ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told unions to “go back to basics', giving the SA Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) a thorough dressing down at its congress on Thursday.
He told Sadtu members in Boksburg that “revolutionary forces” in education were in “disarray”.
“Revolutionaries are fighting over personal material benefits to the detriment of the African child in particular and the black child in general,” he said.
“Sadtu as part of the revolutionary trade union movement has neither clarity nor commitment to the education of the black child in the eyes of the public.
“We continue to use them (children) as pressure points and cannon fodder in the bargaining process.
“During the strike white children in general and Afrikaans children in particular continued to learn, many of you know this, whose children are in Model C schools.
“The children of many teachers go to Model C schools. When they (the teachers) go on strike their children continue to learn,” he said.
This prompted delegates to heckle him, preventing him from continuing with his address. Sadtu president Thobile Ntola had to intervene.
“Close your mouth, keep quiet... this is a congress, it is a contestation of ideas... can we keep quiet comrades and allow the SG of the ANC to speak?” Ntola said.
“No,” Sadtu members replied.
When Mantashe returned to the podium he said he accepted the Sadtu president's apology, even though Ntola had not yet apologised, but did so after the secretary general's address.
“When comrades heckle me, they want me to express views about them... if that's the issue I would suggest that Sadtu in future does not invite me,” Mantashe said to loud applause.
He said there was a decline in understanding among public sector unions about trade unionism.
“Trade unionism cannot be like warlordism. We must sebenza (work) on the basis of persuasion... of logic... of the power of argument.”
It was necessary, Mantashe said, to go back and understand the basics.
Mantashe, the former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, had 25 years of experience in the trade union movement.
“If you are angry now, never cut your nose to spite your face... because next year you are going to go and negotiate (again).
“It's not the first or last strike, there will be strikes in the future.
“We must be able to manage them. We will be worried if Sadtu believes that we can intimidate and threaten each other into accepting certain views... if that's the case this is the beginning of the end.”
The recent public sector strike weighed heavily on the relationship between the unions, and the ANC-led government.
Mantashe set the tone for his hardline address by acknowledging that his Sadtu audience might not like what he would say.
Before his address and the heckling which interrupted it, he stopped delegates from singing saying: “I don't want them to sing now because they may be disappointed when I finish.
“They must sing when I finish.”
The delegates did not fulfil his wish by not singing after his address.
SA Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande had earlier addressed the congress, as did Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who was heckled by Sadtu members on Wednesday and booed on Thursday. -