/ 18 February 2014

We won’t allow Cosatu to become a toothless giant, say unions

Cosatu's suspended general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
Cosatu's suspended general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

Nine unions that called for Cosatu to hold a special national congress claimed on Tuesday that the trade union federation's leadership manipulated the quorum of the central executive committee (CEC) meeting and the agenda.

The affiliates are the Communication Workers Union, the Democratic Nurses Union of South Africa, the Food and Allied Workers Union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa, the South African Commercial and Catering Workers Union, the South African Football Players Union, the South African Municipal Workers Union, and the South African State and Allied Workers Union.

"It is clear that this faction is prepared to sacrifice Cosatu and turn it into a toothless giant in order to please its political masters," the unions said in a joint statement.

"We cannot and will not allow this to happen without a determined struggle and we believe that we have the support of the majority of Cosatu workers."

Cosatu held a special CEC in Johannesburg last week where it discussed holding a special national congress (SNC). Following the meeting, acting general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali said the CEC had declined the request by the nine affiliates for an SNC.

He said the meeting raised problems, which it believed a special national congress would cause affiliates, including financial constraints, a full programme of other events, and election work.

The nine affiliates boycotted the CEC meeting. 

A paralysed Cosatu
Last week, Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini said five of the nine unions were not affiliates in good standing and that even if they had been present at the meeting they would not be a deciding factor in the discussions.

The nine affiliates said the decision to not hold a SNC was further evidence that Cosatu was paralysed.

"Cosatu members are right to ask why, if Cosatu cannot afford a special national congress, it is prepared to allocate millions for senior counsel and forensic auditors to prosecute, demonise and attack comrade Zwelinzima Vavi, considered by millions of workers as the legitimate voice of the working class."

The nine affiliates have called for the reinstatement of suspended general secretary Vavi. He was suspended last year after he said he had an affair with a junior employee who had accused him of rape but had not laid charges with the police. The affiliates believed the disciplinary process instituted against Vavi was unjust.

They wanted the congress to be held by the end of March and a new Cosatu leadership elected. The unions threatened to take Cosatu to court if it did not hold the congress.

The unions on Tuesday said they would continue to campaign for a SNC and would use all constitutional and legal means to do so. The CEC last week also took a decision to give Numsa an ultimatum following resolutions it had taken at its special congress last year.

Cosatu wanted Numsa to give reasons why it should not be suspended or expelled.

Numsa, Cosatu at loggerheads
Numsa and Cosatu have been at loggerheads since Vavi's suspension. The metalworkers' union resolved at its congress in December not to support the ANC in the upcoming general elections.

The nine affiliates accused Cosatu of trying to destabilise Numsa, which is the trade union federation's biggest affiliate.

"Numsa are being targeted precisely because they are not prepared to kowtow to the current leadership faction, or those within the leadership of alliance structures that support them," the nine affiliates said.

"Let it be said, loud and clear, Numsa have endorsed the position shared by all the nine Cosatu affiliates who remain wholly committed to building a democratic, worker-controlled and independent Cosatu." – Sapa