Inside labour: Cosatu schisms can't be papered over

2014-04-23 10:00

We are in the midst of the usual fanfare: the pledges, the promises, the rows and the contradictions that accompany any run-up to a major election.

But the scheduled national poll on May 7 seems to be beset by more bickering, bitterness and fragmentation than usual –?and this is a clear portent for the future.

This election has been characterised as a speed hump on the road ahead that is littered with the postponed problems of the past and present. For the governing ANC, greatly increased tension with its trade union partners seems to be on the cards.

Much of this should centre on the long-delayed special congress of the ANC’s alliance partner, Cosatu.

The congress was called last year by nine of the federation’s affiliates. According to Cosatu’s constitution, it should have been agreed to after 14 days.

It was not, resulting in the federation’s biggest union, the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa), staging its own special congress where delegates decided to withdraw its support for the ANC.

It was the Cosatu special congress call that caused deep concern in the governing party and its other alliance partner, the SA Communist Party.

A special congress may not only eject most of the Cosatu leadership, but could reject the alliance altogether. The fear was that this could lead to the fragmentation of the federation and harm the ANC’s electoral prospects.

Although much of the row centred on the position of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, he was merely the catalyst. For, unlike the Numsa leadership that supported him, he is committed to the ANC and the tripartite alliance.

He personifies the split between factions supporting and opposing President Jacob Zuma.

Initial attempts by the pro-Zuma majority on the Cosatu executive to force Numsa to resign from the federation failed and a decision was taken to expel the troublesome union.

But constitutionally, such a move has to be ratified and could be overturned by a national congress, but could be delayed until after the elections.

It was thought that the same could apply to Vavi, who won a court order for his reinstatement because his suspension was unprocedural. He could be properly suspended and both matters delayed until after May 7.

In the meantime, if Vavi and Numsa react by “going independent”, there will be no need for a special congress.

But it was soon realised in the ANC that Numsa’s expulsion and a second suspension of Vavi could create a multitude of problems on the eve of the elections. This precipitated the intervention last week of ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte.

After a meeting of the ANC national executive, also attended by Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini and National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union general secretary Fikile Majola, Ramaphosa and Duarte attended the Cosatu executive meeting.

The upshot was that all matters were delayed for a month. So Vavi returned to his post as general secretary and Numsa remains a Cosatu affiliate.

The result is that the myth of Cosatu unity has again been propagated in a series of election slogans. These ignore the fact that Numsa, with roughly a quarter of Cosatu’s membership, no longer supports the ANC.

There is also the call by Numsa for a post-election “national convention” to discuss “an alternative way forward”. This seems to be gathering support among various unions, community groups and even the Sidikiwe?–?Vote No campaign, which was launched this week.

The full fallout from the damning report on Nkandla by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela is also still to come in the wake of the election, along with the result of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry and the delayed signing into law of the Protection of State Information Bill.

Remaining issues that all Cosatu factions oppose include e-tolls, labour brokers and the overall thrust of the National Development Plan.

A post-election complaint from the Cosatu-affiliated Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu) should also result in some hard talking.

Fawu is furious that an estimated R6?million in government handouts over the past year went to the controversial entrepreneur-turned-union boss and ANC winelands election campaigner, Nosey Pieterse.

That these schisms can be papered over seems as unlikely as the ANC losing the elections. So the road beyond the electoral speed hump might be a rocky one.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.