This isn't just about Numsa, but the future of Cosatu. After the metalworkers were expelled over the weekend, on Monday their allies threw down the gauntlet: reverse the decision or Cosatu will split. Already, Numsa's allies have decided not to participate in high-level Cosatu meetings. Next, they could follow the metal workers union out the door. By GREG NICOLSON.
Seven of the expelled union’s allies – the South African Commercial Clothing and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu), Communications Workers Union (CWU), Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), South African State and Allied Workers Union (Sasawu), Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Pawusa), Democratic Nurses Organisation of South Africa (Denosa), and South African Football Players Union (Safpu) – crammed into a boardroom on Monday and told the federation what’s on the line.
The expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers SA (Numsa) means Cosatu could lose hundreds of thousands of members if the problem isn’t resolved and aggrieved affiliates decide to leave the federation, one unionist warned. The seven unions accused a faction under Cosatu President S’dumo Dlamini of forcing Numsa out against proper procedure to protect their positions and hold the federation back from pushing policies that challenge the ANC’s position.
Simphiwe Gada, General Secretary of Denosa, went as far as saying Cosatu is “affected by an Ebola in the name of S’dumo”. “I can confirm that we’re dealing with gangsters in that federation,” he added. “Let’s go and attack that Ebola.”
The seven unions will not participate in Cosatu Central Executive Committee (CEC) meetings while in the coming weeks they meet with members to get a renewed mandate. “With immediate effect we are suspending our participation and cooperation in Cosatu boardroom/palace politics,” read Fawu General Secretary Katishi Masemola from the joint statement. The unions are not suspending their membership in Cosatu – they encouraged members to take part in local federation meetings – but until they have a mandate from members they refuse to legitimise what they see as a process that violates Cosatu’s constitution.
Numsa was expelled in the early hours of Saturday morning when 33 members of the CEC voted for the motion; 24 were against. In their statement, Numsa’s allies, who said they’re not financially or otherwise subservient to the country’s largest union, listed the five charges levelled against Numsa. “Was the process fair and did natural justice find expression in this whole saga? The answer is no. Did the CEC make a guilty finding on the five charges? The answer is no,” said Masemola.
The unionists said Numsa’s response to the charges was not circulated before the meeting and only 10 minutes after General Secretary Irvin Jim finished his three-hour presentation on why Numsa should not be expelled the issue was put to a vote. There was no consideration of the defence, suggesting CEC members had prejudged the matter.
“Numsa were at the CEC to be victimised and denigrated not because they have transgressed any of Cosatu’s policies, but because they were implementing them. All of the accusations levelled at Numsa are simply not credible, and it is the duty of all trade unionist to defend them against the trumped up charges, and unsubstantiated accusations that have been levelled against them,” read Masemola.
The group also said the ANCs task team that attempted to resolve some of Cosatu’s divisions had failed and the federation is still “paralysed by factionalism”. “Without credible Cosatu leadership, the ANC Government was able to disregard our demands to ban labour brokers, to place moratorium on e-tolls or the youth subsidy, and many other matters. Our objections to legislation to increase state secrecy, or measures to tackle corruption at all levels, including defending the Office of the Public Protector have been largely unheeded. Addressing the disaster of unemployment and inequality through a radical economic programme has failed to materialise. Instead, we have a neo-liberal NDP,” the unions further accused.
The South African Municipal Allied Workers Union (Samwu) was missing from Monday’s press conference despite having previously been a part of the coalition behind Numsa. According to a press release from a faction of the union after a court judgment, three of Samwu’s four delegates in the CEC voted to expel Numsa “in complete contradiction of the union’s policy”.
Speaking on Monday, the seven unions said they remained committed to “fighting for the soul of Cosatu”. They believe a special national congress (SNC) is the only way forward. After the unions, including Numsa, lobbied the CEC to hold the event there’s been no clear progress in its organisation as the administrative responsibility lies with Dlamini. The unions will resume their court action to force Cosatu to hold a SNC. They will also embark on mass action to push the event.
“There can be no Cosatu without Numsa,” said Masemola on Monday, clearly raising the possibility that the seven unions could follow the metalworkers if they formed a rival federation.
“That’s one of the issues I suppose that the sitting CECs and NECs will have to reflect on,” Fawu Deputy General Secretary Moleko Pakhedi said on the possibility of a new labour movement.
Numsa’s allies are numerically outnumbered by its opponents and the metalworkers also said they were fighting for the soul of Cosatu before they were expelled. But Saccawu, Fawu, Pawusa, Denosa, Safpu, Sasawu and the CWU have raised the stakes, signalling the end of Cosatu as we know it unless the federation takes drastic action.
Cosatu, which hasn’t yet formerly announced Numsa’s expulsion, will hold a press conference on Tuesday. Finally there should be an indication of how General Secretary and Numsa ally Zwelinzima Vavi will respond. DM
Photo: National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) members demonstrate during a march for jobs in Johannesburg on Wednesday, 19 March 2014. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA