Drop Vavi charges or face drastic action, unions warn Cosatu

2014-01-29 14:06

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Nine unions affiliated to Cosatu, representing more than 50% of the federation’s membership, have threatened to take “drastic action” unless charges against general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi are dropped by the end of March.

The unions have also demanded that Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini call a special national congress by the end of March or face a revolt within the country’s biggest workers’ federation.

They have threatened to go to court if the special national congress, which would be used to elect new leaders who would advance the federation’s goals, was not convened before March.

The unions, which include the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), the SA Football Players Union, the Public and Allied Workers Union of SA, the Democratic Nurses Union of SA, the SA Municipal Workers Union, the Food and Allied Workers Union, the SA Commercial and Catering Workers Union, Communication Workers Union and the SA State and Allied Workers Union, made various demands during a press briefing in Irene, Pretoria, today.

They also questioned the leadership style of alliance partners, the SA Communist Party (SACP) and the ANC.

Unions said the demands were an honest move to rescue Cosatu from a crippling political and organisational crisis and also to save Vavi from “trumped up” charges which they claimed were created by unionists with a bone to pick with Vavi.

Threats to Vavi’s life had worsened the situation.

Samwu general secretary Walter Theledi said: “The situation is further compounded by threats to the comrade’s life and character assassination through bogus so-called intelligence reports ... that there is a plot to assassinate comrade Vavi.”

Dlamini has recently pointed to Vavi as the author of the intelligence report, but Vavi has dismissed the accusations.

The unions have also questioned the “unqualified” support for the ANC’s 2014 election manifesto by Cosatu leaders, without being consulted on the manifesto’s content.

Theledi said: “This endorsement of the ANC’s election manifesto took place without any significant mandating engagement with Cosatu affiliates and despite the fact that the manifesto, in certain respects, either undermines or fails to take forward the organisation’s demands. We do recognise real gains that have been made over the last 20 years.”

Theledi said the failure of the ANC and the SACP to engage affiliates on the manifesto also contradicted Cosatu’s assertion that “our support for the ANC must not be unconditional, but based on advancing demands which represent the interests of our members and the broader working class”.

Unions said their members had never agreed to give the ruling party a “blank cheque” to support it during elections.

Theledi blamed the crisis within Cosatu on certain individuals who wanted to “tame” the federation and prolong Vavi’s suspension.

Unions also rejected claims by Dlamini that Cosatu did not have the funds to convene a special national congress as a blatant attempt to ensure Vavi did not return to his post.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim lambasted Cosatu leaders for undermining the federation’s Constitution in their bid to keep Vavi out of office because of “political and factional” reasons.

Unions also blamed ambitious politicians who want to appear on the ANC’s list of candidates for Parliament and provincial legislatures for attempting to “neutralise” Cosatu and turn it into a “toothless giant”.

Other demands from unions included redirecting Cosatu to regain its mantle as the defender of the working class and the poor.

They have also demanded a meeting with the ANC and the SACP to discuss relations.

“We call for the opening of thorough, honest and constructive discussion on how Cosatu relates to the alliance and to government which we believe is long overdue, with the purpose of ensuring the voice of Cosatu is the voice of the organised working class, free of factional and divisive considerations,” said Theledi.

Unionists said they had lost count of the number of letters they had written to Dlamini and other Cosatu leaders calling for a special congress and they believed that there were blatant attempts to ignore the will of the workers.

Jim said the unions were merely exercising their right to call a special congress and that they had met the Constitutional test where such a congress could be called if a third of the affiliates wanted it.

“Vavi must be back in office. The workers want him back but we can all see there is a plot for that not to happen. If Vavi is dismissed we will then take appropriate action,” said Jim.

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