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South Africa: 'I can’t defend the expulsion of NUMSA' -- COSATU general secretary

For more on NUMSA, click HERE. For more on South Africa, click HERE.

November 13, 2104 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi (pictured above) was absent from the COSATU media briefing on November 11, in the aftermath of the November 8 expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA). In the letter below, he explains why.

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Letter from COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi to the COSATU affiliates and others, November 11, 2014

To: COSATU president
COSATU affiliated general secretaries
COSATU provincial secretaries

November 11, 2014

Dear Comrades

RE: THE CRISIS IN THE FEDERATION

I take this unprecedented step to write this letter to you in my capacity as the General Secretary but also in my personal capacity as an activist who grew up in this movement. I have an unbroken record of commitment to building a strong united and effective Federation, and like many others, deeply care for its future. Recent events have brought this home to me in a very sharp way.

There is no doubt that the Federation is going through the most painful period in its entire life. There can be little doubt where we are heading unless the current logjam is tackled.

The risk we are facing is crystal clear - that we are in imminent danger of destroying what was painstakingly built through the blood and sweat of workers for many decades.

I believe that there will be no winners if we allow the Federation to fracture permanently. The impact on workers and the poor will be felt for many years, and there is a serious risk that we may never fully retain the strength that made us to be respected by so many within and outside the borders of South Africa.

Yet I believe it must never be too late to act to save the future of the Federation, and if we do not do everything we can, history will judge all of us extremely harshly. I believe we have to now put personal considerations and feelings aside. Scoring a victory today will be hollow if it leads to a weakening of the working class.

We have arrived at a point in my view where the future of the Federation must transcend who is right or wrong, or which faction is correct or mistaken or who has the numbers or not. It is the future of the Federation that is at stake. For two years now we have operated well below our capacity at a great cost to workers and their future they face.

Today, COSATU is making daily headlines, not on the basis of what it has achieved, or what its programme is, - fighting for a living wage, improved working conditions, addressing unemployment etc. We are making headlines for all the wrong reasons and are being lampooned by cartoonists, and subject to commentary from all sections of society.

I have expressed my views to the Special CEC held on the 21-23 October 2014 and on the 7 November 2014 regarding the expulsion of NUMSA. I stand by those views and the appeals I made at that time for a calm and reasoned response to the challenges we face. I still hold this view, and appeal again for a rational discussion.

I completely respect internal democracy and democratic centralism. This is what I have practised all my life in whatever labour movement organisation I have been active in. I am ready to admit that at times I have had to articulate views that contradicted my own, but always with the firm belief that they were arrived at democratically, and therefore have had to serve as a disciplined cadre.

However, the magnitude of the decision that was taken by the Special CEC is not only of historical importance but has momentous implications. I have to say that I view the decisions that were taken as ones that could destroy what we have jointly built for so many years.

In advancing this I am not in anyway suggesting that there should be no discipline in the organisation. I am advancing this argument with only one consideration that has weighed against all other considerations - what is in the best interest of the Federation at this moment. Let me repeat what I have said above - it does no longer matter who is right or wrong - what is at stake here is the future of workers as a whole.

From that point of view I plead with you to understand that I will not be able to defend a decision that I honestly believe is contradicting and undermining organised workers and broader working class unity, a decision that will have momentous implications for years to come.

I remain an optimist. My faith in the working class is stronger today than even in the days of my youth. I sincerely believe that if given the opportunity, we can address the challenges that we face and overcome them. With an honest commitment to unity, based on principles that have guided all of our lives, and in particular reflective of the resolutions agreed by the ground breaking 11th National Congress, I believe that we can work together to save our Federation from imminent disaster.

I strongly believe that the basis of our unity has to be adherence to 11th Congress resolutions as well as all existing policies of the Federation. The decisions made by our sovereign democratic structure, the Workers Parliament, cannot be undermined or manipulated for narrow interests.

These are the reasons why I have decided not to participate in the NOB press conference of this afternoon or to conduct interviews or participate in any activity that will exacerbate division further, or will further jeopardise any chance of the Federation committing suicide by jumping off the cliff. There must an alternative to this.

Yours comradely,
Zwelinzima Vavi,
COSATU general secretary

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Four Unions: Defend Cosatu, Defend Numsa, S’dumo must go!


 

Press Statement of Four Unions: Defend Cosatu, Defend Numsa, S’dumo must go!

