Vavi: Union leaders need a wake up call

Cape Town - Union leaders need to be in touch with an increasingly desperate workforce, Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Tuesday.

"Behaviour where union leaders act like bosses and believe that because they are elected they can make decisions without reference to the base must become a thing of the past," he told delegates at the Uni World Indaba in Cape Town.

He said dressing up practices as "democratic centralism" would not pass anymore.

"Democratic centralism is only revolutionary if it is truly democratic and principled."

Vavi received rousing support from the audience, made up of members from unions around the world.

He said Cosatu was paralysed and wounded by divisions that had spanned over two years and were the result of differing approaches to dealing with poverty, inequality, and unemployment.

On the one end was a camp that favoured vigorous implementation of decisions taken at the federation's 2012 national congress.

On the other end was a "leadership camp" that Vavi believed had drifted from a commitment to implementing these resolutions without seeking a new mandate.

"Not only do our differences talk to a difference in the importance of corruption-free unions, but also to the cancer of corruption more generally."

He said corruption had spread to every sphere of society, including the ruling party, government, and trade unions.

"Many of the divisions that we see running through our society are in fact about pushing one another from the feeding trough, and have little to do with political or ideological differences," he said.

"This is a very tragic state of affairs, requiring a decisive and forceful trade union movement that stands squarely against corruption."

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) was expelled from Cosatu last month for breaching its constitution.

At a special national congress in December, Numsa resolved not to support the African National Congress in the May general elections and to broaden its scope to include workers from other sectors.

Numsa and Cosatu have been at loggerheads since Cosatu suspended Vavi last year for having an affair with a junior employee, among other things. There were also allegations of fraud and corruption against Vavi.

An ANC task team has stepped in again to help the embattled trade union federation deal with internal friction.

This includes dealing with disciplinary procedures against Vavi, and Numsa's expulsion.

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