CONGRESS of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu ) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on Sunday expressed concern that South Africa’s labour movement was fragmenting, with 193 unions now in existence, the majority of which did not belong to one of the major federations.
Cosatu has 20 affiliates with about 2-million members, but faces increasing competition from independent break away and splinter groups. This is partly because of disillusionment with established unions and fractured internal politics, which leads to union splits and new formations.
Speaking to shop stewards in Durban on Sunday, Mr Vavi said of the 193 unions, 117 did not belong to one of the country’s four large labour confederations, namely Cosatu, the Federation of Unions of South Africa, the National Council of Trade Unions and the Confederation of South African Workers’ Unions.
Increased pressure on the union movement was also leading to "poaching wars", even between Cosatu affiliates.
The South African Democratic Teachers Union and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union often overlapped in the field of education, he said.
Tensions have also been high between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), which compete in various workplaces such as Eskom.
This has worsened internal tensions in Cosatu as the NUM and Numsa are on opposite sides of the federation’s factionalised politics.
Meanwhile, in what is clearly an attempt to arrest the decline of the NUM in the Rustenburg area, African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Gwede Mantashe delivered a political lecture in the town on Sunday. The NUM has lost 35,000 members in the area, according to ANC Bojanala regional chairman Louis Diremelo, who opened the meeting.
In his address, Mr Mantashe blamed the NUM’s ailing fortunes on the managements of mining companies. He said they wanted to destroy the union and, along with it, the national democratic revolution led by the ANC, Cosatu and the South African Communist Party.
"The attack on the NUM is an attack on us. We know the attack is on us. They want to hijack and steal our revolution. They see the mineworkers as a vehicle to hijack the revolution.
"You are not victims because of your membership to NUM, but because you are a loyal member of the revolution," he said.
The Rustenburg area has been plagued by violent competition between the NUM and newcomer the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu). Amcu members have on many occasions closed NUM offices on mining premises by force. Mr Mantashe said to restore peace and stability at the mines, companies should not close the NUM’s offices, but rather leave them open, and open an office for the other emerging unions. "Leave the NUM to service its members and let the workers see the difference."
He said the NUM had a track record and all the other unions were fighting for what NUM had already achieved. "This is their blood and sweat. The new unions do not bring anything new. What new things are they bringing? They want all that NUM gains."
Mr Mantashe said the ANC had a responsibility to make sure conditions were improved in areas around the mines. "The ANC must make sure there is a road in Nkaneng. These conditions are being used to mislead people."