South Africa

South Africa

Cosatu: A carrot, stick and irreparable divisions

Cosatu: A carrot, stick and irreparable divisions

As the battle within Cosatu rages, S'dumo Dlamini has, in a report, assured affiliates he is not trying to interrupt the holding of a special national congress, which Numsa and its allies are pushing to solve leadership divisions. In the same breath Dlamini has told unions to toe the line, or else. But while they talk, the ground is already shifting. By GREG NICOLSON.

In his recent report to Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) the federation’s president repeatedly refuted claims he is standing in the way of holding a special national congress (SNC). After nine affiliates last year requested the event, Dlamini said the organising process had been put on hold while the ANC intervened in Cosatu’s problems. Now, discussions on timing, costs, resources and discussions are underway.

The SNC has been a last resort for the National Union of Metalworkers SA (Numsa) and their allies in the attempt to elect new leadership and return the federation to its goals of fighting for the working class and socialism. Potentially, union members would have the chance to vote for new Cosatu leadership to challenge Dlamini’s reign, seen as pro-Jacob Zuma and anti-Zwelinzima Vavi.

“Everything has been done to ensure that a proper process is followed through in the convening of the special national congress. Everything has been done to follow all the constitutional provisions and to keep to all the required operational pre-requisites towards the special national congress,” Dlamini assured affiliates.

Dlamini is under pressure after seven unions suspended their participation in Cosatu’s executive meetings in solidarity with Numsa, raising the real threat of a split in the 29-year-old federation. Committing to holding a SNC is an attempt to show his allies he is being fair and give his opponents a reason to come back into the fold.

But his report showed a lack of tolerance for unions supporting Numsa, which have been extremely critical of Dlamini and even called him the “Ebola” of Cosatu. Dlamini wants it his way.

“The fact of the matter is that we now have a section of our unions which in the name of a call for a special national congress have formed themselves into another organisation inside Cosatu. They have established their own vision, goals and objectives, they recruit their own membership based on this strategic intent, and they have developed their own modus operandi which includes convening their own exclusive meetings and developing and funding their own programmes which includes openly working to divide the membership,” said Dlamini.

Showing signs of further splits, he asked why unions (which should now be read as Numsa’s allies: Saccawu, CWU, Fawu, Sasawu, Pawusa, Denosa and Safpu), should remain within Cosatu. “All this is done outside the federation and in opposition to the federation. The question which this CEC should ask as we attend to the preparations towards the special congress is why these unions should continue to be regarded as affiliates of Cosatu when they can blatantly act to openly undermine the federation and its leadership collective,” said Dlamini.

Cosatu is working towards holding a SNC and in the meantime unionists need to toe the line, Dlamini said. The SNC could be held in July, but seems likely to be merged with a national congress due for 2015 that could be brought forward by a few months. The seven unions aligned to Numsa have done anything but play to Dlamini’s tune.

He warned, “We will observe the conduct of leaders and members very closely during this period and where we think we need to implement the code of conduct against a certain leader and or affiliate we will not hesitate to do so. No affiliate is expected to make media statements which will contradict the decisions of the CEC with regard to the special national congress. No concerns by affiliates or any leader should be raised in the media.”

Dlamini’s detractors have consistently held media briefings and will resume court action to force Cosatu to hold a SNC, to the consternation of Cosatu’s leadership.

The Cosatu president is trying to show that the office bearers are adhering to the federation’s constitution and following democratic voting processes on matters of division, but the hard line on Numsa and its allies is unlikely to restore unity. According to Sunday Independent, on Saturday Dlamini derided the “Magnificent Seven” at a Communist Party event and chastised Numsa for failing to change its tone. “What is confusing is that… they write an appeal and show no remorse, but they still take us to court for having expelled them.”

Numsa’s allies want the union to be unconditionally reinstated in Cosatu before unity talks take place, an unlikely prospect given the tone of leaders of Cosatu and Numsa.

Meanwhile, traditional structures of labour movements are being challenged. On Thursday, former SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) president Thobile Ntola announced the new South African Public Service Union (Sapsu), which will try to register as a super union organising all state workers. Ntola was expelled from Sadtu after allegations of corruption, but those claims appear not to have been taken further and many suspect his expulsion was due to his relationship with Vavi. At Sapsu Ntola is joined by other sidelined unionists.

To counter Numsa and fill the gap it has left in Cosatu, former union president Cedric Gina has launched the Liberated Metalworkers Union of SA (Limusa). Numsa, meanwhile, is reported to be in talks with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which has made waves in the platinum industry. Any sort of alliance between Numsa, its seven allies, and AMCU could effectively form a federation to rival Cosatu.

While Dlamini and the leaders of Numsa fight a war of words over control of the federation, their actions suggest a march is under way towards a new structure of labour unity in South Africa. DM

Photo: S’dumo Dlamini  at the Cosatu press conference, 11 N0vember 2014.  (Greg Nicolson)

Read more:

  • Cosatu president’s report on preparations for special national congress
  • ·Another crisis, another fake ‘Enemy of the State’ dossier: Numsa edition in Daily Maverick

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