Pretoria - Around half of Cosatu’s members believe violence is necessary to achieve results during strike action, says the union federation’s draft organisational report ahead of its upcoming congress.
The congress is to be held weeks before the opening of nominations for new a leadership of the ANC, and the outcome is likely to be a strong factor in the prospects of the ANC candidates.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi faces a potentially bruising leadership battle, with the federation’s biggest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), leading the charge.
Popular among the rank and file, Vavi has been a critical voice against the leadership under President Jacob Zuma. This has split the federation, with its president, S’dumo Dlamini, and the NUM defending Zuma and supporting his re-election campaign.
There are opposing attitudes in the federation on the nature of its relationship with the ruling party and how it should be managed, with Vavi calling for Cosatu to go “back to basics” and focus on workplace issues without being “captured by palace politics”.
The conference has already been billed as a “mini-Mangaung”.
Meanwhile, the organisational report shows at least 13 of Cosatu’s affiliates were engaged in one or more strikes this year, with most strikes lasting between three and 85 days.
The federation believes there is evidence that violence during strikes is rising.
One worker quoted in the report said: “In South Africa, there is no other way the workers can be heard. Violence and strike is the language that [bosses] hear better.”
Cosatu admits it has a “problem on its hands” and suggests changes to the Gatherings Act, restrictions on employers in hiring scabs and a total reform of the police’s approach to crowd control.
Cosatu also believes that if the police and courts had acted more swiftly on reports of violence at Lonmin as far back as February, SA would not have witnessed the Marikana tragedy that left 44 dead in 10 days last month.
In the wake of the massacre, and with the NUM facing increasing pressure from the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the spotlight has also fallen firmly on the federation’s affiliates.
The NUM has been accused of losing touch with its members, opening the door for Amcu to make inroads.
Cosatu believes the NUM is “under attack” in the platinum belt from its former members and other forces.
The SA Transport and Allied Workers Union is also facing increasing pressure, with the formation of a breakaway union under the leadership of its former president.
It seems several of the offshoots have also dented Cosatu’s membership. It has achieved only half of its own target of having 4 million members by this year.
There are 193 unions in SA, but no data on their exact size and membership.
Other affiliates, such as chemical union Ceppwawu and police union Popcru, have other problems due to questionable investment deals, with allegations of misappropriation and wrongdoing at the centre of their disunity.
Nursing union Sadnu has been deregistered, and communications union CWU is also facing deregistration.
The NUM is still Cosatu’s largest affiliate, followed by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, then the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union and the teachers’ union Sadtu.
According to Stats SA, overall trade union density is 32 percent.
The union concentration is highest in mining.
Half-a-million Cosatu members earn less than R2 500 a month.
The organisational report is also critical of its membership support and says service providers are being allowed to manipulate and divide membership.
Cosatu members referred 34 073 cases to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration last year.