Poitical Watch

SACP preparing on organised labour platform for ANC disintegration?

Alliance.jpeg

As signs are mounting that the ANC, or at least its governing alliance, is on the verge of disintegration, the South African Communist Party (SACP) looks like it is preparing for such an eventuality.

There are also signs that the SACP, which has been piggybacking on the ANC since 1994, is aiming to use a faction of the fast fracturing organised labour movement, as represented by the Congress of South African Trade Unions, as a platform for post-ANC political life.

As we reported last week, the country’s “organised labour landscape has been a front runner in the radical structural transition of the South African national household for some time now”. It is becoming clear that the SACP has also taken note of this trend and is preparing to ride developments on this front to ensure a platform for itself in the post-ANC-dominated South Africa, which is starting to take shape.

It is also interesting to note how the second deputy general secretary of the SACP, Jeremy Cronin, recently responded in a radio interview when confronted with the possibility of a South Africa not dominated by the ANC. He noticeably avoided claiming that the ANC’s survival was key to the future of the country. He instead said: “It is … more about rescuing the country …” and “we need to pause and make sure that we don’t mess up what has been, despite some unevenness, a very significant democratisation process coming out of a very difficult situation.”

Capturing organised labour

The clearest signs of the political repositioning by members of ANC’s governing alliance are to be found on the front of organised Labour.

While much of the national attention is focused on the issue of ‘state capture’ as represented by the Zuma-Gupta axis and what has been coming to light around the National Treasury and suspicious cash flowing to some senior officials in the institution, the SACP is involved in an almost unnoticed attempt at political capture of organised labour, or at least of a substantial slice of it. At the same time it also seems to be positioning itself broader to ensure a slice of future political action as President Zuma is about to vacate the stage, not later than a 2019 general election.

In almost a replay of their backing of Zuma in 2007 to replace President Thabo Mbeki, the SACP is now wagering its political future on backing Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as Zuma’s successor, despite Ramaphosa’s image as the darling of ‘big capital’. Increasingly it is at odds with Zuma and his faction in the ANC.

At the same time its back-up plan seems to be the establishment of a foothold in the organised labour sector, a traditional and ideological playing field for the party.

In a seemingly, for them, natural event, a number of Cosatu-affiliated unions will host the congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) in Durban next month.

Closer scrutiny reveals that these unions happen to be those in which the SACP has a controlling influence. The anomaly here is that Cosatu is a member of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which does not recognise the WFTU because of its Soviet-era state allegiances. But both the SACP and the WFTU would like to change that.

And there is a re-emergence of the pre-Cosatu, pre-ANC alliance independent workerist movement in some Cosatu unions in reaction to the Zuma-linked allegations of state capture, which has already seen large unions like the National Union Metal Workers of South Africa (Numsa) and the Food and Allied Workers Union Fawu leaving Cosatu. This has considerably reduced the SACP’s influence in the federation, which is now dominated by public sector unions.

It has also placed the SACP in contest with the ANC for control of what remains of Cosatu. At the same time both are threatened by the emerging new workerist labour movement, which is about to launch a rival labour federation.

SACP and ANC in competition

At this stage the SACP and most Cosatu unions are in the same camp regarding the question of state capture and the position of the Gupta-Zuma association, asking Mr Zuma to step aside and blaming corruption and scandals for the loss of voters’ confidence in the ANC.

But the final battle has not yet been fought on this front, with Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini and at least one major union, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), remaining loyal to Zuma supporters.

This divide was evident at the Cosatu central executive committee (CEC) meeting in August. Cosatu now, however, is looking for ways of bringing the message to Mr Zuma in a manner that will not further divide the Alliance or break it up. This week Cosatu’s CEC will hold a special meeting to discuss these political issues. There is even a possibility that it might decide on a formal declaration of support for Mr Ramaphosa in the succession race.

For the ANC it is more important than ever to maintain its hold on Cosatu as its constituent unions – especially the municipal union Samwu, but also other state-sector unions – have, since the local government election, become key instruments of power leverage in the metros and other municipalities where it lost political power.

Meanwhile, hosting the WFTU congress presents an opportunity for the SACP and those unions closely aligned with it to strengthen their influence in and their hold on what remains of Cosatu.

It won’t be surprising if, at the congress or in the months following, the SACP reignites the debate in Cosatu to disaffiliate from the ITUC and join the WFTU. That would place Cosatu far more in the SACP’s sphere of influence and out of reach of the current ANC. It could also possibly help stave off further defections to the workerist left and make it much harder for the Zuma faction to expel the SACP from the ANC and the Alliance.

Seemingly innocent little moves often carry a lot of hidden weight in a transition phase to a new political power construct, one that South Africa has clearly entered.

 

by The Intelligence Bulletin team

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