Critical elements of the long-awaited and debated survey of the attitudes of Cosatu shop stewards were finally made public in Johannesburg last night.

And they are likely to cause a considerable stir within labour and political circles, especially about the possible future launch of a union-backed labour party.

Professor Eddie Webster of the University of the Witwatersrand and Moeletsi Mbeki, the chairman of the Forum for Public Dialogue (FPD), presented the findings at a forum discussion at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.

They were joined by Mohamed Motala, who, with Webster, was a member of the Community Agency for Social Equity team that conducted the survey, commissioned by the FPD. It was the first of its kind since similar research was done in 1991.

However, news of the latest survey was released weeks before the crucial ANC congress in Mangaung in December last year. In an unauthorised statement, the then chief executive of the FPD, Prince Mashele, maintained that the majority of shop stewards did not support Jacob Zuma’s re-election as president of the ANC.

He added that the survey also revealed that Cosatu shop stewards “have no confidence in the SACP and want Cosatu to form a labour party”.

In what was widely seen as an attempt to undermine Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, Mashele subsequently claimed that Vavi and Mbeki had conspired to delay publication of the findings. This was because of “dirty” financial dealings involving Mbeki and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA.

The FPD board, of which I was then a member, and the research team were furious. The FPD released a statement pointing out that analysis of the raw data had not been completed and that the information leaked was, at best, “distorted”. Mashele was summoned to a disciplinary hearing, but resigned.

Last night the murk about the survey was finally cleared and should provide political parties, analysts and the labour movement with considerable food for thought.

However, because the survey was conducted for the most part before the watershed that was Marikana, there are bound to be debates about if and how perceptions and attitudes may have changed in the wake of the bloodshed and subsequent revelations.

The recent rows surrounding the suspension of Vavi and apparent threats to the cohesion of the ANC-led alliance have also triggered much more discussion about the possible emergence of a labour party.

Supporters of this concept may gain heart from the fact that 65 percent of the federation’s shop stewards surveyed said they would vote for such a party if it existed – and was backed by Cosatu. In the absence of such a choice, 90 percent pledged their votes to the ANC.

One of the most interesting findings is in the changes over 20 years in the education levels of shop stewards. In the 1991 survey, published the following year, 16 percent of shop stewards had not progressed beyond primary school. Last year, that number had fallen to 3 percent.

And while 46 percent had less than a Grade 8 education in 1991, 39 percent of today’s shop stewards are high school graduates while 36 percent have tertiary education. These are the men and women who are the first line of contact with both managements and the union leaderships.

But a worrying aspect for the trade union movement is how few younger workers today hold shop steward positions. Twenty years ago, 78 percent of Cosatu shop stewards were under the age of 40. Today, that figure, likely to have remained unchanged since the completion of the survey, is 46 percent. Only 10 percent are under the age of 30.

There is no age breakdown in terms of political party affiliation, but only 8 percent of the 2 052 shop stewards polled were members of the SACP, as against 68 percent who held ANC membership.

However, 44 percent said they would vote for the SACP if it stood in an election, but 47 percent would not do so in any poll.

Significantly, when given the choice of voting for existing parties (including the SACP), 90 percent (down from 96 percent in 1991) would remain faithful to the ANC, with only 2 percent (up from 1.3 percent) giving their votes to the SACP.

A majority – 53 percent – felt that the ANC-led alliance was in good shape, while 37 percent differed and 12 percent of respondents had no view one way or the other. However, 88 percent supported the view that Cosatu should back the ANC in upcoming provincial and national elections and 71 percent felt the labour federation should have a say in who should lead the ANC.

Given an open choice of who they would like to see elected as president of the ANC at the Mangaung conference, a slew of names emerged, headed by Jacob Zuma (43 percent) and followed by Kgalema Motlanthe (36 percent). Vavi, with 6 percent support, led a range of others, including Cyril Ramaphosa (4 percent), Trevor Manuel (3 percent) and Tokyo Sexwale (2 percent).

Perhaps much more important than the personalities at the head of the ANC and, therefore, of the government, are attitudes expressed about the economy and, in particular, nationalisation. Once again there has been a considerable change in attitudes over the past 20 years.

State ownership – nationalisation – takes third place in a hierarchy of views on the economy, with 65 percent of respondents in favour. Topping the preferences is the 84 percent vote for workers having a share in company profits, with 73 percent in favour of government regulation to direct investment.

In 1991, 95 percent favoured profit sharing, 67 percent wanted nationalisation and only 16 percent favoured government regulations on investment. Significantly, 17 percent of the respondents 20 years ago were in favour of privatisation.