areas use it “as a form of cheap permanent employment” to do the work that is done by municipal employees in cities, claims one of the documents.
Stopping the dropping rate of unionisation is one of the major declared objectives of the planned new federation. While union membership stands at 3.85 million and still growing every year, the labour force is growing faster.