The 'rebel' union says its estranged umbrella body is looking for a scapegoat for its leadership woes.
It has become fashionable to blame the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa for the problems facing the trade union federation Cosatu, according to Numsa spokesperson Castro Ngobese.
He made the remark after a press conference at Cosatu House in Johannesburg to relay the outcome of Cosatu’s central executive committee meeting, which took place between May 26 and 28.
Among other things discussed, Numsa was asked not to implement its resolution to lure members away from the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) or the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
In a response to a statement read out by Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, Ngobese said: “Members are not rhinos that they should be poached from Satawu or any other union. Members voluntarily asked to be a part of Numsa. As Numsa we have a responsibility to welcome workers and serve as a weapon for workers to offer them quality service in their fight for improved working conditions and a living wage.
“In the public sector unions, there has been so-called poaching among unions such as Nehawu [National Health, Education and Allied Workers’ Union], Denosa [Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa] and Sadnu [South African Democratic Nurses’ Union]. Cosatu is not acting on those things.
“The divisions in Cosatu are at national office-bearer level, which is why we feel that the only way to solve Cosatu’s problems is to have a special national congress so that new leadership can be chosen,” Ngobese said.
The way forward
Cosatu stated that “a failure to get this commitment by June 2 2014 would lead to the calling of a special central executive committee meeting to discuss the way forward”.
Although the issue of a breakaway “United Front” movement was not explicitly mentioned in the statement, Cosatu deputy president Zingiswa Losi, who was at the press conference, said that the phrase “cessation of hostilities” also referred to the formation of the United Front, as this fell under the scope of “anything that will militate against cohesion and unity”.
Numsa said that a national executive committee (NEC) meeting will take place on Sunday and the national office bearers of the union are expected to report back on the deliberations and outcomes of Cosatu’s central executive committee meeting. After this, the union’s NEC will plot a way forward.
After the statement had been read, Vavi said the question of the special national congress has been put in abeyance as it is seen as being divisive, with no common view about whether it would cement unity among the affiliates. He said a collective view is still being sought by the legal teams and unions.
Vavi said he would not speak on issues related to the statement, and there was a sense that he was walking a tightrope created by the people who had tried to oust him and were now using him to do their bidding against Numsa.
Devan Pillay, a sociology professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, said on Thursday that Vavi has always appeared ambivalent about moving out of the tripartite alliance, which the idea of the United Front implied.
“But he is not against canvassing wider grassroots support. So he’s kind of in between both positions. If you look at that statement, they are not really saying anything they have not said before: allowing the ANC to sort out differences, and allowing disciplinary processes to go through as part of Cosatu processes.”
He said there has always been space for ideological differences within Cosatu. One position is that of the ANC, and the other is that of an independent worker, “which Numsa was part of from the word go”.
“During the campaign for [Jacob] Zuma’s presidency, it tried to clamp down on different views, which was a very dark period for Cosatu,” Pillay said.
“But none of this has an impact on Numsa’s efforts to form a United Front. That it was off the statement means it is wishful thinking by individuals because there is no way that Numsa can retreat.”
He said the union has taken a congress decision on it that is binding on office bearers.
“It came as a result of six months of discussions, which is why it was so carefully worded. It is not, in fact, a decision to form a workers’ party because they have realised that the ANC is still popular among its members.
“The way I understand it is that it is a loose coming together of like-minded individuals around issues of human rights, working-class issues and environmental ones, and ANC people are not necessarily excluded.”