Cosatu's suspended secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi. File photo: Etienne Creux

Johannesburg - Tension within Cosatu reached boiling point this week in the lead-up to a massive strike by the rebel National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), which is threatening to bring the manufacturing sector to a standstill on Wednesday.

The planned strike comes amid rivalry within Cosatu’s provincial structures, which saw a meeting attended by Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini in the Eastern Cape disrupted and union leaders scrambling to put out fires in various provinces.

Dlamini has described the strike, which Numsa claims will involve the downing of tools by more than 320 000 members of the union, as part of the broader plan by Numsa leaders and suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi to destabilise Cosatu and the ANC and form a new workers’ party.

Numsa’s planned downing of tools in protest against the government’s youth wage subsidy this week is the latest in its defiance of Cosatu’s leadership. The federation, under Dlamini, a key ally of President Jacob Zuma, has endorsed the ANC election manifesto that has put the youth wage subsidy at the centre of its plans to tackle the youth unemployment crisis.

This week Dlamini told The Sunday Independent that Vavi, Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim and suspended SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) president Thobile Ntola were leading a campaign to ensure the ANC lost the elections.

He said the strike did not have Cosatu’s backing as it had other motives than the interests of the workers or youth.

“They have not spoken to us about that strike, so they will be relying on civil society to swirl the numbers. They will be supported by the EFF and Wasp (Workers and Socialist Party) because they are part of the intention to form the workers’ party and contest the elections. By then they will have their leader, you must just wait and see,” Dlamini said.

Vavi said in a texted response: “He is repeating the nonsense contained in the bogus intelligence report he circulated to some unions in 2013. These are signs of a desperate man who has lost the plot and who can no longer justify putting someone into suspension for eight months with(out) a hearing.”

Numsa president Andrew Chirwa said Dlamini had no credibility to speak about people creating chaos in Cosatu as he was presiding over a “factional CEC that is nothing but a clique”.

“How can he go around accusing people of holding meetings as if it is illegal? The paralysis in Cosatu right now is caused by S’dumo himself because he is defying the workers by refusing to hold the special congress that they are demanding.

“S’dumo is the one who has been going around at workplaces where Numsa is organising across the provinces to hold meetings without even inviting the leadership of Numsa, how can he then accuse people of convening meetings?”

Numsa has withdrawn its financial support for the ANC’s election campaign and said it would not be involved.

A successful strike by Numsa will put immense pressure on the manufacturing sector as it organises mainly in car and parts manufacturing, a major contributor to export revenue.

The planned action comes amid a sustained strike by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) in the mining sector, which Anglo-American Platinum says is costing the company more than R100 million in daily revenue.

The crisis in Cosatu is spreading throughout its provincial structures. This week, a meeting Dlamini attended in the Eastern Cape was disrupted and police intervened when pro-Vavi supporters stormed the meeting, questioning its legitimacy. The group, many in Sadtu regalia, demanded Vavi’s reinstatement.

Some union leaders in the Northern Cape, who are demanding Vavi face charges levelled against him by the federation, this week appealed to Cosatu to stop meetings between Numsa and other unions as these would be “illegal gatherings”.

Dlamini this week admitted Cosatu was “in a state of instability” in the provinces, and blamed this on Vavi, Jim and Ntola as they were “going around confusing workers”.

“They are going around mobilising in the provinces, especially in the Eastern Cape. The general secretary (Vavi) comes here and convenes meetings with the workers. When they leave, chaos follows. They are working hard to destabilise and weaken Cosatu, to make sure the ANC loses the coming elections and to form their own workers’ party.” – Additional reporting by Loyiso Sidimba and Candice Bailey

Sunday Independent