Cosatu strike reveals weaknesses of the federation

Cosatu mobilised a mass march in Johannesburg on 13 February in support of the national strike called against unemployment and retrenchments. Photo: Dibuseng Phaloane

Thousands of Cosatu-affiliated union members marched through the streets of South Africa against job losses, crisis at Eskom and high cost of living.

Thousands of trade union members affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions marched through the country on Wednesday in what the trade union federation called “a show of power”. Load shedding had, however, since Monday brought the economy to shuddering halts, effectively pushing aside the other issues that the march was supposed to highlight, like unemployment and the high costs of being poor in the country.

On the morning of Cosatu’s national strike, a statement was issued by the federation’s media desk. From the Italian, it translated (in the original CAPS) to “…NAZISTA MIRTA SALVINI WILL SHAME FOR THE SON OF A FATHER FATHER WHO HAS IN MATTEO SALVINI…” Clearly, another hack of Cosatu’s email that does little to refute perceptions that things are the federation is spent.

The Cosatu march in Johannesburg convened on Mary Fitzgerald square in Newtown, which by late morning stood half full with members drawn mostly from four of the federation’s affiliates the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (CEPPWAWU), the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Education Health Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU).

In between the red, the yellow African National Congress (ANC) apparel flecked the march as it proceeded up Lilian Ngoyi Street (formerly Bree). As it paused outside the taxi rank, a striker wearing a SADTU T-shirt got riled up and began declaiming the onlookers standing there, whatever the state of the city’s classrooms might be. “All these Nigerians; they are selling drugs. That stuff,” he said gesturing at the cellphone and shoe shops, “it is all a front”. “Everyone that passes, they say ‘here’s something…’ Drugs is in schools Twelve, thirteen, eleven-year-olds use drugs. That’s why teachers can’t teach.”

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Bree and Sauer intersection
At the intersection of Pixley Seme Street and Lilian Ngoyi Street. Onlookers at the taxi rank (right, still known by the old name, Bree) appeared bemused by the march. Photo: Dibuseng Phaloane

For his part, one of the spectators, Nkonya Olwugwogi, said he couldn’t say anything about drugs: “I can’t say what I don’t know about.” Olwugwogi said he also didn’t know what the march was about.

It wasn’t just the ‘self-employed’ African immigrants who were uninformed. Fidelity Security guards too knew nought about the march, and the only better-informed bystander Elitsha spoke to was an insurance broker who had received an email from his boss to tell him he needed to apply for leave if he was going to take the day off work to support the strike.

Outside the Gauteng legislature, the issue of International solidarity was acclaimed when the General Secretary of the Zimbabwean Communist Party was called up on to the leadership truck where he stood uncertainly for some time. He wouldn’t be afforded an opportunity to address the crowd as the programme was overcome by the news that Gauteng Premier, David Makhura, would not be coming to receive the memorandum.

SACP and Cosatu differ on views on the ANC

Deputy General Secretary of the SACP, Solly Mapaila, was the communist to be handed the mic instead, politely thanking his Zimbabwean counterpart for “trying to turnaround the economy”. He condemned staff shortages at public institutions, hospitals in particular, and the retrenchments announced by mining companies despite high mineral prices. The Party, he said, is calling for a moratorium on retrenchments.

He went on to outline how the Party would stop privatisation, fight for a living wage and for proper jobs – with all problems in government being managed within the Alliance. “And vote ANC on 8 May,” he concluded as the course to follow for a government of communists to be achieved.

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President of Nehawu, Mzwandile Makwayiba, on the mic. Photo: Dibuseng Phaloane

The president of Nehawu, Mzwandile Makwayiba, was twice given the mic to deliver speeches, first outside the legislature and then outside the Minerals Council. He railed against Section 77, the section of the LRA under which national strikes are permitted, for having failed in 25 years of ANC rule to create jobs. “Maybe Section 77 isn’t working. I’ve never seen a situation like this. We need a struggle that is not voting. Before state capture, we were told the economy was growing but with no jobs. It’s because they don’t want to invest in jobs. It’s not going to be addressed by Section 77,” he said.

He bemoaned the limitations placed on strikes by the Labour Relations Act, mainly that it requires strikes to be peaceful. Makwayiba also repeated a call for Cyril Ramaphosa to dismiss ministers Gwede Mantashe, Pravin Gordhan and Jeff Radebe. His reasons for these three to face the axe were not very clear, other than that they had been called on to “deal with Cosatu”. ” If Ramaphosa would not dismiss them, they must be called into a meeting with Cosatu to discuss these problems,” he shouted.

Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko, ANC Gauteng deputy secretary general apologised for the failure of premier David Makhura to receive the marchers’ memorandum of demands. They declined the apology. Photo: Dibuseng Phaloane

As the ANC’s Gauteng deputy secretary general, Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko, attempted to apologise for the premier’s failure to receive the memorandum, blaming it on ‘miscommunication’, she was hushed by the crowd which refused to be quietened by “High discipline! High morale!”

The representative from the Minerals Council sent to receive the memorandum, was refused the role. Instead, the surprise arrival of Eskom’s CEO flattered Cosatu’s leaders enough to nominate him to receive their demands.

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