Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on Friday said the best way forward for the embattled congress was to remain unified – but not at any cost.
“The first prize then has got to be maintaining the unity of Cosatu,” said Vavi in a speech prepared for delivery at an anniversary event for the South African Labour Bulletin in central Johannesburg.
However, he cautioned: “Unity … is not something that must be at any cost. If we are wedded to unity for its own sake we will run the risk of sliding rapidly into a state of yellow unionism.”
Yellow unions are those usually considered more closely aligned with specific companies – and even governments. They are often criticised for allowing the company’s interest to dominate those of the employees – thus compromising independence.
Vavi said that if this occurred, it would cause the congress to be less accountable to workers and “tamer” in its economic and political demands.”
“We will become a shadow of our former selves.”
‘Bigger and broader Cosatu’
He said there was currently a “small window of opportunity” to return to a “united militant, and hopefully bigger and broader Cosatu”.
Vavi said that the first step towards this was to have the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) reinstated in the federation and the second was to hold a special national congress “sooner rather than later to honestly debate and resolve on the areas of difference”.
Vavi said he knew that, for some, the idea to “simply walk away from it all by announcing a split and the formation of a new federation…sounds like a good option”.
However, he warned that if the choice was made for Cosatu not to remain united in the future: “We will all have to do everything in our power to prevent a slide into multiple conflicts”.
Earlier this week, Cosatu ‘s central executive committee held a meeting at which it decided that all outstanding issues, which included Vavi’s disciplinary process and a call for Cosatu to hold a special national congress, would be dealt with by a political approach.
Vavi was suspended last year for having an affair with a junior employee. Numsa, a strong ally of Vavi’s, took Cosatu to court over his suspension. Earlier this year the suspension was overturned and Vavi returned to work.
Numsa was expelled from Cosatu at a central executive committee meeting held on November 7. At its special congress last December, Numsa decided not to support the ANC in the May general elections, which went against Cosatu’s policy. – Sapa