The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) is one of the nine Cosatu-affiliated trade unions, which in May 2013 called for a Special National Congress (SNC) of the federation in order to give the rank and file membership the opportunity to debate the big problems we have been grappling with for the last three years. Yet Numsa will be the only union whose 365,000 plus members will not be heard at the Special National Congress, which after months of delay, started on Monday.
This is because the Cosatu central executive committee (CEC) summarily expelled its biggest affiliate on 7 November 2014 on trumped-up charges, including organising a march to Cosatu House to coincide with the first CEC in February 2014, ceasing to pay its contribution into the Cosatu/SACP levy and extending its scope of operation.
These bogus charges were concocted to cover up the fact that it was, in reality, a political purge but one that the leadership could not admit to because they could not find any evidence that Numsa had done anything that contradicted Cosatu’s own policies passed at successive national congresses.
In fact it is the current Cosatu leaders who have deviated from these policies and it therefore had to get rid of a union with policies more in line with the federation’s resolutions than theirs.
Cosatu resolutions from different congresses have called for a popular movement towards socialism, located within a restructured Alliance and involving a range of mass movements. This movement must be formed to assert the leadership of the working class in the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). It wants to work towards a broader coalition with community-based organisations around the socio-economic crisis affecting the working class as part of building a popular mass movement for socialism (10th Congress resolution).
It has called on the SACP to unite the progressive left wing formations committed to radical transformation and socialism. Part of the work to achieve this requires the SACP to initiate the unity of the left movements that believe in socialism as part of a process of building a popular movement towards socialism, including convening a Conference of the Left.
Numsa says we must lead in the establishment of a new United Front that will co-ordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities in a way similar to the United Democratic Front (UDF) of the 1980s. The task of this front will be to fight for the implementation of the Freedom Charter and be an organisational weapon against neoliberal policies such as the National Development Plan (NDP).
Side-by-side with the establishment of the new United Front, we must explore the founding of a movement for socialism as the working class needs a political organisation committed in its policies and actions to the establishment of a socialist South Africa.
There is a very clear symmetry between the two viewpoints – the call for united action by broad-based social movements and the United Front are entirely consistent, as are the appeal for a conference of the left and a movement for socialism.
Cosatu resolved that the structure of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu Alliance must be reviewed so that all the partners play a meaningful role in pursuit of the NDR in all battles of the struggle for both national and social liberation. Only the Alliance, in which the working class has claimed its rightful leadership place, can drive forward the NDR to its logical conclusion – socialism (10th Congress).
The working class must redirect the NDR towards socialism and jealously guard it against opportunistic tendencies attempting to wrest it from achieving its logical conclusion, which is socialism. We must consistently expose and struggle against the neo-liberal agenda of the state, which leads to the increasing impoverishment of the working class and the poor.
Numsa says the ANC has resisted the reconfiguration of the Alliance into a strategic political centre where issues of policy, deployments into government and programmes are jointly decided upon by all components of the Alliance.
Although there are protests everywhere and every day in the country, the Alliance is not an instrument in the hands of these struggling masses nor does it provide leadership to these struggles, which are largely leaderless. The reality is that there is a political vacuum and the working class is on its own.
Thus both the union and the federation argue that the alliance has not been playing the ‘revolutionary’ role, which it was established for, and must be reviewed. As Numsa says, there exists little common understanding within the Alliance of the real objectives of the NDR.
Our members and shop stewards, says Numsa, must be active on all fronts and in all struggles against neo-liberal policies, whether these policies are being implemented in the workplace or in communities.
The Freedom Charter, which is the minimum platform and programme of the Alliance, has been completely abandoned in favour of right wing and neo-liberal policies such as the National Development Plan. It has been captured and taken over by right wing forces. Those who are perceived to be against neo-liberalism or to be advocates of policies in favour of the working class and the poor are seen as problematic, isolated or purged.
Again there is wide common ground between the policies of Cosatu and its expelled affiliate. It is the expellers, not the expelled, who have deviated from their own National Congress policies and took action to get rid of the most powerful voice, which was pointing this out.
The matter of the founding principle of One Union One Industry can’t be used to expel any union from Cosatu. All Cosatu affiliates find themselves unavoidably recruiting members across each other’s sectors. Numsa’s sin was simply to have been open to the possibility of a genuine dialogue within Cosatu over the matter of organising along value chains and ensuring that every worker enjoys the right to representation and protection by a union.
As we all know, trade unions do not organise the bosses and their workplaces. Trade unions, however, have a responsibility to dynamically respond to the tricks, intrigues and tactics used by the bosses in the workplace. They do this to disorganise and divide the working class and their trade unions.
During this period of neoliberal capitalism, the bosses (whether private or state) have changed how they organise the workplace so much that the One Industry One Union principle is simply not possible for most workplaces and trade unions. Rather than confront this reality, which affects all unions, the current leadership of Cosatu decided instead to dismss the largest affiliate of Cosatu, and in the process, remove more than 365,000 members of Numsa from Cosatu.
That is why Numsa hopes the rank and file delegates to the SNC will vote to readmit its biggest affiliate, reinstate its expelled general secretary, comrade Zwelinzima Vavi, take urgent steps to implement revolutionary, socialist policies and elect leaders who will implement these policies with the urgency that is required, given the extent of the economic crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality which we face.
All shopstewards attending the Cosatu SNC have a duty to fully understand the reasons for the crisis in Cosatu today, and must act to unite all the workers under one federation.
Do not be misled! DM
Mphumzi Maqungo works at General Motors (GM) in Port Elizabeth. He is a full-time Shopsteward at GM. He has been active in the structures of the ANCYL; ANC and SACP in the Eastern Cape. He has served in various positions in Numsa, such as Eastern Cape Regional Treasurer, Acting Regional Secretary and Deputy Regional Chairperson. He is currently National Treasurer of Numsa.
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