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Let’s be clear here. Cosatu might oppose unemployment, but that is an abstraction and Cosatu’s opposition is largely symbolic and ineffectual.

It is the interests and strivings of the unemployed themselves that Cosatu actively works to counter.

It’s obvious really. Cosatu is a federation of trade unions. A trade union is the representative of employed people, as employed people. As such the collective interests of employed people (the sellers of labour) is to get the best deal – in terms of wages and working conditions – from the employer (the buyer of labour).

As in any market, if the seller can control the supply of the good he or she can command the price and the terms of the deal.

But how to control the supply of labour in a situation of high unemployment?  By locking the unemployed out of the labour market!  Cosatu strives – and has generally succeeded – to deny the unemployed and the potential work giver access to each other.

Opposition to labour brokers, calls for increases in the minimum wage and a range of compulsory regulated collective bargaining processes have one thing in common: they lock in the interests of those already inside the system. They work together to make it either costly or illegal for the potential work giver to look beyond the pool of Cosatu members (i.e. the formally employed) for work seekers ( i.e. the formally unemployed).

The interest of the unemployed is to find work. The various protections and minimum wage and bargaining agreements and elaborate benefit schemes for those already in the system are of no interest to the unemployed who benefit nothing from these goods. In fact these “goods” impose a huge cost pressure on the work giver such that he or she will do everything possible to keep employment to a minimum.

Cosatu’s 10th annual congress closed this last week to much self-congratulation, much of it deserved.  Trade unions have undoubtedly saved capitalism from itself. The logic of the individual capitalist is to pay as little as possible (in wages and working conditions). It is only by the banding together of workers and the advancing of their collective interests (against the individual employer, through strikes and boycotts, and within the state and legislature itself) that working conditions have evolved into the human rights compliant work culture of modern capitalism.

But we forget at our peril that Cosatu represents a special interest group not coterminous with the national interest or the interests of all citizens. In important ways some of Cosatu’s interests are inherently opposed to the national interest.

Attempting to represent the national interest is the job of  the ruling party. Ruling parties can be captured by special interest groups, groups whose interests are at odds with the nation as a whole. Cosatu sometimes crows like it has successfully captured the ruling party. I argue here and here why I believe Cosatu has bitten off more than it can chew and already its crowing, to my ears anyway, is a hollow echo.

Here’s FDR in an interesting quote I dug up. It’s from about 1935 – in the lead-up to his re-election in 1936 – and it is made to a journalist from the Hearst organisation.

FDR to a journalist in the run-up to the 1936 presidential election

FDR to a journalist in the run-up to the 1936 presidential election

This gives one a sense of how threatening was the Great Depression – to the very system of capitalist accumulation itself. This is, basically, FDR trying to save “the American way of life” from a real and significant challenge by socialists of various hues.

The Great Recession and particularly the excesses in the financial markets that helped bring it on, has strengthened similar force in our world.

The ANC and its alliance partners were ahead of the curve (as bankers like to say) on the family of ideas that FDR came to espouse: more equality, more regulations, more state, more taxation, more protection. The difference, though, is that FDR was trying to save capitalism from its own excesses. For Cosatu and the SACP, at least, they still claim to hope to use the excesses of capitalism against itself.

I remain convinced that the real power in The Alliance is the emerging and burgeoning  ‘capitalist’ elite and the ideas of this class are fundamentally similar to FDR’s and fundamentally at odds with the views the leadership of the SACP and Cosatu claim to espouse. 

(Note: My cute use of the word “claim” when referring to the views of some Cosatu and the SACP leaders is a result of the fact that I find it impossible to believe that leaders of the ilk of Blade Nzimande genuinely hope for the demise of capitalism when, in fact, they are becoming, in this historical moment and in this country, its main beneficiaries.)

Just how broad a church is a broad church?

The ANC and the Congress Movement has always liked to refer to itself as “a broad church” – which basically means that people of different ideological persuasions should be able to find a home within the movement.

The Ruling Alliance is giving new definition to ‘broadness” – and no, this is not a joke about expanding waistlines in the ruling party (which is, frankly, no joke at all.)

