Swaziland: Historic unity and merger of trade union federations

By Bheki Ntshalintshali, COSATU deputy general secretary

October 2010 -- COSATU has welcomed the great leap forward and giant step taken by workers of Swaziland in resolving to unite by merging the two federations; Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) and Swaziland Federation of Labour (SFL), together with the independent Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) to form a new giant federation. It marks the deepening and strengthening of the most progressive, militant and revolutionary traditions constantly being evolved by the working class movement the world over.

This breakthrough comes after years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice behind the scenes to diagnose, confront and clear all obstacles in the way of unity. Frank and brutally honest engagements, painful and demanding persuasions, as well as engaging feedbacks to members are all the hallmarks of a transparent, democratic and accountable process characterised by traditions of worker control. Once this part of the journey has been travelled with success, the nearing horizons only serve to inspire the march on.

From our own experience we do know the difficulties of bringing together different traditions, orientations and organisational values into one mighty structure. It requires a lot of personal and organisational compromises, unwavering focus, and selflessness on the part of those leaders involved in the negotiations. Equally, it is a rewarding experience to achieve such a remarkable breakthrough wherein all and everyone benefit from the experience of the other, resources are pooled together and impact is maximised.

This momentum augurs well for the research and organisational project started by the ITUC-Africa, Kwasi Adu Amankwah to unite unions on the continent, whose Southern Africa report was submitted to a workshop in Botswana these past two days. The project aims at uniting federations and unions throughout the continent to build a strong trade union movement on the continent. In this regard, the Swazi workers have led the way, together with Zambian trade unions who are also at advanced stages of the same process. They are doing it not just on their own behalf, but on behalf of all workers and struggling people the world over, hence the responsibility on all our shoulders to make it succeed.

We have to put all our energies at the disposal of the cause for which they have dedicated themselves, the cause of the working class and poor people all over the world. It is for this reason that COSATU and its affiliates have offered all possible support to the process, for its success is our collective success and its failure is our collective failure. In particular, the urgency of technical, organisational and political capacity is critical. We stand ready to walk this journey together with you dear comrades.

 In every struggle, there are rare and in-between moments which are decisive in shifting the class balance of power and these moments called watershed moments. One of those moments in the South African struggle was the birth of the giant federation called COSATU on the 1st December, 1985 which dramatically changed the political landscape of South Africa forever.

COSATU was born in 1985 after protracted and demanding efforts behind the scenes to build unity, forge consensus and create a common home for all struggling workers. It meant sleepless nights, endless scenario development processes, broad and deep thinking about urgency imposed by the suffering workers and creating infrastructure for support in the wider society.

 We have no doubt that this is the moment for the Swazi revolution. The great step forward taken by the working people of Swaziland to unite sends a serious message to the tinkhundla regime that its days are numbered and that the producers of the wealth of Swaziland have had enough of the ruthless exploitation and suffering they have had to endure for years now. They have decided to claim back what rightfully belongs to them, socio-economic and political rights in order to transfer all power to the people as a whole.

The message sent by this powerful step forward to the world is clear, the workers and people of Swaziland are serious about their liberation. A day more of tinkhundla oppression is too much and the world has a duty to do more to support the cause of the Swazi people.

In this regard, COSATU calls on workers of the world and humanity as a whole to double their efforts in supporting the struggle for democracy in Swaziland. The coming global days of action in November organised by the trade union movement and the Swaziland Democracy Campaign (SDC) following on the highly successful one in September, should be a clear statement to the tinkhundla regime and its allies that the time for democracy has come.