Cosatu: Stage set for bitter infighting

The Congress of South African Trade Unions's national congress next week is set to become a mini-Mangaung with one of its most vexing matters being whether or not to support Jacob Zuma's campaign for re-election as ANC president.

Concurrently and directly related, warring factions in the trade union federation are planning to field candidates to contest the positions of both its president, Sdumo Dlamini, and general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

Although Cosatu's central committee resolved several months ago that the federation should not pronounce on the issue of succession at the ANC's elective conference in Manguang in December, some affiliates, including metalworkers' union Numsa, transport union Satawu, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), teachers' union Sadtu and civil servants' union Nehawu, are all expected to lobby for a resolution to support Zuma's re-election.

The Mail & Guardian was told this week by union members that Numsa, which has been critical of the Zuma administration, took a resolution to support him – provided he is surrounded by left-leaning leaders in the ANC's national executive committee.

Numsa president Cedric Gina is close to Zuma, although its general secretary, Irvin Jim, believes the ANC president has failed to implement the Polokwane resolutions aimed at reducing unemployment and widening inequality.

Close relationship
But unlike Vavi and Dlamini, Gina and Jim have maintained a close relationship despite their differences and have led a united organisation.

In a recent interview with the M&G, Vavi said that although Cosatu supported the leadership elected at Polokwane, it had decided not to impose names on the ANC.

"We are saying to our members that branches are going to start nominations in October and allow the ANC to discuss the leadership and assess it and nominate whoever they want to nominate," Vavi said. "We can't prejudge that process.

"The ANC national executive committee has said that from October that process will be officially opened. That's how democracy works internally," he said.

"I will not say that all of us are not under pressure to make pronouncements now to say we are anti or pro this and that. But we believe that Cosatu must not impose names and its preference to the ANC conference outside the ANC processes and that it can only do so if things are rolling back to pre-2007, or there is a danger of tenderpreneurs or the 1996 class project hijacking the ANC and driving it against the workers' interests."

Vavi's supporters in the federation are lobbying Gina and teacher union Sadtu president Thobile Ntola to challenge Dlamini for president.

This follows plans by Vavi's opponents to oust him from his position. Vavi has been general secretary since 1999. But Dlamini's supporters want him to be replaced by Cosatu's provincial secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, Zet Luzipho. Lobbying is likely to intensify this weekend, with opposing factions hoping to do last-minute horse-trading for their preferred candidates. Nominations for candidates close on Sunday.

Policy differences
Relations between Dlamini and Vavi have deteriorated in the past few months over policy differences and the ANC's succession battle.

Those wanting Vavi removed include leaders from Nehawu, the NUM, police union Popcru, the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers' Union  and Satawu. Vavi is backed by, among others, Numsa, the Food and Allied Workers' Union and parts of Sadtu and the South African Municipal Workers' Union.

Vavi has come under pressure from some of his comrades in the alliance for publicly criticising the ANC and the government. A Cosatu leader said Vavi had been acting as if Cosatu was not part of the alliance. "We are a Marxist-Leninist party. We don't want a moral conscience in Cosatu. We want a Marxist-Leninist leader. Opposition like the DA [Democratic Alliance] agrees with him and that is dangerous.

"He normally takes liberal positions. His reports are embarrassing to the ANC. Why embarrass the ANC if we are in an alliance? He is out of touch with Cosatu. He has become a politician who is no longer grounded.

"His embracing of civil society is viewed by others as intentional and they think he has a plan to form a political party. In his reports, he likes putting liberal cartoons by Zapiro."

The M&G was told by someone who attended the planning conference that some Cosatu leaders are unhappy with next week's programme and the inclusion of some guests, particularly Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, political analyst Somadoda Fikeni and the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharon Barry.

Macroeconomic policy
Cosatu has been critical of Manuel for his part in the introduction of the growth, employment and redistribution macroeconomic policy. Some Cosatu leaders want the federation to be affiliated to the further left-leaning World Federation of Trade Unions, instead of the union confederation, which they claim does not support the Palestinian cause.

A Cosatu leader sympathetic to Vavi defended his bona fides and said he was one of the key leaders who had held Cosatu together over the past years.

"We are aware that there are few people wanting change in Cosatu," the leader said. "I don't know in whose interest they are doing this. They want to weaken Vavi so he does not have political authority. Cosatu will be poor without him.

"It will be in the interest of the SACP [South African Communist Party] to see that.

"We know some are busy working hard to oust Vavi for their own selfish reasons, not for the interest of workers. Cosatu cannot assume the role of the SACP as a vanguard, but at the moment there is a vacuum. There is pressure to fill that vacuum. The party is not there.

"They are only obsessed about Mangaung. This has weakened Cosatu. The Cosatu central executive committee will sit and agree on certain issues, but this changes when the SACP takes different positions. Nehawu and the NUM are the culprits," the leader said.

Before the ANC's watershed Polok­wane conference in 2007, Vavi was one of Zuma's most vocal supporters and helped to engineer his victory over former president Thabo Mbeki. But he has since fallen foul of Zuma and some of his close allies, including SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande.

Taste the medicine
"The centre comes from KwaZulu-Natal at co-ordination level," said a senior Cosatu leader. "Blade turns to find his feet in KwaZulu-Natal to launch any big project. This became more important during the SACP conference. [Nehawu general secretary Fikile] Majola declined to contest. This is to do with the fact that Nehawu is not united, hence Luzipho was approached – he is a provincial executive council member of the SACP in the province. You can see where this is coming from.

"The problem started when Cosatu called for Blade to return to the SACP head office. They say now it is his [Vavi's] turn to taste the medicine."

The Cosatu leader said Luzipho was prepared to challenge Vavi, although he was aware he might not win.

"I was told that on Saturday he agreed during a meeting in Durban to challenge Vavi. He is standing. He is taking the risk. His relationship with Vavi has been at its lowest point. This is after Vavi confronted him on his alleged business interest in the provincial government.

"He spent most of his time in the ANC activities. If he loses against Vavi, he will have to resign. I don't imagine him working with Vavi."

Among the issues expected to dominate the congress agenda include the nationalisation of mines and other key sectors of the economy, land redistribution, the Reserve Bank's mandate and the national development plan.

The delegates are also expected to discuss whether to support Zuma's bid for second term. The recent Marikana massacre, which resulted in the killing of 34 workers by police, will also take centre stage.

Jim said Marikana exposed the fault lines of the capitalist system: "This ugly reality of capitalist barbarity, combined with our untransformed colonial economy and society, has sharply worsened the conditions of the working class and the poor, as evidenced by daily violent service delivery protests in our communities and growing dissenting voices against the system demanding housing, water, food, decent jobs and free education for the working class and the poor.

"The situation is socially and economically very traumatic among the millions of our youths who cannot find work."



An elusive target

At its congress in 2003, Cosatu set a target of four million members by 2009. But it has encountered several problems and has not made inroads among some race groups and demographics.

Transport union Satawu president Ephraim Mphahlele joined a breakaway union after differences with his leadership, and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union was formed 10 years ago by a faction that split from the National Union of Mineworkers.

Cosatu has also failed to recruit farm and domestic ­workers, but it has grown ­phenomenally in the mining and quarrying sector.

Young workers are under-represented in Cosatu. Most of the affiliates that responded to a recent survey had less than 20% of young members.

Cosatu has failed to recruit white males. The majority of white workers prefer Solidarity, mainly because of affirmative action. – Charles Molele

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Matuma Letsoala
Guest Author
Charles Molele
Guest Author

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