Obituary of Cosatu could be premature

2015-12-09 06:00

I WANT to say upfront that the following opinion article has a strong worker bias, so to those who might be offended, you can choose to continue reading or you can stop right here.

The reason for this bias is that I am a shop steward and my involvement in trade union work has convinced me that as far as workers are concerned, their choice is not so much between socialism and capitalism, but between capitalism and barbarism, to borrow words of one intellectual.

Without sounding paranoid, it is fair to say that enemies of worker solidarity are having the time of their lives with the often reported problems facing Cosatu. Soon after democratic elections in 1994, calls began to emerge from certain quarters that there was no longer any need for Cosatu to be in the alliance with the ANC and SACP. It would therefore not be unreasonable to imagine that right now rivers of champagne are flowing in those quarters as they celebrate the imminent disintegration of one of the greatest trade union federation in this country.

The other quarters who might also be joining the fun fair are those who have been moaning that the labour laws in this country making it impossible to fire workers at will - a puzzle if ever there was one, when you consider that the capitalist system has been shedding thousands of jobs pretty much as they like since that fateful day, 26 April, 1994.

Where workers are not fired or retrenched in their thousands they have been exploited by scrupulous agents called labour brokers.

Under the pretence of providing employment to the unemployed, these labour brokers have been living lavish lifestyles while, like vampires, they have, almost literally, been sucking the blood out of workers’ cringing bodies.

What makes the situation even worse for the workers, especially black workers, is that some elements of the new elite, drawn from both public and private sectors, appears to have joined hands in making the life of workers a living hell.

Public sector trade unions such as Nehawu and others can write volumes at the shocking treatment displayed the by employer during salary negotiations, which is shocking, because the labour movement played no small role in ushering in democracy, as everybody knows.

Having said that, it is also fair to say that much of the problems within Cosatu are self-inflicted, to which leaders like Sdumo Dlamini, Cosatu’s president - its erstwhile general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the breakaway Numsa - have to shoulder much responsibility.

As some no doubt would argue against such a view, we will let history be the judge.

That these respected leaders have allowed their individual views and personalities to lead to the current state of affairs in the trade union movement shows incredible levels of ill-discipline. It particularly pains me to say this as these individual are regarded by many of us who dream of a new world that does not exploit workers, as our leaders

But the urgent task facing workers now is to build strong unions, as Cosatu­ president said during the opening of the congress this week, as well as to forge principled unity and solidarity with other sectors of the working class.

The recent #FeesMustFall campaigns by university students amply demonstrated that workers need not dismiss other sectors of the oppressed classes. Therefore worker solidarity with student, women, youth, etc., is desirable and can never be taken as a waste of time and energy by trade unions. However, the labour movement need not necessarily organise those sectors but should support their campaigns.

Those who have started to write Cosatu’s orbituary as well as those who are ready to pop champagne bottles may want to pause a little, it could be premature. History has shown that workers will always regroup. There is a lot of fight within the labour movement and the speech by Dlamini shows that Cosatu is determined disappoint its enemies.

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