Johannesburg - The comments made by Cosatu after its central executive committee meeting late this week were a clear indication that the country is close to a shift in economic policy.
This comes at a time when the ruling ANC has been assuring investors that there would be no shift in the government's market-friendly economic policies.
Cosatu has become vocal in its criticism of the government's inflation targeting policy and its call for increased government spending and lower interest rates. The labour federation has stated its preference for government policy to be driven from ANC headquarters in Luthuli House.
"We have been advocating for a change in economic policy since the introduction of the growth, employment and redistribution strategy in 1996. We made huge advances in this regard at the Polokwane conference of the ANC and at the alliance economic summit last year. The ANC manifesto adequately reflects that. We want to ensure the implementation of those shifts," said Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
Lumkile Mondi, chief economist at the Industrial Development Corporation, said a shift in policy was inevitable given the global economic crisis.
"The market dogma of the 1990's and earlier this decade has brought about the recession. Cosatu, being the most organised of the three alliance partners, is contesting the economic policy space very well."
Mondi said governments around the world, some of which supported free markets, have already shifted their economic policies as they nationalised strategic assets.
He said there was a push towards a more equitable world economy that addressed the needs of the poor.
Mondi said interested groups that differed with Cosatu needed to do so publicly, otherwise the policy direction of the country would be disproportionately influenced by Cosatu.
Eddie Webster, professor of sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand, said it was not surprising that Cosatu was flexing its muscle.
"Clearly this is the moment when labour is seeing that the door is open and they are walking through it. They are not going to proceed uncontested but they have a higher chance of success given that they have made their set of demands clear to their alliance partners and they supported the leadership change in government," he said.
Webster said Cosatu would be aware of the global, local and government constraints on achieving their goals.
Cosatu has stated its preference for Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel to lead the government's economic cluster. They also said they preferred a cabinet working committee to work with Minister Trevor Manuel, who is responsible for the National Planning Commission.
"This move suggests that Cosatu is applying pressure within government and also outside of it towards the implementation of its policy preferences," said Webster.
Vavi said Cosatu was engaging in public discourse to shape it in their favour or in favour of progressive solutions to transformative challenges.
- City Press