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South Africa: Workers' guide to the crisis in COSATU; Reply to Jeremy Cronin

Tens of thousands of workers across South Africa responded to the call from NUMSA for a general strike on March 19, 2014, against neoliberal government policies.

Break the paralysis of COSATU!

Why the attacks on Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi and NUMSA will fail!

Our call for a special COSATU national congress

[Posted March 20, 2014 at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal]

Statement by the nine COSATU affiliates campaigning for the reinstatement of Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi as general secretary

Almost 29 years ago at the height of mass struggles by workers, youth, women, students and communities, despite repression, detention without trial, a state of emergency, killings and assassinations of activists and leaders, the workers of South Africa declared; “A giant is born”. And so the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), by the blood, sacrifices and sweat of many generations before it, was launched.

How did the giant help to defeat apartheid?

The message that was passed down by generations of worker activists, from the earliest days of worker organisation in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and again echoed in the movement of the 1973 strike wave in Durban rang out loudly when COSATU was born. It echoed clearly throughout the country and for the entire world to hear; “What we have to make clear is that a giant has risen and it will confront all that stands in its way.”

It openly challenged the apartheid regime and within in six months the hated pass laws were scrapped. By 1988 and 1989, COSATU had called the biggest general strikes in the history of the South African working class. It challenged the racist and anti-worker labour relations laws. It even forced organised business to meet with labour to begin carving out a new labour relations regime on which the current Labour Relations Act is based. This is the COSATU we know and should be proud of.

This is the tradition we demand COSATU should return to when we call for a Special National Congress.

What contribution did COSATU make to democracy?

Since the advent of democracy and usually in collaboration with the [African National Congress-led] Alliance we have made many other advances, though this was seldom achieved without using the collective power of organised workers and taking actions. COSATU played a central leading role in the drafting and shaping of the Reconstruction and Development Program and that effectively became the first election manifesto of the African National Congress (ANC).

When the constitution was being developed, COSATU was the driving force to include worker, trade union and socio-economic rights. COSATU actively helped shape a pro-worker labour market, pro-worker LRA, BCEA [Basic Conditions of Employment Act], employment equity, skills development and many other measures often considered to be at that time among the most progressive in the world.

What did COSATU do when neoliberalism raised its ugly head?

In 1996, the ANC government shifted its macro-economic policy towards being openly neoliberal, starting with GEAR [Growth, Employment and Redistribution policy] and today following through with the National Development Plan. Though workers gave their loyalty to the government in the early years, they have been at the receiving end of one set of anti-worker policies after another, and especially moves towards subjecting the lives of workers to the forces of the market and unbridled capitalist competition.

We expected people before profits, but got profits before people! COSATU refused to stay quiet. It challenged the thinking of alliance partners and became the defender of the working class and the poor even when our alliance partners were more cautious in their approach. This is when so-called progressive forces started making accusations about the positions of COSATU and tried to exert control on it, but failed to do so.

When did this crisis come to a head?

At the COSATU 11th National Congress there was a behind the scenes move to remove [COSATU general secretary] Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi, without proper consultation or mandates, and through manipulation of the agenda. However, the vast majority of workers at the congress, from all unions, could see what was happening and rose to defend Comrade Vavi and the plotters were forced to retreat. The congress went on to demand a radical change from neoliberalism, and many other bold measures to address poverty and corruption.

The COSATU Collective Bargaining Conference also provided a space for possible attacks on the general secretary, but once again workplace activists knew what was happening, and endorsed radical approaches to the challenges our class faces. Today, despite the call to action in the 11th congress declaration and in its resolutions, and the declaration and resolutions of the Bargaining Conference, the current COSATU leadership faction has focused only on weakening COSATU by suspending the general secretary, and attacking affiliates instead of implementing the mandate it was overwhelmingly given by our federation's highest authority, the 11th congress.

Who deliberately undermined the decisions of the 11th congress?

Immediately after the congress, when the spotlight was taken away from them, the plotters retreated to the shadows and recommenced their campaign to rid COSATU of whom they considered to be Public Enemy No.1, Comrade Vavi. Their campaign of leaks, smears, innuendos and unattributed quotes to a press ready for digging up dirt was relentless. Their only problem was that nothing they could throw at Comrade Zweli would stick! They needed something else.

That opportunity came with the revelation that Comrade Vavi had been involved with a fellow member of staff in COSATU. In the words of Comrade Vavi, this was like handing a loaded gun to the faction that was running COSATU.

The press went ballistic, and encouraged by the unattributed statements, made all manner of additional accusations, all of which have fallen by the wayside once disproved. Despite the fact that Comrade Vavi has apologised, to his family and the movement, and has been ready to face an internal process, the matter has been deliberately delayed, and further changes have been added along the way. Those who had been plotting against Comrade Vavi since the 11th congress have now taken the opportunity to suspend him, and try once again to wreck his reputation. But they will fail. The charges against Comrade Vavi are not worth the paper they are written on.

