Two rebel unions cry foul over Cosatu’s ‘financial sabotage’

The Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu) claims that trade union federation Cosatu’s demand that it settle outstanding affiliation fees of R5.2-million is a bid to scupper plans for a new politically independent workers’ federation.

Fawu and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) have received letters of demand to pay R5.2-million and R3.2-million respectively, which Cosatu believes it is entitled to, despite the two unions having left its ranks.

Both unions have pledged support for the formation of a new federation, set to be launched in April or May next year.

“Should they be successful in a court bid, we may have to off-load property [to pay the bill] … So they may succeed in slowing things down. But our determination to forge ahead is unwavering and resolute. We’ll never go back to a dead Cosatu,” Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola said.

Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini denied that its bid to recover money from the unions was aimed at preventing the formation of a new federation and said he “didn’t wish to talk about it” (the proposed new federation).

He said Fawu’s affiliation payments were already six months in arrears when its national congress resolved to disaffiliate from the federation in August this year – money that Cosatu had instructed its lawyers to recover.

Masemola concurred but said Cosatu’s calculations, based on a monthly fee of R392–000 compounded for six months, did not match theirs.

“It doesn’t gel. I’m not sure if they include political and election levies because we obviously would not pay that because not every affiliate used to pay them anyway,” he said.

On Saturday, Numsa received its letter of demand. The metalworkers’ union was one of Cosatu’s biggest funders, contributing R930 682 a month in affiliation fees.

The union’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, said there were no outstanding fees due to the ANC-aligned federation. He said: “Not a cent more will be paid to Cosatu, nor will this defunct federation be bankrolled by the sweat and blood of metalworkers.”

But Cosatu claims that the letter sent to Numsa related to a 2015 court bid by the metalworkers’ union to force the federation to convene a special national congress.

“They owe us. The last time they took us to court they lost and costs were awarded to us,” said Dlamini. “They seem to forget about those things. That money belongs to Cosatu.”

But Numsa’s acting spokesperson, Patrick Craven, said the union was unaware of any such costs. “There was nothing about the costs in the lawyer’s letter … it’s not very clear to ourselves what they were claiming.”

The two unions fought tooth and nail to overturn Numsa’s 2014 expulsion from the federation, failing on two occasions. Now they claim that a “bankrupt” Cosatu is trying to raise funds by persecuting its former affiliates.

Dlamini dismissed the claims and said, although the federation’s financials were “a growing concern”, Cosatu was not bankrupt.

“We are all going through financial challenges … but we are not bankrupt,” he said.

Both unions said they were prepared to fight Cosatu’s claims in court and had already responded to the letters.

“We have taken matter to our lawyers, written back refuting the letters of demand and are awaiting their reply. It’s a very serious matter,” said Masemola. “The most we can settle for is six months. We may even try to get it down to three months.”

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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