Embattled general secretary to reveal Cosatu’s infighting dirt
Labour federation Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is expected to submit an “explosive” report on the state of the federation’s trade unions to its central executive committee (CEC).
Fighting back after being accused of dodgy dealings in the handling of Cosatu’s financial affairs, Vavi has painted a bleak picture of the federation’s unions poaching members from each other.
City Press understands Vavi will soon submit his report to the CEC investigation, led by lawyer Charles Nupen and veteran unionist Petrus Mashishi.
This comes as the Labour Court threw out the NUM’s application to stop Lonmin from derecognising it as the majority union this week.
The company now recognises the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the NUM’s fiercest rival in mining.
This also happens at a time when the NUM’s membership has declined, in effect making the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) the biggest union in the labour federation.
A source with direct knowledge of Cosatu’s internal squabbles said Vavi’s report slams the poor state of unions.
“Some workers march (to the Numsa) offices, away from their unions because those unions give them poor service. Those workers say: ‘Numsa accept us or we go to Amcu.’ And Cosatu leaders know this,” said the source.
He said this has broader political implications.
“Do you think Amcu workers are likely to vote for the ANC? Losing 100 000 workers is no child’s play, as they can organise other workers,” said the source.
Vavi refused to comment about the NUM membership saga.
The NUM’s membership has gone down from 310 000 last year to 287 000. Numsa’s membership figures have risen from 291 000 last year to 320 000.
The figures are expected to be tabled at the next Cosatu CEC meeting before the end of the month.
But NUM president Senzeni Zokwana dismissed the claims that the union’s members were voluntarily moving to their fellow affiliate, saying the union leadership had received reports that Numsa was actively recruiting at a construction company and some mines where his union is organising workers.
Zokwana said the NUM would also appeal the court ruling on its status at Lonmin.
A veteran trade unionist described the crisis facing the NUM as “the beginning of the end” for the union, but said its demise could take a while.
“Unions rarely, if ever, recover ground that has been lost. The platinum workers have lost confidence in the NUM and there is actually nothing they can do to turn it around.
“It is like a love affair that is over because of the treachery of one partner. The betrayed one just can’t get the feeling back again, no matter what their ex does,” said the unionist.
But NUM general secretary Frans Baleni was adamant that his union would recover from the loss of membership. He said former members were likely to return when
Amcu failed to deliver on the promises of higher wage increases it has made to them.
“We have a strategy in place to recover. Our work is cut out for us. This will take time,” said Baleni.
Vavi has previously blamed the growing “social distance” between union leaders and the workers they represent for the alienation of workers from trade unions.
But Baleni said “social distance” was not an issue as the leadership of the union was accessible to members.
Meanwhile, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) – which is investigating the NUM’s allegations of fraudulent memberships of Amcu – will also probe the NUM’s grievances about its eviction from offices by Lonmin, allegedly without following procedures.
The CCMA adjourned the hearing into the allegations of fraud against Amcu on Wednesday and will resume the hearing on July 31.
Lonmin said it was also working with the NUM to find a solution.
“The NUM derecognition is a process, not an event, and we are working with relevant parties to ensure it is as smooth as possible. The company is committed to ensuring all staff representatives and unions will be treated fairly, in accordance with the laws governing collective bargaining,” said Lonmin spokesperson Sue Vey.
Lonmin was also discussing the issue of more than 40 NUM shop stewards who have been left in limbo since their posts are in the process of being taken over by Amcu members, which now has more than 75% of Lonmin workers on its books.
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