"...a lot of workers have been retrenched so these were the fears that were concrete, including the unions that people are losing employment and that privatisation is not going to address the basic services like where if a company is privatised it’s going to look for profit but if it’s not privatised they are going to look for the interests of the people, of its workers.”
One of the most vexing issues for the APF and its community affiliates throughout its existence was the relationship and approach to the organised workers’ movement and more specifically, with the main ANC-aligned trade union federation in South Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
After both original founding member-organisations – the COSATU unions SAMWU and NEHAWU - as well as other ANC-aligned organisations left the APF (ostensibly due to what they saw as the APF’s ‘anti-ANC and Alliance’ politics, the relationship between the APF and COSATU became increasingly strained.
Despite COSATU illegally evicting the APF from its original offices in COSATU house (evidently at the behest of the ANC leadership) and several of its leaders encouraging non-cooperation with the APF and its struggles, the APF continued to provide whatever practical solidarity and support to COSATU and affiliated union strikes and worker struggles it could manage.
In the lead-up to COSATU’s 2002 anti-privatisation strike, the APF appealed to COSATU and its unions to link up with and support community struggles as part of a broader and more united – worker/community anti-privatisation front. A flyer from 2006 gives confirmation of the APF’s ongoing practical solidarity to striking workers (in this case, the longest post-apartheid strike ever by workers in the retail sector) and continued appeal for cross-organisational linkages and support.
In 2003, the APF decided to hold its own May Day event to highlight the independent history and struggles of organised workers. As one of the picture shows, this event filled the Johannesburg City Hall with over 2000 APF community activists. The other picture shows a dance performance on stage by one of the APF’s drama-musical groups.
"De facto we had the Workers Library, de facto we had played the leading role at Wits where the Congress people really hadn’t played a role, de facto we linked to a whole lot of community movements and all under the banner of against neo-liberalism which allowed us to also pose questions round the ANC which the Congress people generally wouldn’t or would sort of fumble. So it was very exciting."
One of the APF’s earlier community affiliates was the SAMANCOR Retrenched Workers Crisis Committee (SRWCC), from Sebokeng; established by workers retrenched from the industrial conglomerate – SAMANCOR – due to illnesses resulting from manganese poisoning. Starting in 2002, the APF worked tirelessly with the SRWCC - which had effectively been abandoned by the union to which the workers had belonged, NUMSA - to demand proper recognition of/responsibility for the workers illnesses and adequate compensation by SAMANCOR. Over the years, while many SRWCC members were dying as a result of their illnesses, the struggles for justice gradually yielded some positive results for the workers and their families. However, due to an almost complete lack of support, attention and political will from government the struggle of those ex-SAMANCOR workers who still survive continues.
Despite these and many more other such practical and political efforts by the APF, the leadership of COSATU and most of its unions largely remained hostile to the APF, although this was not always the case with unions like SAMWU and SACCAWU and more rank-and-file union branch members. Additionally though, within the APF itself there was ongoing and intense debate and disagreement about the character and content of the APF’s approach to COSATU, divisions that were most often between members of political groupings within the APF and members of some of the APF’s community affiliates.