13 November 2014

 On Tuesday 11th November 2014, the leadership of four major unions in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu); Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa); Public and Allied Workers Union (Pawusa) and National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), held an urgent meeting to reflect on the latest developments in the progressive trade union movement. We specifically considered the outcomes of the Special Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) held last Friday 07 November 2014.

 

Firstly, the four unions reaffirmed our shared political, ideological and organisational commitment to fight for a unified, militant and campaigning working class under the leadership of Cosatu. The Cosatu we built should once again be at the centre of popular struggles for the exploited workers and the poor in South Africa, notwithstanding the limits posed by the 1994 neoliberal negotiated settlement. The unions also appreciated the immense contribution played by individual affiliates during the formative years of Cosatu, and their role in building a democratic and worker-controlled federation over the past 29 years of Cosatu’s existence.

, the South African economy became more vulnerable to the whims of global capital over this period, since ruling party leaders succumbed to neoliberal pressures and began to start cashing in with crony-capitalist BEE deals. Several major crises have broken out in the world economy since our democracy was founded: in the middle income countries from 1995-2002, in the dot.com bust of 2000, in the global real estate bubble and financial meltdowns of 2007-10, in the Euro crises of 2008-13 and in the so-called Quantitative Easing ‘solution’ which throws money at the problems instead of solving them.

 

The impact of these crises is not felt only in boardrooms and stock markets, but in our working-class lives. Our workers have been forced to take on massive debt loads as the share of the surplus going to big business rose by more than 5 percent, and as unemployment soared from 16 to more than 25 percent (indeed, closer to 40 percent if we take into account those who have given up looking). With this came worse inequality after apartheid than during it and a rise in the rate of poverty (at US$1.50/day) from 45 to 47 percent between 1994-2012, according to UCT economists.

 

We are, as a result, a furious nation. Our protest rate is probably the world’s highest per person, with the police last recording 1882 violent protests – in which most often, it seems, the police are first to spill our workers’ blood. Our workers are rated the world’s most angry by the World Economic Forum, in the last three annual surveys. PricewaterhouseCoopers rated our business elites as the world’s most corrupt this year.

 

Where is Cosatu? As is pointed out by Zwelinzima Vavi, too many of its affiliates’ leaders are themselves beneficiaries of this new economic apartheid. They do not have the guts to change the power relations.

 

We recalled in our joint meeting the painful and bitter years leading towards the formation of Cosatu, where blood was spilt and many of our shopstewards and activists were killed and slaughtered by the apartheid regime for organising workers in factories and industries.  We remembered the state sponsored vigilante Inkatha union – United Workers Union of South Africa – which was formed to ferment divisions, organise workers along tribal lines, and weaken Cosatu.

 

It was here, in our province that this giant was founded through the blood of workers and militants, many of whom had to pay the supreme price for workers to belong and be represented by trade unions. It was Cosatu, which had to occupy the space left by the liberation movement, when its leaders were in Robben Island; operating underground and in exile. It was through Cosatu’s contribution that we successfully dismantled the apartheid regime; bringing it to its knees, and delivering the 1994 democratic breakthrough.

 

This history of struggle of workers under the Cosatu banner continues to inspire many generations of members and young workers of Cosatu’s affiliated unions and beyond. It is this history and our collective commitment to both cherish those struggles and the critical importance of building a voice for workers and the poor that compels us to fight for a united, militant and campaigning Cosatu. It is this history that has made us reject any manipulation of Cosatu to serve as a conveyer-belt of the political elites in South Africa. It this history that demands that we reclaim Cosatu from those who want to reduce and turn Cosatu into a “sweetheart” union or a labour desk that simply endorses neoliberal embedded policies being pursued by the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

 

We jointly share the view that the ANC’s intervention led by its multi-billionaire Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, was not only a farce, but it was deliberately intended to pour dust and grass in the eyes of the organised workers. They objective was simple; have South African workers blindly support the ANC’s electoral campaign.

 

The ANC was never a neutral mediator in the ongoing paralysis faced by Cosatu.  It was a key ring leader in the Cosatu crises, given the public utterances of its leaders, notably Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and Deputy General Secretary Jessie Duarte. The two leaders openly aligned themselves to a faction led by Cosatu’s President S’dumo Dlamini, and they used every opportunity provided to them to foment divisions. They regularly lashed out against those they disagreed with inside Cosatu, particularly Numsa and Cosatu’s General Secretary comrade Zwelinzima Vavi. These leaders of the ANC joined certain leaders of Cosatu, the SACP and some affiliates to defy the agreement on cessation of hostilities. They attacked Numsa on every platform.

