Monday, December 2, 2013

A Rocky Relationship, Perhaps, But it's One That Has Lasted

Published on Portside ( A Rocky Relationship, Perhaps, But it's One That Has Lasted S'dumo Dlamini Sunday, December 1, 2013 The Sunday Independent (South Africa) Johannesburg - Recent developments within Cosatu have raised questions about the future of the Tripartite Alliance between the trade union federation, the ANC and the SACP. Some have commented on Cosatu's failure to stop the implementation of policies which it opposes - labour brokers, e-tolls, the Employment Tax Incentive Bill (ETIB) and the economic and labour market chapters of the National Development Plan - and argue that the alliance has become redundant. Justice Malala, in The Times on September 23, 2013, wrote: "The truth is that Cosatu and its alliance partners - the ANC and the SA Communist Party - have been living a lie for the past two decades. If any of the three parties were true to itself, it would acknowledge that its relationship with the other two - save for the fact that they fought against apartheid together - is one huge contradiction. "The ANC is a nationalist organisation whose roots, from the time of its foundation in 1912, are in the capitalist mould... Such an organisation cannot function while it is in alliance with Cosatu, which is dedicated to alleviating the plight of oppressed workers." Firstly, I want to put the alliance in its historical context. Its roots go back to long before Cosatu was even founded, on December 1, 1985. Its predecessor, the banned South African Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu), had developed strong links with the also banned ANC and SACP. They were following the advice of Chief Albert Luthuli: "No worker is a good member of Congress unless he is also a trade unionist. No trade unionist is a good trade unionist unless he is also a member of Congress. I am glad that Sactu has not listened to the ill advice that they should not be interested in politics... Workers are oppressed by political action; they must take political action in reply. "While Sactu must thus pursue an independent policy in the interests of the workers, it must also participate unreservedly in the struggle to mobilise the people behind their demands, as embodied in the Freedom Charter, and must co-operate with all other organisations engaged in this struggle." The chief's advice was taken to heart by Cosatu, when it was launched during the final phase of the war against apartheid. The country was in flames; it would have been inconceivable for such a federation to confine its struggle to the workplaces. Its members were already playing a leading role in the United Democratic Front, and when political organisations were unbanned, in early 1990, it was obvious that Cosatu should work together in a revolutionary alliance with the ANC and SACP, which became the Tripartite Alliance. It was centred around the goals of the National Democratic Revolution: a democratic non-racial South Africa, economic transformation and political and economic democratisation. But the three organisations remained firmly independent, with separate, but complementary, programmes. Cosatu has always recognised, however, that the ANC and the government are contested terrains. While the federation and the SACP are worker-based organisations with socialist programmes, the ANC is, and always has been, a multi-class movement (not, as Malala claims, a purely capitalist organisation), which inevitably therefore reflects class contradictions within society, which are reflected in both the government's achievements and its failures. On the one hand, there can be absolutely no dispute that under ANC governments we have improved the lives of our people, with: * A constitution that safeguards democracy and human rights. * Labour laws, which protect workers from the worst forms of exploitation. * More than 15 million people now eligible for social grants. * More than 3 million new homes and a substantial increase in the number of households with access to electricity, water and sanitation. On the other hand, Cosatu has consistently pointed out the problems which we have failed to resolve - particularly the outrageous levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality. We have also pointed out the underlying reason for these continuing problems - the reliance on discredited neo-liberal policies, which were based on the fallacy that "the market" will solve these problems and create economic growth, which will trickle down to the poor. This was the philosophy behind the misnamed Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) strategy of the late 1990s which led to lower growth, higher unemployment and redistribution from the poor to the rich. Our long fight against Gear illustrated how the alliance functions. Gear was the creature of an ANC government, but bitterly opposed by its alliance partners. Yet, ultimately, it was the ANC itself, at its Polokwane 2007 conference, which voted to abandon it and adopt economic policies based on a strong developmental state. This was the voice of the workers and the poor, who form the majority of the ANC's membership, and a defeat for the capitalist minority. This led to much more radical policies such as the Industrial Policy Action Plan. But now these policies are in danger, as the pendulum has swung away from the ANC's mass base, to the pro-big business wing of the leadership, which takes its lead not from ANC conference resolutions and the Freedom Charter, but the International Monetary Fund and Ratings Agencies. Their policies take us back to Gear, with the privatisation of our public highways through e-tolls, the refusal to completely ban labour brokers, the handouts of taxpayers' money to employers under the Employment Tax Incentive Bill and the neo-liberal economic and labour market chapters of the National Development Plan. All these issues were raised at the recent Alliance Summit - except the Bill, which was not even mentioned - and a task team was set up to review the policies. Yet before the team could even sit round a table, the government pressed ahead with all these disputed policies. This has led some to question whether the alliance is still relevant to Cosatu. If the government ignores everything we say, what is the point of being in alliance with the governing party? This view is short-sighted. Yes we have suffered some setbacks, just as we did with Gear. But that battle raged for years before we eventually triumphed. It will be the same now. E-tolls may have been announced to start next Tuesday, but Cosatu is absolutely certain that the project will fail, and attempts to collect the tolls will collapse in chaos. Similarly with labour broking, there is no way that the workers will stop fighting against this modern-day form of slavery. And the National Development Plan is doomed to failure unless it is radically rewritten, abandons its Gear Mark Two sections and reflects the good Mangaung 2012 conference resolution for the second phase of the transition, through a radical programme for economic reconstruction. The battle now is to ensure that the manifesto for next year's elections is based on ANC policies and the Freedom Charter, and includes the scrapping of e-tolls, banning of labour brokers, redrafting the National Development Plan, and the full and speedy implementation of the government's existing policies to transform our economy, create jobs and redistribute the country's wealth. Then, armed with such a radical manifesto, we shall throw ourselves into the campaign for yet another, even bigger, majority for our alliance partners. The Tripartite Alliance still has a crucial role in this battle, and it is a battle we are determined to win, however long it takes. [S'dumo Dlamini is the president of Cosatu.] Source URL: Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] Go to "The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

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