Daily digest of the unfolding conflict
MAIL & GUARDIAN
04 Oct 2002 00:00
The Congress of South African Trade Unions's (Cosatu) strike unleashed an ideological and propaganda struggle that divided not just the ruling alliances, but the broader congress movement. Jaspreet Kindra documents the unfolding conflict.
September 27: Cosatu's strike is discussed at a special executive committee meeting of the African National Congress before its policy conference in Kempton Park. Minister of Education Kader Asmal is the first to attack the strike, pointing to the upcoming exams. KwaZulu-Natal chairperson S'bu Ndebele stresses that the Natal Teachers' Union is not taking part. Deputy President Jacob Zuma, seen as sympathetic to Cosatu and the South African Communist Party, surprisingly voices unhappiness over the action. President Thabo Mbeki's opening conference address lashes "ultra-leftists", without mentioning Cosatu. Some delegates respond enthusiastically, but many are silent. Unionists and communists exchange giggles.
September 28: No one mentions Mbeki's speech at the conference commissions, where left-wing positions are prominent and colour the final resolutions. In the commission on peace and stability, Asmal suggests members debate whether public sector employees should be unionised. SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande objects. Asmal asks the commission to consider the ANC's relationship with socialist organisations. In the commission on strategy and tactics, government communications chief Joel Netshitenzhe contests the Cosatu position that workers should be "the motive force" (catalyst) of change. Netshitenzhe, a key ANC strategist, argues that whoever objectively benefits the most from transformation becomes the "motive force".
In the commission on economic transformation, the left wins a concession that privatisation should enhance the state's developmental capacity. Minister of Public Service and Administration Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi warns that a no-work-no-pay rule will apply to state workers.
September 29: ANC leaders, led by secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe, denounce the strike, saying that "ultra-left" organisations like the Anti-Privatisation Forum are using it "as an entry-point". He alludes to "fundamental differences" between the ANC and Cosatu. The ANC declares itself "a force of the left" -- a move seen as attempting to claim ground Cosatu and the SACP occupy.
September 30: The South African National Civic Organisation condemns the strike as "unjustified". Government celebrates this as proof that Cosatu is isolating itself from its allies.
October 1: On day one of the strike, between 40 000 and 70 000 workers join a march to the Gauteng legislature in Johannesburg. Congress of South African Students (Cosas) president Julius Malema tells the crowd that if asking for "free water" and "no school fees" is "ultra- leftist" he is proud to be one. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi restates Cosatu's support for government. Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa, receiving a memorandum, criticises Cosas for a disruptive march last year and is heckled.
Cosatu claims 60% of workers downed tools; the South African Chamber of Business 15%. Ports, mines and the motor industry are hit, but government says fewer than 6% of public servants took part. Vavi announces a "Black Christmas" and pickets in December to protest against high food prices.
October 2: Five government ministers declare the strike a failure, insisting privatisation will proceed, accusing Cosatu's leaders of misleading workers and claiming a crisis in its leadership.
"Government does not wish to crow. A crisis of the leadership in as powerful a union movement as Cosatu ... cannot be celebrated," says Netshitenzhe.
Cosatu declares the strike successful.