Seven Unions Picket Cosatu House Against Numsa Expulsion!

Numsa members support their union’s leadership
Numsa members support their union’s leadership

THE leadership of seven Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) affiliates have congratulated their Gauteng branches for picketing outside Cosatu House last Friday against the expulsion of National Union of Metalworkers South Africa (Numsa).

The unions are Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (Saccawu) Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa), South African Football Players Union (Safpu), Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (Pawusa) and the Communication Workers Union (CWU).

Together they’re preparing for a mass rollout of pickets and general strikes in support of Cosatu’s 2012 resolutions which calls for the implementation of the Freedom Charter and transfer of ownership to the State.

Friday’s picket marked the beginning of a campaign to get labour issues discussed by workers on the shop-floor instead of boardrooms with senior leadership, the CWU’s general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala explained.

‘The leadership of the eight unions congratulated our comrades from Gauteng in their picketing they mounted on Friday in their positions to Numsa expulsion from Cosatu,’ said Tshabalala

‘This protest action is the beginning of what will become the rolling mass action in support of our programme of demise.’

The unions sided with Numsa and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi during in-fighting that’s left the federation in paralysis.

Numsa was voted out of the trade union federation by 33 votes to 24 and the decision has since exposed the rift between rival affiliates.

The ramifications of a Cosatu split were due to be felt by its leadership ranks on Monday this week when the labour federation held its central executive committee meeting.

Almost half of Cosatu’s 19 affiliate unions were expected to boycott Monday’s eagerly awaited central executive (CEC) meeting in a show of unity against the expulsion of metalworkers’ union Numsa.

The federation’s president, S’dumo Dlamini, and other senior leaders were expected to find that the boardroom in Jorissen Street, Braamfontein, was half empty when they assembled on Monday.

The disgruntled unions held a joint media briefing on Sunday to announce their boycott of the CEC meeting. They were unambiguous in their demand: No Cosatu without Numsa.

‘We want to revive our (position) that there would not be Cosatu without a Numsa,’ Aubrey Tshabalala said.

Siphiwo Atwell Nazo, president of the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), added: ‘If it is that Numsa was expelled because of poaching (members from sister unions), because that is what actually becomes the reality, then we are all guilty. If now Numsa is expelled for poaching, why not expel everybody?’

The group of eight unions said it would be pointless to attend the meeting in the current climate of conflict and divisions. They appealed for the postponement of the meeting to allow the ANC’s task team to mediate. Concerted efforts to broker a truce by the task team have been unsuccessful.

‘We’re saying that without the task team completing its work (first), the continuation of the CEC will defeat the purpose,’ said Khatishi Masemola, Fawu’s general secretary.

He suggested that the disgruntled unions might have lost patience with the ANC’s task team, which is led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

‘The reason why we are even making a plea for the CEC not to continue is that the ANC task team was supposed to have assembled us on Friday and Saturday.

‘(But) they requested a postponement of a meeting that was to be attended by all the affiliates,’ Masemola said.

In defiance of Cosatu, the eight unions also announced they had taken it upon themselves to mobilise workers and communities around ‘pickets, marches and stayaways’ that would culminate in rolling mass action in May.

This, the unions said, was to protest against Cosatu’s failure to implement its crucial resolutions taken at its 11th congress in 2012 in the face of unemployment, exploitation and poverty.

Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said: ‘We have resolved that we are not going to wait for a paralysis in Cosatu . . . In fact, we are going to beat Cosatu in the streets.

‘Workers have not mandated us, as affiliates of Cosatu, to be beating each other in the boardrooms since the (2012) congress. We are sick and tired of meetings after meetings without programmes.’

He reiterated his accusation that Dlamini and South African Communist Party (SACP) general secretary and Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande were behind Cosatu’s divisions.

Contacted for comment, Dlamini would only say ‘people must come to CEC and stop marching to Cosatu’.

• Numsa has meanwhile called the government budget that has just been announced ‘Austerity by Stealth’.

It stated: ‘The United Front is deeply angered by the tabling of one of post-apartheid’s most conservative budgets.

‘This austerity budget is going to further constrain our already stagnating economy. The austerity medicine Nene has prescribed is more likely to kill the patient than create a speedy recovery.

‘Instead of increasing expenditure to ensure our people have access to decent public services and create decent work, the government is cutting expenditure that will make the situation of poor and working people even worse.

