Metalworkers’ union Numsa has put on a brave face ahead of what Cosatu insiders call its “inevitable” suspension on Tuesday.
Cosatu’s central executive committee (CEC) is expected to gather on Tuesday to hear a report from the ANC on its diagnosis of what led to the deep split in the federation and what remedies it recommends.
Multiple sources close to the intervention have predicted that the ANC will recommend that Numsa be suspended for violating Cosatu’s constitution. But two Numsa insiders appear confident of the union’s fightback strategy.
Numsa spokesperson Castro Ngobese said the union would attend the meeting as a Cosatu affiliate in good standing. He would not comment on whether it would abide by a decision of the meeting. “We can’t pre-empt the discussion of the CEC right now,” he said.
But a source close to Numsa said the union would consider court action if they were to be suspended from the organisation. “We will take them on like we did when they suspended [Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima] Vavi – and we will win,” he said.
The long road to deliberation
The ANC task team – led by party deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa – was called in to mediate after tensions grew and split began to appear likely after unions led by Numsa rally in support of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, who was suspended in August last year for allegedly bringing the organisation into disrepute, and then later reinstated after a high court ruled his suspension was unlawful.
The ANC initially had 30 days to report back to the CEC, but the process was delayed by six months. At first the delay was a result of the tardiness of the consultation process, but soon turned into politics.
Last week, Cosatu’s top leaders appeared to have pre-empted any dispute regarding the constitutionality of the meeting with regard to its notice period. One insider explained how it had emerged that Numsa planned to cite the constitution and declare the meeting invalid should any decisions be taken against them.
“So we saw what they were going to do,” the source said. “They were going to sit through the meeting and then when we voted to suspend them, they would take us to court. They would have gone to court and said the notice for the meeting was only six days when Cosatu’s constitution says the notice period must be seven.”
The dangers of suspension
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said he did not believe Cosatu’s suspension of Numsa would be immediate. “If we look back, every utterance of Numsa warranted a suspension … but it has not happened so far,” he said.
He said nobody would want to bear the responsibility of pushing Numsa out of Cosatu and, in effect, the ANC-led tripartite alliance.
“I don’t think this meeting will change things drastically. Even if they want to suspend Numsa … it will still be a while,” Mathekga said.
Analyst Steven Friedman expressed similar sentiments, adding that he did not believe Numsa would accept its suspension. “There may well be a court challenge and they might be successful,” he said.
Friedman agreed that whatever Cosatu decides in the three-day meeting will affect the future of the federation.
“If Numsa is forced to leave Cosatu, it won’t be an independent union, it will start a federation will get support from sections of unions,” he said. “And then you will have two federations competing for the same workers.”