People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 41

October 14, 2012







Biggest African TU Decides to Affiliate with WFTU


Swadesh Dev Roye


HELD at Gallagher Estate in Midrand, situated between Pretoria and Johannesburg, the eleventh national conference of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the biggest trade union centre of the African continent, has decided to affiliate itself with the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). The event took place on September 17-20, 2012, with 2,934 delegates representing 19 industry and service sector unions attending it. There were also fraternal delegates from 25 countries as well as guests. There were over 500 people in these two categories together.


A notable feature was that members of the two categories, including top leaders from the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), were present throughout the congress and also participated in the deliberations on all matters along with regular delegates. Interestingly, the two international trade union centres with diametrically opposed ideological positions --- the class oriented WFTU and the class collaborationist International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) --- had sent high level large delegations to the congress. While general secretary George Mavrikos led the WFTU team, his counterpart Sharon Barow headed the ITUC delegation. Both of them were allotted half an hour time each to address the congress. This writer attended the congress as a member of the WFTU delegation.    


As COSATU is a powerful and militant working class constituent of the ruling tripartite alliance of South Africa, it was natural that South African president Jacob Zuma, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande and several ministers of the central government of the country addressed the congress.




In his inaugural address to the congress, COSATU president Sidumo Dlamini noted the growth in its membership from 1.8 million in 2003 to 2.2 million in 2011, an increase of over 4,22,000, which made COSATU “one of the fastest growing trade union federations in the world.” He told the delegates, “These four days will be your opportunity to tell us on our faces where we have deviated. This is your congress to point out where the organisation has done right and where it needs to consolidate.”


Dealing with the present systemic crisis of capitalism from a sharp working class perspective, Dlamini noted that the governments all over the world, representing capitalist interests, “have drawn clear class battle lines. It is now an open class war!” Then he said, “The question this congress must provide practical answers to is whether we have a requisite organisational and political capacity to respond pound for pound and emerge victorious from this class war.”  Coming down heavily upon the pro-capital and anti-labour policies of the government of South Africa (SA), Dlamini noted that despite serious economic crisis in South Africa, “opulence is on the rise, existing side by side with the worsening abject poverty, unemployment and inequality.”


The president’s speech provided interesting data. The world’s billionaires saw their wealth grow by 50 per cent and their ranks swelled to 1,011, from 793. Europe had 248 billionaires and the USA had 403, whose wealth could more than cover the 2008 US federal deficit, with money left over for the states. On the other hand, the European Commission said about 115 million people or 23 per cent of the EU population have been designated as poor or socially deprived. The US situation is similar. The class orientation of bourgeois governments is clear from the fact that they are showering ‘bailout packages’ upon the flourishing business houses but slapping austerity measures on the toiling masses. According to an estimate, the US government alone doled out 425 billion dollars in bailout packages.


The speech also captured the pathetic picture of South African workers. A major phenomenon is of huge job losses and aggravation of unemployment problem. The workers’ share in national income has fallen: more than 50 per cent of workers live on less than eight per cent of national income. More than 54 per cent of them receive no regular wage increases and yet the bourgeois class is demanding abolition of collective bargaining.


The speech also referred to the shocking Marikana mine tragedy. It said, “..…the central issue (in Marikana) is that workers in the mines are rising against their continued exploitation by employers….. Mine workers cannot be expected to keep quiet and say “thank you basi” when they know that the Financial Officer of Lonmin, Alan Ferguson earns R 10,254,972 a year or R 854,581 a month, which is 152 times higher than the salary of a rock drill operator.”


It may be noted here that the COSATU congress adopted a resolution titled “Declaration on the Lonmin Marikana Platinum Mine Tragedy, the Mining Industry and General Poverty Wages.”




The COSATU declaration drew a picture of severe exploitation of South African workers by capitalist class in its pursuit of more profits by shifting the burden of the capitalist economic crisis on to the working class. The declaration noted, “In all capitalist countries, of which our own is no exception, the state plays a central role in bolstering capital’s effort to resolve the crisis by increasing the levels of exploitation and accumulation. Calls for fiscal austerity are part of this. The working class, through its organised formations, has to counter this, and mobilise for responses to the crisis which shifts the burden of responsibility to those generating the crisis, and protects workers and poor communities from bearing the cost.”


The document further said, “The impact of the global economic crisis is being felt by the working class in ever growing unemployment, a growing precariousness of employment, declining household incomes, reduced pensions and reduced social services. Social cohesion, trust and solidarity take strain under these conditions.” Regarding the attack in workplaces, it said, “attack is being effected through the relocation of production, casualisation, subcontracting and labour brokering, through reducing the size of the workforce, factory closures and through changes production processes. Attempts are being made to undermine trade union rights including collective bargaining and growing emphasis by the bosses on performance pay, and the reduction or elimination of employer contribution to the social wage and to social security payments.”


On the August 16 police firing that killed 45 people, the declaration lambasted the moves for “violent repression of protesting workers” and said “the action of the police in labour disputes in South Africa, most recently in Marikana, reinforces the perception that rather than protecting ordinary people, police are advocating the narrow interests of employers.”