Both Genghis Kahn and Mother Theresa would have found a home somewhere in the ‘Ruling Alliance’ – that is: the African National Congress (with its Youth League and Women’s League and uMkhonto we Sizwe vets), Cosatu (and its myriad affiliates) and the South African Communist Party (with its Young Communists League).

Last night the ANC Youth League came out in support of the solidiers who had clashed with police in Pretoria two weeks ago. This after the ANC’s Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Defence, threatened them with the full extent of the law – and quite right she was, too.

But the point is, it’s such a clever trick!

You can have ministers and leaders as diverse as telecoms minister Siphiwe Nyanda and SACP secretary general and Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande grossing out on the most expensive luxury cars in the world and you can have Zwelinzima Vavi, secretary general of Cosatu, attacking them for it. All comfortably within the same government.

This really does give new meaning to having your cake and eating it.

When a political movement is able to claim that it represents everyone, it represents no-one. Without a set of policies upon which a party can agree, the party replaces “politics” with “power”. If the ANC is not working for a set of policies and ideas then the hidden drivers can become power, wealth and patronage. What else is Julius Malema doing around the same table as Cyril Ramaphosa? What do they have in common? It seems to me that all they have in common is the hope that the Ruling Alliance stays the ruling alliance.

In the real world humans have a host of competing interests; and democracy, parliament  and the law is a system for mediating those differences.

So what interests has the Ruling Alliance got in common for which it is prepared to suppress differences of ideology and policy? 

There are only two possible answers:

  1. The Ruling Alliance suppresses differences because the broad agenda of transformation is too important to derail for tactical differences and clashes of class and ethnic interests.
  2. The Ruling Alliance suppresses differences of ideology, politics and policy because the benefits (in terms of money, property, power and/or prestige) of participating in government is more important for the individuals and groups concerned.

This is a straightforward clash between being motivated by individual greed and being motivated by concerns for the wellbeing of the struggling majority of South Africans.

I have no doubt that both these tendencies are true and struggling for dominance within The Alliance – and even within individuals within The Alliance. Ultimately one or other of such tendencies must become dominant.

The Polokwane revolution and the new Zuma administration presented themselves as favouring the former (saam staan for transformation) tendency. Not much supports this contention. I, for one, am waiting with (a)bated breath to see which way this thing is heading.

It is difficult to know whether to laugh or to cry.

So, white refugees are streaming out of the burbs with their loot in big sacks on their aching backs, heading for Canada? The Great Trek II has begun and Brandon Huntley has gone to prepare a place for us in Saskatchewan or Churchill Manitoba? Hmm, can’t wait.

You have to ask: what has Canada done to deserve Brandon Huntley?

Brandon Huntley ... a picture tells a thousand words

Brandon Huntley ... stands out like a sore thumb ... hmm, yes he does rather

But then you remember. Oh, yes! His application for refugee status was successful. The panel that interviewed him accepted that he had been attacked 7  times (including 3 stabbings) by black people. Because he was white. Because he “stands out like a sore thumb”. They accepted that Brandon’s attackers called him a “white dog” and a “settler”. Ag shame, man!

So Canada opened the door. So Canada deserves what it gets. And watch out! Here we come, with our braais and boerewors and quaint views about the world. Canada you’re gonna love us!

Part of me is delighted by Brandon and the silly Canadian immigration board panel that accepted him in.  He might well be exaggerating to bolster his immigration case, but it is certainly within the realms of possibility that his story is true.

The country’s crime levels are out of control. There is racial anger swirling around the body politic.  The  “race card” gets played at every turn by cheating and failed politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen. It’s enough already.

But while we rub our hands in glee when the weak puncture the pretensions of the powerful, it is important to remember that the real and most numerous victims of  most sorts of crime in this country, especially violent crime, are poor and black. And what has consigned these victims to the bottom of the pile is Apartheid and its ongoing consequences. It’s difficult to think that someone called “Brandon” in the grip of trying to convert his tourist visa in Canada is justifiably placed at the centre-stage of South African history.

I am a political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

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