Expelled metalworkers’ union Numsa is preparing to forge ahead with the launch of a new federation to rival Cosatu, even as its nine supporting affiliates dither.
Numsa deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said a three-day meeting of the national executive committee that started on Thursday would take a firm and final decision on the matter.
Cloete said this was a precursor to a joint meeting in which nine of the Numsa ally unions in Cosatu – if they decided to attend – would have to indicate if they were in or out of the planned federation.
The unions include the Food and Allied Workers’ Union, the Communications Workers’ Union, nursing union Denosa, the SA Commercial Catering and Allied Workers’ Union and the State and Allied Workers’ Union.
“That meeting will have to be a frank and open exchange, without hiding anything. This is the crossroads. We will respect those who want to rebuild Cosatu from within; we won’t throw any tantrums.
“My personal view is that the special national congress was the end of the road ... we can’t expect anything with a Cosatu leadership that operates like there are no rules,” said Cloete.
This comes after dissident unions suffered defeat at a gruelling Cosatu special congress as they tried to push to have the expulsions of Zwelinzima Vavi and the federation’s biggest affiliate, Numsa, reversed.
They were outvoted on the contentious issues they raised, including that Cosatu’s first deputy president, Zingiswa Losi, be removed, the admission of a new metalworkers’ union into Cosatu – the Liberated Metalworkers’ Union of SA – be reversed and wanting new leaders to be elected.
City Press understands affiliates were split during a caucus and could not agree on the way forward.
Relations between Numsa and its allies have strained so much that it may now be planning a future without them.
There’s also a view within Numsa that what they had was merely a “false unity”.
Cracks started to show after the affiliates reneged on an earlier agreement not to attend the special congress but hold a parallel workers’ summit, which was to be a culmination of the launch of a new federation.
Numsa has been consistent in its stance that if its fight to reclaim Cosatu flops, it would move to form a new federation.
Denosa is among the unions that have indicated they would not leave Cosatu.
A pro-Vavi Numsa union leader raised concerns about “bad timing”, saying they could not be forced by emotions to take drastic decisions and had “to manage the situation so that our sympathisers don’t think we did not try enough to exhaust all means”.
It is understood that some of the affiliates want to fight on at the elective congress in November, where a showdown over positions is expected. It is at this congress that Vavi and Numsa have the option to appeal their expulsions.
Food and Allied Workers’ Union general secretary Katishi Masemola told City Press his union planned to return to the Cosatu central executive committee to participate in planning for the elective congress. The union was among those that had boycotted Cosatu since Numsa’s expulsion, vowing to return only upon its reinstatement.
Communications Workers’ Union general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala said they would go back to structures “to assess what we can do”.
A Numsa leader claimed that the affiliates were also contending with the fact that they were going to lose benefits, including deployment to positions, which were part of the package of being part of the alliance.
If all fails, Numsa will forge ahead with splinter unions, among them the Democratic Municipal Workers of SA, the Public Servants’ Union led by former Sadtu leader Thobile Ntola, and another to be formed by a breakaway faction from Cosatu’s banking union, Sasbo.
The Eastern Cape, which has for the first time in 30 years become a no-go area for Cosatu leaders, is also fertile ground for Numsa and Vavi.
Cloete said there were ongoing discussions with the National Council of Trade Unions, which he believed would be a formidable force to bring on board.
A workers’ summit is being planned to mobilise for the new federation, and Vavi is believed to be leading that process. Numsa has been supporting Vavi financially since May.