Fat, old and self-interested

2014-11-09 15:00

Does the deep split in Cosatu really matter? It’s time to ask tough questions about the country’s largest labour federation.

We should have known when it started jumping on every bandwagon that its time as a shaping force in society was over.

Take e-tolls. This middle class protest against another tax on drivers was gate-crashed by Cosatu.

Why? Ideologues may tell you it’s because the workers don’t like privatised roads, but e-tolling is run by a government agency.

In reality, it is because Cosatu members are now a proper middle class protecting middle class interests like lower taxes and motoring costs.

This may be a force for good, but when they hold back the economy and lock out the future working class, it is not. We’ll get back to that in a moment, but let’s get back to bandwagons.

Cosatu’s descent into populism was evident when it weighed in on the Generations salary imbroglio.

We have nothing against creatives getting their due, but Cosatu has all but forgotten to organise and support vulnerable domestic, farm and other labourers in the past 10 years – yet there it went marching for actors who are part of a ruling creative elite.

The federation has put roadblocks in the

way of state efforts to get 3?million young people jobs, opposing a relatively benign incentive to encourage businesses to give young people a chance to work.

And earlier this week, Cosatu signalled a militant effort to oppose an overdue effort by the Treasury to stem the runaway state wage bill. Its mandarin in the Mother City told Parliament that a hiring freeze would harm social delivery.

What is harming social delivery is Cosatu members who do not do their jobs in hospitals, schools, clinics and in the public works, roads and traffic departments. There are notable exceptions at the home affairs department.

State incapacity can often be placed at the door of Cosatu-aligned unions like its general public service union Nehawu; nurses’ union Denosa and teachers’ union Sadtu. The latter faces a damning inquiry into allegations that its members are running a huge jobs-for-pals racket.

Rather than being a democratic force in service to shape a capable state, these unions have become a hallmark of a self-interest. And neither, it seems, is metal workers’ union Numsa or miners’ union NUM as big as they claim.

Verification exercises have shown that Numsa might have dropped substantially below its claimed membership of more than 200?000 members, while the aftermath of the Marikana massacre has shown the NUM to be a paper tiger.

Cosatu needs a programme of renewal and intellectual reinvestment, or it risks becoming a cranky old labour aristocracy.

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