Zuma faction poised to split Cosatu (Open letter to Cosatu members)

Working Class Unity Threatened – Time to re-unite under the banner of struggle, solidarity and socialism

Dear Comrades,

We write to you and all trade-union, community and student activists because the current developments in Cosatu, after the seismic events of the Marikana massacre – the most significant political development in the post-Apartheid period — mark a decisive turning point in the history of the federation with implications not just for Cosatu members, but for the wider working class. In this letter WASP shares with you its analysis of the political and ideological basis of the split in the Cosatu leadership and calls on you to draw the lessons of these developments. The mining industry is the first battleground, with the bosses threatening massive retrenchments. It is but the first assault in a total onslaught as the capitalists try to make the working class pay for the crisis of their system. We need to restore working class unity in order to mount a counter-offensive against capitalism as it undergoes the worst crisis in nearly 100 years, to bring about the socialist transformation of society.

In order to prepare a united resistance against the coming attacks, WASP calls for a conference at a date to be announced, for the reunification of working class struggle and the re-establishment of an ideological, political and organising centre of working class struggle.

The meaning of the investigation into Vavi

The investigation into the allegations against Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi poses the gravest threat to the unity of the federation since its birth 28 years ago. As a result of the decisive role Cosatu played in the defeat of the apartheid regime, the federation has acquired a specific political weight which for a long time has given the federation an influence far greater than its numerical size. Cosatu is looked to for leadership by the broader working class and even the middle class well beyond its organisational boundaries. Participation in general strikes called by Cosatu has consistently exceeded its actual membership. The outcome of this factional struggle therefore has implications for the working class as a whole.

There have been campaigns directed at individual leaders before, but none with implications as serious as this one. The motives of Vavi’s political assassins are betrayed by the fact that they are rejecting calls for a special congress. They wish to deny the rank-and-file a say in the matter and rely on their built-in majority at the top in the central executive committee to carry out a palace coup. So serious are the divisions that there is now a real prospect of a split. We are now witnessing a power struggle that threatens the very existence of Cosatu itself.

Comrade Vavi is correct to offer his full cooperation with the investigation. Given the courageous stand he has taken against corruption, and his stature within Cosatu and in the wider labour movement, should he be found guilty of corruption, it would do irreparable harm not only to his personal reputation, but to that of Cosatu itself. He would deservedly have to be removed as general secretary.

We hold no brief for comrade Vavi. If he is guilty, the workers’ movement would be better off by making an example of him to demonstrate that no-one can be allowed to besmirch the noble traditions of working class struggle with impunity.

But we should not be fooled. This investigation is not intended to expose corruption. Those howling with the wolves against Vavi include leaders around whom swirls the stench of corruption in their own unions. This investigation is in fact more than just an attempt at dealing a factional blow against Vavi and those seen as against Zuma, but to silence criticism of corruption, weaken Cosatu and to overcome working class resistance to the ANC’s capitalist policies. Emboldened by the crushing victory over those who favoured ‘AbZ’ (Anyone but Zuma) in the run up to Mangaung, the Zuma-faction wishes to extend its dominance in the ANC over the federation itself. The purging of Nehawu deputy general secretary Suraya Jawooeien is a clear demonstration of the right wing’s intent. The Zuma faction has grown tired of repeatedly being rebuffed on key questions of the class agenda they are sworn to uphold on behalf of the ruling capitalist elite whose interests the ANC as a whole consciously represents.

The NDP – the latest right-turn by the capitalist ANC

After successfully off-loading the Freedom Charter, the ANC leadership has consistently driven the party further and further to the right culminating at Mangaung with the renunciation of nationalisation, the renewal of the ANC’s vows with neo-liberal capitalism in the form of NDP, Gear’s latest reincarnation, and a raft of repressive apartheid legislation such as the Secrecy Bill now awaiting Zuma’s signature, the Traditional Courts Bill and its companions, the retention of the National Key Points Act and the doctrine of common purpose. At every moment of acute class conflict the anti-working class impulses of the ANC leadership have expressed themselves in attempts at curbing the power of organised labour. Despite the sudden about turn in the parliamentary portfolio committee on the amendments to the labour laws, inspired by election fears, proposals such as pre-strike balloting and the designation of a range of public services as essential services, are regularly put forward by government as they have been by Eskom in this year’s wage negotiations.

