Opinionista Irvin Jim 24 November 2015

The ruling alliance no longer represents the working class

The trade union federation, founded on 1 December 1985, exists in name only. The ruling class has stolen Cosatu and many of its affiliates, in a capitalist class offensive aimed at dividing and weakening the organised working class. Its current leaders have been pawns in a much bigger game plan, but are guilty as willing accomplices.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and Zwelinzima Vavi have declined to appeal to this week’s COSATU National Congress, and for good reasons. It was anticipated that Numsa and Vavi would have had an opportunity to appeal against their expulsions to the Special National Congress (SNC) on 13-14 July 2015, but our right was denied. In a shamelessly manipulated event, the Cosatu leaders did everything to prevent any attempt to reverse the expulsion of its biggest affiliate, which had grown to 380,000 members, and the General Secretary.

Instead, delegates were subjected to a barrage from the Cosatu NOBs and CEC leaders, who became the complainants, investigators, prosecutors, jury and judge. In a calculated move to undermine the basic rights of appeal, the CEC endorsed a mistitled document, Unity and Cohesion, which was circulated a day before. This was dishonest disinformation, to discredit Numsa and Vavi, and to be used to conduct a trial against them, in their absence. The document severely prejudiced any possible future appeal.

The report submitted to this week’s Congress states that the SNC endorsed the dismissals of Vavi and Numsa, in their absence! Why then are its authors calling them to make an appeal, before the same people that have already pronounced a guilty verdict without hearing the evidence of the other side? We have no reason to think that the ‘normal’ Congress this week will be any less manipulated to prevent any appeal. Like all interventions to save Cosatu from imploding, our appeal will again be frustrated by the leadership faction, which cannot be distracted from its mission to “surgically remove” Numsa and the General Secretary. The rhetoric of wanting unity and cohesion was completely contradicted by their insistence on splitting the federation, at all costs, which included refusing our right to appeal. I shall, however, show that such an appeal would have convinced any objective delegate that the expulsions were completely unjustified.

On 11 February 2014, the Deputy General Secretary of Cosatu wrote to Numsa asking us to provide reasons why it should not be suspended or expelled from the federation. Paragraph 6 read as follows:

The CEC records that many of NUMSA’s decisions, declarations and resolutions (‘decisions’) which emanated from its Special National Congress in December 2013 contradict the decisions of the federation or are intended to act against the interests of the federation. This included the decisions to:

  1. Call Cosatu to break its alliance with the African National Congress
  2. Organise a march to Cosatu House to coincide with the 1st CEC in February
  3. Hold back on paying affiliation fees to COSATU until the Special National Congress is held
  4. Cease to pay its contributions into the COSATU/SACP levy
  5. Extend the scope of operation into: glass production; sale of petrol; wholesale transportation; extraction and distribution of petrochemicals, mining and smelting of both base and precarious metals, drivers that provide building and construction; auto industry textile, security, cleaning, canteen and health services that are covered by NUMSA scope, kiosks, industrial chemicals, alternative energy, information and communication technologies”.

Numsa responded in a presentation on why it should not be suspended or expelled. But then, on 7 November 2014, a special CEC decided to expel the union and all our then 340, 000 members. Our response to both the letter, and the letter of its dismissal, was as follows:

1. Numsa’s call on the federation to break its alliance with the ANC:

Is supporting the alliance a precondition of membership? Will Cosatu now expel all members whose unions decide to call for the breaking of the alliance? Why was Samwu not dismissed when it refused to campaign for the ANC when pursuing its members’ interests? Why was Sasbo not expelled for having a clause in its constitution that prevents it from associating with any political party?

2. The decision to march to COSATU:

The march did not take place at the time when NUMSA made its presentation. Is it sensible to expel 340, 000 workers for making a decision that was not acted upon? Actions speak louder than words!

3. The threat not to pay affiliation fees to COSATU until the special congress:

Right up to the time NUMSA was expelled, it was in good standing, and affiliation fees were not withheld.

4. The threat to cease paying its contributions to the SACP:

Our Congress had decided that the SACP was no longer a vanguard in a struggle for socialism. We paid the levy right up until that decision was taken, yet some of the unions pushing for our dismissal were many months and even years in arrears. Why not dismiss those unions like Sasbo have a constitutional clause preventing a levy to the SACP or any political party?

5. That Numsa extended its scope:

The scope categories adopted in 1985 were hardly relevant, as a result of capitalist restructuring and company mergers. But even if Numsa was wrong, so were all other affiliates who had unilaterally amended their scopes and poached members. Cosatu from its inception had disputes amongst affiliates relating to poaching activities. Yet the post-2012 leadership had no qualms in dismissing 340, 000 workers, but not a lot more unions involved in the same poaching or extending scopes.

The truth is that the dismissal of 340,000 members had little to do with the official reasons. An appeal therefore to this Congress will, therefore, be nothing but a farce. The “Workers Parliament”; has been reduced to a sham, just like the SNC, which was manipulated to prevent any challenge to the leadership’s factional views.

The membership figures, on which affiliate delegations were calculated, were increased to ensure a disproportionate number from unions backing the leadership. In some unions delegates were “handpicked” to ensure a majority of loyalists. Those considered “unreliable” were weeded out before the Congress.

SATAWU even pepper-sprayed delegates from four provinces, and threw them out of their caucus meeting. Some SATAWU members who made it to the Congress hall were ejected by security staff. There is no evidence that this week’s “normal” Congress will be any different. The whole episode over three years, which saw Cosatu divided, emasculated and paralysed, was engineered not only by the federation’s current leaders, but by the state and its political representatives in the ANC, and specifically the SACP, to turn it into an obedient appendage to those who do not wish to disturb the status quo.

The federation, founded on 1 December 1985, exists in name only. The ruling class has stolen Cosatu and many of its affiliates, in a capitalist class offensive aimed at dividing and weakening the organised working class. Its current leaders have been pawns in a much bigger game plan, but are guilty as willing accomplices. The aim of the ruling class and its allies is in line with the neo-liberal free-market policies encapsulated in the National Development Plan. It is to enable white monopoly capital to get even richer by exploiting a weaker and more divided union movement. Wages will be cut, jobs will be outsourced and profits will grow. Cosatu, once a bastion of integrity and democracy, regarded by many for its high political authority, has degenerated and allowed itself to be captured and manipulated by forces that are decidedly anti-working class.

It can no longer claim to have the interests of the working class and the poor at the centre of its concerns. It is now little more than an adjunct of the ANC Government, and owes its first allegiance not to workers, but to those who are seeking to maintain the status quo. We can either stay with those who will tie down the movement to the concerns of the capitalist class, or we can struggle to unite the entire working class and poor communities in a new militant, independent labour movement based on democratic mandates, accountability and mass campaigning.

Numsa has resolved to struggle to unite the entire working class and poor communities in a new militant, independent, democratic, worker controlled, revolutionary and socialist labour movement based on democratic mandates, accountability and mass campaigning. We, therefore, will not appeal to re-enter a rightwing, neoliberal capitalist Cosatu. DM

Irvin Jim is the General Secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa

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