At the time of writing, it is eight months since Comrade Vavi was suspended, and in that time the issues of labour brokers, e-tolls, the youth subsidy, the neoliberal NDP and the non-socialist manifesto of the ANC have been pushed through. We wait to see what the current leadership faction will say about the upcoming Nkandla report from the Public Protectors Office! It is clear, without Comrade Vavi in office, COSATU is paralysed, and reduced to being a lap dog.

20 years of progress?

Today, unemployment, poverty and inequality are continuing to impoverish our people as if nothing has significantly changed over the last 20 years. There may be more houses, but look how many are already in disrepair because they were built by tenderpreuners? And why is a family restricted to a two-room dwelling as if we still lived under apartheid, in areas with no transport and services? There may be more electricity connections, but who can afford to pay their electricity bills? There may be more kids in schools, but why are class sizes still over 50 in some areas, and how can whole provinces not access school books for over a year? Why are there on average 34 community protests every day? Why do we even have to pay now to use our roads?

We now have a situation where the richest 10% of the population consume more than 50% of the wealth of South Africa, while the poorest 10% consume just 1.2% of all goods and services in the country. Like so many of the other COSATU radical resolutions, the campaign for a national minimum wage remains on paper while the income of the poorest 20% amounts to less than 2% of our wealth while the richest 20% have incomes that exceed 70% of the countries wealth. South Africa now has the dubious title of being the country having the largest gap between the rich and the poor. Unless these issues are directly addressed by challenging capital and neoliberalism nothing of significance will change.

How do things stand today?

The current leadership faction in COSATU has signally failed to galvanise and mobilise workers in the struggle against e-tolls [road tolls], labour brokers, the youth subsidy and the neoliberal NDP. Workers are entitled to ask, whose mandate are they taking if not the one from the working class?

What we have seen? Instead of leading workers in the great traditions of COSATU in struggle, COSATU is in a chronic state of paralysis that has failed to implement any of the resolutions, campaigns and policies agreed upon at the COSATU congress and Collective Bargaining Conference. Instead, the current leadership faction has reduced COSATU to a space for abandoning the best politics, traditions and leadership, and for purging those forces it considers to be against the Alliance. In COSATU today, there is no room for dissent or discussion. You either follow orders from above or be isolated, ridiculed and victimised.

What is the current COSATU leadership trying to do?

The current COSATU leadership have been reduced to a faction aimed at keeping the general secretary, Comrade Vavi out of COSATU and to marginalise the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) and all those affiliates supporting the call for a Special National Congress. But they are failing. The demand for a Special National Congress is being taken up in every province! Why? Because it is a profoundly democratic demand and workers know that democracy is the only way to defeat factionalism.

It has become clear to all that the current leadership at COSATU with the support of elements claiming to be pro-working class in the Alliance, have set themselves the task of turning COSATU, with its noble tradition of struggle, from being a fighting federation leading workers and defending the interests of workers into a federation that is simply a conveyor belt. A conveyor belt that goes up and down. It delivers factional decisions downwards to the grass roots, and it delivers selected leaders upwards into parliament! Down with the conveyor belt approach to workers democracy!

Today more than 2 million COSATU members and millions more outside COSATU are waiting for working-class leadership, not conveyor belt politics! We intend to make sure that workers get the COSATU and the leadership they deserve. Dont wait for others! Join us now!

What are our demands?

Our call is clear! Return COSATU to her custodians, return COSATU to the workers!

We demand a Special National Conference as defined by the COSATU constitution!

We demand the return of Comrade Vavi to the office of general secretary of COSATU.

We demand hands off NUMSA! We demand hands of the Nine Affiliates!

We demand an end to factional politics hostile to the COSATU decisions, policies and resolutions.

We demand the return of workers' control of COSATU!

We call on workers to return to the organisational traditions of democracy from below to call meetings in workplaces, in locals, in regions to campaign for the calling of a Special National Congress. It is through such a process that we will return to the traditions of COSATU, a tradition of defending and extending the interests of the working class towards total emancipation, to a socialist society free of all forms of exploitation and oppression.

Communication Workers Union

Democratic Nurses Union of South Africa

Food and Allied Workers Union

National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa

Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa

South African Commercial and Catering Workers Union

South African Football Players Union

South African Municipal Workers Union

South African State and Allied Workers Union

[Please note: This is a shortened version of a much longer and detailed analysis of the current state of COSATU which is available free of charge from any of the Nine Affiliates. Issued by the Secretariat of the Nine COSATU Affiliates.]