It is a bitter irony of history that the faction which, after Mangaung, has now consolidated its grip on the commanding heights of the ANC and Tripartite Alliance, was brought to power in Polokwane by the very forces it now seeks to crush. Having expelled self-styled kingmaker, former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, the Zuma faction now wishes to despatch a far more formidable and politically significant critic into the political wilderness.

It would be a serious mistake, however, to believe that these manoeuvres are personal. The tendency within the Tripartite Alliance to single out individuals for criticism for what in fact are ANC policies, has the effect of protecting the ANC as a whole from criticism. In too many cases it is consciously calculated this way. It may be true that Gear for example was developed behind the backs of ANC members and even its national leadership structures and implemented by Mbeki’s cabal in 1996 before being presented to the ANC’s 1997 Mafeking conference as an accomplished fact. But Mafeking nevertheless endorsed Gear, giving it the status of official ANC policy.

The NDP on the other hand was not hidden from the ANC. Its architects include Cyril Ramaphosa elected ANC deputy president at Mangaung. Yet the vicious attack on Trevor Manuel by Nehawu president Fikile Majola, for example, have included the ridiculous suggestion that Manuel holds personal responsibility for the neo-liberal policies implemented during his tenure as Finance Minister. Manuel was part of a cabinet put together by Mbeki, a president elected by ANC members at their conference and installed into the position of the country’s president by an ANC dominated parliament. Manuel neither installed himself as head of the Planning Commission, nor forced the National Development Plan down the throats of the Mangaung delegates. By denouncing the NDP as DA policy, Numsa general secretary comrade Ivin Jim, is in fact denouncing the ANC’s Mangaung conference as a whole which unanimously adopted the NDP as ANC policy for embracing DA policies.

The class character of the Zuma administration

We would be entirely mistaken to view these developments as merely the latest battle in an on-going factional war. No less than in the pre-Polokwane period, the current factional divisions remain an indirect expression of the polarisation between the classes that have sharpened immeasurably especially over the last six month of Zuma’s first term of office as ANC president. What events since Polokwane have revealed is the real class character of the Zuma administration and of the ANC as a party. In terms of economic policy there is no fundamental difference between the Mbeki and Zuma administrations.

What has changed are the politico-organisational boundaries of the factional divisions. In replacing the Mbeki faction, the Zuma faction has used its overwhelming majority to snuff out all semblance of ideological contestation within the ANC. Opposition to the ANC’s capitalist polices have been shifted to the margins, confined to Cosatu, and even then from only a section of the Cosatu leadership of which comrades Vavi and Jim are the most vocal.

The new ANC unity under Zuma, founded as it is on a common commitment to self-enrichment, cannot last despite the size of his faction’s majority. It can last long enough, however, not just to serve the corrupt elite around Zuma, but to serve the purpose of capital of weakening and dividing the working class. Should they succeed in ousting Vavi the possible break-up of Cosatu without any alternative to re-unite the working class would be s serious setback to the working class.

Marikana – the most shameful in Cosatu’ history

The plot against Vavi is not simply the spontaneous combustion of anti-working class sentiment that finds its sharpest expression in the Zuma-faction. The inflammable material that could start a conflagration that would consume Cosatu has been built into Cosatu’s foundation as a result of the ideological degeneration that has occurred over the entire post-apartheid period.

It is taking place against the background of what is undoubtedly the most shameful chapter in Cosatu’s history. The Marikana massacre, the worst atrocity against the working class since the defeat of the 1944 miners’ strike and, because it was carried out by a democratic government, worse than the Sharpeville massacre, passed by without even a peep of protest by Cosatu leadership while many of you had been outraged. The Cosatu that was born in 1985 would have responded to the massacre with at least a one-day general strike, and followed it up with a campaign for the election of a workers government on a socialist programme.

