South Africa

Numsa: Not backing down

By T Tlhapane & G Nicolson 27 October 2014

The National Union of Metalworkers SA (Numsa) hit back at its potential expulsion from Cosatu on Monday. The country's largest union defended its decision to organise in different sectors, set up a United Front for socialism, and withdraw support from the ANC. By TSHEPANG TLHAPANE & GREG NICOLSON.

Addressing media on Monday in its Johannesburg headquarters, Numsa responded point by point to criticism levelled at the union last week during a Cosatu central executive committee meeting, where the union narrowly avoided a vote on whether it should be expelled for transgressing Cosatu’s core principles.

During the meeting, an ANC task team, led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and appointed to investigate divisions within the federation, presented a report that criticised Numsa for transgressing Cosatu’s “one industry, one union” rule. The ANC acknowledged the deep divisions within the federation and advised Cosatu to discuss its problems instead of looking to a special national congress to elect new leadership.

In an extensive press release, Numsa defended its decision to organise in other sectors. It said “virtually all Cosatu affiliates at some factory, industry or sectoral level do organise across industries and therefore stray into other affiliates areas”. Unions have made constitutional amendments to expand their scope but “it has never been the basis for either admission into Cosatu or cause for dismissal, should a union, once affiliated, flout this principle”, said Numsa.

Why then this extreme and negative fixation on Numsa’s extension of scope and resolution to organise along value chains, when this has been going on in Cosatu for all of its 29 years? The reason is not difficult to find: the forces of darkness and capitalism who are very terrified of the organised socialist power of the working class are fishing for any possible constitutionally justifiable cause to expel Numsa from Cosatu.”

While the ANC’s report said affiliates agreed that a special national congress could not solve Cosatu’s divisions through electing new leaders, Numsa is adamant such a congress should take place. The union plans to pressure Cosatu through the courts. Numsa was critical on Monday of Cosatu President Sidumo Dlamini, claiming he was trying to defend the ANC, and said his allies would lose if the Cosatu leadership went to a vote.

Numsa rejected the ANC’s report, claiming the governing party was biased, and said it still planned to launch the United Front in December. “Numsa is today merely doing what Cosatu has desired to do all this time,” the union said, citing multiple Cosatu resolutions to build unity among the working class.

The union’s General Secretary Irvin Jim criticised the ANC and SACP. He called Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa a “filthy rich capitalist”. “He is all over, we are led by a capitalist. I mean, he sits with us today, negotiating a national minimum wage, and then on Saturday he goes and buys a buffalo that runs into millions,” Jim said. The union accused the ANC of closing its doors to any possibility for a radical transition, as undemocratic practices have become the order of the day whenever radical policies are demanded by the working class.

Jim added, “There is no debate about that; all that they seek to do is protect the status quo because they benefit and they accumulate. When we say ‘nationalise’ they immediately react that such nationalisation will nationalise their wealth.”

The Cosatu leadership meets again next month when Numsa’s fate could finally be decided. The union is expected to seek legal advice on whether Cosatu is following protocol by asking the union to justify why it should not be suspended or expelled.

The union said there’s a political conspiracy to stop Numsa from organising workers, reflected by the far-fetched accusations against it. Both Dlamini and Cosatu Second Deputy President Zingiswa Losi came under attack for allegedly pushing an anti-Numsa agenda.

The union said it is committed to a united Cosatu, but won’t back down in the face of neo-liberal ideology and the “dominance of right wing leadership of traditionally large unions who are now in terminal because of their leaders’ anti workers, anti-members behaviour and politics”.

Media reports from the press conference suggested Numsa had split from the tripartite alliance, but on Monday the union simply restated its December congress resolution to withdraw support from the ANC and establish a new movement. “In December this year, 2014, we are launching the United Front,” said the union’s press statement. DM

Photo: Thousands of members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the country’s largest union, take part in a strike action in Johannesburg, South Africa, 01 July 2014. EPA/IHSAAN HAFFEJEE.

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