It promises to be a most unusual face-off: on Tuesday, the Democratic Alliance Youth is going to march to Cosatu House in Johannesburg to pressure the union federation to drop its opposition to the youth wage subsidy. The language in the run-up to the showdown has not been calm. Things could turn ugly. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
There is often talk about a possible alliance between the Democratic Alliance and Cosatu. Sometimes the stories go so far as to suggest that DA leader Helen Zille is wooing Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi to join the DA.
However, there is no love lost between them. The “differences in opinion” are now bound to be brought sharply to the fore on 15 May when a contingent of unknown size, led by the DA Youth, will march from Newtown to Cosatu House.
The fight is over the youth wage subsidy that finance minister Pravin Gordhan announced in his budget speech two years ago. It hasn’t been implemented yet, thanks to Cosatu’s stonewalling it at the National Economic Development and Labour Council.
The DA says Cosatu does not want the wage subsidy to pass because it will threaten the job security of its older members. Cosatu and its affiliate unions say the subsidy is slave labour and class warfare.
Speaking at a rally one week ago, the general secretary of the metalworkers’ union, Irvin Jim, characterised the march as a declaration of war.
“Numsa wants to serve a timely warning to the DA and the vested white capitalist class interests it represents: they are embarking on a dangerous and unwinnable class struggle with the power of the black and African working class,” Jim said.
He continued: “For 18 years the working class had restrained itself in the hope that the privileged white complex would help to defeat the inequalities in society.
“If they now want direct confrontation, they will get it. Numsa is ready for them. We shall fight to the last woman and man to defend Cosatu and its leaders,” he said.
On Sunday, Jim announced that a coalition between Numsa, the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers’ Union, the Communication Workers’ Union, the ANC Youth League, the Young Communist League and the South African Students’ Congress would oppose the march.
In response to this, the ANC released a statement, sheepishly asking the DA not to march.
“The ANC would like to request the DA to desist from marching to Cosatu House, as this will heighten unnecessary tension. If the DA has any view regarding the issues of labour brokers and (the) youth wage subsidy, our contention is that they must engage with Cosatu, rather than being confrontational and provocative,” the party said in its statement.
According to DA Youth federal chairwoman Mbali Ntuli, the march came about because attempts to talk to Cosatu had failed.
“We have exhausted all consultative options and we want them to know that we are serious. We won’t stop,” she said to iMaverick. “We want answers otherwise they must know that the youth of South Africa will once and for all know that Cosatu doesn’t care about us.”
She said party leader Helen Zille, parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko and national spokesman Mmusi Maimane have all been invited to speak. The party expects 5,000 people to participate in the march.
Vavi himself has also sounded his own weak-tea warning, tweeting: “We are appealing to the DA not proceed with their march to the workers tomorrow. We can’t take responsibility for their adventurism.”
The police have thrown a spanner in the works by saying that the DA would not be allowed to march upon Cosatu House.
“A security assessment was done and it was decided that the route would be changed so that speeches are done at a neutral venue,” Johannesburg metro police chief superintendent Wayne Minnaar said. “They won’t be allowed near Cosatu House.”
Mazibuko tweeted angrily in response to the metro police announcement, saying that the police had bowed to political pressure from Cosatu.
Ntuli said late on Monday night that the march would proceed as planned. “The bottom line from our side is that we have gone through the right procedures and the Johannesburg metro police confirmed that they will be there. Their spokesperson has bowed under pressure seemingly and said his own thing. We are going on information from the actual police,” she said.
The march is scheduled to begin at 11AM. It ought to be a politically significant day, no matter the actual outcome. DM
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