Cosatu to push for pro-poor policies

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) will push for pro-poor economic policies and changes at the central bank when it meets with its members and political allies on Monday.

South African unions launched a series of strikes earlier this year demanding above inflation salary increases, going head to head with President Jacob Zuma who refused to pander to their demands, even though the unions helped him to power in April.

With 1,9-million members in the formal sector and the biggest federation in the country, Cosatu hopes to convince Zuma to change economic policies in order to steer the country out of its first recession in 17 years and halt soaring unemployment.

In a draft resolution circulated ahead of its 10th congress, Cosatu proposes scrapping inflation targeting and urges central bank changes.

“Interest rates cannot be the only tool to target and stabilise inflation,” Cosatu President Sidumo Dlamini told Reuters.

“We must talk about the industrialisation of our economy and how best to do that to ensure we can create jobs and ensure we can protect the jobs that are there.”

The union is pushing for a seat on the Reserve Bank’s board and said it would like to see the central bank fully state-owned to limit its exposure to shareholder influence.

Recovery plan
Dlamini said in the current economic climate a debate was needed on the effectiveness of an economic recovery plan launched by former president Thabo Mbeki, which Cosatu said favoured business interests over those of workers.

“That policy has not been able to deliver on promises. There has to be a discussion on whether that policy is relevant, particularly at a time when we are in recession,” he said.

Analysts said while Zuma was likely to be open to debate at the congress, Cosatu would not dictate his policy.

“I doubt Zuma is frightened by the unions,” said Sanusha Naidu, a political analyst at think-tank Fahamu.

“It will be difficult for Cosatu to reconcile how it sees its current engagement with the Zuma Cabinet and its ability to shift policy.”

Cosatu also calls for a review of the country’s black economic empowerment (BEE) policy, saying “the black bourgeoisie benefits on the sweat of workers through BEE companies”.

In order to right apartheid wrongs, South Africa requires firms to meet quotas on black ownership, employment and procurement to offset racism and stimulate the economy by creating a black middle class.

But several deals have collapsed as the global crisis has caused the value of shares used as collateral to fall and critics argue the drive has enriched a small black elite while doing little to boost the economy.

Madisha plans rival body
Meanwhile, former Cosatu president Willie Madisha on Sunday accused the trade union federation of putting personality clashes above workers’ concerns and said he would push ahead with plans to set up an independent rival body.

Madisha said 150 representatives of independent unions decided at a meeting in Johannesburg on Saturday to hold a national founding conference by December.

“This course of action has been necessitated by the failure of the government, and by extension Cosatu, to address the material conditions of workers in this country,” he said in a statement.

He accused the new administration of failing to act on election promises to curb poverty and create half a million new jobs while protecting existing ones.
It was instead wasting energy on party infighting.

“This government is getting away with pre-election promises that it has not even attempted to address, but is already gripped in succession battles that hamper delivery and have the whole country holding its breath,” Madisha said.

“This is indicative of the lack of a genuine concern for the poor and economically depressed working class majority.”

Madisha said Cosatu invited questions about its relevance as a vanguard of workers’ interests by focusing on succession battles shaping up in the ANC.

“It is a matter of grave concern that Cosatu obsesses itself with the succession battles of the ruling party and has taken it upon itself to be the power broker in the corridors of our government capitals.

“This obsession does not address the real issues affecting the workers in the shop floor. Whether Trevor Manuel throws his weight around in Cabinet meetings does not benefit the workers ... but Cosatu wants the workers to be dealing in personality issues rather than worker issues.”

He said Cosatu had become nothing more than “a band of armchair revolutionaries who have alienated workers”.

Madisha’s sacking as Cosatu boss in February 2007 was widely seen as a result of his open support for then president Thabo Mbeki in his losing battle to retain control of the ANC.—Reuters, Sapa

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