While welcoming the independent judicial commission of inquiry appointed by the government, the COSATU declaration demanded “a second independent commission of inquiry that will work parallel to the judicial commission already appointed by the president. The terms of reference of this second commission must be to investigate the employment and social conditions of workers in the mining industry, historically and at present. The commission will have also to look at the global context of the industry. It should be of a scale similar to the 1979 Wikelhaln commission into labour legislation.”




The theme of the congress was “Strengthen COSATU for Total Emancipation.” As usual with the South African trade union movement, documents presented to the congress were voluminous, amazingly colourful and innovative in form while their contents were politically rich with a clear class struggle orientation.


Each of the 3,500 delegates and guests was provided with a set of 11 A4-size books, containing various congress materials. These included a three volume report of the secretariat, not a ‘Report of the General Secretary’ as is the practice in our country. These covered the national and international situation, state of the working class movement in the country, the challenges and opportunities present today, status of COSATU organisation, its structure, its alliances with others, and its participation in Nediac and other tripartite institutions.


Three separate presentations in different sessions of the congress were made on the basis of the three separate reports: (i) political, (ii) organisational and (iii) socio-economic. The presentation of each report was followed by deliberations and adoption. It is noteworthy that several major unions prepared separate composite review reports on the congress documents and conducted comprehensive discussions in pre-congress sessions of the respective delegations. The number of delegates in these sessions ranged from 100 to 400, depending upon the membership strength of the unions concerned. These exercises were in the format of mini-conferences in different venues, leading to sharp deliberations in the congress on each of the topics. These were also very rich in political and organisational perspectives.


The exercise of preparation, presentation and adoption of resolutions was quite unique. Resolutions were broadly divided into Part A and Part B. Part A comprised 67 resolutions from affiliates and Part B comprised 26 resolutions from the gender, education and skill international conferences to the 11th COSATU congress.


Each resolution was sponsored and seconded by several unions and was circulated to the unions two months in advance, along with the main documents of the congress. As a result of this pre-congress exercise, most of the resolutions were adopted along with the concerned section of the Secretariat’s report without much delay in the congress. However, the congress had the right to move amendments and moving of amendments and discussion preceded the adoption in case of a few resolutions.




In these columns we have discussed the role of the WFTU in the trade union movement of South Africa right from the days of liberation struggle, and also discussed the circumstances that took COSATU into the fold of the ICFTU (now ITUC). However, the process of establishing formal relations with the WFTU, which had organised many solidarity activities in support of the struggles of people of Southern Africa, began in earnest particularly since the 15th WFTU congress at Havana.


Encouraging progress was achieved with the affiliation of some major sectoral, COSATU affiliated unions of South Africa with the WFTU. These were National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU), Police, Prisons and Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) and Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union (CAPPWAWU). Further, in its last congress held on May 23-26, 2012, the National Union of Mine Workers (NUMW), the biggest and most important trade union of South Africa, also decided to affiliate itself with the WFTU. As another step forward, four major constituents of COSATU hosted a meeting of the WFTU Presidential Council at Johannesburg in February 2012. All this brought the question of COSATU’s affiliation with the WFTU before the former’s 11th congress.


During the period preceding the congress, the WFTU affiliates carried out a resolute ideological campaign among the South African workers, mobilising support for COSATU’s affiliation with WFTU. Various pre-congress meetings and conferences put forward strong arguments for this change of affiliation.


At the 11th COSATU congress, WFTU general secretary George Mavrikos appealed to the delegates, “In this 11th congress of COSATU, WFTU, as an international class oriented organisation with 82 million members in 120 countries, invites you to take a historic and important decision to affiliate COSATU to WFTU.” Mavrikos further continued, “We want COSATU to be in the forefront in the international struggle of class oriented trade union movement against barbarous capitalism, because capitalism produces poverty, unemployment, hunger, slums, state violence, wars, disease and environmental disaster.”    


Vested interests within the country and abroad did conduct a silent campaign before and during the COSATU congress to get a decision deferred. To counter this move, WFTU affiliates and supporters were preparing to demand ballot on the matter. In such an exciting environment, the central office bearers and general secretaries of all the affiliated unions met on the third day of the congress, during lunch break, and arrived at a consensus. It was that a resolution to affiliate COSATU with WFTU would be moved in and adopted by the congress; that affiliation with ITUC would continue; that the new leadership would meet the leaders of the WFTU and ITUC, come back to the very first meeting of COSATU CEC after the congress and review the response from both the organisations on the affiliation decision. (The WFTU has already given a letter to COSATU welcoming the decision, inviting its delegation to visit the WFTU headquarters and appealing it to play a leadership role in the WFTU.)


As COSATU has a prestigious in the working class and trade union movement of the entire African continent, its affiliation with the WFTU has a high potential of impacting the working class movement, particularly in the continents of Africa and Asia.




The congress adopted a concluding declaration summarising the national and international situation and drawing an Action Plan for the post-congress period. The declaration said, “….we the workers gathered here today, pledge to embark on a united and radical programme of action to realise workers’ legitimate demands, and to engage our communities and the broader democratic movement, to support us in these efforts.” 


Noting the challenges and opportunities before the working class, it said, “We are meeting at a time of a global economic crisis, and massive domestic challenges. On the one hand this crisis worsens our triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality. On the other, space has now opened up for countries to pursue radical economic alternatives. The moment to act is now! After 18 years of freedom the patience of our people is running out.”