Special Workers' Day discussion: The future of worker federations

Stephen Grootes is joined today by Labour columnist, Terry Bell and independent labour analyst Gavin Brown for a special Workers' Day discussion on issues that effect workers in South Africa.

It never was that stable. there was always this inherent contradiction. If we go back to 1993, it was Numsa who put forward at the Cosatu Congress, the resolution, that should the ANC become, as seemed inevitable, the next government, Cosatu should then leave the Alliance, because the government then being the biggest employer, then it meant Cosatu was essentially in bed with an employer and it would not do. They lost the vote, and then loyally toed the line.

Terry Bell, Labour Columnist

Cosatu also went along with Gear after 1996 which, says Bell, was another contradiction.

He says many of these now moving into other alliances disgruntled Cosatu people.

Grootes asked Gavin Brown if he agrees with this view that politics is the root cause of the current divisions in the labour movement?

I think yes absolutely. We've seen it over the past ten years, a characteristic of the Zuma administration. The instability was really introduced when people and power blocks within the movement had to choose sides.

Gavin Brown, Independent Labour Analyst

Brown says this administration has been very intolerant of criticism.

Mr Vavi in particular, the voice of the most powerful federation at that time, wasn't slow in coming forward with criticism

Gavin Brown, Independent Labour Analyst

On the other hand, says Brown, trade union federations come and go all the time in the course of the grand sweep of history.

They are just a reflection of the current economic circumstances, the affiliations to power in government at the time, and the high water mark of Cosatu in particular, and the labour movement in general, has gone now. And I think it will be a number of years before we see another monolithic federation such as Cosatu has been.

Gavin Brown, Independent Labour Analyst
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