Solidarity whenever: Unions struggle to find unity

By Carien Du Plessis 11 August 2011

In the latest of what is fast becoming a cold war between a couple of unions waged in press statements in a bid to keep the stuff that’s said in the statements out of the press, Cosatu has told its metalworkers union Numsa to, well, stay out of the press. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports, but you didn’t hear it from us.

Metalworkers union Numsa has gone big with its message in a full-page advertisement in Wednesday’s Sowetan (which is tabloid-sized and not broadsheet, so maybe not that big) to repeat the statement it had issued at a press conference on Friday.

In it, Numsa said it’s unhappy with media speculation on who will succeed Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi at the labour federation’s elective congress next year.

Vavi, incidentally, stated at the party’s 2009 congress that he’ll step down after this term, and his later backtracking was in vain.

Numsa denied that its general secretary Irvin Jim, who wasn’t at Friday’s briefing, was interested in the job. NUM’s general secretary Frans Baleni and Fikile “Slovo” Majola from the health and allied workers union Nehawu, weren’t interested either, despite reports claiming otherwise.

Now it seems Jim has blinked first. In alliance language, his latest denial means there’s some truth to the rumour, but fortunately he seems to have Vavi’s endorsement, so there’s no reason to fight too dirty.

Still, Numsa said unspecified agents (which could be nasty capitalists or fellow unionists with succession agendas) had bandied about vague death threats.

NUM the next day issued a frosty statement to “pour cold water over Numsa’s claims” about a leadership battle in Cosatu.

Num said it’s confused because Numsa claims there is no leadership contest at Cosatu, but “at the same time argues that there are forces that disparage its leader so that he doesn’t qualify for the position of general secretary of Cosatu”.

Those behind the scenes also said these death threats claims peeved NUM. Some reckoned Jim claimed these to garner a sympathy vote instead of using his intellectual powers of persuasion to win the race.

The day after this Cosatu said in a press statement there was no leadership battle (mostly reacting to a story in the Sunday Independent where Vavi is punted for a position on the ANC’s top six).

Then on Monday Cosatu conferred with its affiliates, NUM and Numsa, telling them to behave. So imagine the labour federation’s astonishment when it saw Numsa’s full-page Sowetan advertisement on Sunday.

Numsa explained the ad was already booked and printed by the time the Cosatu meeting happened, what with Tuesday being a public holiday and all, but they promised not to do it again.

So on Wednesday the labour federation said in yet another statement: “Cosatu wishes to assure its members and supporters that the federation is not falling apart, and that this round of statements merely reflects some areas of difficulty, but not a freefall within the federation. We wish to assure all that the leadership of the federation is on top of the situation.” And they all lived happily ever after. DM

Read more:

  • After Malema’s assassination plan claims, now Numsa joins the list at Daily Maverick;
  • Cosatu’s top leaders slug it out in the Mail & Guardian.

Photo: Reuters.


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