THE National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) does not want to be pushed out of the Cosatu and I suspect very strongly that for Irvin Jim and his comrades, splitting from Cosatu is the second prize. The first prize is to seize power at a special congress or at next year’s national congress of the labour federation.

If Numsa wins this battle, it can then proceed with the project of recreating Cosatu in its own image.

If it fails, it will either be expelled or will, on its own, split from Cosatu, become part of attempts to reconfigure the labour space to the disadvantage of Cosatu and will then continue with the project of realigning politics on the left of both the ANC and the SACP.

For all concerned, including the ANC and the different factions in the Cosatu battle, what is paramount is the unity of Cosatu, the trade union movement and the working class. This common interest in the unity of Cosatu is, however, true only at face value. The sense one gets is that even in the top six of the ANC, what the unity of Cosatu means depends on who one asks.

My own assessment, rightly or wrongly, is that to some in the top six of the ANC, unity will prevail if Numsa is expelled from Cosatu.

In other words, a part of Cosatu must die for the labour federation to renew and regenerate itself to its former glory.

They may be correct if the assumption is that if Numsa is expelled, the majority of its members will remain within Cosatu to be part of a reconstituted metal and allied workers’ union.

And, to the extent that some members of the top six may no longer be singing from the same struggle song playlist with one another and President Jacob Zuma, their understanding of what the unity of Cosatu means may be shaped by the orientation of their allies within Cosatu and their proximity in political attitude to the president.

If my analysis is correct, the argument should, to some degree, extend to the leadership of Cosatu.

But, on both sides of the Cosatu divide there are kamikaze pilots and pragmatists.

In my view, the kamikaze pilots in the Numsa coalition must bear in mind the fact that it is always unstrategic to think that unity around one factor can be extrapolated to all other factors.

In the central executive committee of Cosatu, the kamikaze pilots want Numsa to be expelled at whatever cost to Cosatu, whereas the pragmatists want Numsa to be expelled when there is certainty that the majority of its members will not follow Jim and his allies.

The pragmatists are worried also about the possibility of other affiliates splitting from the labour federation should Numsa be expelled.

Given the fact that contradictions have emerged within some of the unions that are part of the Numsa coalition, damage to Cosatu may be limited if the majority of the members of these unions decide to stay in Cosatu.

In Numsa itself, there are kamikaze pilots who want their union to split from Cosatu without giving due regard to strategic objectives, such as the reconfiguration of the balance of forces in Cosatu and the realignment of politics outside the ANC.

In my view, the kamikaze pilots in the Numsa coalition must bear in mind the fact that it is always unstrategic to think that unity around one factor can be extrapolated to all other factors.

In a political battle of this nature, it is always wise and strategic to do careful analysis, assessments and calculations of unity around each individual factor.

The alternative is the kind of strategic miscalculation that was exposed by the failure to win sufficient support for the idea of splitting from Cosatu at Numsa’s special congress last December.

The mistake was to assume that the convergence of views around the idea of leaving the tripartite alliance was a predictor of the views of Numsa members when it came to the notion of splitting off from Cosatu.

In addition to all of this, we still do not know whether the members of Numsa did not vote for the ANC in accordance with the decision to withdraw electoral support for the ruling party.

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