My heart aches as Cosatu bleeds

2013-12-22 14:00

The present haemorrhaging inside Cosatu, where I learnt so much about the struggles of the working class, is so sad that I cannot find the words to adequately describe it.

The tragic aspect of this public brawl and fratricidal strife is that it is the ordinary member who will suffer.

This is always the case when union federations are afflicted by factionalist political divisions that culminate in splits, though it is not yet clear if there are any distinct ideological divisions between the factions.

Aside from the leading role the ANC played, Cosatu might have played a crucial role in bringing about the fundamental political transformation of 1994.

Surely, this can only mean that it is decidedly not in the interests of the ANC to see its most important and strategic ally bleeding from the divisions in the leadership and the affiliates.

But dig deeper and you will see that the divisions between and inside the latter are largely among the top brass.

Ordinary workers are only interested in one thing:?that the unity in action the federation was formed for is used for organising and mobilising its formidable collective strength to struggle for and win its demands on the shop floor.

It is in this pivotal regard that the basic interests and needs of its membership are seriously at stake in the impasse, and is, in fact, a crisis of unprecedented proportions.

This because, for several years, many believed correctly that Cosatu was neglecting shop floor matters and was too preoccupied with wider political struggles.

So in whose interests is the current divisive and destructive turmoil in Cosatu?

This is the critical question we must all ask ourselves. A more important question is how Cosatu reached a situation that now seriously threatens its unity.

There is a theory that those who stand to benefit most from this divisive and debilitating crisis inside Cosatu are those who are against the interests and needs

of an assertive working class inside the tripartite alliance at this crucial moment of post-apartheid history.

But wherever they might be, the fact is that a weak, divided and fragmented Cosatu will not help them and their agendas.

On the contrary, the entire left inside and outside the alliance will be severely affected by a break-up of Cosatu.

What we are seeing in Cosatushows that our politics have become depressingly ugly, vicious and contaminating?–?that we are all in serious trouble, as is our future.

While I will not defend the indefensible, the impulsive and reckless sexual misconduct of general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi earlier this year?– for which he has publicly and sincerely apologised – must not be exploited for ulterior political motives.

No matter how strong the reasons may be for the deep dissatisfaction of its biggest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), especially against the decision by Cosatu to suspend Vavi a few months ago, I have no doubt that if Numsa took a decision to leave Cosatu, it will represent the biggest and most dangerous setback to the vital worker unity of the country’s biggest and most powerful union federation and comes at a time when the growing social crisis confronting Cosatu and the wider working class demands maximum unity in action.

Besides, it could lead to other Cosatu affiliates joining Numsa in an exodus that will split the federation right down the middle and have very serious consequences for worker unity – not only at this vital juncture, but over the longer term as well.

I’d be surprised if Vavi?–?no matter how aggrieved he might feel?–?would want to see such a tragic end to Cosatu, whose hopes and aspirations he so steadfastly embodied for many years.

So the key question is this: If Numsa does decide to leave Cosatu, will it not be playing into the hands of those who want to see Cosatu destroyed?

»?Harvey is a political writer, former Cosatu unionist and biographer of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe 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.

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