Divisions mark Workers' Day

2015-05-01 22:21
(Amanda Khoza, News24)

(Amanda Khoza, News24)

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Johannesburg - This year's Workers' Day marches were marked by visible divisions, tales of neglect, and gatherings of the expelled.

The tradition of marching on Workers' Day was observed around the country as usual, but this year the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) had to contend with a rival march in Durban - the city in which it was launched in 1985 - by Numsa, a union it had expelled.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA, thrown out of the protective fold of the federation last December because it would not back the ANC and President Jacob Zuma, had to fight for its right to march through an urgent court application.

And further down the coast in Port Elizabeth, EFF leader Julius Malema called on Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim and Cosatu's expelled general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi to form a new labour federation.

In Durban, the mother body Cosatu bagged the unionists' sacred gathering space of Curries Fountain to end its rally, and the attendance of President Jacob Zuma, Labour Minister Mildred Olifant and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.

Numsa's march was from the King Dinizulu Park, opposite the Durban Christian Centre to the City Hall, and was led by Vavi and Jim.

Internal battles not helping workers

According to people attending the Cosatu rally, the internal battles in the federation were not helping workers solve their day to day problems.

Speaking just weeks after the coastal city was shaken by xenophobic clashes, many of which were accompanied by complaints about foreigners taking scarce jobs, Sabelo Mzimela, 29, a KwaDukuza Waste Management employee urged leaders to speak to workers.

''There are hundreds of people on contract that have worked for many years. People are working without uniforms and some don't even have UIF, which makes working very difficult."

Mzimela felt that the internal fighting between leaders in Cosatu was having a negative effect.

"The faction fighting at top level is affecting us because the gap between management and the workers is too much," said Mzimela, urging those ''in charge" to visit municipalities where workers felt neglected.

''There is so much infighting at top level, but there are so many unemployed people sitting at home," he said.

Sithembiso Dlomo, 43, from Clermont, said: "As you can see today, there are two separate marches.

“Numsa is holding its own march and Cosatu is holding its own march on the same day and to me this shows that there are people who think that they are above the union.

"This is causing factions in the unions because they are too focused on politics [rather] than dealing with issues affecting the workers," said Dlomo, who believed unions needed to go back to basics.

A group of retrenched Dunlop workers arrived at the Cosatu rally with placards asking Zuma: "Mr President, did you know that Dunlop is closed?"

Mbuso Gumede, speaking on behalf of 625 retrenched workers, said they were supposed to get R20m in compensation paid into a trust account, but nothing had happened and they wanted Cosatu to intervene.

'As the government, we are together with you'

Even Zuma acknowledged things were not well, but said cryptically: "The real enemy in the alliance is not the people we see, but the people who control them.

"How can people turn their backs on us when we have come this far?  In the beginning those are the same people that said that the alliance will never die. These are the same people that have turned against us today.

"As the government, we are together with you. We have a historic and leadership duty to communities to stand together."

Julius Malema, who was expelled from the ANC Youth League and went on to form the Economic Freedom Fighters, chose to rally workers in the politically contested terrain of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.

'They must stop wasting time'

With the race for control of the Nelson Mandela municipality between the ANC and the DA tight, the EFF stands to gain from the fallout.

Malema warmed up with promises to remove current mayor Benson Fihla, saying he was too old.

With a brisk trade in red berets and other EFF paraphernalia underway, Malema, who is fighting off a multi-million rand tax claim, called on Vavi and Jim to leave politics alone and form a new federation dedicated to looking after workers' rights.

“We want to say to Irvin Jim and Vavi and them, they must stop wasting time. Let them form a federation which will fight for the workers. We will give them workers, as there are workers in the EFF who are looking for a union,” he said.

He pledged the EFF's support as long as Vavi and Jim did not form a political party and did not force workers to vote for a particular party.

“They must be a federation that doesn’t go around telling workers who to vote for.”

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, who will not be available for re-election when the party chooses its new leader next weekend, spent Workers' Day focusing on maintenance defaulters and the poverty caused by this.

Maintenance defaulters

In comments posted on the DA's web page, Zille took a dig at Cosatu for being the only movement that objects to a law that allows the blacklisting of maintenance defaulters.

"On this Workers’ Day, Cosatu is no doubt out there championing the cause of workers across South Africa. Someone needs to tell them they need to champion the cause of these workers’ children too - the next generation of workers, if they’re lucky enough to find jobs.''

And, watching from afar was Willie Madisha, who was expelled as Cosatu and SA Democratic Teachers Union president when he threw in his lot with former president Thabo Mbeki during a power struggle with Zuma.

''It is so painful to see what is happening today. Workers are cut and divided in the middle. Today, in Durban, innocent workers must participate in either one or the other march," Madisha said.

Madisha said history would judge Zuma harshly for choosing to attend the Cosatu rally, instead of the Numsa one.

He felt the answer was to form an independent workers' federation and for union leaders to put workers' interests first.

Meanwhile, amid complaints on Twitter from his supporters about not enough coverage, Vavi tweeted and instagrammed pictures of the Numsa march and repeated his concerns about the crisis of poverty and unemployment saying: "Workers marching in Durban - shifting the balance of forces in the streets in favour of the proletariat.''

Read more on:    cosatu  |  da  |  anc  |  eff  |  numsa  |  irvin jim  |  jacob zuma  |  zwelenzima vavi  |  helen zille  |  julius malema  |  port elizabeth  |  durban  |  politics  |  labour

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