The ANC has submitted its report on Cosatu's divisions this week to the federation's central executive committee (CEC). It reinforces what we knew: there's a canyon between factions. But as the ANC tries to keep Cosatu together, its biggest union might be on its way out. By GREG NICOLSON.
The ANC report is clear: Cosatu is divided to the point of debilitation and its national office bearers (NOBs) aren’t working together. “The affiliates were unanimous that there is paralysis in Cosatu; all of them are convinced that this emanated in the inability of the NOBs to provide collective leadership in light of the divisions between affiliates and within the NOBs themselves. All affiliates expressed concern about the ‘deadlock’ in the Cosatu CEC.” There’s always been division among affiliate unions, but now Cosatu’s leaders are also fighting it’s out of control.
The eight-member ANC team included heavyweights Cyril Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe, Baleka Mbete, Zweli Mkhize and Jesse Duarte, and since April affiliates agreed to put the hostilities on hold while the party held 26 meetings to assess the divisions within Cosatu.
There are two general factions, the ANC confirmed, loosely grouped around General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and President Sidumo Dlamini. Both leaders were criticised. Vavi took flak for sexual misconduct at work, alleged financial mismanagement, ignoring the CEC’s input in his 2012 secretariat address, having led Cosatu for too long and saying in 2009 he wouldn’t stay on after his term expired. He was also criticised for supporting Numsa instead of Cosatu interests. Affiliates agreed Vavi should be treated fairly in his misconduct cases, but they differed on what that meant.
Dlamini received the same polarised views. Critics told the ANC he was the cause of Cosatu’s division for pushing other Tripartite Alliance interests that would not accept a “militant Cosatu”. They also criticised him for pushing the charges against Vavi and using the media to smear the general secretary.
Division is so fierce that even meeting agendas are voted on, and affiliates agreed there’s been a lack of political work since Cosatu’s 2012 congress. The divisions “expressed themselves in the form of seemingly elevating personal and political differences to organisational differences; a notable lack of trust amongst NOBs and a series of accusations and counter-accusations between especially the president and general secretary of the Federation, especially as it related to the so-called ‘spy dossier‘,” said the ANC.
The National Union of Metalworkers SA (Numsa) is in the thick of it. “One affiliate expressed the opinion that the ANC policies have become neo-liberal and that it (this affiliate) would be better placed to be at the forefront of workers’ struggles,” said the ANC, not naming the union. “It was the only affiliate to advocate Cosatu splitting from the Alliance.” Numsa has been working on setting up its United Front, a grouping of left-leaning organisations, and has suggested it may one day contest elections.
The union came in for a lashing, with a majority of affiliates telling the ANC that the union’s decision to organise in different sectors flouted Cosatu’s principle of “one union; one industry”. “All affiliates raised the resolutions of the Numsa special congress and the behaviour of Numsa as contributing to the challenges of the federation,” said the report. While some unions said poaching had always happened, the ANC found Numsa’s resolution to expand was “clearly a step too far and Numsa needs to reverse this decision”.
While some affiliates said “Numsa must go”, the ANC favoured engaging the union within Cosatu and Alliance structures and establishing mechanisms to deal with unions encroaching on other affiliate members.
The union has long argued that Cosatu is being sacrificed by the ANC and SACP to push a neo-liberal agenda. Numsa’s solution has been to lobby for a special national congress where new leadership could be elected. While the CEC has agreed the requirements to hold a congress have been met, the administrative issues behind hosting it have been used to delay the event.
Interestingly, however, the ANC strongly advised against a special national congress. It also said if there was a special national congress, it shouldn’t focus on electing new leaders. Unions that supported a special national congress that would vote on leaders “were willing to reconsider” when told about the pitfalls and how it would be “unsuccessful in the current climate”. Essentially, Cosatu is so divided affiliates would not even be able to elect new leaders if it tried.
“The task team urges the federation to seriously consider whether it would be in Cosatu’s best interests to have a special congress less than 12 months before its normal congress. Which ever route the federation goes, it is clear to the [task team] cannot be resolved simply through an election of leadership,” said the ANC.
While acknowledging Cosatu’s paralysis, the ANC said the federation’s leaders had been talking and had agreed to work together on certain points. The party recommended leaders and affiliates engage openly on personal, ideological, and technical issues to ensure the unity of Cosatu.
The ANC was clear: Cosatu members must not be over-enthusiastic in defending the ANC. “We state now that this must never be done at the expense of Cosatu’s duty to defend, protect and advance the interests of its members.”
All that, however, may come to nil, as the divisions currently play out. In an extremely tense CEC meeting, Cosatu could vote today on what to do with Numsa. As the ANC is trying to keep the federation together, its biggest union might be on its way out. DM
Photo: Cosatu heads brief media after their central executive committee meeting. Photo Greg Nicolson. (Johannesburg, South Africa, 28 February 2013.)