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Trade unions bring balance to organised labour, says Motlanthe on Workers’ Day

Former president Kgalema Motlanthe. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi

Former president Kgalema Motlanthe. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi

Published May 1, 2022

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Veteran trade unionist and former president Kgalema Motlanthe believes there is a future for trade unions in South Africa, as some workers still experience hardships in their employment.

Speaking on the debut of eNCA’s programme titled “On the spot with Lukhona Mnguni” on Workers’ Day, Motlanthe said trade unions would always play a role in organised labour.

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He said trade unions played an important role in bringing balance “to a system that is dominated by corporates”.

While negotiations for wage increases can sometimes prove fruitful, employers make up that money by placing it onto the consumers, he added.

“The system is designed so that there is this upwards mobility or chain reaction. Yes, the workers get the increase but the cost of living, that food basket also increases,” Motlanthe pointed out.

He added that for as long as there is a need to negotiate wage increases and ensure a worker is treated fairly and paid accordingly, there is a need for trade unions.

While discussing the state of organised labour in the country, Motlanthe said union leaders sometimes find themselves negotiating and ensuring their own packages were acceptable, before focusing on the needs of the workers.

“It’s those branch leaders that get too comfortable and then start sorting out their own packages before getting the mandate from the workers.

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“There is still a future for organised labour, but it is completely hopeless when it comes to creating equitable distribution,” Motlanthe said.

He also told Mnguni that workers need to be independent of political parties, and more united.

When Mnguni questioned whether he was indirectly calling for the end of the tripartite alliance, Kgalema clarified that he believed Cosatu should not be barred from making other alliances or working with other groups.

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“Cosatu should have the right and space to keep the best interests of their people at heart,” he said.

Motlanthe said while it might seem as if unions struggle to strive for independence from politics, it is impossible to separate the two. He said there is politics in any grouping.

“But the political spectrum is made up of different players… And there will always be politics in anything you do, but workers need to be independent of political parties and strive to be more united,” Motlanthe said.

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