The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa is preparing for a busy time ahead, as it plans to battle against the National Development Plan that was adopted by the African National Congress in December. It has also picked sides with Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi in what is increasingly looking like a concerted effort to silence him. Cosatu’s great agitators have no intention of quietening down after their recent resounding defeat at Mangaung. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa will be on the warpath soon. It does not like the National Development Plan, and likes the African National Congress’ enthusiasm for it even less. It has promised to do something about it, and plans both high-level meetings with the ruling party and action in the streets.
This plan was announced after an ordinary meeting of the NUMSA central committee, its most powerful internal body, on Thursday.
NUMSA said that it rejected the NDP for principally overtaking the Freedom Charter as the chief policy of the national democratic revolution (an umbrella term for the overall ideological thrust of the tripartite alliance) within the ANC. The union slammed the plan as rooted in the “failed neoliberal framework of [Growth, Employment and Redistribution]” as imposed by the so-called 1996 class project. The last phrase is a pejorative amongst tripartite alliance pillars that seek to shift the ANC and its allies to the left, towards an aggressive transformation path.
NUMSA argues that the NDP does not provide a plan on how to transform the economy in line with the Freedom Charter objectives, let alone in order to bring about the society and economy it purports we will have 20 or more years from now; plans to roll out infrastructure to further reinforce raw mineral export dependence (geared towards serving mining capital and not broad-based industrial development); minimises the role of the state in the economy; seeks to de-regulate the labour market further and to further weaken working class power; and also operates within a neo-liberal macroeconomic framework, thus offering no hope for fundamental social and economic transformation.
“We firmly believe that the NDP will reproduce the same results we have suffered under the current neoliberal economic trajectory – mass poverty, rising unemployment and deepening inequalities, mostly affecting the Black working class, including the marginalised and despondent youth of country,” NUMSA said.
“After a thorough analysis, the CC came to the extremely disturbing conclusion that significant and strategic parts of the NDP were directly lifted from DA policy documents, especially its Chapters on economic restructuring, infrastructure, role of the state, agriculture and rural development,” the union said.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions, of which NUMSA is the second-largest affiliate, has also rejected the NDP. In June 2012, Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said that the federation would not be supporting the plan because it “echoes wrong comments about the inflexible labour laws, which is misplaced, because it will punish workers even more if labour laws are tightened”.
NUMSA is planning to hold high-level bilateral meetings with the ANC to try and change its mind about the NDP, union spokesman Castro Ngobese said to the Daily Maverick. But if that failed, then there would likely be major industrial action.
“As NUMSA and Cosatu we will embark on massive campaigns in the streets. We have learned that what cannot be won in the boardroom must be won on the streets. But that does not mean that there is no dialogue with the ruling party,” Ngobese said.
Cosatu announced – even before the 2012 ANC national conference, where the NDP was adopted – that it had filed a section 77 notice to strike, in order to agitate for policies based on the Freedom Charter. Amongst its list of demands is the nationalisation of the banking, petrochemicals, forestry, cement, metals fabrication, construction, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and mining industries.
NUMSA also came out swinging wildly for beleaguered Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, saying that the recent attacks on him were a part of a concerted effort to capture the federation and convert it into “the legitimisation of anti-working class policies that are being pursed in our name as the working class”.
All attacks against the office and the person of the general secretary were regarded as attacks against Cosatu as a whole, Ngobese said.
“As NUMSA we are prepared to defend Cosatu at all costs. The Cosatu general secretary is the chief spokesperson for the federation, this any attacks against him are attacks against the federation,” Ngobese said.
Last week, just before Vavi was supposed to host a press conference after the conclusion of a Cosatu central executive committee meeting, the Mail & Guardian ran a story claiming that he was under investigation from the organisation he led for apparent corruption in the sale of the old headquarters and purchase of the new one.
Vavi furiously denied the claims, and Cosatu confirmed via its president S’dumo Dlamini that there was no such investigation. However, the leak came from the Cosatu meeting. It was in all likelihood an inside job.
Ngobese hinted at such. “These attacks are not neutral,” he said. “There are those who dress as the working class who actually wish to change Cosatu to become a vehicle for the dominant classes. We will never allow that. These attackers may claim to be working class, but they are fighting for the oppressive forces.”
NUMSA is the first Cosatu-affiliated body to track Vavi’s current troubles all the way back to the fight at the federation’s congress in 2012. The fractures within it were laid bare as the four-day meeting was repeatedly delayed by infighting. Most of it revolved around the question of who the federation would support at Mangaung, with Vavi and NUMSA expressing unhappiness with President Jacob Zuma, while the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union wanted to keep the status quo at Luthuli House.
Cosatu eventually struck a compromise by keeping its own top leadership intact and choosing not to announce its preferred candidate for the ANC top six positions.
Not that this has stopped NUMSA from expressing an opinion on the top six.
“With respect to leadership in the [ANC national executive committee] and Top Six – the central committee was unanimous that the leadership that has emerged cannot be defined as working-class orientated. NUMSA remains resolute to fight for a working class-biased ANC,” the union said in its statement.
In response to Jim, the National Planning Commission, chaired by Trevor Manuel, issued a statement.
It said, “Whilst generally we would not respond to the musings of Mr Jim, we will make this one exception. He arrogates to himself, as a custodian of ANC policies, power much greater than the 4 500 delegates who gathered at the ANC 53rd National Conference in Mangaung.
“What gives Mr Jim the right to suggest that the delegates were misled? Mr Jim suffers from an infantile disorder that manifests as an acute aversion to anything rational.”
Things are not all that straightforward at NUMSA. It had to fight a hard battle to get all the regional bosses and constituencies to agree on its Mangaung stance last year. There are some internal divisions, and it must be an area that NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim will need to look hard at before attempting to box for Vavi within the greater alliance. It would be a silly move for him to launch a broadside while exposing himself to internal dissent. DM
Photo: Irvin Jim (Jay Caboz/foto24)