Fed­er­a­tion ready to roll

The new trade union aims to hit the ground run­ning with cam­paigns against low wages and ne w str ike rules

CityPress - - Business - DEWALD VAN RENSBURG dewald.vrens­burg@city­press.co.za

The New Trade Union Fed­er­a­tion, spear­headed by lead­ers ex­pelled from labour fed­er­a­tion Cosatu, this week re­leased lists of its signed-up mem­bers as well as po­ten­tial fu­ture af­fil­i­ates, al­ready mak­ing it the coun­try’s sec­ond-largest labour group­ing. The lists were re­leased at a press con­fer­ence, held in Johannesburg on Wed­nes­day, and in­di­cate that the stil­lun­named New Fed­er­a­tion may ab­sorb more unions from Cosatu as well as from the Na­tional Coun­cil of Trade Unions (Nactu), the one ex­ist­ing fed­er­a­tion which has not been dis­mis­sive of the project.

The Fed­er­a­tion of Unions of SA (Fe­dusa), along with Cosatu and Nactu, are the coun­try’s largest fed­er­a­tions and to­gether rep­re­sent labour in Ned­lac, which – as the con­sen­sus-seek­ing body com­pris­ing gov­ern­ment, busi­ness, labour and civil so­ci­ety – is an im­por­tant lever to di­rectly in­flu­ence pol­icy and leg­is­la­tion.

The New Fed­er­a­tion has 21 signed-up unions, rep­re­sent­ing a to­tal of 684 865 work­ers.

This is al­ready dou­ble that of ei­ther Fe­dusa or Nactu, ac­cord­ing to depart­ment of labour records – al­though Nactu main­tains that it has a sim­i­lar mem­ber­ship to the one the New Fed­er­a­tion claims to have.

Al­though Cosatu is still far larger, it now has civil ser­vants as the ma­jor­ity of its mem­bers, said Zwelinz­ima Vavi, the ex­pelled for­mer sec­re­tary-gen­eral of Cosatu, and now the con­venor of the New Fed­er­a­tion’s steer­ing com­mit­tee.

Also, it seems as if four more Cosatu unions may for­mally break away from the mother body and join the new fed­er­a­tion.

Th­ese are the Pub­lic and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union of SA, the SA Foot­ball Play­ers’ Union, the SA Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion and the SA State and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union, to­gether rep­re­sent­ing about 26 000 work­ers.

All four rel­a­tively small unions were among the so-called “nine plus” Cosatu unions, which aligned with Vavi against Cosatu’s lead­er­ship when its fac­tional bat­tles reached their high point in 2015 – cul­mi­nat­ing in his ex­pul­sion and the break­away of met­al­work­ers’ union Numsa, the coun­try’s largest union.

Cosatu spokesper­son Sizwe Pamla told City Press that the four unions men­tioned above told Cosatu they were not leav­ing.

“In our en­gage­ment with those unions, they have de­nied that they are plan­ning to leave, and we are tak­ing them at their word,” Pamla said via email.

How­ever, they fea­ture on a list of 18 unions which have par­tic­i­pated in meet­ings lead­ing to the launch of the New Fed­er­a­tion next month.

They may join after “seek­ing a man­date from their mem­bers”, ac­cord­ing to Vavi.

The list also in­cludes four Nactu unions, of which the most sig­nif­cant one, the Pro­fes­sional Ed­u­ca­tors’ Union, told City Press it would put the is­sue to a meet­ing of its provin­cial lead­ers next week­end.

“We have not taken any de­ci­sion ... We are a Nactu union,” said gen­eral-sec­re­tary Ben Machipi.

The In­qubela Pham­bili Union and SA Pri­vate Se­cu­rity Work­ers’ Union, also Nactu mem­bers on the list, said they had no plans to jump ship.

Vavi main­tained that the fed­er­a­tion in­tended to swell its ranks by union­is­ing the ma­jor­ity of work­ers who do not be­long to unions at all, es­pe­cially at the low-paid and pre­car­i­ous end of the labour mar­ket.

“We are mak­ing his­tory. No one has suc­ceeded in unit­ing this many unions. When it was founded, Cosatu was half this size,” said Vavi.

“Be­fore you know it, we will dou­ble our mem­ber­ship.”

ELE­PHANTS IN THE ROOM

For the time be­ing, Numsa and the Food and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union (Fawu) will dom­i­nate the New Fed­er­a­tion as the two exCosatu unions’ com­bined mem­ber­ships make up 68% of the fed­er­a­tion’s to­tal mem­ber­ship from all 21 unions.

There are other sig­nif­i­cant unions in­volved, but also a num­ber of tiny, newly reg­is­tered ones.

Two of the larger unions join­ing the New Fed­er­a­tion are the Na­tional Trans­port Move­ment and the SA Polic­ing Union.

A notable ab­sence from the fed­er­a­tion’s mem­ber­ship list is the As­so­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers and Con­struc­tion Union (Amcu), which is roughly the same size as Fawu.

And the ab­sence of Sol­i­dar­ity, a very ac­tive in­de­pen­dent union with a largely white mem­ber­ship, is sad, said Vavi.

“It is a huge set­back. We wanted white work­ers in this fed­er­a­tion, but there is noth­ing we can do about their de­ci­sion.”

The found­ing congress of the New Fed­er­a­tion was planned for this month, but has been resched­uled to be­gin on April 21.

It will in­volve about 1 800 del­e­gates, half of whom will be from Numsa and Fawu.

FIRST FIGHT

The New Fed­er­a­tion is tar­get­ing the re­cent agree­ment reached on a R20 per hour na­tional min­i­mum wage (NMW) and a new labour ac­cord signed by par­ties to Ned­lac.

Both is­sues are among a list of com­plaints in a sec­tion 77 no­tice which the New Fed­er­a­tion has sub­mit­ted to Ned­lac – pos­si­bly a pre­cur­sor to a na­tional one-day protest strike.

This may present the first test of the fledg­ling or­gan­i­sa­tion’s abil­ity to call peo­ple into the streets.

The Ned­lac deals have not yet been rat­i­fied, but the New Fed­er­a­tion wants a sig­nif­i­cantly higher NMW and is ap­palled by the ac­cord, which in­tro­duces se­cret bal­lot­ting be­fore strikes and in­ter­est ar­bi­tra­tion when strikes seem to have reached a dead­lock.

Vavi called the new strike rules the “ul­ti­mate be­trayal”, say­ing they would en­able em­ploy­ers to break strikes us­ing tech­ni­cal­i­ties. “We are in­censed. We say Cosatu no longer rep­re­sents the pro­le­tariat. The peo­ple sign­ing that doc­u­ment rep­re­sent big pub­lic sec­tor unions.”

Un­for­tu­nately for the New Fed­er­a­tion’s gen­er­ally anti-Cosatu spin in th­ese deals, Fe­dusa and Nactu also signed and en­dorsed th­ese agree­ments.

“We are just be­ing re­spect­ful of Fe­dusa and Nactu,” Vavi ad­mit­ted.

“Fe­dusa is known to have a very con­ser­va­tive stance, so it is no sur­prise [that it signed].”

“We are shocked that Nactu signed. Like us, they are mil­i­tant ... I doubt Amcu would ever agree,” he added.

Amcu is cur­rently the largest mem­ber by far of Nactu.

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