Nearly 700 000 workers from 24 trade unions have joined to form a new trade union federation. The new federation, named the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), held its inaugural congress in Boksburg on 21- 23 April. A total of 1,384 voting delegates from the 24 unions attended the congress to decide on the new federation’s name, logo, colours, agenda and constitution.
SAFTU was formed last year by former Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi. “COSATU forms part of the ruling elite that has brought our country to its knees,” Vavi wrote in the Steering Committee Report presented to delegates at the Congress. “[SAFTU] commits ourselves to working for the common good.”
After the programme began on 21 April, a question was raised by a delegate from the Democratised Transport Logistics and Allied Workers Union (DETAWU) about the proportion of female delegates in the audience. He asked if the SAFTU steering committee knew the number of female delegates and whether that number was properly representative, but the steering committee could not offer an answer.
A second issue raised in the first session of the congress was that of internal democracy. For unions like NUMSA and the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (FAWU), which were expelled from COSATU, the question of consensus and unity was very important. “One of the important principles of worker democracy, at all material times, decisions are made by workers, not by small committees,” the NUMSA delegate said.
Jay Naidoo, the founding general secretary of COSATU, addressed the congress as a special guest. “[We are] a rich country, where we walk on gold and platinum and diamonds, but our people are still poor,” he said. He spoke about “building the organs of mass struggle, mass power” and “reconnecting” students and workers to see the realisation of “radical economic transformation”.
Fees Must Fall activist, Bonginkosi Khanyile mirrored this sentiment in his address later that day. “We support [SAFTU] wholeheartedly,” he said. “We are willing to fight with you.” He went on to say that workers “ought to participate in our struggles” and “make education fashionable again.”
Outsourcing Must Fall spokesperson Weizmann Hamilton urged delegates to “resurrect the old ideological and political traditions on which the original COSATU was founded and which today is no more.”
This article was published and first appeared on www.GroundUp.org.za, on 22 April 2017, and covers event that took place on the first day of the founding congress. Karibu! will bring special coverage to SAFTU’s launch in the next edition.