Some members of Congress of South African Trade Unions’ (Cosatu) powerful municipal workers union (Samwu) objected to the suspension of the planned strike action, but they were forced to abide by the decision taken by the union’s national executive committee, the Mail & Guardian has been told.
Samwu’s national leadership decided to suspend the nationwide strike, initially planned to start on Thursday this week, after President Jacob Zuma made an extraordinary intervention during a high level meeting attended by senior ANC, Samwu and Cosatu leaders in Johannesburg this week.
It was the first time in the history of the two organisations that senior ANC leaders, including Zuma, agreed to meet Samwu leaders, regarded by some within the ruling party as ultra-leftists, to resolve bargaining issues.
Political observers believe the ANC leadership only agreed to meet Samwu leaders to prevent the potential damage the strike action may have caused to the ruling party’s campaign, a few days before the local government elections on May 18. Zuma and the ANC’s treasurer general Matthews Phosa previously questioned Samwu’s planned strike action, but never suggested any political intervention by top ANC leaders.
Samwu provincial secretary in KwaZulu-Natal Jaycwe Ncanana told the M&G this week that union leaders agreed to suspend the strike action after Zuma personally promised to instruct the South African Local Government Association [Salga] and government leaders to implement some of the union’s demands. He said Samwu had given the ruling party 30 days to address all the union’s demands, failing which the union would embark on an indefinite strike. Ncanana said although the national leaders agreed to suspend the strike, a substantial number of ordinary Samwu members were unhappy with the decision.
“Not everybody was happy about the decision, but they had to abide by the decision taken by national executive committee.” Ncanana said there was a general feeling among ordinary members that the ANC only undertook to address issues raised by the union because of the local government elections.
“Many of our members believe it is easy for the ANC to make promises without fulfilling them. They are very sceptical about these commitments. They have complained that they have been at the receiving end for a long time. Only circumstances forced them to agree to the decision taken,” said Ncanana.
Among the key issues on Samwu’s list of demands is the immediate dismissal of Cooperative and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka, who is currently facing a number of corruption allegations.
Samwu also want Zuma not to sign the proposed Municipal Systems Amendment Bill into law, saying this was intended to give the Cooperative Governance Minister unnecessary powers to interfere in the affairs of local authorities and prevent politicians from holding management positions in various municipalities around the country.
Other issues include what the union has described as an increasing trend of police brutality and the militarisation of police, the transfer of services from local government to provincial government and the continued attacks on union leadership and political dismissals.
Ncanana said the ANC and the union agreed that the alliance secretariat would meet on a regular basis within the 30-day time frame to iron out some of the critical issues raised by the union.
“The President has made an undertaking that he would personally instruct Salga leaders, government department and the ministry of corporative and traditional affairs, to move swiftly in trying to resolve the issues.
Employers will get directives from the ANC to deal with our concerns. What they [the ANC] did, is what we expected,” said Ncanana.
Samwu general secretary Mthadeki Nhlapo said he did not expect the meeting between the union and the ANC to produce immediate results.
“We were not bargaining, but needed an audience [from the ANC] to deal with our concerns. In the history of Samwu, we never had such a high level meeting with the ANC. They have showed the willingness to deal with our problems,” said Nhlapo.
ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu has welcomed Samwu’s decision to suspend the strike. Mthembu said the ANC was concerned about the negative implications of the planned action on the upcoming local government elections.
“The decision by the union leadership will contribute to the creation of an environment that is free and fair during the local government election,” said Mthembu, adding that the party remained committed to finding lasting solutions to the challenges raised by Samwu.