Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi File picture: Neil Baynes

Cape Town - Cosatu has accused President Jacob Zuma of failing to grasp the magnitude of the task of putting South Africa on a new growth path.

In reaction to Zuma’s State of the Nation address, Cosatu said on Thursday his speech “fell seriously short on many issues”.

“There was no mention of banning labour brokers or measures to strengthen collective bargaining, and on the NMW (national minimum wage) Comrade Zuma only promised that ‘we will investigate the possibility’ of a national minimum wage, one of the key mechanisms to reduce the income inequality.

“Merely to ‘investigate the possibility’ is a major U-turn from the manifesto commitment to ‘investigate the modalities’,” Cosatu said.

The labour federation’s critical tone returns with the reinstatement of its general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. It may focus the ANC’s mind a bit more while it attempts to broker a peace deal in Cosatu, which is rent down the middle over support for Vavi. The party will have to decide if a united Cosatu – which is once again openly critical of its policies or a fragmented, but more pliant ally – suits it best.

Cosatu’s anti-Vavi affiliates were more welcoming of Zuma’s speech. But Cosatu’s rebel union, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa’s) own reaction mirrored the more critical tone of the federation’s statement.

Before Zuma’s speech, Cosatu issued a statement with its wish list. which focused on giving the economy a boost. It included a focus on development of the productive sector, beneficiation and state procurement.

Cosatu also wanted to see plans for the creation of decent sustainable jobs, a speedy introduction of the national minimum wage, mandatory centralised collective bargaining and a more developmental macro-economic policy promoting employment and industrialisation.

Cosatu said while Zuma correctly stated that the fight against inequality, unemployment and poverty must take centre stage, he failed to explain how this would be achieved. “We appreciate the assurance that the National Infrastructure Plan and Industrial Policy Action Plan will continue to be implemented, though he did not clarify how these programmes will be reconciled with the National Development Plan (NDP), which is based on the failed economics of neo-liberalism and free-market capitalism, which are part of the cause of the crisis.”

It also said while Zuma identified “the prolonged and at times violent strikes” as one cause of the economic stagnation, “he failed to mention the much more serious strike of capital by those employers sitting on R1.2 trillion in social surplus which they are refusing to invest in the economy”.

There was also a lack of clarity on how the beneficiation of raw materials, the skilling of workers to carry this out, and up-stream and down-stream industries would be developed and integrated.

It did welcome the speech’s emphasis on the expansion of the energy sector. However it had grave reservations about the potentially deadly use of nuclear energy and the negative environmental impact of shell gas fracking in the Karoo.

Group Labour Editor