‘Cosatu can’t suffer’

2013-08-23 00:00

TWO political heavyweights took to the podium at a union conference in Durban yesterday and neither addressed the elephant in the room — suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

Instead, President Jacob Zuma and the SACP’s Deputy Public Works Minister Jeremy Cronin asked for rifts that had emerged in the alliance to be healed.

Zuma told the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union’s congress held at Durban’s ICC that disunity in the alliance had allowed labour unions like Amcu to flourish. Amcu, after the Marikana massacre, had overtaken the once powerful NUM in membership numbers.

He said unions had become overtly politicised, saying: “We must not make the union [Cosatu] suffer and we cannot afford to be seen as opposition in the alliance,” he said. He said that Sactwu has a positive role to play in the country’s economic development.

“This union represents the majority of workers in a strategic industrial sector of our economy. And they have an important role to play in the economic future of our country and our region,” he said.

Cronin said factions were being formed inside Cosatu and this threatened the labour federation. “We do not need a weak Cosatu. We need a strong Cosatu that is highly critical to the alliance.”

Zuma said South Africa had learned an important lesson from the 1973 strikes in Durban, which shaped the country’s future and showed that an oppressed people could challenge oppressors successfully if they acted together and were organised.

In 1973, 2 000 workers at Coronation Brick and Tile factory in Durban downed tools after the employers rejected their demand for a wage increase from R8,97 to R30 per week. They were joined by workers in various sectors around the city who demanded better wages and working conditions. The strike spread to other cities, including Pietermaritzburg, Richards Bay and Johannesburg.

“The textile and clothing sector faced tremendous pressure in the past when our South African market was flooded with cheap imports from the Far East. The situation was aggravated by the influx of illegal imports at ridiculously low prices due to under-invoicing. But the sector has come to life again as the industry has taken advantage of the incentives offered by the government incentives programmes,” he said.

Zuma said that 61 376 jobs have been saved in companies that have benefited from government incentives. He said the leather and footwear sector was experiencing a turnaround.

The sector said it had set itself a target of producing 100 million pairs of shoes per annum whereas in 2005 it produced 28 million pairs. Currently the production levels had increased to approximately 51 million pairs per annum, Zuma said.

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