Police brutality, the rapacious salaries of mining bosses and the plight of the NUM were a feature of heated debates at Cosatu's national congress.
Debates around the crisis in Marikana followed the presentation of a draft declaration by Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, entitled the Lonmin Marikana Platinum Mine Tragedy, the Mining Industry and the General Poverty Wages, are set to continue throughout the second day of congress until a final report is adopted.
Delivering the draft declaration, Vavi criticised police action during the Marikana strike in August which saw more than 45 people killed, including two police officers. He also called for a second independent commission of inquiry that will run parallel to the judicial commission already appointed by President Jacob Zuma.
"We repeat our statements of abhorrence of the use of brute force by the police against workers in all labour disputes, and we renew our call for the demilitarisation of the SAPS," said Vavi.
He added that a clear message should be sent to the police, that where there are continued violent attacks on mine workers and their families, these should be speedily investigated and arrests, prosecution and convictions must happen.
"What has made matters worse is that where divisions have resulted in physical attacks against NUM members, police has consistently failed to act. This has led the NUM to conclude that sections of the police are part of an anti-worker, ultra-nationalist 'state within a state', which is acting to support a narrow grouping of business people and politicians. Cosatu supports the NUM in its call for proper policing in the form of investigations, arrests, prosecutions and convictions in the case of reports of violence against NUM members or workers in general. This call for proper policing is not to be interpreted as a call for the violent repression of protesting workers. Cosatu has unequivocally condemned the killings of August 16."
But while Vavi warned against the use of brute force by the police on mineworkers, certain leaders including ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, argued for a less hardened position on the action of the police in labour disputes and called for a rework of the draft declaration.
Mantashe and some union delegates told the congress that the Cosatu declaration should not appear as if government was to blame for the bloodletting in Marikana.
Mantashe argued that the declaration should lay the blame on the mining bosses and it should also make it clear that they were responsible for the violence in Marikana.
Earlier in his opening address to the congress, President Jacob Zuma defended the deployment of the troops and other law enforcement agencies in Marikana.
"Given the levels of violence and intimidation in Marikana, government deployed law enforcement agencies to stabilise the situation," Zuma told delegates.
"This does not take away the rights of miners and residents to protest, peacefully and unarmed, as provided for in the laws of the land. The agencies have been told to be firm, but to respect the rights of residents and strikers. We appeal to some political party leaders in the country who have been vocal to desist from the irresponsible language including the Marikana law enforcement campaign to apartheid era measures."
Vavi further urged union delegates to close ranks and defend the NUM against ongoing violent attacks on its members and leaders in Marikana. He also called for the reinstatement of all the 800 workers who were dismissed by Implats earlier this year.
The South African Communist Party secretary general Blade Nzimande also called for the alliance to defend the NUM. "The NUM is facing a reign of terror. But they won¹t defeat the NUM. The SACP is with the NUM. Killings are going on in Marikana and the media is silent. To POPCRU, you have our solidarity [too]. Act [against violent protesters]. No one has a licence to kill people," said Nzimande.
The draft declaration further said it would embark on a militant campaign to tackle what it called "poverty wages" in the mining industry and said the salaries of the mining bosses were a critical feature in inequality and the widening income gap.
"Inequality is at its extreme in the mining industry. It is no coincidence that the highest paid executive directors in South Africa in 2009 were in the BHP Billiton (average R41-million), Anglo American (average R20.5-million), Lonmin (average R20-million) and Anglo Gold Ashanti (average R17.5-million). Compare these grotesque salaries to the current media wage of R4 000 and the median wage of R3 600 of NUM members," said Vavi.
NUM secretary general Frans Baleni said the union welcomed the messages of support from alliance members. "We are extremely humbled by the support [from all the union affiliates]. We also have over 200 unions supporting us in these trying times," said Baleni.