‘We will always work in the alliance,’ says KZN’s new Cosatu secretary Edwin Mkhize

2014-07-14 00:00

NEWLY elected KwaZulu-Natal Cosatu secretary Edwin Mkhize says he is humbled by his election to the top provincial post in the labour federation.

In an interview with MAYIBONGWE MAQHINA, Mkhize said Cosatu should continue to work with and support the tripartite alliance as long as a resolution to the contrary is not taken. He also said leaders should raise their concerns in a sober manner in the correct platforms without being factional and labelling those who disagreed with their views.

Q: Are you up to the task of filling the position left by Zet Luzipo who is now an ANC MP and chairperson of mineral resources and energy portfolio committee?

A: I am very much ready. In fact to tell you a bit of my background, I have led the local [branch] of Cosatu in Pinetown from 2000 until 2004 and have been leading in other structures like the SACP. Until my election as Cosatu secretary I have been deputy provincial secretary of SA Municipal Workers’ Union. I am ready and equal to the task of taking Cosatu forward. (He has been a shopsteward since 1995 when he started as a general worker at eThekwini Municipality.)

Q: What have you set out as your priorities in your new role?

A: We have to strengthen the branches and build unity within the affiliates. We also have to play some role in sharpening the ideological consciousness of Cosatu.

When I say that, I mean Cosatu is a class formation organisation representing purely poor workers and the working class. We, as leadership, must make sure we sharpen that ideological consciousness as a way of going back to the basics, reminding the worker leadership of their primary responsibility and task that our workers gather at work places from different places and they become a group. Their interest is improved working conditions of service, to get a living wage, condition of service and work place is conducive for them to work.

The issue we want to emphasis is ensuring members of Cosatu are being serviced but the leadership of Cosatu can’t fulfil that task without them being adequately capacitated. The shopstewards of Cosatu have to be capacitated, have to be able to assist members on labour-related issues and ensuring our members are properly represented and know what is happening in the struggle for their improved conditions.

Also, when we come from congresses we take particular resolutions and any leadership is measured according to those resolutions. It will be another area of focus that resolutions that are taken should be implemented to the letter. That will become very important.

Part of the task will also be to continue working with the alliance and supporting the alliance as we go to the local government elections. We have to make sure we commit and fulfil that particular task as well.

Q: Can you elaborate on the need to support the Tripartite Alliance?

A: It is a question of respecting the resolution of the federation. Before arriving at any resolution there is process of engagement with the structures of the federation and when you go to a congress you again engage and arrive to a resolution, so leaders need to respect any resolution bearing in mind our principle of democratic centralism.

For now we are working with the alliance and support it. We never had any engagement and resolutions to work to the contrary. And my belief is that anything to the contrary can’t happen haphazardly because strategic objectives arise from immense engagement.

Q: What is your comment on criticism of some Cosatu leaders that they want to turn Cosatu into a labour desk of the ANC as they fail to criticise government policy because they are eyeing positions in the state?

A: It is important to say that it is not the first time within a labour federation that you have people who don’t see the need why we are in an alliance with the ANC and SACP. The federation has always debated the issue. It is, however, not wrong for people to raise points of view. What is wrong is to label comrades. If you do not buy into the idea it does not mean you are not committed to the worker struggle. If comrades say that in working with the ANC there are challenges, we must engage soberly without being factional. It should be a sober discussion. There should be no labelling but an engagement because we are all committed to fighting for the workers. Moreover, Cosatu has a resolution to swell the ranks of the ANC. If we are not part of the ANC there is a danger of the ANC being stolen by capitalists. That is why we must be active and shape the ANC. We will always work in the alliance. We have always worked in and with the alliance. It is strange now that some people are being critical when there is no decision taken concerning the alliance.

Q: Can you elaborate on your statement about building a strong Cosatu and strengthening local structures.

A: It is not an easy task, but it is something we can strive for. The reason I say so is that we experience developments at national level whereby affiliates move in a certain direction and that filters down to structures below and these structures then see affiliates take a posture informed by national debate. It would be important for comrades to know it is not about you, but the workers and members we represent. There are platforms to engage if we differ and the popular view has to be respected. It does not mean we can’t differ, but let’s do it in the correct platform and convince one another politically. Also, as unions, we have to show solidarity with one another and that will assist to build unity.

In terms of strengthening the local structures there are campaigns and programmes that have to be waged. Currently, if you look at shop stewards, we are a bit lacking there. We think locals are important and can play a role in development of shop stewards and to ensure policies and resolutions of Cosatu are understood. That can assist Cosatu in furthering worker struggles.

Q: At national level there are issues between Numsa and Cosatu, what is the situation like at the provincial level and how do you work?

A: Numsa is an affiliate of Cosatu. Numsa can’t act outside the resolution of Cosatu. If it is still an affiliate of Cosatu, it has to allow itself to be led by Cosatu. If there is a different view that will have to be contested in the correct forum. In our province, we must say, Numsa does participate in our meetings, but you find that at the end of the day there will be issues. When they do things as an affiliate, they say it is in line with the national [leadership]. We expect Numsa to follow the line of Cosatu.

Q: Numsa regional secretary last week charged that some ANC, SACP and Cosatu leaders wanted to destabilise Cosatu and have a plan to form a splinter metalworkers’ union, what is your comment on that?

A: I can’t comment on that one. I don’t know of that plot. Those people who have information can raise those concerns in the correct platform. Such allegations should go to the correct platforms rather than the media.

Q: What legacy would you like to leave when you step down from Cosatu provincial secretary position?

A: The legacy I would like to leave is obviously to see a united Cosatu. It does not end there, but I think I must contribute to ensuring that the levels of inequality at workplace and levels of unemployment and that the lives of ordinary workers during the time of my leadership are improved. When the time comes to look back [on my term] I would like to leave a legacy of strong and committed structures that are n servicing the workers. That is really what one would love to see happening.

Q: You were elected as provincial secretary almost halfway into the term of the current KZN Cosatu leadership, you may not achieve what you wish to achieve within the timeframe. Will you stand for re-election at the next provincial congress?

A: For now my focus is on the task I am driving. What happens next will happen after proper consideration when that moment arrives. At the end of the day that relies on the structures of Cosatu. When structures approach me for whatever, I will consider it.

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