 

We remain firm that the only way to unify Cosatu is through the convening of the Special National Congress (SNC), which will allow the owners of the federation to take decisions on leadership and policies through a democratic and unifying process.

 

As a leadership we are not in denial that there are serious ideological and political differences that have led to the current paralysis in Cosatu. These are centred around two voices at the highest level of the federation; those who want to uncritically thumb-suck and mimic everything the ANC says and does, and those who are interested in advancing a radical agenda to restructure the economy and change our society for the better. 

 

This has directly led to Cosatu’s inability to take forward its groundbreaking 10th National Congress resolutions. If truth be told, this paralysis led to Cosatu’s irrelevance in the eyes of workers; when workers were massacred in Marikana or out on a five-month platinum strike, when wildcat strikes broke out repeatedly across the country; when workers were fighting for a living wage in De Doorns, and more recently in the ongoing strike of postal workers.

 

This paralysis has further led to the entrenchment and implementation of anti-working class programmes such as; e-tolls, the youth wage subsidy, labour brokering and the roll out of the neoliberal embedded National Development Plan (NDP).

 

We have called this Media Briefing, in order to publicly reaffirm the decision by our individual affiliate’s national structures; to debunk and reject the illegal “expulsion” of Numsa from Cosatu by a leadership faction that is hell-bent on destroying the country’s main federation of workers – Cosatu.

 

We are adamant that the misguided “expulsion” of Numsa by this faction is politically motivated and not class neutral, and that it was orchestrated by powerful leaders of the ANC and SACP. A powerful faction in the ANC and SACP wants to liquidate working class formations, in order to capture them, and then to use them at the elective 44th National Conference of the ANC in 2017.

 

This faction is even prepared to militate and silence the key leadership voice of the working class in order to achieve their political ambitions.  They fear any critical, independent voice, especially one that challenges the neoliberal agenda of the ANC. Their hostility holds no principle, they speak working class unity, yet work tirelessly to liquidate Numsa and its leadership.

 

This is clearly witnessed by the SACP’s PolitBuro (PB) public statement in relation to the expulsion of Numsa. It is indicative of their factionalised and deep involvement, especially in influencing the outcomes of Cosatu’s CEC of 7 November 2014.

 

This latest act exposes the political and ideological bankruptcy of the SACP leadership and its unrepentant inclination to destroy Cosatu, so that the Party leadership’s self-centered and greedy ambitions of serving in a bourgeois parliament are fulfilled, in the face of a muted Cosatu. The SACP openly called “on the great majority of Numsa rank-and-file members [sic] not to follow the divisive path of their leadership.” But only a fool can fail to see that this is a call for metalworkers to join a rival union, contrary to their false unity calls.

 

We call on Numsa members and workers in general to reject this divisive call by the SACP and rally behind the Numsa Special National Congress resolutions; Numsa should continue to be an independent and militant voice of workers and the poor, and to defend the unity and militancy of Cosatu.

 

We reiterate our firm view that the SACP has lost its political relevance since Blade Nzimande assumed the position of General Secretary. It is no longer the Party of Chris Hani but a Party that has become a pied piper leading workers to the slaughterhouse of the class it claims to represent. The SACP is being used to play factional battles in the working class leading organisastions, and to dispense patronage to those party loyalists who are hungry for power and monetary privileges. We call on Cosatu’s affiliates to withdraw their financial and monetary support to the SACP, since it is liquidating Cosatu. Lastly, we call on genuine, democratic Communists across affiliates to reclaim their Party from Blade and his kindergarten.

 

As the four unions, we firmly believe that the CEC of Cosatu had no mandate from the owners of the federation, the workers, to expel Numsa from Cosatu. In fact a huge proportion of the 33 leaders who sat in the CEC and voted for Numsa’s expulsion voted contrary to their worker mandated positions. Lastly, some of them attended the CEC with questionable credentials, in violation of Cosatu and their own affiliate constitutions.  Most notably we object to the roles played by Zingiswa Losi - who is no longer a shop steward and Ceppwawu, a union whose leaders have not met since their last National Congress and which is on the brink of being deregistered by the Department of Labour. 

