issued 10 Sept., 2012


Socialist Party of Azania  (source: ILC)

In about a week COSATU is going to go to its congress. Unlike in past congresses, it will not be a celebratory congress but one which will be about soul searching and to find out how so many things could have gone wrong, also why is it nothing was done to avert the disaster or change the fortune for the better. South Africa, after the callous massacre in Marikana, is in a crisis, a crisis of such enormous proportion that many people believe that fortunes of the South African ‘miracle’ have forever changed. We entered a space where the government will not hesitate to use lethal force on those who disagrees with it.

Many had thought the callous murder of Andries Tatane in Ficksburg was just a freak accident but there is a growing body of evidence that attest to the fact that our “police service” which was supposed to be much acclaimed has reverted back to being a “police force.” They are both callous and brutal. They have accounted, though low key, to more than 3500 deaths since 1994.

However, the crisis is more than just state violence, though state violence is also symptomic of the depth of the crisis. It is first a labour crisis of great proportions, a political crisis that put into question all which up to now have been celebrated, including the most liberal and democratic constitution in the world, and finally it is an economic crisis that has first played itself out by the more than 400 annual service delivery protests throughout the entire country but also the spate of labour protests and actions particularly in the mining sector, where there has been no visible transformation whatsoever.

South African miners (we mean Black miners, white workers only constitute 1% of COSATU’s membership), are the least paid in the world. What is real and cannot be denied is the fact that unemployment, homelessness, poor education – general poverty and want is what define the Black majority in the “democratic” South Africa.

Since its formation in 1985, COSATU has enjoyed unparalleled growth and support and it was rightly referred to as the unquestionable voice and defender of the workers. The ruling ANC party found itself in an unassailable pole position because of the unquestionable support it received from COSATU as a member of it tripartite alliance. In turn the ANC rewarded COSATU leaders by giving them ministerial cabinet positions that made them party to policies that disadvantaged workers and the Black majority.

COSATU has, in this situation been made a gate-keeper to policies that emanate from the offices of the Brettonwoods institutions that clearly attack the interests of workers, sovereignty of the country and the Black majority.

Unions, including COSATU are set up to advance the interests of workers, to force and win concessions from the bosses and government, to defend the gains which include both civil liberties and democratic rights, all won through struggle. Their uncontested terrain is collective bargaining. They act, speak and represent to the fullest the mandate of those whom they represent. These are the first and key tasks of the labour movement. Unions cannot act in such a way that they are perceived to betrayed or acted against their members or workers for that matter in favour of the bosses.

This is the crisis that COSATU and its affiliate unions face today. Marikana has its roots in these perceptions. In the past years workers suffered great blows from the bosses and the government, which is understandable, but the hardest was the indirect blows that came through their union leaderships which have refused to stand firmly on their demands but subordinated to the whims and positions of the bosses and the government. COSATU leader, Zwelinzima Vavi refers to the Marikana massacre as ‘a full political statement’ because more often than not, it is the COSATU unions’ leadership that have undermined the demands of the workers they represent or settling at far less than what the workers mandate was. This has deepened the struggle for a living wage.

There are so many challenges that face South African workers including the fact that the government has not transformed the townships which were set up by the Apartheid regime as labour reservoirs – people being forced to live very far away from their places of employment and with no efficient public transport system available. There are still people who literally spend their time travelling to and fro to work – an average of three hundred and fifty kilometres a day.

This problem has reared its head in most COSATU unions, like the teachers union, the public sector unions, the transport unions and tele-communications unions amongst others. Workers have expressed their unhappiness in this state of affairs and some of them have openly expressed their displeasure at being subordinated to the bosses or government. There is a general perception that the COSATU leadership has only one target, that of being part of the ruling oligarchy. This has resulted in COSATU unions losing members or new rival unions being formed. This situation challenges our traditional positions on the labour movement.

In Marikana, for instance, NUM, one of the major COSATU union and a leader in the mining sector, unequivocally said R12 500 was both too much and unreasonable and pleaded due process, sided with management and the police even after the massacre had occurred. It took almost two weeks for Vavi to come out clearly that R12 500 was not only reasonable but too little when compared with the work the miners do. NUM and Vavi had endorsed the police version of the massacre and even called for people to be prosecuted to a point of being charged for murder. However, NUM, particularly, its leadership is being evicted by workers in most mines.

Vavi has had his own Damascus road experience when he said:”Singing the ruling party’s praises will not do the federation or the country good. When the union is engaged in a protracted battle with the government, the grass suffers. Equally when the government is involved in the never ending love affair with the government. The grass still suffers.” Despite these revelations, we do not think any such lessons are learnt and understood, as a strong COSATU lobby group is busy trying to remove him as secretary general. Quite clearly, what Vavi is saying is that COSATU must understand that their salvation and redemption as a labour federation lies in its independence.

