Dramatic events since the 2014 national elections have seen the Tripartite Alliance come under increasing strain. Contestation around policies – most recently the Tax Administration Laws Amendment Act – and around political processes has seen the tensions between the three parties to the Alliance testing it to the limit. However, in the last months of 2015, when it seemed that the days of the historic Alliance were numbered, it was brought back from the brink of collapse. Cosatu lost its strongest affiliate, but the federation retained its cohesion – at least formally – and the Alliance was declared to be alive and well.
Although analysts and activists on the left anticipated a fundamental break between Cosatu and the ANC, and looked to extra-parliamentary movements for a new progressive alignment in South African politics, this was not reflected in the views of ordinary workers. That the majority of delegates to the Cosatu special congress of July 2015, and again at the national congress of November 2015, voted to ratify the expulsion of Numsa and of Zwelinzima Vavi and to reaffirm commitment to the Tripartite Alliance should not have come as a surprise. If the voice of ordinary workers (rather than worker or political leadership) is carefully listened to, the reason for the maintenance of the Alliance, despite its deep divisions along policy lines, can be better understood.
This chapter reflects on the key debates and divisions around policy issues within the Alliance, how ordinary workers understand these debates, and what influence they have on policy making. The chapter will show that increasing tension in the Alliance is clearly reflected in the Taking Democracy Seriously survey and in interviews with Cosatu leaders. As with previous surveys, the 2014 survey was conducted before an election, primarily to test the relationship of the organised labour movement to the institutions of representative democracy in South Africa. In this chapter, that relationship can be assessed through worker participation on two levels: the election of representatives in government (at various levels) and the participation in policy formulation by those representatives.
The main institutional reflection of this relationship is the Tripartite Alliance between the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu. This chapter will show us that the relationship has changed, and is strained.