Rift grows between COSATU and ANC
Green Left Parramatta
glparramatta at SPAMgreenleft.org.au
Thu Sep 2 10:01:16 MDT 1999
The following article appeared in the latest
issue of Green Left Weekly (http://www.greenleft.org.au),
Australia's radical newspaper.
Rift grows between COSATU and ANC
By a trade union activist
MIDRAND, Gauteng -- August 18-25 was a significant week for the
South African labour movement. On August 18, a three-day special
congress of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)
began with delegates in high spirits. The mood turned to
disillusionment as the keynote speaker, chairperson of the ruling
African National Congress Terror Lekota, chastised delegates for
criticising the ANC government's policies. The conference ended
with new COSATU president Willy Madisha struggling to find the
words to paper over the growing rift between the ruling party and
the workers' movement.
The conference, ostensibly convened to elect a new leadership to
replace the federation's three office-bearers who were elected to
national and provincial parliaments in June, turned into a
battleground as emergency motions were tabled by COSATU's biggest
unions and angry responses to Lekota's speech flew around the
The recent trend on the part of some highly placed comrades ...
criticising or agitating against policies and actions of the
movement, inside and outside government, smacks of a lack of
revolutionary discipline, Lekota lectured the delegates on
He insisted that only consensus positions of the
ANC-COSATU-South African Communist Party (SACP) Alliance could be
aired outside the councils and committees of the organisations.
Lekota denied that this was, as some philistines would want us
to believe, a Stalinist suppression of opinion ... The masses of
people who support our organisation cannot always be sure which
is decided policy and which not if all of our differing views are
thrown at them. Such a state of affairs can only lead to
confusion and ultimately anarchy, said Lekota.
Coming in the wake of massive job losses sweeping the country,
and on the eve of a national strike by public servants, Lekota's
words did not go down well.
That afternoon several angry motions were proposed. The most
vociferous came from the 210,000-strong South African Democratic
Teachers' Union (SADTU), COSATU's fourth largest union and the
second biggest in the public sector.
COSATU and its affiliates have a different understanding of
state and public sector restructuring from that of the state.
Moreover, the Alliance is not monolithic in nature and it is
essential for labour to recognise the neo-liberal agenda emerging
within the Alliance, stated SADTU's emergency motion, which was
eventually defeated after more than two hours of debate.
Although the unions were angered by the ANC leadership's attack,
it seemed that the COSATU leadership was not ready to tar the ANC
with the brush of neo-liberalism.
The 251,000-strong National Union of Mineworkers, COSATU's
biggest union, took up the refrain on August 19, albeit with a
more conciliatory approach. Proposing an emergency motion on the
need for maximum unity within the Alliance, the NUM said that
it is becoming a trend that we are being rebuked in our
congresses, in front of the media and the public and that this
The NUM called for an emergency Alliance summit to be convened
and lashed out at the perception that COSATU is treated as an
adopted child or junior partner in the Alliance.
We must be treated with dignity and respect, the union pleaded.
The motion was adopted unanimously.
The public sector wage dispute was the next dilemma facing the
Alliance to be scrutinised.
On August 6, minister of public service and administration
Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi announced in parliament that talks in
the Public Service Central Bargaining Chamber were deadlocked and
the government's below-inflation 6.3% pay offer was to be
unilaterally implemented. COSATU affiliates recognised that this
decision has enormous implications. Unions in the manufacturing
sector said, If the government can bargain in such bad faith,
imagine what the bosses will do to us!.
An emergency resolution on the public sector workers' struggle
was passed slamming the government's dirty tricks campaign of
The resolution attacked the ANC government's attempt to isolate
and undermine workers' demands by posing the dispute as being
about the `general' interest versus the `sectoral' (`selfish',
`economist') interests of public sector workers and counterposing
public service salaries to public expenditure and social delivery
in general ... the government attack on the demands of public
sector unions as `selfish' is an insult to the progressive
organised labour movement and the working class in general.
The resolution condemned the government's imposition of a real
wage cut as a dangerous precedent which potentially weakens
collective bargaining in the private sector. It can only be in
the interests of capitalists and other reactionary forces and is
in breach of the spirit of the Tripartite Alliance, indicating a
greater concern to appease international capital than enhance
workers' rights and speed up delivery.
COSATU pledged to support the public sector unions' legitimate
struggle for a living wage, to condemn, in the strongest terms,
the unilateral actions of the government and to call upon
affiliates to begin a process of secondary strike action and
other forms of solidarity action in support of the public sector
workers and their strike and rallies planned for August 24 [see
Although delegates called for a two-day general strike if the
dispute was not resolved, and the emergency resolution stated
that the real issue is government fiscal austerity measures:
wage cuts, social budget cuts, downsizing and privatisation,
conspicuously absent from both the congress and the militant
speeches during the August 24 strike were references to the ANC
government's austere Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR)
Similarly, there was no suggestion that a healthy and functioning
Alliance should, at the very least, have played a key role in
resolving such a major dispute with government, rather than
A commentator from the SACP observed that both the conference and
the speeches during the strike showed the growing gulf between
union members and union leaders, let alone the rift in the
The Congress of South African Students held its own march
demanding that teachers and the government reach a settlement and
that exams be put forward. The South African Council of Churches
offered to step in as a mediator so that pupils would not suffer
The fact that COSATU was not able to convince the churches and
the students to support the strike shows a demobilisation of
community support, a 33-year veteran of the trade movement
However, public opinion, which initially rode high against the
unions, was shifted by the strike. South Africa's main
newspapers' initial calls for the cash-strapped government to
stand firm against the demands of the lazy and underworked
public servants changed to a call for government and the unions
to resolve the matter as speedily as possible.
Government claims that the public sector wage bill was consuming
52% of the total public service budget, up from 37% a few years
ago, merely exposed the degree of the ANC's cuts to social
services. COSATU successfully publicised the fact that the salary
of a cabinet minister is 2600% greater than that of a general
Ravi Naidoo, director of the National Labour and Economic
Development Institute, points out, The thorn in the side of the
Tripartite Alliance has always been [government] economic
That thorn is unlikely to be removed by a special meeting of
senior government, labour and business leaders in the National
Economic, Development and Labour Council, hurriedly convened to
debate macro-economic and trade and industry policies. The same
is true of a promise by the new Reserve Bank governor (and former
ANC minister) Tito Mboweni to consult the labour movement when
devising monetary policy.
For the documents and speeches of the COSATU special congress,
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