Unions take ANC to task over policy, alliance

By Adrian Hadland Time of article published Aug 24, 2000

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The trade union movement has launched a bitter attack on the African National Congress, calling on it to reassess its economic policies and restructure its strategic alliance with the SA Communist Party and Congress of SA Trade Unions.

At a series of congresses in the past week, union leaders from Cosatu, the SA Municipal Workers' Union and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA have vented their anger over the government's refusal to abandon its plans to privatise state assets, amend labour legislation or to give the alliance more

influence over policy.

Some union leaders have warned that the local government elections scheduled for November will be used to wring concessions from the ruling party.

Though talk of the creation of a Workers Party, usually raised this time of year by the more militant unions, continues to circulate at union congresses, key labour leaders said the ruling alliance would not be dismantled - only adjusted.

The ANC, however, remains determined to pursue its economic agenda. Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin warned delegates to the National Union of Metalworkers congress this week that job losses would be inevitable.

In the build-up to next month's key Cosatu congress, labour leaders have reacted angrily to their lack of influence over policy and are insisting alliance rules should be changed.

Capturing the mood of the unions, Cosatu president Willie Madisha told the Samwu congress in Durban on Wednesday: "We state categorically that we are opposed to the privatisation of state assets, as well as a restructuring programme driven by the logic of the capitalist market and competition."

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, in his address to the same gathering, said the alliance had "failed to meet regularly and more importantly to adopt a programme to implement the RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) in the current

context.

"The source of tensions within the alliance is the undefined relationship with government. We remain convinced that Gear (the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Policy) is the wrong strategy for South Africa, which still has to launch a major social reconstruction effort," he said.

In a hard-hitting attack on the ANC this week, Blade Nzimande, the SACP general secretary, said the alliance had "shied away" from even discussing economic questions: "We need alliance consensus on economic

policy," he said.

Samwu president Petrus Mashishi, meanwhile, warned the ANC this week that support from Cosatu and its affiliates in the coming local government elections would be subject to conditions, as government had "reneged" on election promises before.

Unlike this time last year, when ANC chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota and President Thabo Mbeki lashed out at the unions for indiscipline, the ruling party has been more circumspect this time around. Government ministers have expressed only a grim determination to proceed both with the alliance and with its own stated economic policies.

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