‘They remind me of Verwoerd’

2009-09-26 13:53

LABOUR federation Cosatu and the ANC are likely to lock horns over key policy issues.

While the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) regards the unionisation of soldiers as an “error” and has called for a ban on military unions, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was on Friday adamant that the federation would oppose attempts to scrap unions in the national defence force.

Vavi said the ANC directive to ban military unions, backed by Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu despite a Constitutional Court ruling on the matter “reminded us of (apartheid architect Hendrik) Verwoerd”.

The issue has been in the spotlight following a recent illegal march by soldiers to the Union Buildings in Tshwane to voice their grievances.

The ANC NEC, in contrast, interprets the court ruling to mean that there should be a formal forum of “engagement and negotiation” for soldiers and not necessarily that they should be unionised. There are government moves afoot to set up a military services commission to deal with soldiers’ grievances.

“How are they going to do this?” Vavi said. “ They are going to issue a decree to ban the unions. For God’s sake they are reminding us of Verwoerd because he banned all of us, including the ANC and everybody. Surely they don’t want to do that. We are going to have a very interesting discussion with the leadership of the ANC on this matter.

“We will not agree to circumvent the Constitutional Court ruling on the matter, it is very clear. Now that there is a Constitutional Court ruling we are organising them (soldiers). We want them in the unions. We will see how the government will implement this decision legally.”

The other bone of contention is the government’s Green Paper on the National Planning Commission.

The green paper was recently released for public discussion. Union delegates at the four-day Cosatu congress in Midrand last week slammed the green paper, saying it gave Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel powers of an “imperial prime minister”.

Some unions argued that the green paper conflated the roles of Manuel and that of the presidency. The draft resolution on the matter was couched in ways that suggested Manuel was taking away some responsibilities that should have been vested with Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.

In its final declaration, Cosatu called for the “overhaul of the content of the green paper on strategic planning”. It has called on the ANC-led tripartite alliance to discuss the paper’s content.

“Cosatu is not opposed to a discussion that clearly articulates a coherent planning process and machinery to ensure an effective state. We object to the marginalisation of the alliance and other key ministries in shaping this policy intervention prior to its public release.

“This is reminiscent of the past, where Cosatu and the alliance were treated like ordinary NGOs and not allies. This flies against the spirit of the recent alliance summit. Congress calls for a discussion on this issue by the alliance.”

The other major disagreement between the ruling party and its ally centres on what should be done about the labour-broking industry, which Cosatu has likened to human trafficking and latter-day slavery.

The 2009 ANC election manifesto suggested that the industry, which has resulted in casualisation of thousands of jobs, should be regulated to curb abuses. The government has suggested as much. However, Cosatu and its affiliates are calling for a total ban on labour brokers

Next month Cosatu will stage a one-day strike against the practice of labour broking.


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