Cosatu unable to kiss and make up despite peace deal

Numsa members, pictured here during a recent wage protest, are determined to push ahead and form an alternative labour party. (M&G, Delwyn Verasamy)

Numsa members, pictured here during a recent wage protest, are determined to push ahead and form an alternative labour party. (M&G, Delwyn Verasamy)

Barely 24 hours after the ANC presented its report aimed at resolving divisions among Cosatu affiliates to the union federation’s special central executive committee, Cosatu leaders were at each other’s throats again. 

A faction aligned to its president, Sdumo Dlamini, was already pushing for the expulsion of metalworkers union Numsa.

The Dlamini faction was also expected to push for disciplinary action against Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi for having sex with a junior employee at the federation’s headquarters in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.

The move goes against ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s appeal for unity within the federation. Ramaphosa, who is leading the ANC mediation effort, said on Wednesday the ANC wanted Numsa to remain within Cosatu and the alliance.

It also recommended that the pending disciplinary case against Vavi be finalised rapidly in a fair manner and in the spirit of unity. But Ramaphosa’s calls appear to have fallen on deaf ears, as Dlamini’s supporters persisted with their campaign to kick Numsa and Vavi out of the country’s largest labour federation.

“The afternoon discussions on Wednesday were about the expulsion of Numsa.
A lot of unions felt very strongly that Numsa must go,” said a senior Cosatu leader, who asked to remain anonymous. “This is nothing personal but about undermining the principle of Cosatu – which says you can’t recruit in other sectors outside yours. If you extend your scope and recruit in other unions, then you are undermining [others] and creating your own rights. They must go. Once we are done with Numsa, we will deal with Vavi.”

Challenge to expulsion
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim challenged the move to expel his union, according to a Cosatu leader who attended the meeting.

“He reminded them [Dlamini supporters] that Numsa had written a letter to Cosatu [saying] that Numsa leaders who attended the CEC [central executive committee] did not have a mandate from ordinary members to discuss expulsions,” said a Cosatu official sympathetic to Numsa. 

Jim told the meeting that Cosatu’s second deputy president, Zingiswa Losi, was not supposed to attend the meeting as she had been expelled as a shop steward by Numsa, according to the official.

Jim also argued that the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union was not supposed to be at the CEC because it did not have the mandate from workers to represent them. He said that Cosatu’s constitution was clear – affiliates must be given an opportunity to explain why they should not be expelled. 

“You can’t expel Numsa on the basis that it is poaching members,” Jim told the meeting. “Nehawu [the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union], Dlamini’s former union is also poaching members in the public service,” said the Cosatu official.

The debate, which lasted for a day and a half, saw unions rally against Numsa. On Thursday, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union and the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) led the charge for Numsa’s expulsion. 

One source who attended the meeting said that Satawu even threatened to leave Cosatu if Numsa is not expelled.  Satawu complained that Numsa’s poaching of its members in the transport sector was liquidating the union.

ANC response
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the party was yet to receive a report from Cosatu on the decisions taken. “We have not heard a formal report of the CEC, so it is difficult to talk about the outcomes,” he said. 

Kodwa said the party would wait for Cosatu to inform it of the steps it had taken in relation to the ANC’s report. 

Earlier on Thursday, Numsa spokesperson Castro Ngobese told the Mail & Guardian that his union was going to reject the ANC’s recommendation. 

The ANC wants Numsa to renounce its resolutions taken at a special national congress in December last year to organise workers across sectors and form an alternative labour party. 

Ngobese said the union would launch the new party in March next year – in time for the local government elections.

“The national launch of the United Front is going ahead in December, including the formation of an independent workers’ party in March,” he said. 

“We are committed to take forward the resolution of Numsa’s special national congress. No organisation, including Cosatu, can stop us. We are forging ahead. Anyone with a problem is welcome to come to our national congress in 2016 to convince us otherwise. 

“If Sdumo Dlamini or Gwede Mantashe have a problem, they can go to Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii,” said Ngobese. 

He added: “This thing of a united front is not new. Cosatu called for a popular movement for transformation during the ninth congress.Our resolution is not different. 

“It is unfortunate that the leading figure of Cosatu [Dlamini] does not know these resolutions,” he said. “Ours is not different from what Cosatu wanted to build. We can’t leave those 2.2-million workers. We want other affiliates to be on our side. That’s why the ANC does not want the special congress to take place. They know they are in big trouble.”

Cosatu leaders attending the CEC meeting on Thursday were expected to vote on whether Numsa should be expelled from the federation. The vote had not taken place by the time of going to print.

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