May Day! May Day!

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - BY MAMOKGETHI MOLOPY­ANE

No ac­count of labour move­ment polit i cs can es­cape the sharp spot­light of scru­tiny from the very so­ci­ety it func­tions in, nor can it be shielded f rom com­men­tary on it s busi­ness. To at­tempt to do so would be dis­hon­est. An in­evitable by-prod­uct of sig­nif­i­cant events in pol­i­tics/life is that for months and even years to come they will be the topic of con­ver­sa­tion in the coun­try. In a move that can be com­pared to the pol­i­tics of an­cient Rome, it only took a few years to undo Cosatu. Even more po­etic is the fact that the fi­nal blow was de­liv­ered in March when the fed­er­a­tion ex­pelled its gen­eral sec­re­tary Zwelinz­ima Vavi.

In the af­ter­math af­ter the battle for the soul of Cosatu, three things have be­come clear: one, that Vavi over­es­ti­mated his un­der­rated king­maker role; two, Sdumo Dlamini is the best chess player and strate­gist since Ron Weasley in Harry Pot­ter and the Philoso­pher’s Stone; and three, Cosatu, al­beit shaken, still stands, but is it in name only? Time will tell.

But who is the ar­chi­tect of this set­tle­ment (Cosatu)? A set­tle­ment that has so far held in check, for now, the dis­af­fected work­ers, and for the mo­ment has carved peace from the chaos. It has been said that to ob­tain power and swing things back in his favour, Octavian needed to de­feat the Repub­lic;

to sus­tain his power, he feigned its re­sus­ci­ta­tion.

The f irst real test of the fed­er­a­tion post-Vavi era will be the com­ing May Day ac­tiv­i­ties. The past four years have shown us how a change in val­ues and a dif­fer­ing in ide­ol­ogy can inf lu­ence and af­fect union or fed­er­a­tion ac­tiv­ity. The Marx­ist and Michel­sian cri­tique of trade union of­fi­cials is that, some­where along the road of a jour­ney from mem­ber to ac­tivist to paid of­fi­cial, prin­ci­ples fade. As re­peat­edly shown by his­tory, the man­date of the work­ers is al­most al­ways re­placed by the un­think­ing pur­suit of self.

Will this May Day be any dif­fer­ent? I do be­lieve that it will be. How? May Day presents the per­fect time for the launch of the Numsa-Vavi led “don’t mourn, or­gan­ise” cam­paign. The need to at­tract the same group of work­ers’ at­ten­tion will be the first test of each camp’s abil­ity to win sup­port­ers.

On the one hand, you have Numsa and Vavi ver­sus Cosatu. On the other, you have Amcu tabling its gold-sec­tor wage de­mands at the end of April/early May. The tone of the lat­ter at a re­cent me­dia brief­ing sug­gests a scat­ter­ing of crumbs from the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble will no longer do. News on the ground is that a wage de­mand ex­ceed­ing R12 500 will be the open­ing line.

For its part, Cosatu will seek to ad­dress the mur­mur among its mem­bers, to squash any chance of work­ers’ re­bel­lion and at the same time re­tain the throne, fur­ther el­e­vat­ing its own po­si­tion by plac­ing un­re­lent­ing em­pha­sis on its in­de­pen­dence and rel­e­vance.

The theatre of the labour pol­i­tics is set, come May Day who will get a stand­ing ova­tion from the work­ers – Amcu, Cosatu or Numsa (with Vavi)? Who is punch-drunk with am­bi­tion? Who has lost sight of po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties? Whose fo­cus never wa­vered? Only time and his­tory will tell. Mamokgethi Molopy­ane is the chief re­search an­a­lyst: min­ing and labour at Cre­ative Voodoo Con­sult­ing.

Zwelinz­ima Vavi

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