Cosatu: It’s just politics

2014-11-23 15:00

For those mired in the whirlwind of the Cosatu-Numsa storm, who are trying to understand what’s really afoot, here’s an explanation to the (not so) subliminal issues which have been lost in the ensuing conflict.

A few myths are isolated. Facts are shared. What is stated here is based on a genuine account of the evidence; the real, live experiences within Cosatu and the counter views expressed in the public domain.

Let’s unpack the myths and facts surrounding these:


The Cosatu constitution says “Affiliates, including affiliates that are being orientated about the Federation, remain autonomous bodies governed by their own constitution but they must abide by this constitution and the policies of the Federation”. Affiliates who go against the constitution and policies of the federation are working against the federation.


All Numsa is guilty of here is raising political debate. Since its inception we played a key role in building Cosatu, as an independent affiliate, guided by our constitution and worker-controlled, democratic structures. We are home to different voices. A federation of political debate and tolerance is a healthy federation.

The fact that Cosatu has policies does not mean that affiliates cannot question them. How else would policy change within the federation take place? It is vital to question and criticise Cosatu policies where these do not advance the interests of the working class.


It’s inconceivable for Numsa to remain in the federation, when the federation is clearly in an alliance with the ANC and the SACP and has maintained to support and strengthen this alliance.


This advances the Numsa ‘crime’ of furthering political debate. Existing Cosatu policy positions says we must review the alliance from time to time. The Cosatu 2015 Plan calls for an evaluation of every election, saying we should base our strategy on elections on what was achieved in implementing the previous Election Manifesto. No such reviews have taken place at the federation. Numsa is simply calling on our federation to take stock. If an affiliate cannot trigger such a discussion, where is the review going to come from?

? This is not the first time Numsa has rejected/questioned the alliance. In 1993 we resolved to canvass Cosatu and its affiliates to support our position that we break with the alliance and form a Workers Party. What is different now?

? Sasbo (formerly South African Society of Bank Officials) applied to become an affiliate of Cosatu and was accepted. Its constitution specifies that it “shall not belong to or support any political party”. Consequently it does not contribute to the Cosatu Political Fund. Yet Sasbo has not been asked to explain.

? On the 9th March 2011, Samwu issued a public statement directly confronting the status of the federation in the alliance. It listed the failures of the ANC and resolved: “In the spirit of Samwu’s commitment to support the ANC in the forthcoming elections, we find it impossible to convince our members and the community to do this until the issues mentioned above are resolved...”

In all these instances no strong arm tactics were applied.


Numsa’ decision to march to Cosatu was childish, mischievous and confirms Numsa’s intentions to put Cosatu to disrepute.


Where the federation acts outside of its constitution, it must expect that workers, who own the federation, will not only use constitutional meetings to express their grievances. Where workers have grievances they have the right to raise them by way of peaceful protest without fear of expulsion.

Having said this, no march actually took place! How do you charge anyone for deciding to do something which they never actually did?


Numsa decided to hold back on paying its affiliation fees to the federation until such time that the Special National Congress (SNC) is convened. This amounts to blackmail.


Despite this decision, Numsa continued to pay affiliation fees. We an affiliate “in good standing”.

Over the history of Cosatu many affiliates failed to pay affiliation fees, ceased to be “in good standing”, but have never been threatened with expulsion, nor expelled. These affiliates remain active in the constitutional structures of the federation. They are granted observer status.


Numsa has decided to stop contributing to the Cosatu-SACP political fund. Contribution to the fund is a federation agreed decision. There is a responsibility to uphold and defend democratic decisions of the federation.


At the time we took this decision Numsa was fully paid up, one of only 6 affiliates. Of the other 13 affiliates, some are in arrears by more than a year. Even if Numsa did indeed fail to pay the levy it cannot affect their standing as an affiliate. This is a levy, not affiliation fees which is the basis of membership of the federation.

But most critically, is it reasonable to expect us to continue to financially support an organisation that has made it its mission to liquidate Numsa and its leadership and which urges our membership to reject and overthrow this leadership?


Numsa leadership has defied one of founding principles of the federation – one industry, one union. By extending its scope Numsa has created fertile grounds for inter union rivalry with catastrophic consequences. It seeks to weaken unions and destroy others with the ultimate agenda of destroying Cosatu.


Through the Cosatu September Commission of 1997 and Cosatu’s Organisational Review Commission of 2000, Cosatu itself admitted that “it will never be easy to have a neat definition of industries and sectors and there may well be grey areas”. It resolved to form super unions within and among its affiliates, notably between metals, mining, energy and chemicals.

This was in recognition of the challenges confronting unions as a result of the changing labour market. Numsa’s call for a critical review in organising strategies is in line with the 1997 recommendations of the September Commission. Numsa is being accused of taking a lead in what are federation-wide decisions, carrying out value chain organising and progressive demarcation.

Numsa has not opened itself up as a general union, its SNC resolved to extend its scope of organising along the metals value chain. This is not different to what already exists internationally and is being used by a number of affiliates within the federation.

Why should Numsa alone be expelled for what is happening across affiliates in the federation?

These facts call into question why Numsa was really expelled? Our biggest crime has been to democratically argue for the political independence of the federation, given the worsening material conditions of the working class as a result of neoliberal ANC policies and for the implementation of existing federation policies.

Cosatu’s decision to expel Numsa must be understood for what it is – a well co-ordinated attack on the organisation of workers – an attack on Cosatu, an attack on the poor and an attack on workers.

History will judge this moment and labour federation severely!

Cloete is deputy secretary of Numsa

For Numsa’s full response to Cosatu click here

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