Instead, shockingly, certain Cosatu leaders, (mis)led by the SACP, regurgitated the anti-working class bile of this ideologically degenerate Stalinist party whose main role is to confuse the working class by dressing up the ANC’s capitalist policies in socialist clothing. Not only did these SACP echoes in Cosatu denounce the Lonmin workers’ victory, they condoned the massacre by the police. Even worse, under the cover of its “hands off the NUM campaign”, Cosatu’s Zuma faction organised mass action to “reclaim Rustenburg from the hands of counter-revolutionaries.” These leaders were prepared, in other words, to instigate worker-on worker conflict, to shed workers’ blood to force mineworkers back into the political concentration camp of the treacherous NUM leadership.

Comrades Vavi’s trenchant criticism of corruption, his steadfast opposition to e-tolling and his call for accountability must be supported as is comrade Jim’s denunciation of the NDP as a neo-liberal policy. But for these comrades to place themselves on the right side of history, to revive Cosatu’s militant socialist traditions and to re-unite the working class, they must come to terms with this political reality: that the ANC is incurably, irreversibly capitalist. The ANC’s allegiance to the capitalist ruling class has over a period of 19 years been manifest in the abandonment of the Freedom Charter, the adoption of Gear and its successive reincarnations the latest of which is the NDP. Now it is written in the blood of the martyrs of Marikana. Cosatu has no place in an alliance with the butchers of Marikana.

Lessons not learned

Unfortunately, comrades Vavi and Jim are in denial about the class character of the ANC. They continue to pledge their loyalty to the ANC and probably will once again campaign for it in the 2014 elections. This decision unfortunately suggests that these comrades have learned nothing from the Zuma administration’s particular character, its first term record, the ANC’s post-apartheid history, or indeed from the ANC’s social and political origins. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Comrades Vavi and Jim must accept partial responsibility for the Zuma faction’s ascendancy within Cosatu. The deal struck at the Cosatu congress – to support Zuma to avoid a challenge against Vavi for the position of general secretary – was a bargain with the devil. Like Faust, the figure from German folklore, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for favours, comrade Vavi and his supporters agreed to support Zuma to hold onto his position.

It would have been much better to have taken on the challenge even if it meant defeat. Vavi would have emerged from such a battle with his reputation enhanced and his principles intact. If the comrades believed that this was the best way to avert a split, then they are grievously mistaken. It has had the opposite effect. Their action has been interpreted as weakness. Weakness always invites aggression. Far from avoiding a split as the comrades may have believed, the capitulation of the comrade Vavi and his supporters has merely accelerated the process towards a split that now appears more and more inevitable.

Neoliberal policies on ANC conference

Even worse, having been force-marched by the Zuma faction into occupying positions on the ANC National Executive Committee, Cosatu is now facing the prospect of its general secretary and his supporters being rewarded for their loyalty to Zuma with a witch-hunt by Zuma’s political kits konstabels led by Nzimande and Dlamini. The Cosatu comrades have been elevated onto the ANC NEC at what is arguably the most right-wing conference in its history – a conference that endorsed e-tolling and the youth wage subsidy, adopted the neo-liberal National Develop Plan and was so determined to ingratiate itself with capital at home and abroad that they not only officially rejected nationalisation but removed the very word ‘nationalisation’ from its economic policy documents. Most tellingly of all, the conference even failed to observe a minute’s silence for the victims of the worst massacre since Sharpeville.

The federation has now gone beyond the mere endorsement of the ANC as a leader of the Tripartite Alliance. It is now an active participant in the governance of the country on the basis of capitalist policies. These comrades are not there merely to decorate the ANC NEC. They are there to provide political credibility to the ANC’s capitalist policies, to retro-actively endorse the Marikana massacre, and weaken resistance to the ANC’s anti-working class policies.

The first item the ANC will place on its Cosatu fellow NEC members’ agenda will be e-tolling followed by mass retrenchment in the mining industry and wage freezes in the public sector. The timing of the witch-hunt against Vavi appears very much to be based on the government’s determination to press ahead with e-tolling come what may. Dlamini/Slovo and company will have to earn their place on the ANC NEC by rendering Cosatu’s opposition to e-tolling ineffectual. Pre-occupied by the witch-hunt and preparation for a possible special congress, Cosatu will be divided and paralysed, clearing the way for yet another assault on the living standards of the working and middle classes.