‘What is more, further and bigger cuts planned in subsequent years are likely to drive our economy back into recession. This justifies the march on National Budget Day by several thousand United Front supporters to demand a People’s Budget.

‘Government cuts will further destroy jobs in the public sector. Previously frozen posts of teachers, health-care workers and technicians have now been done away with.

‘This will seriously undermine the delivery of basic and essential services such as water, sanitation and electricity. This will further fuel “low intensity insurgency”, otherwise known as service delivery protests.

‘This in a situation where Stats SA has acknowledged that many more people in SA live in absolute poverty. In 2011, 27 million South Africans lived in poverty and 10.8 million in extreme poverty.

‘Millions of our people are going to bed hungry. When government cuts expenditure, working and unemployed people are forced to cut vital spending just to ensure they do not starve. This budget completely fails to address this social disaster.

‘The failure of the Budget is illustrated by the social grant policy. 16 million people get social grants. All these different grants have been cut in real terms in this budget when using the inflation figures relevant to the 20 per cent poorest households (5.6% as reported by Stats SA).

‘This pinching of the poor by stealth amounts to at least R40-million in real cut per month in total buying power, hurting markets for essential goods.

‘Clearly the Treasury is not budgeting according to needs, but according to the diktats of the credit rating institutes, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the rich creditors.

‘It is in fact doubtful if the new budget ceiling of a R25 billion rand cut over two years is in compliance with the Constitution.

‘The Constitution requires of the Treasury to progressively realise the social-economic rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

‘The Financial Fiscal Commission, as part of its constitutional mandate, last year recommended that the government “avoid across the board cuts when implementing expenditure ceiling to control debt”. This has fallen on deaf ears.

‘Despite the Minister claiming otherwise, the cuts apply to both critical and “non-critical” items. The “prudent budget framework” means that provincial and local governments will experience a reduction in real terms in their baseline allocations.

‘For example, Minister Nene indicates that the provincial equitable share allocations will be reduced in nominal terms by R2.6 billion in 2015/16 and R3.9 billion in 2016/17. The devil is always in the detail.

‘When looking at key service delivery department’s such as Health, we see that provincial health allocations will be cut by nearly half a billion rand in 2015/16 to over a billion rand in 2016/17.

‘Again no allocation has been made to the National Health Insurance (NHI). It would seem that left to the Treasury, the NHI will never see the light of day. Basic Education sees reductions in their allocations by R228 million in 2015/16 and R339 million in 2016/17.

‘As for municipal infrastructure, municipal water infrastructure, urban settlements development and rural households infrastructure, they see a reduction of R623 million in 2015/16 and 1 billion rand in 2016/17.

‘Treasury defends such cuts by saying that many of the grants allocated to these Departments were ones with a “history of underspending” and that “impact on service delivery should be minimised if spending patterns improve”.

‘This begs the question, how will these Departments improve delivery in a context where they are being expected to do more with less?

‘Government had a choice to cut expenditure or to increase taxation on the rich. The much vaunted and feared tax increases on the wealthy did not materialise. For example, a person that earns R1.5 million rand per year in taxable income will now “crumble” under an additional R840 per month in income tax! This equals one restaurant bill less per month.

‘Indeed, the blunt increases of the tax rates for the middle and high income earners have led to a zero increase in total state revenue from personal income tax (PIT). Tax relief for “fiscal drag” and for medical insurance neutralised Nene’s midget step.

‘Taxation has not increased by R17 billion, as claimed by the Minister in his speech. The net increase is R8 billion, all of which has been raised through regressive tax measures such as increasing the fuel levy and sin taxes.

‘A special note must be made on the Unemployment “Insurance” Fund. Even though SA has an official unemployment rate of 25% this “insurance” fund has accumulated a staggering surplus of R121bn, and is budgeted to increase to over R160bn in 2017.

‘Just this surplus could have been used to avoid all Nene’s budget cuts and should be used to create decent work and services.

‘We note with dismay that government intends forging ahead with the expansion of environmentally dangerous fracking and coal fired energy plants at the expense of investing in socially owned renewable energy.

‘The only reassuring part of this budget is the absence of a reference to financing the environmentally and financially crippling nuclear energy adventure. This may still come.

‘Today the government faced thousands of United Front supporters opposed to its fiscal policies.

‘The struggle continues. Marches are being organised to coincide with the tabling of the Provincial Budgets. We will continue the struggle for a People’s Budget, one that puts people before profits.’