Why is Cosatu so quiet on state capture?
In a class-divided society you are either with the oppressed and exploited class or with the exploiting class. There can be no position of neutrality. This is a direct challenge for organised labour and its leadership as they are expected to be the most reliable force in the class struggle.
Labour federation Cosatu can be characterised as a class federation in the sense that it represents the workers who collectively are of a particular class in society and who form the critical component of the working class.
A neoliberal offensive on the working class has been characterised as the “1996 Class Project”, led by former president Thabo Mbeki. At the heart of the 1996 Class Project was the cutting of social spending; privatisation that led to extensive retrenchments; leaving the market to decide; a non-interventionist state; the introduction of inflation targeting; and the “modernisation” of the ANC-led national liberation movement, with the redirection of our National Democratic Revolution (NDR), among other things.
However, we must be under no illusion that there were no traitors in our own ranks, exposed by the erroneous and divisive positions they advanced. On the one hand, there were those in the ranks of the labour movement and the broader socialist axis who found comfort in a “pure” national struggle, who stripped it of its progressive class content and willingly sought to postpone the class struggle. On the other hand, there were those who believed that any association with the ANC – a nationalist organisation in their characterisation – represented the postponement of the class struggle.
The posture of Cosatu’s former president, Willie Madisha, is one example of those who found comfort in a “purified” national struggle and workers punished him for that. An example of the other erroneous position – believing that the association of Cosatu and the SA Communist Party (SACP) with the ANC amounts to the postponement of the class struggle – may be represented by National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) leader Irvin Jim, among others.
In the current period, the immediate struggle is the struggle against corruption, the neoliberal restructuring of South Africa’s workplaces, and corporate capture by the smash-and-grab, parasitic, bourgeois tendency.
This tendency is bent on looting state resources and the use of state machinery to advance petty political and factional battles. The leading personalities in this tendency include President Jacob Zuma and his corrupt clique from some provinces and among the leadership of the ANC’s leagues.
It is dumbfounding that, for the first time in the history of our NDR, to have Cosatu put its tail between its legs and lean against the wall, as class contradictions are sharpening. This new opportunistic stance of our federation – or of its leadership – has been confirmed by its silence in the state capture debate and the developments at the SABC and Eskom, among other things.
Like a coward on the battlefield, the Cosatu leadership has chosen to regard the corporate capture of our state as mere political squabbles. Yet, since when did Cosatu not have a position on political matters? The Cosatu leadership must know that the battles against corporate capture of the state are essentially and centrally a class struggle.
In this vein, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande cautioned Cosatu that “no one is better positioned to stop state capture than the trade unions. The biggest loser, if we allow our state to be stolen, will be the working class.”
Allow me to give one glaring piece of evidence of Cosatu’s leadership failure: one of Cosatu’s affiliates expressed disappointment on the resignation of Brian Molefe and praised his leadership as CEO of Eskom because of how he stabilised the energy utility, while ignoring the fact that one aspect of the capture of Eskom was to serve the interest of private business – in the form of the Guptas. This led to extensive retrenchments in the coal sector in Mpumalanga.
This posture is a serious contradiction of the National Union of Mineworkers’ 2015 national congress and the recent central committee, where Eskom was unanimously voted by delegates as the worst employer. Is Cosatu too blind to see this reality? Fortunately, in contrast with the union’s apparent servility, the rank-and-file workers of the country have said that Molefe’s departure was “good riddance”.
Cosatu’s new and suddenly invented outlook that the sharpening class contradictions are merely political – as well as the fact that the federation does not enter into the fray smacks of political opportunism – is a clear manifestation of the extent of business unionism embedding itself in the worker’s organisations. I am not apologetic about my belief that the struggle against corporate capture is a class struggle. I am calling on Cosatu to hold hands with the vanguard party – the SACP.
The unity of the socialist axis between the two entities cannot be based on personal likes and dislikes. Those whose commitment to the class struggle is informed by little more than their personal moods must be exposed and isolated.
As for the SACP, it must again learn that the cooption of trade union leaders to the party’s senior leadership positions – merely because of their strategic location in the trade unions – does not of itself and alone advance the struggle.
It does not work because – as we have seen – the conduct and posture of trade union leaders without the necessary revolutionary class consciousness confirms Rosa Luxemburg’s view that trade unions are by nature reformist.
We must not make the error of assuming a revolutionary and committed contribution to the class struggle from any trade unionist who has not demonstrated in addition his or her class-conscious commitment.
Ngqentsu is the secretary of the SACP in the Brian Bunting district and a Western Cape National Union of
Mineworkers regional official