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Cosatu has come out of its 13th national congress emboldened by the idea that things can only get better. At some level this is true. Cosatu has hit rock bottom over the past six years. The infighting and political backbiting has provided a most entertaining spectacle for journalists and the public: there have been forensic investigations, sex scandals, court cases, electoral high jinks and meetings running into the small hours of the morning. Its longest-serving general secretary fell out with everyone else in the federation’s top leadership and was ousted, going on to establish a rival federation that is proving to be a thorn in the side of both Cosatu and its ruling party ally, the ANC. There was also the small matter of the expulsion of 340,000 members of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), the country’s largest single union. At least five smaller unions walked out in protest. As if these self-inflicted wounds weren’t enough, the economy has not been kind to worker...

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