Former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has revealed that more trade unions could break away from Cosatu and join efforts to form a new union federation, a rival to Cosatu.
He said preparations were at an advanced stage to launch the federation, which will be more radical leftist than Cosatu. Vavi was expelled from Cosatu following an extramarital affair debacle with a female employee at Cosatu House in Johannesburg.
Vavi addressed the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) elective national congress in Cape Town on Monday night. Numsa was also expelled from Cosatu for adopting radical positions, including a call for Cosatu to sever its ties with the ruling ANC due to its adoption of neoliberal policies and for President Jacob Zuma to step down over the Nkandla debacle.
At the time of Numsa’s call after its special congress in 2013, Cosatu leadership refused to denounce Zuma until recently when they named Cyril Ramaphosa as their preferred candidate to succeed Zuma instead of Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma.
Vavi said some senior leaders of certain Cosatu-affiliated unions were participating in the steering committee tasked with preparing for the formation of the new federation.
Besides the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), which has already left Cosatu, some leaders in the South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Unions (Saccawu), the National Education Health and Allied Workers Unions (Nehawu) and the South African State and Allied Workers Union (Sasawu), also a Cosatu union, are working with Vavi as conveners of the federation. Nehawu has voiced its opposition to Zuma and demanded for him to resign.
Vavi told Numsa members to guard against complacency. “Don’t drop you guard,” he said. He was referring to Numsa’s decision to leave Cosatu and ditch the ANC while pursuing a strong Marxist-Leninist approach to workers’ issues.
Vavi and Numsa’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, and the union president, Andrew Chirwa, condemned the R3 500 national minimum wage. Jim said Marikana workers were killed for demanding a minimum of R12 500, and Chirwa said Numsa regarded the R3 500 as an insult to workers.
“We are building provincial structures, and we are busy establishing locales of the new federation,” Vavi said. But he stressed that despite these efforts, they still believede “Cosatu could be saved from itself”.
The fiery ex-trade unionist said the formation of the new federation was inspired by independent unions that had lost all hope of ever joining Cosatu. They are also discussing with the National Council of Trade Unions with the idea for the federation to merge with the new organisation.
Vavi said among the programme of action envisaged for the federation would be to fight against the R3 500 national minimum wage and for the minister of finance to table a pro-poor people’s budget instead of the current neoliberal one.
Meanwhile, the current Numsa leadership was elected unopposed on Monday afternoon. Chirwa was reelected as president, Basil Cele as deputy, Jim as general secretary, Karl Cloete as deputy general secretary and Mphumzi Maqungo as treasurer.
The post of second deputy president was the only one being contested, and the race is between Puleng Phaka and Ruth Ntlokose.
The reelections of the leadership ends speculation that many union members were unhappy with the Numsa decision to leave Cosatu and to ditch the ANC-led alliance.
Last night, Chirwa said the ANC, SACP, Cosatu and the government had failed to destroy Numsa. “Nobody will succeed to destroy this union,” Chirwa said.
He called on workers to help recruit more members into the union. “Unless we build and protect Numsa, there shall be no revolution to take forward. Unless Numsa develops a different kind of a cadre, our enemies will eat us slowly from inside like cancer,” Chirwa said.
He said the 1994 political settlement had failed the black people and, instead, its biggest beneficiary was white monopoly capital. Chirwa said the Numsa congress would have to take a resolution to declare the R3 500 national minimum wage as an insult against the working class.
Speakers expected to address the congress today (Tuesday) are Jim and Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, himself an ex-trade union leader, and a former long-serving general secretary of the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union.
The congress, which ends on Thursday, is being attended by guests from Venezuela, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, Argentina, Somali, Zimbabwe, Germany and other foreign countries.