Here's a response to a piece I posted on the South African Debate List. Hope it stands up as is. Most important here is the Terry Bell piece.
Now read on...
5:39 PM (2 hours ago)
further below you find an adequate assesment from Terry Bell on the
discussion of COSATU about it's international affiliation.
I think you can read the COSATU resolution as a compromise which is very
much open to interpretation in a twofold perspective:
(1) On the basis of principle the affiliation to WFTU is adopted. So
it's a general decision in favour of WFTU (and it might be difficult to
go behind that again).
(2) But the modalities of also joining WFTU (and staying in ITUC) shall
be clarified with both WFTU and ITUC which will then be discussed by the
Therefore it can also be seen as a compromise that for time unknown
nothing is effectivly going to change and that the decision was that way
The quotation you mentioned was from a FAWU delegat who stated that it's
not recommended to affiliate to a slogan and disaffilate from an
29.09.12 Cape Times E-dition
Cold War ideology threatens unity at
BOTH the Cold War and the bitter battles between communists and social
democrats in Germany
of the 1930s found an echo at the 11th national congress in Midrand last
week, an echo
that is now being assessed by labour organisations and activists around
It came in speeches and in often angry comments from delegates in
debates about international
Although the secretariat report stated that the debate was “probably one
of the most
important discussions that we have had in many years”, the issue was
largely ignored by the
media. But it was, and is, certainly being taken seriously not only by
labour, but also by
governments and international institutions.
As a result, the discussions and the decision eventually taken by may
implications, especially for the trade union movement in South Africa.
There is even the probably
remote prospect of , the country’s major union federation, being
expelled by the world’s
largest labour organisation, the International Trade Union Confederation
The issue of expulsion was raised from the congress floor last week in a
from the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu)
which, along with three
other unions, has unilaterally affiliated to the World Federation of
Trade Unions (WFTU).
According to Nehawu, ITUC had threatened to expel unions affiliating to
the WFTU and this, again
according to Nehawu, was sufficient grounds for leaving ITUC.
This intervention from the floor was part of a drive spearheaded by
Nehawu and police and
prisons union Popcru, backed by metalworkers’ union Numsa and pulp and
paper union Ceppwawu
to tie solely to the WFTU. It failed. Instead, amid professions of the
need for international
unity, a compromise was agreed: would maintain affiliation to ITUC while
also joining the
The drive to change international affiliation is solely on the basis of
ideology, with the WFTU
proclaiming itself to be a revolutionary, anti-imperialist and socialist
organisation. However, as the
secretariat report acknowledged, its claimed 80 million members in 35
countries cannot be
verified, whereas ITUC has a verifiable 175 million members in 153
Although it was not raised publicly, a number of delegates and unions at
are concerned about some of the known WFTU affiliates, such as the
federation of North Korea. Given this concern it was obvious that a
compromise would be sought.
But the compromise came in the face of the announcement that the
National Union of
Mineworkers (NUM) had also decided to join the WFTU. Based on membership
figures listed on the
website, 858 016 of the federation’s claimed membership of 2 million
have now tied
themselves to the WFTU. NUM’s decision was taken at its congress in May,
although it was not
It came after an address to the NUM congress by Swadesh Dev Roye, of the
Centre of Indian Trade Unions that is politically attached to the
Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The public notification of the NUM affiliation came from WFTU general
secretary George Mavrikos
when he addressed the congress.
Mavrikos, who is also a communist party member in the Greek parliament,
spoke from the
podium the day after his ITUC counterpart, Sharan Burrow.
Burrow’s speech was generally conciliatory, but subtly critical of the
WFTU. She noted that there
were “fundamental differences” between the two international bodies
although “my door remains
open [to the WFTU]”.
Burrow insisted that the differences were not “communism or socialism”,
but the approach to
defending “workers who want the right to elect a democratic government
and form free trade
unions”. This was a barely veiled reference to the fact that
pro-government trade union federations
in countries such as Syria and Egypt are WFTU affiliates.
Mavrikos was more scathing, and there were disturbing echoes of the
divisive tragedy of 1930s
Germany when communists attacked social democrats as “social fascists”.
He castigated “the class
of the capitalists with its agents in social-democracy and in the trade
unions” who had “disarmed”
As this column pointed out in February, these ideological divisions are
hangovers of the Cold
War and a far cry from labour’s shared call for workers of all countries
to unite. During that earlier
era, the argument was generally portrayed as capitalism versus communism.
It was a case, the secretariat report noted, of being in “a Cold War
bunker”. That bunker
is now in the process of being reconstructed, with the remnants of the
formerly pro-Soviet WFTU
gaining apparent strength in the face of the ongoing global economic crisis.
In the Cold War years, the WFTU was aligned with the Soviet bloc, while
the ICFTU, the
predecessor of ITUC, with what was broadly known as the “West”.
The organisational model for WFTU unions was what existed in the Soviet
Union where unions
were mere adjuncts of the party and state.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the WFTU all but collapsed amid free
market triumphalism. As the
secretariat notes: “Is it any wonder that the WFTU imploded when the
rule of the party
But many social democratic and labour parties or other political parties
supported by ITUCaffiliated
trade unions – including the ANC – later adopted liberal economic
policies that are now
widely discredited. And so an either/or situation has emerged within
several unions: either
support the “pro-capitalist” ITUC or the “procommunist” WFTU.
The secretariat maintains that both international bodies are in need of
reform. And an
indication of what form that reform should take has been presented quite
dramatically in recent
weeks, especially at Marikana. There, many workers turned their backs on
established unions, came
together as a collective and elected spokesmen answerable to the collective.
It was messy, but gave a hint of the egalitarian and democratic manner
in which trade unions
first came into being. This, rather than Cold War examples, may be where
positive lessons could,
perhaps, be learned.
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