Cosatu

by Jul 31, 2014Magazine

Vavi is back. after nine months of suspension, a successful lawsuit set the way
for Vavi’s return to Cosatu.
This confirms Numsa’s contention that the original suspension of Vavi violated Cosatu’s constitution, indicating that Cosatu president S’dumo Dlaminiand
 his allies were either so hasty to remove Vavi that they didn’t bother to follow procedure or arrogant enough to overlook such petty details in the face of their seemingly dominant position within the trade union federation.

The degeneration of the Dlamini camp was again recently demonstrated when former NUm president, saCp big wig,
and current minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana turned out to be paying his farmhand only R26 per day. Blade Nzimande even went as far as to label Zokwana’s critics as opportunistic. The saCp appears to be now defending slave wages, as long as the employer is a member of the politburo.

But of course the knives are still out for Vavi and Numsa. The aNC intervention has only postponed this confrontation
and delayed the expected purge of those and the working class as a whole emanating from capital. Jeremy Cronin’s non-sensical attacks on Numsa, who he charges both with ‘business unionism’ and ‘ultra-leftism’, have to be read in this light. This very unity is a chimera, as pointed out earlier and it in fact distracts from Cosatu’s own failure
to unionise broad sectors
of society and deal with the challenge of informalisation of work. Cosatu seems unable to offer any response beyond their rhetoric around the importance of unity and the progress made in the National Democratic Revolution.

The challenge for Numsa
is to attempt to hold their fragile alliance together, when other unions are under heavy pressure from the aNC and the Dlamini faction to distance themselves from Numsa’s radicalism. The platinum strike who put workers before the political needs of the Commander-in-Chief.
We witness a slide towards a Cosatu willing to debase itself in order to defend Nkandla or condemn their own members for being shot at Marikana. The aNC’s election victory has only given further encouragement to those who have staked their future to Zuma’s camp.

As we have written before, the antagonisms within Cosatu are a result of both structural shifts in South African capitalism, which Cosatu generally speaking has failed to adapt to, and
the continued attempts by the aNC to transform Cosatu into the labour desk
of the party. This can’t be reduced to the simplistic narrative of Vavi vs Dlamini or Jim vs Dlamini. The aNC’s ‘intervention’ can only be viewed in this light as a political ploy designed to mute the antagonisms within Cosatu in the build-up to the elections. In a moment of grand historical irony it was Cyril ‘Marikana’ Ramaphosa aided by chief party functionary Jessie Duarte who were mandated with this task. Given Numsa’s own stance on Ramaphosa’s

role in the Marikana massacre, it was hardly a well thought-out or sincere move, but by portraying the intervention as a peacekeeping one, they are in effect covering up their own direct role as the driver behind the divisions in Cosatu. ‘We must appreciate that the other forces are very brutal and very decisive. They have got the communist party
on their side. They have got the aNC leadership on their side. They have got the state on their side, with all its apparatus to unleash against us. They will do everything to unsettle us as individuals and as a collective’. Part of the move is surely motivated by a strategy intent on dividing Vavi from his allies in Numsa, by forcing him to perform his official duties as a national office bearer of Cosatu – from campaigning for the aNC to forcing him to be silent about the very people who still want his head
on a platter. This fake unity in Cosatu
does nothing but blunt the ability of the trade union federation to make a stand
on workers’ issues: from their own open support for breaking the platinum strike to turning Workers’ Day into an aNC rally, workers’ rights take the backburner to face-saving exercises and apologies for the ruling party.

Numsa’s own political position and the possibility of massive Numsa strike
of around 200 000 workers in July, accentuates the pressure to pacify Numsa and hold together what’s left of Cosatu
for the sake of economic stability. The
last thing the Alliance wants is ‘rogue unions’ embarking on militant strikes
that cannot be controlled or brought to heel by the aNC. It is for this reason we see increasingly unhinged and atrocious attacks on the left, Numsa and amCU from the likes of Blade Nzimande, Jeremy Cronin and Gwede Mantashe, who charge Numsa with treason for threatening the ‘unity’ of the working class. Unity is not some sort of abstract ethical imperative which is good in itself, without a programme. The unity of Cosatu should not be maintained at the expense of the interests of workers. If the unity
of Cosatu requires the meek submission of Numsa and Vavi to the aNC, it is not worth maintaining. Unity becomes a rhetorical device employed to squash criticism, especially when deployed in the light of the very real attacks on the unions also plays a role in this, as government finds itself increasingly under pressure from capital to pacify the unions to soothe the fears of jumpy investors and rating agencies.

If our economic woes continue or intensify so will the pressure on the aNC to act to quell labour unrest. Increased police repression will follow and the country is facing the prospect of the most openly anti-labour aNC government ever: a government that was brought to power through the efforts of Cosatu, under the leadership of a Zuma elevated to the role of Commander-in-Chief on the basis of a promised move to the left.In this political climate the necessity of a building a broad alliance of progressive forces becomes increasingly apparent. Simply focusing on the legal system or the shop floor won’t constitute an adequate response to the attempt to force some form of ‘social cohesion’ around a social compact based on undermining organised labour and further insitutionalising a
low wage labour regime. Which, so far, seems to be the aNC’s interpretation of the mandate to govern that they were handed in the elections.

Unless there is a special national congress in Cosatu which brings about
a renewal of the workers’ movement, Cosatu will in effect become an organisation forced to support the type of social compact described earlier. The signs are already there, in particular Cosatu’s open call for the state to break the amCU strike and support of scab labour in the platinum belt. It seems like the unity of the working class doesn’t embrace those workers located outside the Alliance.

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