Comrade Vavi’s personal decision to decline nomination to the ANC NEC, however courageous, unfortunately does not alter the reality that Cosatu now bears direct political responsibility for the ANC government’s policies. It merely confirms the extent of the political and ideological disorientation within the Cosatu leadership that two entirely incompatible positions on participation in ANC structures can co-exist. Vavi‘s reward is a witch-hunt that could end his political career. But the biggest casualties will be the working class against whom the Zuma faction’s all-out war against Cosatu’s left wing is ultimately directed.

Union business and corruption

It is a mistake, however, to lay all the blame for the crisis in Cosatu at the door of the ANC. Comrades Vavi and Jim’s capitulation on the political plane is merely the mirror image of the Cosatu leadership’s compromises in workplace struggles. The compromises with capitalism have resulted in the proliferation of union investment companies which have not only severely undermined the unions’ ability to effectively fight the bosses on behalf of their members. It has led to the emergence of trade union millionaires who increasingly see the world through the eyes of the bosses. Greed and corruption have followed inevitably as is shown by the scandals in Ceppwawu, Sactwu and Popcru with millions of workers’ savings being squandered.

The Sactwu leader’s decision to accept an entry level wage lower than the already paltry minimums two years ago on the basis that it will lead to job creation has exposed the naivety that flows from the idea that capitalism does not need to be abolished – that it can be reformed until it ultimately serves the interests of the working class. Far from any jobs being created, the bosses attempted to use the agreement to step up their campaign to cripple centralised bargaining, taking legal action to stop the extension of collective agreements across the clothing and textile industry and beyond.

Previously the Cosatu leadership took shelter under the mistaken idea that union investments are acceptable provided they do not invest in the industries they organise. Now even this fig leaf has been discarded. The Numsa leadership has justified buying a stake in Scaw Metals on the basis that it will enable them to influence investment decisions elevating the union into partnership with the bosses. Even more brazenly, the NUM has partnered the Chamber of Mines in the ownership of Teba Bank whose primary clients are NUM’s own members. Is it any wonder that NUM spokesperson Lesiba Leshoka appealed to mineworkers not to make “excessive” wage demands. As bankers, NUM needs clients who don’t earn enough to make a living to profit from workers borrowing to top up their income.

Capitalist economy in crisis

It is vital that we take urgent steps to prepare for the escalation in the class war that is on the horizon. There are dark storm clouds gathering over the SA economy with the Rand in particular facing threats from different directions. For the first time since 1994, SA’s credit rating has been downgraded. The IMF has just revised SA’s economic growth prospects for 2013 downwards. The country has a growing budget deficit and current account deficit. The Rand, one of the most volatile currencies in the world, is being propped up by inflows of hot money with investors exploiting SA’s relatively high interest rates by borrowing in low interest rate environments and investing in SA. Despite this the Rand is experiencing the fourth exchange rate shock since 2000 and is declining steadily.

Furthermore, SA bond ratings have been downgraded to one level above junk status. Any further downgrade could lead to a flight of capital threatening the Rand with collapse. To prevent a total collapse, the Reserve Bank would be forced to increase interest rates significantly. This would mean a complete reversal of the strategy the authorities have been using since the SA economy was hit by the world economic crisis. This strategy has entailed trying to stimulate economic growth through low interest rates. This strategy has resulted at best in very weak growth. It has failed to bring down consumer debt levels significantly with average household debt remaining above 75% of annual household income. Higher interest rates would lead to defaults on debt repayments for cars, houses and consumer goods and increased joblessness. It would have catastrophic consequences for the economy and the working class aggravating unemployment, inequality and poverty – the triple scourges the government has pledged to address.

We won’t pay for the crisis!

In line with their international counterparts, SA’s capitalist ANC government is forced to make the working class pay for the crisis of their masters’ system. At some point the current policy of attacks by stealth – withdrawing from collective agreements to increase pay of particular categories of workers in the education and safety and security sectors – will be replaced by an all-out attack involving possible wage freezes and retrenchments for public sector workers. The tactic of multi-year agreements in the public sector and local government is calculated to prevent workers from taking action to defend themselves from an erosion of living standards as wages remain low and the cost of living increases through escalating fuel, electricity, transport and food prices.

