For seven years, IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Chemicals, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU) has been in a crisis. However, the convening of its 5th national congress is seen as an opportunity to mend the union.
The congress, attended by 224 delegates, took place in East London, 27-31 August, and focused on reviving the union through participatory democracy. The congress emphasized the importance of a leadership collective that is accountable, and which respected democratic traditions of the labour movement including “workers control.” Trust building will be prioritized through bottom-up programmes that include union members.
Since the last congress in 2011, CEPPWAWU, which has 55 000 members, went through a dark period of internal fights for the control of the union and its investment company. Courts described the disputes as “internecine squabbling” between rival factions. During this period, national executive committee meetings did not take place and two congresses were skipped. Dismissals and expulsions of members were common as well as allegations of fraud. This badly affected the membership of the union which declined.
The union also failed to produce audited financial statements as required by the law and faced deregistration from the Department of Labour. However, the union brought the situation under control when Simon Mofokeng, then general secretary was dismissed by the union in 2017 after failing to appear for disciplinary hearings.
Since then the union has adopted a “roadmap” to bring its affairs to order including urgently complying with the law. However, there is still a lot of work to be done by the union’s leadership. In the next few months, the national executive committee will finalize outstanding matters including the secretariat report, constitutional amendments, and an organizational review.
However, no woman was elected despite calls for gender equality. “We need a gender balance in the union leadership. Unions must not only preach about gender equality but should practice it through including women in the leadership,” said Miriam Marishane, who with other women demonstrated against the unfair treatment of aspiring women leaders in the union.
The congress elected the following leaders: Thamsanqa Mhlongo (President), Lucas Mashego (1st Vice President), Johannes Dube (2nd Vice President), Lemmy Mokoena (Treasurer), Welile Nolingo (General Secretary), and Musa Bhengu (Deputy General Secretary).
“We congratulate CEPPWAWU for being able to convene this long overdue congress and agree with the views of the workers who want a strong and democratic union. Uniting on common programmes that benefit all workers is key to building union power,” said Kenny Mogane, IndustriALL regional officer for Sub Saharan Africa.