Cosatu must be living in an extreme state of denial if it still believes it amounts to much more than the labour desk of the ANC. The balance of power within the Tripartite Alliance has been graphically illustrated by government policy decisions on the youth wage subsidy and etolling.
Metalworkers’ union Numsa has already withdrawn its support for the ANC, a seminal moment in the recent history of the labour movement. While Cosatu remains neutered within the alliance, the ANC holds all the aces. And Zwelinzima Vavi, the one f igure of stature within Cosatu able to challenge the government effectively on worker concerns, including state secrecy, has been suspended.
Voting ANC and then protesting, often violently, against the government is a peculiarly South African practice, typical of labour disputes and service delivery protest. It is a notably sterile form of politics and one rooted in history. If, as reported, significant sections of the ANC believe unions are irrelevant, the future is obvious. Globalisation has severely damaged the position of workers, but unions still have the numbers. They should abandon outdated party allegiances and concentrate on the shopfloor concerns of members. And out of this a muchneeded reconfiguration of national politics should emerge.