Please don’t get me wrong. I think any dissenting voice in the face of ANC domination of society is most welcome to avoid complacency, which no governing party needs. But is Cosatu not bound by the rules of the alliance in tackling the ills of our society? Are they not expected to persuade its alliance partners of their views?
And if this is not the case, then what on earth binds this alliance lately?
The labour broker issue is a case in point. Without going into the obvious demerits of a wholesale, senseless banning of all matters related to labour brokers, it is strange that a matter that affects a multibillion rand industry has not been flagged by the ANC and its partners as a matter that requires a level of consensus by the governing alliance. Strange too that Cosatu has to resort to marches and bringing the economy to its knees to force its alliance partner in government to listen. Unless there is some good cop, bad cop strategy that some of us are not aware of; but in the absence of evidence in that direction we have to conclude that there is something fundamentally wrong with the conduct of Cosatu within the alliance – on this matter in particular. We are all aware of the excuse of dialectics and so called negation of the negation, but the trouble with some of these Marxist theories is its lack of practical applications on the ground.
Now that that is out of the way let’s examine the argument on the banning of labour brokers. South Africa’s high unemployment rate is linked to the global economic depression where more and more companies can only take on few employees year on year. South Africa will not experience growth that is particularly different from other emerging economies of its size and shape. Therefore rules of economic engagement will apply here like they do in other efficiency-driven economies. With this inconvenient truth in hand, no one can therefore argue that the only way you can combat unemployment and therefore poverty is to only have full time jobs. This would be ridiculous in the extreme and at odds even with government initiatives such as the public works programme. If a road is being built and it can provide 500 jobs for a year, you can’t argue that those piece jobs would rather not exist so that you have people idling simply because the opportunities present are of a short term nature. This is totally un-dialectical, even in the Marxist standards that Cosatu is meant to be emulating.
True, there are labour brokers who break the law. The same way there are employers and unions who break the law. This is not sufficient reason to ban all brokers, the same way no one is saying unions must be banned for contravening laws during violent strikes. There are investors who have short-term investments for which they might need labour for a limited amount of time. Must these people not invest in South Africa because of the so-called inflexible labour laws? Is anyone arguing that these companies must exploit workers? Not at all. But the idea that the only way to make a living is to have one job that is full time is so archaic as to be insulting to the majority of our people. It has to be rejected. And in this illogical approach may just lie the answer of the puzzle of Cosatu’s conduct. It is clear that Cosatu has failed to convince anyone who is level-headed in the alliance about the sensibility of pulling a plug on what is a serious multimillion rand contribution to the terrible joblessness situation.
Is Cosatu going to give some income to the people who benefit from these brokers jobs? Does Cosatu really believe that by banning brokers they will force companies that can’t afford it to have more full time jobs? Is there an economist who has advised Cosatu that by banning brokers the economy will suddenly have surplus jobs?
On 7th March we saw the economy being brought to its knees once again in an attempt to force the government’s hand to accede to this crazy proposition. One hopes that government will ignore this ill-considered call to further plunge the country into joblessness. There are sensible discussions that are happening at Nedlac to address identified problems in the practice of labour brokering – in those chambers persuasion and not mass action will win the day. This is where Cosatu must table its argument to other social partners, free of Marxist rhetoric but focused on practical solutions for real world, the ones that would not result in job losses. ??DM
JJ TABANE is a businessman and media commentator. He writes here in his personal capacity.