[For more on COSATU, click HERE. For more on South Africa, click HERE.]


The crisis of Croninism: A response from the Nine COSATU Affiliates

By the nine COSATU affiliates campaigning for the reinstatement of Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi as general secretary

[Senior member of the South African Communist Party (SACP)] Jeremy Cronin has once more done his masters bidding and published a further attack on the elected leadership of NUMSA entitled "Irvin Gymnastics -- the devious art of political contortionism". He has also attacked the Nine Affiliates calling for a Special National Congress. We are promised more from him to follow, and so we will wait to answer in detail, but cannot resist the opportunity to help clarify his muddled thinking on a few of the matters he raises.

The article makes for interesting reading for those who need to remind themselves of one of the characteristics of the discredited Stalinism that Comrade Joe Slovo was courageous enough to oppose. Here we have the liberal use of quotes from the texts of Marx, Lenin and others to justify a certain crude and vulgar critique. And yet there is a total inability to self-reflect and self-criticise and to ask the simple question of whether the SACP, who Comrade Jeremy represents, is itself free of the criticisms that are being levelled against others. It’s time for you and the SACP to look in the mirror Comrade Jeremy and we warn you, it is not a pretty picture!

In making his attacks on NUMSA and the other eight affiliates, Comrade Cronin lays bare his complete inability to observe the world around him. Does he mention the fact that South Africa has the highest disparity on the planet between rich and poor after 20 years of democracy? No! Does he mention that unemployment among young people in our townships is near 70%? No! Does he acknowledge that every day there are on average 34 serious protests in our poorer communities? No! Does he mention that the capitalist class in South Africa is enjoying an almost unparalleled period of accumulation? No! Does he acknowledge that without funds from unions over the last 20 years, including from those unions he now attacks, the SACP would have been completely bankrupt? No! Does he dare admit that there are thousands of workers, and many who were once close to the SACP, who are completely frustrated with the state-embedded orientation of the SACP and its cheerleading for a leadership that is corrupt and anything but progressive, being politically wedded to neoliberal thinking and action? No, he does not. We could go on! As with most recent writings of Comrade Jeremy, it is what he does not say that is more revealing than what he actually tries to say. We say, look in the mirror Comrade Jeremy!

Instead of thinking for himself, as revolutionaries must do, it appears that Comrade Cronin allows himself to be wheeled out to issue forth regurgitated innuendos, half truths, untruths and plain lies in a desperate attempt to discredit the NUMSA leadership and to ingratiate himself with his friends in government and in sections of the Alliance.

For this, Comrade Cronin is in serious danger of being known in future as Comrade Cronyism! (Cronyism: Encarta Dictionary definition: "Doing favours for friends. Special treatment and preference given to friends and colleagues, especially in politics.") He is already known in workers circles as the deputy minister responsible for e-Tolls!

Comrade Jeremy displays a staggering ignorance of the motives of the Nine Affiliates and we wish he had read our statements and clarified for himself what we are campaigning for. If as he says:

The vast majority of the worker memberships of these unions (and indeed of NUMSA itself) while they may feel sympathy for cde Vavi, do not support Jim's anti-ANC, anti-SACP views.

Well Comrade Jeremy there is of course only one way to test who is right and who is wrong in terms of COSATU members, and that is to call for a Special National Congress of COSATU! This is one of our key demands and is supposed to be guaranteed by the COSATU constitution. Why doesn’t Comrade Jeremy support this demand, and stop making what we know to be half-baked presumptions about what workers want? In other words, Comrade Jeremy, stop being a stooge for your cronies and get with the working class comrade!

A Special National Congress will give the COSATU membership the right to decide whether they want Comrade Vavi back as general secretary, to decide what type of leadership they want to take the federation forward, and perhaps most importantly, to decide how they relate to the SACP, ANC and other forces in the struggle for a socialist society. These are proudly democratic demands. We are certain that if Comrade Jeremy were more sure of his facts and analysis he would be calling for them too.

Comrade Jeremy is well known to have apologised in the past for making statements that could have embarrassed the ANC, and perhaps endangered the standing of his own party within the Alliance. Apologising for your mistakes can be a progressive action, but becoming an apologist for the actions of others is something very different indeed.

For our part, the Nine Affiliates will continue to campaign for a Special National Congress, for the re-instatement of Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi, and for an end to the attacks on NUMSA and the rest of the unions who want to see a vibrant, independent, worker-controlled and militant COSATU. The reaction we are receiving from all over the country convinces us that we are winning!

[Issued by the Nine COSATU Affiliates calling for a Special National Congress, the Reinstatement of Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi, and stopping the victimisation of NUMSA and the Nine Affiliates.]

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