 

All of this is happening under the watchful eye of S’dumo Dlamini, who falsely claims to be the custodian of Cosatu’s constitution, whereas he is repeatedly violating the constitution to appease his political handlers.  We have lost confidence in Cosatu’s President and call on him to vacate his position with immediate effect!

 

We reiterate our call for the convening of a Special National Congress (SNC) to deal with the paralysis in Cosatu and elect new and fresh leadership that is committed to serve the workers through the implementation of the Cosatu 11th National Congress resolutions.

 

As these four unions represented at this Media Briefing, we call on our members, and those belonging to other Affiliates to unite beyond the logos and colours of their unions, around a programme to advance Cosatu’s 11th National Congress resolutions. Furthermore, we will jointly embark on the following activities as part of reclaiming Cosatu;

 

§  We shall participate in Cosatu’s activities; campaigns and programmes  as part of rescinding Numsa’s expulsion;

§  Hold joint Shopstewards Council across the province to brief workers on the latest developments in Cosatu;

§  Support mass programmes across the province to mobilise workers in pursuit of our call for a Special National Congress;

Press Statement issued by the four union, for interviews and comments, contact Numsa KwaZulu-Natal Regional Secretary Mbuso Ngubane, 0795023242 / email: mbuson@numsa.org.za

KZN unions denounce Cosatu

FILE PICTURE: Members of Numsa picket outside Cosatu House in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, 8 April 0214, as the trade union federation's central executive committee (CEC) meeting takes place. Picture: Michel Bega
 
November 13, 2014
 
The 33 Cosatu central executive committee (CEC) members who voted to expel Numsa did not have the backing of all the unions, the Public and Allied Workers’ Union of SA (Pawusa) said on Thursday.
 

They had done so on their own, Pawusa KwaZulu-Natal chairman Gavin Jood told reporters in Durban on Thursday.

“It is not the position of Cosatu. It is the position of those 33 leaders,” he said.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) was expelled from the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) by 33 votes to 24 at a special meeting of the CEC early on Saturday morning.

Jood and representatives of Numsa, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa), and the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu) said Cosatu needed to call a special national congress to address the issue as a matter of urgency.

Numsa provincial secretary Mbuso Ngubane said many of the 33 members who voted to expel Numsa had not been mandated to do so.

“In fact, a huge proportion of the 33 leaders who sat in the CEC and voted for Numsa’s expulsion voted contrary to their worker-mandated positions,” he said.

He accused the African National Congress of not being a “neutral mediator”, but of wanting “South African workers to blindly support the ANC’s electoral campaign”.

He also lashed out at the SA Communist Party, saying that under the leadership of Blade Nzimande, it had become politically irrelevant.

“It is no longer the party of Chris Hani, but a party that has become the slaughterhouse of the class it claims to represent.”

He urged “genuine democratic communists across the affiliates to reclaim their party from Blade and his kindergarten”.

Sapa

 

Cosatu in a state of collapse, says Vavi

by Natasha Marrian, 14 November 2014

THE Congress of South African Trade Unions is in tatters, says general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

Mr Vavi said he did not care about the consequences of a letter he wrote to the federation in which he pleaded with president Sdumo Dlamini and affiliate leaders not to divide workers after the expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. He has distanced himself from the decision and refused to sign the letter informing the union of the expulsion.

Mr Vavi's address on Thursday showed his deep disillusionment with the tripartite alliance and its structures — he weighed in on political killings, corruption, the failure by the African National Congress (ANC) to implement policies and how individual leaders were elevated above the organisations they served.

It is unclear what Mr Vavi's next move will be, as his future in Cosatu appears increasingly bleak. Speculation has been rife that he would follow Numsa but he refused to comment on this on Thursday.

He was speaking in Zamdela, Sasolburg, at the memorial service of Sam Mnguni, the regional leader of the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppwawu). It was his first public address after Numsa’s expulsion on Saturday.

"Factionalism is taking over. I was forced to write that letter and I did not care about the consequences. It is not in the interest of workers to break up the federation," Mr Vavi said.

In his letter, he pleaded for "rational discussion" and urged fellow Cosatu leaders not to permanently fracture the federation.

His letter is likely to increase tension among Cosatu’s top leaders because they had in the past criticised Mr Vavi for favouring Numsa over other affiliates. Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini this week defended the decision to expel Numsa and said it was "binding" on all leaders.