The public sector workers will be firmly in the firing line with growing calls by the bosses for government to rein in the allegedly unaffordable public sector wage bill. With Cosatu leaders sitting on the ANC NEC and taking joint responsibility for the management of the budget and the economy, they would be obliged to support attacks on their own members’ wages and conditions and prevent any resistance. Dlamini and Majola, president and general secretary of Nehawu respectively, would have to play the same role in the public sector as the NUM did in the mining industry – to betray their members.

Nor have we seen the end of the betrayals of the NUM leadership. They accept the world economic crisis as a kind of natural phenomenon over which no-one has any control and for which no-one can be held responsible. Therefore they have no strategy to deal with the mass retrenchments the mining bosses are planning. Having been in the forefront of the campaign for the ANC to abandon nationalisation, they are like army generals preparing for battle by throwing away their most important weapons.

So deep is the crisis in Cosatu that there is hardly an affiliate that is not racked by corruption and factionalism. Unfortunately, even some the left comrades in Cosatu haven’t yet overcome the illusion that a solution within the framework of capitalism is possible.

Many of our comrades have drawn the same conclusions as the mineworkers – that to be able to fight the bosses effectively, there is no alternative but to step outside the official unions and to organise independently. Unless an alternative centre of working class unity and resistance is organised, this would deal a severe blow to workers’ unity and our ability to resist the offensive the bosses are preparing against the working as the crisis of capitalism deepens. What is at stake, in other words, is not the fate of one individual’s career, but the ability of the working class to unite in the face of the attacks the bosses and their government are preparing.

A Programme of Action

The most acute expression of the paralysing effect of Cosatu’s membership in the Tripartite Alliance is that it has abdicated its responsibility as the coordinating centre of working class struggle that characterised its early years. Then, the struggles in the workplace and community were linked through Cosatu locals. Now many locals are implementing structures for ANC policies and forums for the discussion of business opportunities for tenderpreneurs. Unsurprisingly, Cosatu has stood aside as escalating service delivery protests have made SA the protest capital of the world. The same applies to the struggle of working class students against academic and financial exclusion, unaffordable tuition and accommodation fees.

The most immediate threat facing the working class is the mass retrenchments on the mines. Yet the Cosatu leadership has been pre-occupied with attempting to re-establish the NUM’s supremacy in the mines and imposing it on mineworkers who have rejected it. Instead of uniting the working class the Cosatu’s Zuma-faction dominated leadership has divided it. As the “Hands off the NUM” campaign shows, they are prepared to go to the extent of setting worker upon worker in the mining industry. The NUM, despite their radical posturing in the current wage negotiations, spent the period of the ebb that followed last year’s struggles not only completing the process of disarming the union by leading the campaign to abandon nationalisation at Mangaung, but supporting the re-election of Zuma and joining the executive of the very ANC responsible for the Marikana massacre.

In calling for a conference of the left attended by delegates from workplaces in and outside all federations and unions – the organised as well as the unorganised — student and working class communities we should, following the example of the mineworkers – call for the establishment of independent committees of struggle, linked together to unite the working class within each arena of struggle and across them around a common programme of action to:

  • fight retrenchments on the mines through preparing a general strike and putting forward the demand for nationalisation of the mines under the democratic control and management of the working class
  • set up committees of action linking motorists, communities and trade unions to resist the implementation of fuel increases and e-tolling
  • to set up rank-and-file committees in the workplace to hold shop stewards and trade union structures to account around the policy of the election subject to the right of immediate recall
  • for the income of all officials to be based on the average income of skilled workers
  • for the dissolution of all UNION investment companies
  • for these committees to link up with communities and students to demand the scrapping of rent, electricity and rates arrears; for decent affordable housing and transport; the scrapping of all student debt, for free education and health services; unite against evictions, water- and electricity cut-offs.
  • for a national campaign involving unions and community organisations for a minimum wage of R12.500
  • for a reduction in the working week without loss of pay and for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy under workers control and managements, for a socialist SA and a socialist world.

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