COSATU: Talking with Willie

And what about international issues?

Comrades must look at the international scenario overall – major issues like Zimbabwe and Iraq . Internationally we are faced with a major problem as a country where the trading system is weighed heavily against us as developing countries e.g. you will know of the subsidies in the European union in America on agriculture and so on where the agriculture magnates are getting subsidies from their governments and therefore the production of the agricultural product is so much advanced and the markets are there for them to be sold without any problem. Now that closes the market for us as SA and other developing countries. We will develop agricultural products, produce a lot e.g. the biggest orange producing farms are now in SA. In the past, we would take those products and go and export them to these European Countries. Now it has been closed because the governments of countries there, subsidise their own farmers to produce their own products and sell them in European countries or America because of tariffs by WTO. Now it’s a playground for these powerful countries. They determine the kind of trading systems, which benefit them, more than they benefit us as developing countries. Congress must deal with that. It is a major thing which must take half a day itself, we can’t talk about economic development without talking about that and of course linked to that at the international level is the development of the economy in our own country. For the past 3 to 4 years what we have done in SA is to run after the inflation rates, after the interest rate, after the rand. It is not assisting us at all because there are a whole lot of other things, which are more important. We should be talking about the target for jobs, a weaker rand to make sure that we assist in the exports. We must take a stand to say when we talk about the economy, internationally this is what is happening, locally this is what is happening, therefore over the coming few years this is where SA needs to be. And make sure that what you have resolved it is not just two government departments that dictate the way. I am talking here about the treasury/finance, trade and industry – these are the two departments that are dictating what has to be done in the country. All we have to do is to make sure that we enable them to contribute as a movement towards the affirmation of a programme of economic transformation in the country.

You mentioned that congress will also discuss the issue of organisational renewal. Can you spell out what you mean here?

I will pour petrol in so many petrol stations, and the workers come to me and say, ‘we have not seen Numsa here, we are being charged, retrenched and salaries are not raised and when they are raised its two cents’ and so on, or jobs are casualised.
You move around in town and workers will stop you and say, ‘where is Cosatu here?’ and then I ask them ‘which union organises you?’They’ll say, ‘we are supposed to be organized by Saccawu but they are no longer there’, or ‘we’re supposed to be organised by Nehawu but they are no longer there’. Those are the kind of problems we have. That’s why we have said congress must discuss organisational renewal. What we are going to be discussing is membership service.
How do we improve service to the owners of the organisation – the owners of the organisation are those ordinary workers on the factory floor. It’s not owned by us, we are given a chance for 3 – 4 years to lead those workers and they pay subscriptions to put us in this office and buy us cellphones and stay in hotels. But those are the people who keep us afloat and at the same time, make sure that we are able to drive. But we are not servicing them. They are getting retrenched, we don’t know anything. The organisational renewal must look at that. And it must say where must Cosatu be in the next coming 20 years. We are faced with this terrible situation where things are happening and we are not dictating the way maybe because of the global situation and the situation in the country. When we formed Cosatu and launched it in 1985, we had a very clear vision. We wanted to deal with apartheid, remove it and make sure that the lives of workers are improved. Now in this kind of scenario where globalisation/capitalism has gained the upper hand, what do we do, what do we do when workers are losing jobs like this? Cosatu is now 1.7 m in membership. It was 2 m about four years ago and in 1994 it was 2.2 m. It’s going down. What must we do to make sure that we organise more workers into the federation. We know that only 40% of the people who are working are organised into unions in SA. The rest are not organised. What do we do to make sure that they have faith once again in the trade union movement. When we don’t service them, they lose faith in the trade union movement. How do we turn that thing around? What do we do to the young workers who are interested in BMWs, cellphones. What do we do to make sure they come into the trade union movement? What do we do to stop this plethora of unions in the country? Up to 3 months ago we had more than 500 unions registered in SA. Some of them are these small unions, small associations where a man or woman would simply wake up and establish a union, and these are causing problems. Because they cannot look after the workers, they cause problems again because they are ravishing the name of the trade union – workers see the unions as nothing. We need to turn that around, we must discuss this at the congress, 15 years from now, 20 years from now, where must Cosatu be?

There are those affiliates that are not in good standing and at the same time there are those individuals from those affiliates who are paying subscriptions and who think that they are in good standing. What is the position of Cosatu with regard to elections and the standing of those individuals in terms of those scenarios?
The last CEC looked into that, the constitution gives us that opportunity to look into the condonation.
There are affiliates which are seriously not in good standing like Saccawu, Nehawu, and Saapawu and others as well and we said "What do we do to deal with this kind of situation?" The view of the CEC is to make sure that each and every union participates.
Those not in good standing may see their delegation being reduced, they may be given observer status and they may not be allowed to vote. The CEC must still decide. Even if a worker is paying subscriptions to his/her affiliate but the affiliate is not paying subscriptions across to Cosatu, then s/he can’t stand.

* Rolly Xipu and Mbuso Mchunu are Numsa local organisers in Springs and Ladysmith Locals respectively.