Cosatu grows, but ...

2012-09-01 18:56

Though federation has more members, it’s not growing as fast as it would like to Sabelo Ndlangisa and Mmanaledi Mataboge

Labour federation Cosatu has grown its membership to just more than 2 million, 11% up since its last congress three years ago.

But this figure falls short of its target to expand the union by 10% per year since 2009.

The figure was revealed by labour research organisation Naledi in its State of Cosatu Affiliates report as the federation goes into its 11th national congress in two weeks’ time.

Cosatu affiliates that experienced higher growth are metal-workers’ union Numsa, with 291 025 members; the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), with 310 382 members; public-sector union Nehawu, with 260 738 members; and police and correctional facilities union Popcru, with 149 339 members.

In an interview with City Press this week, Cosatu’s general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said the federation had survived the jobs blood bath, which resulted in more than one million job losses.

This was because it did not happen in sectors where unionisation was high, such as the public sector.

According to a draft of Vavi’s secretariat report, which is expected to be released officially next week, membership gains were twice as much as membership losses.

“However, worryingly, most losses were due to resignation from the union, followed by retrenchment.

Resignation from the union indicates a voluntary act driven by dissatisfaction with service,” the report reads.

In this growth phase, however, Cosatu finds itself faced with challenges that are consuming it from the inside: affiliates scrambling for members in the same sector.

This is something that, according to Vavi, created “an organisational weakness”.

He said: “A lot of tensions are caused by that. Even between the NUM and Numsa, they are caused by the fact that they’re counter-organising one another.

“Eskom remains a great area of irritation in that Cosatu has not ensured that Numsa hands over that membership to where it belongs (to NUM).”

Both the NUM and Numsa organise mining, energy, metal and construction workers.

Other sectors experiencing this “cross-organising” include food and retail, health, and the public sector.

According to Vavi, the emergence of a “me-and-I” attitude has continuously halted these unions from merging, as has been proposed in previous congresses.

“Everybody wants to become the president, and people would rather die being the general secretary, even if it means we have four unions in the same space,” Vavi said.

Ideally, Cosatu should have 13 affiliates, but it’s now made up of 20 because of the duplication.

“The fact that we go to congress still with Sadnu (the South African Democratic Nurses’ Union) and CWU (Communication Workers Union) not integrated into viable unions is a major weakness.

“That’s why we have workers joining other unions in the Post Office and Telkom because we have not been decisive enough in ensuring we salvage that principle of one union, one industry,” Vavi said.

Cosatu unions are also still struggling to attract young professionals, another area flagged for attention in discussions at the previous congress.

According to Vavi, an average Cosatu member is 40 years old.

“Forty years is not good for a country whose young people make up 53% of the population,” Vavi said, adding that among the challenges with attracting young workers was that the majority of those unemployed were young people.

The deadly Lonmin miners’ strike in Marikana brought to the fore unhappiness among workers about union leaders earning far more than them, as well as rapidly growing inequalities.

This, according to Vavi, is a “big dilemma” for the federation.

He said unions were losing “every person of note” to government and NGOs because Cosatu paid lower salaries.

“As we improve the wages, you’re opening yourself up to another pressure as your wages become too high in comparison with the people you want to represent.”

Cosatu’s congress kicks off in Midrand on September 17.

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