Where­fore art our unions in SA?

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­[email protected]­press.co.za

South Africa’s trade union move­ment is in a state of flux. How­ever, largely at a bu­reau­cratic level at this stage, a bat­tle is rag­ing be­tween the var­i­ous fed­er­a­tions com­pet­ing for both af­fil­i­ates and wider sup­port.

Fo­cus over the past week has been on the tri­par­tite Na­tional Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Labour Council (Ned­lac), a group­ing of­ten re­ferred to by some union­ists as a “toy tele­phone”.

This is be­cause, al­though all gov­ern­ment poli­cies af­fect­ing labour are sup­posed to first be agreed at Ned­lac, this sel­dom hap­pens, with labour’s view­points of­ten be­ing ig­nored.

How­ever, Ned­lac is a fo­rum where labour, busi­ness, gov­ern­ment and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the wider com­mu­nity may put their points of view across and ar­gue for pol­icy di­rec­tions.

As such, the coun­try’s new­est fed­er­a­tion, the SA Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions (Saftu), wants to be rep­re­sented at Ned­lac.

How­ever, the Saftu ap­pli­ca­tion has been blocked on the ba­sis of a set of “pro­to­cols” adopted more than a year ago to stop the af­fil­i­a­tion of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of SA Work­ers’ Unions (Con­sawu).

The driv­ing force be­hind Con­sawu was Sol­i­dar­ity, the eth­ni­cally based “Chris­tian union” that once formed the hard core of apartheid sup­port. Sol­i­dar­ity’s ori­gins date back to 1902 and the racially ex­clu­sive Myn­werk­ers Unie that, in 1922, adopted the now no­to­ri­ous slo­gan: “Work­ers of the world unite for a white South Africa.”

To­day, Sol­i­dar­ity is a much more sub­tle ver­sion of its pre­vi­ous in­car­na­tion. The union pro­fesses to be “the only Chris­tian trade union in South Africa”, and sup­ports the Afrikaans lan­guage and “mi­nor­ity rights”. These are widely seen as code­words for the now dis­cred­ited racism of Afrikaner na­tion­al­ism.

Un­der­stand­ably, the labour com­po­nent of Ned­lac did not wish to have Con­sawu/ Sol­i­dar­ity in­cluded as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of labour. But the ex­cuses used to block Con­sawu are now be­ing used to refuse Saftu a seat at Ned­lac. These rea­sons in­clude not hav­ing been in ex­is­tence for more than two years, and not hav­ing upto-date and au­dited mem­ber­ship and fi­nan­cial state­ments.

How­ever, be­cause Saftu was only formed a year ago, it is im­pos­si­ble to have such au­dited fig­ures for the fed­er­a­tion. But at least two of the af­fil­i­ated unions do com­ply.

The Na­tional Union of Met­al­work­ers of SA (Numsa), for ex­am­ple, also hap­pens to be the largest trade union in the land. The Food and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union, which, like Numsa, is a for­mer Cosatu af­fil­i­ate, is also reg­is­tered and has sup­plied au­dited fig­ures. The to­tal mem­ber­ship of these two unions alone is more than can be claimed for the Na­tional Council of Trade Unions (Nactu), the small­est of the three Ned­lac labour mem­bers.

Nactu, which now prom­ises to pro­duce a web­site “in 38 days” giv­ing full de­tails of the fed­er­a­tion and its af­fil­i­ates, re­cently lost the mem­ber­ship of its largest af­fil­i­ate, the As­so­ci­a­tion of Minework­ers and Con­struc­tion Union (Amcu). Amcu left af­ter the chaotic end to the Nactu congress in Novem­ber.

Amid ac­cu­sa­tions of mas­sive ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, Nactu gen­eral sec­re­tary Nar­ius Moloto re­fused de­mands to step down. The de­mands came from sev­eral af­fil­i­ates, in­clud­ing Amcu, that were un­happy that he re­mained the pres­i­dent of a po­lit­i­cal party, the Pan African­ist Congress.

“So now we are in­de­pen­dent,” said Amcu pres­i­dent Joseph Mathun­jwa. Given the cur­rent “un­set­tled state” of the union move­ment, Amcu has made no de­ci­sion yet about fu­ture af­fil­i­a­tion to any fed­er­a­tion. Like sev­eral other unions, Amcu would “wait and see”.

Cosatu has haem­or­rhaged mem­bers over re­cent years, while the other Ned­lac mem­ber, the Fed­er­a­tion of Unions, seems sta­ble.

Saftu, based largely on break­aways from Cosatu, has taken on the mil­i­tant man­tle once as­so­ci­ated with Cosatu, but there are con­cerns about Saftu be­ing “over­re­liant” on Numsa.

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