1 September 2013
All set for a leap to the left
Cosatu survey shows its members would back a more labour-centric party
The door is wide open for a political party to the left of the ANC, according to a long-awaited – and already controversial – survey of Cosatu shop stewards.
As indicated by early leaks ahead of last year’s ANC policy conference in Mangaung, the full survey shows that most of the labour federation’s rank and file (65%) would vote for a labour party – if Cosatu led it.
If the SA Communist Party stood for elections, 44% of the shop stewards would vote for them.
Leaks also suggested President Jacob Zuma’s support ahead of Mangaung was uncomfortably low, but the survey shows that 43% of shop stewards supported him before the conference.
And 36% supported Kgalema Motlanthe for ANC president instead of Zuma.
The survey reveals that support for Zuma was overwhelming among KwaZulu-Natal shop stewards, but muted in many other provinces.
The Shop Steward Survey was conducted by the Community Agency for Social Enquiry and funded by Moeletsi Mbeki’s think-tank, the Forum for Public Dialogue.
It became a political hot potato almost as soon as it was completed last October.
The forum’s CEO, Prince Mashele, called a press briefing on the key findings in December, but the think-tank’s board cancelled it, sparking allegations that Mbeki or Cosatu wanted to suppress inconvenient truths before Mangaung.
The forum denied this, saying Mashele was acting against the board’s instructions and trying to release “a complete misrepresentation” of the then incomplete findings.
The findings around shop stewards’ willingness to embrace an alternative to the ANC are widely rumoured to have galvanised the campaign to oust Zwelinzima Vavi from Cosatu and bring the federation firmly under the control of Zuma’s allies in Cosatu.
The survey was conducted between April and October last year and was intended to follow up similar research from 1991.
The picture that emerges is of an upwardly mobile labour movement run by older, better-educated shop stewards.
“Since 1991, there was fundamental change in the class composition of Cosatu members,” said Eddie Webster, a professor of industrial sociology at Wits and head of the Sociology of Work Project.
Webster was involved in the 1991 study as well as in the latest survey to ensure valid comparisons between the two research processes.
“There was a fundamental shift away from unskilled and semiskilled blue collar workers in metals, mining, textiles and food processing,” he said.
The SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) didn’t exist in 1991, but today one in every 10 Cosatu members is a teacher and 98% of them have tertiary qualifications.
In 1991, some 62% of Cosatu shop stewards gave the old Standard 8 (Grade 10) as their highest educational achievement.
By last year, that ratio had declined to 25%.
“In fact, 39% of Cosatu’s members today are white collar workers in the public sector,” Webster said.
A startling result: 27% of the shop stewards have never attended a Cosatu meeting at all.
Vavi has labelled this phenomenon the “social distance” between workers and their union.
This is widely accepted as the main reason behind the National Union of Mineworkers’ woes that spread throughout the platinum belt and then on to several important gold mines after the Marikana shootings.
Some 74% told researchers that they often find themselves in conflict with their members, trying to get them to return to work after a strike.
Some 83% believed that non-strikers “should be engaged politically to convince them to join a strike”, only 56% believe strikes yield results and 25% believe there are times when it becomes necessary to use violence against non-strikers.
Webster said: “This is a fundamental point because it is strategic power that keeps workers together.
“Scabbing (the use of replacement labour during strikes) is abhorred. That is where all the violence comes in.
“Where a union is weak, it is difficult to discipline workers and that is where you get violence. The private security strike in 2006 is a case in point.”