NewsSouthern AfricaSouth Africa trade union movement rift laid bare at commemorations

Thu,26Apr2018

Posted on Tuesday, 03 May 2016 15:39

South Africa trade union movement rift laid bare at commemorations

By Crystal Orderson in Cape Town

Zwelinzima Vavi told workers that they were ready to challenge Cosatu. Photo©Obed Zilwa/AP/SIPAThe rift in the South African trade union movement was laid bare on Monday as workers held separate major events to commemorate Workers Day.

President Jacob Zuma addressed the main celebrations convened by the South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in the capital Pretoria while the federation's former general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi addressed another gathering in the East Rand.

Why must they have some sister who is president who has no clue what is the state of South African economy?

Zuma used the event to urge workers to rally behind his ruling African National Congress (ANC) in forth coming local government elections. He narrated the history of trade union movement in South Africa and urged workers to remain vigilant.

"The workers' leaders were fighting for the rights of workers not to be victimised and with the passage of time, workers mobilised into powerful unions," Zuma said. "They did this because they knew the exploitation of workers wouldn't last forever without the conscious workers rising to organise themselves."

On the other hand, Vavi was on the war path as he laid out plans to snatch away Cosatu's members in order to build a rival federation. "We are targeting 70 percent of workers who are not organised. Those workers must leave Cosatu in droves," he said.

"Why must they have some sister who is president who has no clue what is the state of South African economy?" Vavi was referring to Cosatu's links with the ANC.

Cosatu – Africa's largest labour federation - was formed in 1985 as black workers fought for their voice during the apartheid era. Although there are two other federations, Cosatu has always occupied centre stage in the country's labour market and in politics.

But the 2016 May Day commemorations showed that trouble was brewing for the federation. The rival commemorations were attended by former Cosatu affiliates, such as the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).

At the Tembisa rally, Zwelinzima Vavi told workers that they were ready to challenge Cosatu and he was targeting workers in different sectors of the economy. Numsa was expelled from Cosatu in November 2014 for not supporting the ANC in elections held that year.

Vavi and Numsa have been leading the calls for the formation of a federation that will challenge Cosatu's dominance and its close relationship to the ruling party.

Meanwhile, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) said the independent labour movement in the country had "suffered great divisions, losses and regressions". EFF said in a statement to commemorate Workers Day that "the socialist agenda has been abandoned for petty directionless factionalism, self-enrichment and careerism."

According to retrenchment statistics announced by trade union Solidarity last week, close to 60 000 people could lose their jobs this year alone. Solidarity's research shows that employees in the mining industry are hit hardest with 36 companies engaged in retrenchments during the past year, and 29 261 employees facing retrenchment.

Labour analysts estimate that only 26 percent of workers belong to unions in South Africa and the number continues to decline due to job losses and the fragmentation of the labour federation.



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