'Don't undermine alliance leaders'

S’Dumo Dlamini speaks to Matuma Letsoalo about Cosatu’s relationship with Zuma’s government

Cosatu has been very critical of President Jacob Zuma’s leadership on such issues as the failure to act on corruption and the implementation of the party’s Polokwane resolutions. Has it has lost confidence in Zuma?
We have full confidence in Zuma and leaders in government and the ANC. What causes unhappiness is when he assures foreign investors that economic policies will not change.
This makes us uncomfortable because we agreed [with the ANC] on a new growth path. The reality is that it will be almost impossible to implement the five priorities [crime, education, health, rural development and creation of decent jobs] outlined in the ANC manifesto using old neoliberal policies.

But, really, the signs are that you have lost confidence in Zuma.
We are criticising him because he has not been decisive on many issues. But we can’t translate this to be a lack of confidence in him. As the leader of the ANC, we expect him to put his foot down and say enough is enough.

Some ANC leaders have reacted to recent strikes by Cosatu affiliates by saying that the are intended to embarrass Zuma’s government.
It’s unfortunate that when workers express themselves about their working conditions, people label this as political. We don’t enjoy going on strike; we do it if employers fail to address workers’ interests.

The militancy demonstrated by our members should remind everyone that there is still a widening inequality between senior managers and ordinary workers.

This government was voted into power by ordinary workers—the ANC would not be in power if the workers didn’t vote for it.

The claim [that Cosatu’s intention is to embarrass the government] is misplaced. We are simply responding to the growing level of poverty and inequality in the country.

Given that the economy has shed more than a million jobs in the recession, won’t continued strike actions by Cosatu make matters worse?

Employers are also responsible for the economic losses experienced during the strikes. We wouldn’t have prolonged strikes if they settled earlier. We fell into recession because of capital—it’s not workers who caused it. In fact, workers have made big compromises to get us out of recession.

We’re worried that employers continue to do the same things that they did before the recession. Eskom’s 25% tariff increase will lead to 250 000 job losses this year alone. This is a terrible situation and we will be called on to understand. We aren’t going to do that.

When are you planning to strike against Eskom’s tariff increases?
Cosatu, Nactu [the National Council of Trade Unions] and Fedusa [Federation of Unions of South Africa] have already served a section 77 notice. Nedlac is trying to get us to agree on the way forward. If we fail to agree, we will announce our plans to go on a strike soon—even if it means doing it during the World Cup.

Some commentators accuse you of trying to use strikes to hold the World Cup to ransom.
Poverty is there, whether there is a World Cup or not. People are demanding that we should be patient and endure poverty. If we do this, it will confirm the idea that this World Cup is not about South Africans but for foreigners to come and enjoy themselves while we die of hunger.

From July 12, when the World Cup comes to an end, white people will still be far richer than blacks. Construction workers will be jobless. Their lives will be misery. Why should we wait until the end of the World Cup? We’re not undermining the World Cup, we’re just following processes.

It’s not our intention to go on strike during the Cup, but circumstances may force us. We cannot be held to ransom about this.

Last week, you announced plans to hold a special congress to discuss what you described as a growing tendency in the ANC to marginalise Cosatu leaders in policy decisions. Could you explain this?
We said we would be left with no other option but to convene a special congress if there continues to be a disjuncture on the role of the alliance. In 2006, we agreed on a pact, where Cosatu and the ANC would sign up to programme of action.

This did not happen because of the ANC’s Polokwane conference, which addressed all our demands. The Polokwane conference agreed that the alliance would be the centre when it comes to policy.

But in 2009, people started saying there is no such thing, despite this being confirmed during the economic and alliance summits in 2008. Because of this, we need to go back to workers to chart the way forward.

So a pact would be the only solution to your differences with the ANC?
We need something that binds us. Let’s have a programme of the alliance that can take the ANC manifesto forward. If we agree on a pact, it would be difficult for the ANC to sideline Cosatu. We aren’t happy that ANC leaders only value us during elections. We feel there has not been enough consultation on matters of policy.

Take the issue of the wage subsidy for the youth. Also there has been no consultation on whether we have achieved the target of creating 500 000 jobs by the end of 2009. We were surprised to be told that the target has been achieved, while we have lost 900 000 jobs.

The recent episode [the ANC’s plan to charge Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi] shows there is a tendency to undermine alliance leaders. People are saying we want to take over the ANC. That has been the feature of our relationship, instead of engaging on programmes of action to fast-track service delivery.

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