“We are going to smash all those that are going to stand against the interests of working people in our country,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, the interim leader of South Africa’s newest labour union federation.
Vavi was speaking on Thursday at the launch of the South African Federation of Trade Unions’ (Saftu’s) first conference held at the Birchwood hotel in Boksburg.
“Fasten your seat belts, a new movement have just arisen and that movement is going to be about the working people. Not a movement that is negotiating its way to Parliament. It’s going to be the basic interest of working people.”
Vavi said the new labour federation, which will be competing against his old home Cosatu, already had 24 affiliated unions, with 700 000 members, and that it was positioning itself to acquire 18 more unions.
Members from all over the country were seen with their suitcases, wearing red T-shirts, and making their way to the new federation’s conference centre.
Vavi said the conference would signify a new beginning for labour federations. He said the conference would also include Fees Must Fall members and OutSourcing Must Fall leaders.
“We have always maintained that we are taking a step larger than all individuals… because we know of no other previous attempt to pull together unions with diverse backgrounds, politically and ideological traditions. We have managed to pull everyone together. We have succeeded to pull 40 unions to say we can belong to one federation.”
He said this was done because unions wanted to stand against brutal capitalist exploitation.
The conference would also discuss Saftu’s name – which is subject to ratification – and colours, Vavi said. Six office bearers would also be elected during the launching congress from April 21 to 23.
Pulling no punches against the African National Congress and Cosatu, Vavi said he thanked President Jacob Zuma, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and Cosatu for giving workers the new labour federation.
“We are changing the game all together. Workers again will have the hope that trade unions serve them, not their leaders. We are closing the chapter of paralysis, sweetheart unions; of deal makers. We are doing something absolutely new.”
Vavi said the ANC and Cosatu were in a state of panic over the new federation.
Former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor and Numsa leader Zanoxolo Wayile said the new labour federation offered hope to the working class.
“The reality of a situation, without an organisation which is credible, which is independent, with clear vision, there is no way we can conquer as workers in the working class. We require credible associations with credible workers…
“The power of workers must be assembled under one organisation… We say this federation must be politically independent, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have interest in politics. In a class divided society, you need to have a political and ideological stance.”
South African Policing Union vice president Thabo Mastose said the days of sleeping with the master, while pretending to represent constituencies, had gone.
“Watch this space. It has never happened in the history of this country where a total of 700 000 workers come together to say: ‘We want independence.’ This is just the beginning. Next year, around this time, we will be talking a different language.”