This year’s May Day was marked by deep and visible division in the country’s biggest trade union federation. The Congress of South African Trade Unions, COSATU event has always been the main point of attraction, but after the expulsion of its biggest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers Union, NUMSA, this year meant that there were going to be two events and that there would be conflict between the rival groups.
COSATU’s president, Sdumo Dlamini, the African National Congress’s president Jacob Zuma and the South African Communist Party’s Blade Nzimande were at the COSATU rally at Curries Fountain stadium in Durban. The expelled general secretary of COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi joined the NUMSA march that took place in Durban as well.
Tensions were clear and NUMSA was at a point considering the cancellation of their event.
Early in his speech Dlamini welcomed the newly created union, the Liberated Metalworkers Union of South Africa that has replaced NUMSA within COSATU. Dlamini made it clear that COSATU’s vision is to remain focused and would not be defeated.
“There is an attempt by some to defocus our attention from workers issues and spend our time talking about them. Our focus today is on workers. We will defeat them as we defeated apartheid unions and federations which were formed to destroy COSA- TU,” said Dlamini to the crowd gathered at the stadium.
According to Dlamini, COSATU would struggle for a living wage but he also said that they want a legislated minimum wage as the alliance partner, the African National Congress has made a commitment to.
The Numsa march, led by the union’s general secretary Irvin Jim and expelled COSATU general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, started at Dinuzulu Park and ended at City Hall. In his speech Vavi acknowledged the divisions in COSATU and also how the divisions are not good for the trade unions.
“Our workers movement is far from united, look at the parallel marches across the country, this is not something to smile about,” Vavi told the 6,000 workers who gathered outside the city hall.
Vavi said those who are in COSATU want to turn the federation from a critical giant into a domestic mouse. NUMSA was joined by several provincial structures of Cosatu unions including the Food and Allied Workers Union and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA. The newly formed a new union, the SA Public Service Union led by former South African Democratic Teachers Union’s president Thobile Ntola.
In Cape Town
The South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) general secretary and a member of COSATU’s Central Executive Committee (CEC), Andre Kriel delivered the keynote speech. Kriel’s speech emphasized the need to defend COSATU. “Our CEC has had to take very difficult decisions, over the last period. Those decisions have been widely reported on and therefore I do not intend to repeat them,” said Andre to a crowd of workers that gathered at the Good Hope Centre.
He was referring to the expulsion of NUMSA and Zwelinzima Vavi. “Whatever our personal views are, we must accept those decisions have been taken constitutionally and democratically, within the proper structures of the federation”, he added.
Kriel also stressed the importance of discipline and democratic centralism. Just a few kilometers away from where COSATU and some leaders from the ANC and SACP had gathered, the National Union of Metal Workers Union and some of the unions that are against Vavi’s expulsion, together with community activists were handing a memorandum to parliament.
Delivering the memorandum, the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union’s (SACCAWU) deputy general secretary, Mduduzi Mbongwe said that their key demand on the day was the full and radical implementa on of the Freedom Charter.
“Twenty one years after 1994, none of the Freedom Charter demands have been implemented and as a result South Africa is the most unequal place on Earth, very xenophobic and more than 26-million South Africans suffer extreme poverty and are experiencing extreme inequalities,” said Mbongwe. The unions also said that they reject load shedding.
In East London
One could say that there were two May day rallies in Mdantsane or that there was a workers’ march and a
May day rally. The NUMSA/Vavi aligned unions initially gathered outside Mdantsane Indoor Sports Centre where Vavi addressed a shopsteward council. After a few speeches were made by the leadership of the various affiliates it was agreed that workers would march to the official COSATU May day rally at Sisa Dukashe stadium.
Addressing the crowd Zanoxolo Wayile from NUMSA mentioned that May Day 2015 was not the same as before in that there was now competition. He said that the workers’ movement has been infiltrated by thieves who want to keep COSATU a reformist union. Furthermore he mentioned that NUMSA will go forward with its launch of the united front in June. He said workers have a choice to conduct their own rally or to march and reclaim the workers day from the thieves at Sisa Dukashe.
From the podium he was joined by leaders of Food and Allied Workers Union, the South African Football Players Union and NUMSA who all shouted ‘down with thieves’ and ‘down with impimpis’.
Angry and militant workers carrying banners of their union locals and placards with political and social declarations marched to the COSATU rally at Sisa Dukashe. The workers stormed down the gates of the stadium’s grounds to protest against the leaders who were on stage. The message of the protesting workers was clear from the slogans: “Down with Zuma, Sdumo and Nzimande! Reinstate Vavi and NUMSA now!” A long line of police and special forces formed a wall to hold the protestors back in order to protect the speakers. The speakers included Gwede Mantashe, Eastern Cape Premier, Mzwandile Makwayiba, Mzwandile Toyise and others.
Mzwandile Toyise, the COSATU provincial chairperson kept on appealing to protesting workers to leave to avoid confrontation with the police.
Gwede Mantashe did not waste time in lashing out at protesting workers, saying that it is was due to this kind of unruly behaviour that COSATU is in crisis and NUMSA has been expelled. He warned that he will send more aggressive public order police to the Eastern Cape to fight hooliganism even though the protestors were not violent. According to Gwede, the Tripartate Alliance needed to be more vigilant and maintain unity against counter-revolutionaries. He added that the emergence of general trade unions and revolutionary rhetoric displayed by NUMSA & its allies was not a new phenomenon in South Africa. It happened in 1985 they defeated it.