There is no doubt that the trade union is an important motive force in any society to defend the interest of workers and to fight for just labour relations.
The union becomes even more important in a country like South Africa where the economy is still under the hands of the minority, making workers vulnerable to a class that has no interest other than making super profits.
Without a union the workers become unorganised and open to all sorts of abuses and exploitation by employers.
But what happens when a union that is meant to be the vanguard of workers continuously takes postures that are not in the interest of those workers?
Cosatu – the biggest labour federation in South Africa – has recently declared that partial privatisation of state-owned enterprises might assist in improving their performance.
This is the same Cosatu that has previously been against privatisation because of the obvious ramifications which come with it that are detrimental to the poor.
One then is tempted to ask whether the union still has the interest of workers or it has just become a lobby group that is controlled by a certain faction within the alliance with the ANC.
The main reason cited by Cosatu for agreeing to the partial privatisation of state-owned enterprises is that they are non-performing and are suffering financial distress.
The reason identified by Cosatu as a cause of financial distress is there is corruption, siphoning of funds and general mismanagement.
The problem with this logic is that it suggests that the state is inherently corrupt and incapable of running its own affairs successfully.
Of course there is no denying that there is corruption that must be dealt with but is the only way of addressing it the removal of the SOEs and placing them in the hands of privately owned companies?
What does this say about the confidence of Cosatu in the state which is led by its alliance partner?
But this decision by Cosatu is much deeper because we all know what privatisation actually means.
It means giving white people to administer it because they own the majority of these companies.
Privatisation in my opinion is nothing but a sophisticated way of saying black people are incapable and white people must take over.
Also because this logic suggests that there is no hemorrhaging of money in the private sector, that the private sector is clean and has no corruption.
This thinking is wrong because there is quite a number of cases of corruption and collapses that happen in the private sector.
The difference is that when corruption happens there it is draped with all sorts of euphemisms such as collusion, etc.
Instead of delegating its responsibility to the private sector, the government must find out what are the underlying causes of the failure of SOEs.
It ought to find solutions to those problems instead of taking a decision that suggests that the state has no capacity and it is beyond repair.
How will people have a confidence in a state that cannot run its own affairs?
The gradual incremental approach to privatisation that Cosatu seems to be advocating for is surprising because it signals a move to liberal type of politics.
Cosatu, from its inception, has always been guided and anchored by socialist values which lean to leftist politics.
Privatisation has always resulted in massive job losses and major salary cuts and poor working conditions.
That is why recently we were engaged in a struggle against outsourcing in universities because it subjected workers to low wages and denied them the benefits due to them.
Has Cosatu considered all the consequences that might come with privatisation or is their only interest gaining the confidence of investors which usually comes with privatisation?
As the vanguard of workers the main interest of the union should be protecting the interests of all the workers who are affected when privatisation happens, especially those workers who are in the lower echelons.
Mcebo Dlamini is a former Wits SRC president and youth activist
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