New union in bed with Cope

Plans are afoot to launch a trade union movement, which will have strong links with the Congress of the People (Cope).

Central to the movement, which aims to challenge ANC-aligned Cosatu, will be Cope leader and former Cosatu trade union boss Willy Madisha.

A convention is planned for next month in Johannesburg to launch the workers’ movement, along the lines of the Sandton gathering, which led to Cope’s formation.

Organisers are tight-lipped about whether the new movement will be formally affiliated to Cope, but admit to using Cope leader Madisha as an adviser.

The steering committee comprises unionists who supported him when he was ousted from the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu).

Jingles Mabilo, who represented Madisha at the Sadtu disciplinary hearing, is among the organisers. He confirmed that efforts are under way to form a new union movement.
“I don’t want to talk about this thing and involve my people,” said Mabilo. “I’m not at the helm, I’m just one of the organisers.”

The steering committee has held weekly meetings since November, shortly after the Cope launch, to organise the convention. At these, teachers are understood to have discussed plans for a mass resignation from Sadtu.

The most recent meeting was in Polokwane on Wednesday.

Madisha denied both his and Cope’s involvement in the initiative. However, he admitted being approached by teachers who “no longer want to be divided on the basis of their political beliefs” for advice on how to form a union.

Cope had chosen him as a labour convener last year. “The party just wanted access to the workers’ market; the idea was to mobilise workers,” he said.

The new union will clearly draw its membership from teachers angered by Sadtu’s “unfair” treatment of Madisha, particularly in his home province of Limpopo.

“We still don’t know what he’s done wrong,” said Maurice Peje, former chairperson of Sadtu’s Mogodumo branch in Lebowakgomo. Now a Cope member, Peje quit Sadtu after being suspended for publicly supporting Madisha.

Peje said he would join the new union, but wanted a guarantee that it will not be governed by Cope. “If you want to move from one partisan union you cannot join another union like that.”

Former members of Sadtu and those planning to resign from it would prefer to have their own organisation that will follow the format Madisha has been advocating, which is free from the influence or control of any political party.

“I personally engaged him along those lines and he is in favour of an independent trade union,” said Peje.

Madisha was fired from the South African Communist Party after allegations that he had handed a R500 000 donation to SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande.

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice. Read more from Mmanaledi Mataboge

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