South African Federation of Trade Unions membership numbers decline

While the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) deliberates on their elections of their new office bearers, tension in the federation have caused membership numbers to decline.

The second day of the labour federation’s four-day conference in Boksburg has been marked by chaotic debates and disagreements. With placards and union regalia, each union sang songs of bravery as they prepared to vote for their new office barriers.

The union’s general secretary, Zwelinizima Vavi, has questioned some unions such as the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) concerning credentials and the agenda.

The congress was expected to vote this afternoon regarding four officials — Saftu president Mac Chavalala, second deputy president Thabo Matsose, national treasurer Motshwari Lecogo and deputy general secretary Moleko Phakedi — who were suspended earlier this year after the federation’s secretary was “illegally suspended”.

Unions have said the matter should be dealt with before the elections go ahead. 

Voting was also delayed by several issues such as ballot papers having to be corrected and agendas being altered.

Saftu was formed in 2017, by 24 unions with a total number of 691 540 members. By August 2018 the membership increased to 725 078.

Vavi said membership numbers had dropped by about 79 000 members, which he said was “extremely regrettable” especially as the federation had sought growth of one million members a year.

“The drop reflects the overall demise of the South Africa proletariat in a context in which an extreme pandemic disrupted global capitalism, brazen official neoliberalism was adopted in mid-2020, and capitalist crises of inequality and unregulated technological change played out,” said Vavi.

He said that over the past five years the South African Workers Union and Numsa, the biggest unions in Saftu, have failed to increase membership numbers. The National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers and the South African Policing Union have grown while four other unions have fewer than 1 000 members.

Vavi said that all unions everywhere have suffered, in part because of internal weakness in addressing crisis conditions. “Saftu is not alone,” he said.

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