Cosatu’s split is a good thing

2014-11-08 15:48

We grew up without medical aid, education funds or pensions – and trade unions stepped into the gap.

Without a bursary, my first year at university would have been extraordinarily hard; without a medical fund, my dad would not have had the basic care needed as a worker ages.

Later, Cosatu’s prominent role in the negotiations for a Constitution influenced the inclusion of clauses that have enabled many dreams to make my life and that of my family better.

Fair labour laws. Progressive social policies. Employment equity.

As a labour reporter, I imbibed values from the union movement that are still dear. These include internal democracy; negotiation skills and social compacting which frames the sectors of business, labour and civil society as equal players in a country.

But Cosatu’s split is good.

The weakening of the tripartite alliance is vital for the country as it is holding us back. Both Cosatu and the Alliance have atrophied and are unable to meet the challenge of modernity head-on.

Cosatu and its members have become a labour aristocracy (a self-interested elite) which stands against basic public goods like a youth employment incentive or government’s efforts to make the state capable.

The public sector unions – who rule the roost in Cosatu – hold us to ransom with low productivity and high demands.

The teachers’ union, Sadtu, is the single biggest factor retarding a final end to Bantu Education.

And, in the private sector, Cosatu affiliates hold strikes so violent that they have accelerated the trend to mechanisation.

Reading through union documents is like tripping the dark fantastic to outmoded Soviet days – if their wayward economics is ever implemented, a failed state is a serious risk.

Yet, Cosatu members are a proper middle-class: they reflect a dangerous disjuncture between word and deed.

A split and decline in Cosatu heralds the end of an important epoch but it holds shoots of new potential for South Africa.

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