They use the same attack he has used on Julius Malema when he called him “a wealthy, essentially right wing leader, who demagogically exploits any perceived weaknesses to encourage workers to leave their union, their only means of defence,” to attack him. For his part Malema has recently called Vavi, ‘the only revolutionary left in COSATU.’ These attacks and counter attacks epitomises the crisis that exist in COSATU and even in the ANC. There is merit in calling for the unity of all workers and their organisations but that merit does not exist when the labour unions desert the very workers they are supposed to defend.

The reality is, the COSATU unions are fast losing ground to independent trade unions that are formed out of their own failures and compromises. There are several sectors where COSATU is no longer dominant and there will be more if the status quo continues. In Marikana it is said that ‘workers chose death over “wage slavery” accepted by the leadership of NUM. This is exacerbated by the fact that union leaders who refuse the workers to demand more, earn infinitely and riotously more than these workers. How do you compare an annual salary of R36 000 or even R60 000 per annum to that of R1.4 million a year for the president of the NUM? Is there no longer any morality?

The labour Research Service’s Directors Fees Survey indicated that the average remuneration of CEO’s in the mining sector during 2011 was R20.2million per annum and amounts to R55 000 a day. Yet the union (NUM) and the bosses were agreed and told the workers that the demand of R12 500 per month was unreasonable. This clearly is the conspiracy of the union leadership and the bosses against the workers. The new union in the mining sector, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which stood full square with the workers, almost 28 000 of them in the Rustenburg mining area (the same place where Lonmin is) continue to be isolated by the bosses and COSATU which agrees to go into negotiations with unions which at the moment do not have members at the mines.

A “Peace accord” was signed with these sweetheart trade unions like the openly rightwing “Solidarity” and the United Association of South Africa. This, despite the fact that AMCU is the fastest growing union, not only in the North West but in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and particularly in all the platinum mines. The president of AMCU, Joseph Mathunjwa was greatly outraged by such a move especially since most of the striking workers believe AMCU is their legitimate union.

This clearly shows how far COSATU is willing to go in order to try and preserve its labour hegemony particularly in the mining sector. How does any union ever justify violence against the workers even if they differ with them. At the centre of all their problems is their twin tripartism, first that of itself with the ruling ANC and the South African Communist Party then that of itself, big business and the government – these limit and subordinate the labour movement’s ability to actively fully represent the interests of the workers. The labour movement gets muddled up in issues often outside the armpit of the workers’ struggle.

The second crisis, is that of politics. As pointed out in so many discussions, the political patchwork that was CODESA continues to bedevil the Black majority. Even after 18 years of paying the Apartheid debt, subordinating our sovereignty and our economy to the Brettonwoods institutes, poverty remains a defining feature of the Black majority. The real outcomes of CODESA are starting to play themselves out for all to see.

It is no secret that Black people, the country’s majority were both the subject and object of their liberation struggle, which really meant that they were supposed to be the great beneficiaries of the freedom struggle. However, that has not happened, they now belong to the most unequal society in the world punctuated by the fact that it is recorded that they are worse off than they have ever been even under Apartheid.

Those who crafted the agreements were fully aware that they were sacrificing everything for the sake of the so-called ‘unqualified franchise’- the right to vote, they also knew that the success of that ploy will represent nothing but a pyrrhic victory. The lots of Black people will not have changed- they would not have moved. So in reality it has to be expected that the violence such as that of Marikana was inbuilt in the system right from the beginning. Where there is general poverty, where there is unemployment and generalised lack, the only way out for the trapped Stalinist bureaucracy will be violence. It is a tried and tested method in such situations. The real way out though, is breaking with imperialism with all its empty promises and trappings. Without such a break, very little can be achieved now, or even in the near future. It is in this context and such a consideration that the Black majority have to set up a Black Republic, a product of real and untrammelled democracy.

Finally, the economic crisis that South Africa is facing, largely because of policies that are subordinated and dictated upon by imperialism led in the main by U.S. imperialism, is in so many ways part of the world economic crisis. Despite promises of growing the economy by creating sustainable jobs, only the opposite has so far happened. The economic crisis that has grabbed European countries in a deathly stranglehold has also had devastating effects on the South African economy. More than a million jobs have been lost in the period while very few jobs have been created.

Head office: Unit 8, Renaissance Center
Gandhi Square, Johannesburg, 2001
P.O. Box 11039
Johannesburg, South Africa 2000
Tel. (011) 838-4823

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