Cosatu Crisis: Anti-Vavi Cosatu leaders seeking to suppress democracy


The move by the leaders of seven Cosatu affiliated unions to oppose the application to the courts by Numsa, Fawu and the PFA to overturn the suspension of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on the grounds that the meeting that suspended him was ‘unconstitutional’ represents a new and probably critical stage in the disintegration of Cosatu. The pro-Zuma leaders of these seven unions have taken refuge behind the audi altarem partem principle to conceal their real intention: to deny the Cosatu rank-and-file a say in the most serious conflict in the history of the federation. It will now be October at the earliest that the case will be heard and in the meantime Vavi remains suspended.

It is unfortunate that the courts should become the battle ground for what is a life-and-death struggle for the organisational, ideological and political future of Cosatu. It could have been avoided had the seven agreed to the demand tabled by Numsa and others at the last Central Executive Committee for a special congress.

The divisions in Cosatu and within Cosatu affiliates over the suspension of Vavi are in reality a reflection of the contradictory position that Cosatu finds itself in as a member of the Tripartite Alliance and the inevitable tensions this provokes. On the one hand the ANC, the dominant component of the Alliance, pursues a neo-liberal economic policy in the form of the National Development Plan. This policy favours the bosses and the markets and therefore stands diametrically opposed to the fundamental interests of the rank-and-file workers of Cosatu. The Cosatu leadership cannot face both ways on this issue. They either represent the working class or they become the representatives of the bosses, of the capitalist class, and act as a fifth column inside the mighty labour federation.

The immediate crisis, provoked first by the digging-up of corruption charges, latterly a rape allegation (now withdrawn) and then the suspension of Vavi for “bringing Cosatu into disrepute” through the exposure of a workplace affair (with the same Cosatu employee previously alleging rape), is a reflection of this ideological battle for the heart and soul of Cosatu. The openly pro-capitalist ANC, with the support of the pro-Zuma Cosatu leaders, wishes to complete the subordination of Cosatu to the ANC and SACP within the Alliance. Vavi’s refusal to support Zuma’s re-election at Mangaung (even though he later capitulated), his repeated criticisms of ANC policy and his refusal to be elevated to the ANC Executive makes him a potential barrier to their agenda. That is why, for the pro-Zuma Cosatu leaders, he has to go.

Vavi’s staunchest supporter has been Cosatu’s largest affiliate Numsa. Numsa, based on the most class conscious layers of the working class in manufacturing and metals, who recognise ANC policy for the pro-capitalist stall that it is, have been a constant pressure on the Numsa leadership to distance themselves, criticise the ANC, and in the case of the Vavi ‘scandal’ come to his defence in a recognition of what is at stake.

WASP holds no brief for Vavi as an individual, if he is guilty of corruption the workers movement would be better off making an example of him. But WASP recognises the deeper processes at work and what the stakes in this dispute really are.

WASP stands for the maximum unity of the working class as the most effective way to advance the interests of working class people. The danger in the crisis in Cosatu is that, if Cosatu continues to fragment, a process already considerably advanced, the working class could be left divided in the workplace, the frontline in the class struggle. It is the pro-Zuma Cosatu leaders who threaten the unity of the working class with their capitulation to the interests of the bosses and the capitalist class. WASP believes that Numsa has a responsibility to draw the full conclusions from the past twenty years of ANC betrayal and put itself at the head of the regrouping of the pro-working class, left, and socialist forces.

Read WASP’s ‘Open Letter to Cosatu members’ which was published in July. This letter gives a fuller analysis of WASP’s views on the crisis in Cosatu and where it is headed.

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