Cosatu starts its 11th national congress today with rumours abounding that its general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, may be voted out although no challenger has come forward so far.
Today the congress will be addressed by President Jacob Zuma and Higher Education Minster Blade Nzimande in his capacity as general secretary of the SACP.
It is expected that the strikes on the platinum mines in Rustenburg and at Gold Fields in Carletonville will dominate the agenda.
Vavi says in his report that Cosatu’s biggest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers, is under attack in the platinum belt from its former members and other forces.
He remarks: “Our provinces report serious flaws in membership service across the board, and it is clear that our organisers are not receiving the training and mentoring that they require to do their job.”
Vavi says while Cosatu’s membership has grown considerably, it has made insignificant inroads into recruiting and organising the most vulnerable workers.
He says the labour federation’s ability to exercise power through using its primary weapon – the withholding of labour through strike action – has been systematically undermined by capital’s unfettered reliance on the ever growing and desperate ranks of the unemployed to break strikes.
“We ignore these challenges at the peril of the working class. Confronting these challenges honestly is not about protecting and defending our movement for its own sake. It is about doing what we are supposed to do better. It is about identifying our weaknesses and collectively finding ways to resolve them,” Vavi says.
In 2003, Cosatu adopted the 2015 plan, which set out organisation-building targets and objectives to be reached by 2015. It set a target for increasing membership by 10 percent every year, working towards 4 million in 2009.
However, Vavi says by 2009 it had a membership of 1.97 million, a far cry from the target. Nevertheless, it has grown by 200 000 members since 2003, a growth of 11 percent.
Michael Bagraim, the president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry and labour law expert, said Vavi would be re-elected and the congress would bring in a lot of changes. He said: “Cosatu will have to go back to basics instead of engaging in politics.
“They have forgotten about the workers and bread and butter issues. The rank and file are starting to worry about their leaders and their huge pay. For the first time in 10 years, some delegates will be raising these issues from the floor.”
Sapa reports that among the issues to be discussed, one will be a proposal on a national minimum wage in all sectors.
This national minimum would be a legislated basic wage floor, below which no worker could fall, it said.
Cosatu said a possible minimum wage of R2 800 a month was between the average minimum wage in sectoral determinations (R2 118) and the average minimum wage of existing collective bargaining deals (R3 405) in 2011.