Cosatu's president S'dumo Dlamini Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Johannesburg - Eight unions are threatening to go to court to compel Cosatu to hold a special national congress. They have served notice of their intent on the trade union federation, which – for nine months – has failed to comply with the demand for a congress.

The unions, led by Cosatu’s biggest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), believe the congress is the only way that the federation’s infighting can be resolved.

The congress would elect new leaders and decide on the future direction of Cosatu, particularly its relationship to the government and the ruling ANC.

The unions asked in August for the congress to be convened and have accused Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini of dragging his feet over the matter.

The notice of motion, filed on Thursday last week, suggests the ANC’s intervention to bring unity to the federation will be short-lived.

The papers were served on Cosatu House barely 24 hours after the country had voted to return the ANC to power.

Some Cosatu leaders, on both sides of the federation’s divide, accused the ANC of having intervened only to maintain stability before the poll.

Numsa and its allies, firing the first salvo just days after the elections, have also suggested that few in the federation believe that the truce will be permanent.

The unions have given Dlamini and Cosatu until Wednesday next week to respond.

If they fail to do so, the unions will go to court on June 2.

They will ask the High Court in Joburg to order Dlamini to convene a congress within 60 days.

They also want the court to declare unconstitutional and invalid the Cosatu decision, taken by its central executive committee at a special meeting earlier this year, not to convene a congress.

Dlamini said at the time a congress would not be held as the majority of Cosatu’s affiliates were opposed to the idea, but he has since said he is applying his mind to the matter.

He has argued that Cosatu’s coffers do not have the funds for the meeting.

Although Cosatu’s constitution stipulates that a special congress must be held if a third of its affiliates request one, it does not give the time frame in which this needs to be done.

If the president fails to call a special national congress, the central executive committee may appoint someone to convene it .

“By proceeding to take the position that no special national congress would at the time be called… the central executive committee acted ultra vires… unlawfully and in breach of the constitution,” the unions’ court documents read.

The unions repeat in the documents that they are committed to assisting Cosatu in whatever way they can to hold the congress.

“However, we must also point out that we believe that the (special national congress) should neither be a lavish nor drawn-out affair. We suggest that expenses be limited to the minimum required and that the event should not endure for longer than two consecutive days,” the unions say.

Dlamini is on record as saying that a congress would cost more than R12 million.

If the matter goes to court, Numsa and its allies would be confident that the judge would find in their favour.

Last month, the court ruled that Cosatu had acted unconstitutionally when it suspended general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

But Numsa is fighting to stay in Cosatu, with unions allied to the federation’s leadership determined to expel the troublesome union before a congress is convened.

They are threatening to expel Numsa because it refused to support the ANC in last week’s elections. If it is expelled, it would not be allowed to participate in the congress and its influence on other unions would be severely diminished.

Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said the federation was studying the documents and would respond to media queries later.

The Star