Cosatu’s true colours are fading

2013-05-05 14:00

May Day passed almost without celebration this year as the country got caught up in the matter of an aeroplane, a military base and a wedding.

In other parts of the country, the Sowetan reported that workers turned the day to liquid celebration.

It’s no surprise. The organised working class, especially in the public sector, have a lot to celebrate.

Cosatu and its allied affiliate trade unions have bargained tactically since their formation in the 1980s to win marvellous gains for workers.

Our labour laws are among the most progressive in the world and have established a basis for dignity in the workplace. In addition, the system of centralised bargaining has ensured that in many sectors, the working class is now in fact middle class.

It is the intention of good labour rights to move people up the social ladder and not make ours a race to the bottom.

And Cosatu has done its work well. It is a pity that this year found the federation focused on an internal war about the future of its popular general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, and that many rallies were turned into early campaign volleys.

May Day should have been turned into a massive rally for the workers without jobs, the army of unemployed who are almost as big as the army of

employed. It is the duty of Cosatu to represent all workers and it has long promised but failed to organise the truly vulnerable workers – domestic, farm and sweatshop labourers who largely toil alone.

Instead, Cosatu is becoming a classic mature federation which, in order to protect its members’ new status, operates against opening up the labour market.

Look, for example, at how it has stymied efforts to get young people into subsidised jobs. On the mines, the National Union of Mineworkers is being shown up as old and embedded by newcomers like Amcu, who are sweeping up new members like a Hoover.

On May Day, we must ask: is our biggest labour movement a shade of pink or still deep red?

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