"It is not in the interests of workers to allow a permanent rupture. For God’s sake, I have seen it all happening in the past.... I know when leaders fight, workers are set up against each other for reasons they do not even know. I had to take a stand, for all of us in this endless fight to please consider workers.

"How can we be so casual? How can it be so easy to split this organisation celebrated here and abroad."

He identified four critical problems in SA; poverty, unemployment, inequality and the "crisis of corruption".

"(Corruption) is gone beyond one person. The cancer is far too deep." He warned about the dangers of elevating one individual and their faction above the organisations to which they belonged.

"In our movement we have allowed an individual to be more powerful than an organisation. Now they hold 100% (of members) to ransom because they have become too powerful," he said.

Political killings were no longer committed by right- wing forces but by those inside the congress movement, he said.

"It is worrying that all of a sudden when one among us dies the immediate suspect in our minds ... is not the right wing ... but those among ourselves," he said.

Three Numsa shop stewards were murdered earlier this year and a South African Municipal Workers Union shop steward was killed in Bloemfontein. He was apparently a corruption whistle-blower.

"What has happened, that seems to be destroying everything our movement is about ... not even one of our organisations are united," he said.

It was "lucky" that former president Nelson Mandela was too old to "appreciate the depth of our crisis" before he died last year, he said.

Mr Mnguni went missing on October 23. His body was found on October 31 under a bridge across the Vaal River. Despite the sombre nature of the event, Mr Vavi received a rousing welcome, which included members of Ceppwawu, the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Cosatu affiliates. It was also attended by a large group from the Economic Freedom Fighters.

Fellow Cosatu leaders and the leadership of the ANC and the SACP have in the past criticised Mr Vavi for his outspoken manner. He was returned to his post in April after an eight-month suspension. He is yet to face disciplinary action linked to an affair with a junior employee and transactions linked to Cosatu's headquarters. Mr Vavi’s letter may also be added to the agenda of the next meeting of Cosatu’s central executive committee.

Pro-ANC scab union formed?

Department of Labour registers new metalworker union

Natasha Marrian, Business Day, 01 December 2014

AS THE Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) celebrated its 29th anniversary on Monday, the Department of Labour registered a union that will challenge its largest affiliate, the expelled National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa).

The new union, the Liberated Metalworkers Union of SA (LMUSA), is now officially recognised by the department and is set to compete on Numsa’s terrain.

The registration of the LMUSA marks the intensifying of rivalry in the sectors organised by Numsa, which has previously enjoyed a near monopoly.

LMUSA leader and former Numsa president Cedric Gina had also indicated that the new union would look to affiliate itself to Cosatu once it had registered with the department.

This is likely to complicate the federation’s attempt to restore unity in its ranks, as seven of its unions have demanded that Numsa be reinstated before they participate in a fresh intervention by ally the African National Congress.

Mr Gina confirmed the registration on Monday.

The union was formed in protest against the "political posture" adopted by Numsa, which took a decision not to support the ANC in the 2014 polls and to look into setting up a workers’ party or a movement for socialism to challenge future elections.

The LMUSA is to hold a meeting of its national office bearers on Saturday and is likely to hold a media briefing on Sunday. Numsa indicated that it would issue a press statement on the new union on Tuesday.

In a statement to commemorate Cosatu’s 29th anniversary, the federation’s leaders said it faces the greatest challenge since its formation nearly three decades ago.

"We are in a life-or-death struggle to prevent a disastrous rupture which could tear our workers’ movement apart, with disastrous implications for all our members and the people of SA as a whole," they said.

The federation reiterated that its unity was paramount and invoked the memory of former president Nelson Mandela to "show the way" on achieving this.

"In seeking a solution to prevent such a disaster, we can draw inspiration from another anniversary, just four days after our birthday — the sad passing of our great leader Comrade Nelson Mandela on December 5 2013.

"If anyone can show us how to find a way forward to rebuild a united Cosatu it is Madiba, who was able to play such a unique role in bringing people together and creating unity out of divisions, building harmony out of conflict and achieving peace from a potential bloodbath."

Cosatu’s national office bearers said they had recognised the seriousness of the crisis and were aware that "history has given us a special responsibility, as the leadership of the federation, to spare no energy in ensuring the integrity of workers’ unity within Cosatu".

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