Cosatu cheat sheet: All you need to know

It's been a packed week at the Cosatu national conference, and unless you're the most hardened news follower, we doubt you've kept a close eye on the proceedings. No matter, we present you with our Cosatu cheat sheet: everything you need to know about the conference in five points.

A bunch of trade unionists in a room. Why should I care?

You shouldn't. Unless you care about the future of the country. Cosatu's conference was a biggish deal as:

  • They're an important and influential partner of the ruling ANC and can affect certain policies, not to mention the crucial question of who will lead the ANC and thus the country. Roughly half of the ANC's members are also Cosatu members.
  • This conference is held every three years and new leaders are elected. There was a chance of the popular Zwelinzima Vavi being ousted (you know him, the guy who's anti-e-tolls and regularly criticises government and the ANC for being corrupt and a bit useless). As it happens he was re-elected unopposed, as was the rest of the leadership.
  • Cosatu's has a big role to play in preventing scary moments like the Marikana massacre from happening again, by winning back the trust of workers.

Ok, so what happened?

Erm, not all that much actually. Vavi delivered a scathing report on the ANC and the alliance generally, which was debated for absolute ages before it was adopted by the some 3 000 delegates. Most of the juicy stuff however was referred to the party's central executive committee to decide in the first week of October, particularly the hot issue of what the trade union federation's stance is on the ANC leadership battle where everyone is more or less with either Jacob Zuma or Kgalema Motlanthe for president.

Seriously? Why'd you bother going?

Well there were a few other important resolutions made. Here they are for your edification. You're welcome.

  • Vavi has declared the need for a "Lula moment" for the country, inspired by Brazil's example in socio-economic transformation and a dramatically improved life for workers and the poor. It may sound like just more ideas but he's pretty adamant about it, even planning a nationwide strike demanding a radical economic shift to the left on the part of government. And we know how you feel about strikes.
  • They're asking for a minimum national working wage, to prevent wildcat strikes like the one at Lonmin setting a precedent and workers asking for all sorts of crazy increases.
  • That big word: nationalisation. They've called for "decisive state intervention in strategic sectors of the economy including strategic nationalisation and state ownership". Not too many details forthcoming but it would include key parts of the economy such as mines, etc.
  • The urgent introduction of a comprehensive social security.
  • They've come out in support the youth league’s call for expropriation of land without compensation and the removal of the property clauses.

You're not paying attention, are you?

Um, no. Sorry. This is all a bit scary

It is and it isn't. The good news is that Cosatu is a pretty democratic organisation that was frank about their problems and genuinely wants to address them through what they believe is a good solution. But remember there are other plans competing with theirs, not least of which is Trevor Manuel's more centrist national development plan, which avoids scary words like expropriation. The alliance is a broad church, as they always say, and the ideas emerging out of this congress will be moderated by other voices.

Anything else?

A buzz term being thrown around was "social distance". With the threat of breakaway unions that are even more militant that Cosatu, plus the threat of more wildcat strikes like the one at Marikana that cost over 40 lives, it's in everyone's best interest to have a union federation like Cosatu that sorts out its challenges and convince workers they can represent them successfully. Also Cosatu has come down very hard on corruption in government, which is one thing that most South Africans can pretty much agree on.

Hell yes! Can I go enjoy my long weekend now?

You and me both. Happy Heritage Day.

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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