SA's first workers summit set for the weekend

The summit is being spearheaded by apolitical unions, with Zwelinzima Vavi as interim chairperson.

FILE: Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture: Vumani Mkhize/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's first ever workers summit is due to take place this weekend, with representatives of 50 unions gathering to discuss the establishment of a broad labour federation, which will represent the majority of the country's working class.

The summit will be held in Boksburg and is being spearheaded by apolitical unions, with Zwelinzima Vavi as interim steering committee chairperson.

The unions include the likes of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), Solidarity, the National Transport Movement (NTM) and other splinter unions which have all indicated their willingness to form a new federation.

Vavi says although achieving unity among workers has been a difficult task, they still believe it's possible.

"For many years federations and unions have called for greater levels of unity and co-operation among the working class. During these discussions many have raised obstacles to the realisation of this goal, but we believe that these obstacles are not insurmountable."

He says this is what should be discussed at the workers summit.


The steering committee for the summit says it's not interested in competing with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) for labour control, as it believes the federation's members are waking up to its inability to challenge the state.

The summit will decide on a set of principles to be tabled on May Day, which is expected to mark the beginning of a new independent workers federation.

Vavi says more than 70 percent of South Africa's work force remains unorganised, which will form the focus of the organisation.

"We are not in competition with Cosatu because there is nothing to compete with. We are competing with ourselves to set up new standards to reach out to the seven million workers who are not in any union."

Vavi says they will no longer waste their time on Cosatu unions that refuse to stand up to internal fighting within the federation.

"That's where they belong so instead of us despairing, two unions emerged within Samwu (South African Municipal Workers Union)."