Durban - Metalworkers union Numsa is set to come under increasing pressure next year after deciding not to endorse the ANC in the elections, but will flex its financial muscle to get its way in strife-torn Cosatu.
While the resolutions taken at Numsa’s special congress last week stopped short of cutting ties with Cosatu - a special congress must resolve internal divisions and revive a militant, campaigning and independent labour federation - the seeds have been sown for the possible establishment of a new federation and a political home rooted in socialism and workers’ interests, which the metalworkers say the ruling party has abandoned.
Carefully worded resolutions talk of working with workplace and community structures on socio-economic issues under a “united front” while exploring a movement for socialism. They also speak of a need for Numsa to be “alert to gains that may present possibilities of the new united front, or any other progressive coalition or party committed to socialism, standing for elections in future”.
In the long term, the resolutions could shake up the political landscape in an unprecedented way - possibly as early as the 2019 elections.
In the shorter term, they are part of the politicking in the federation that has unfolded during the year and which is rippling through Cosatu’s alliance partners, the ANC and SACP.
Political and labour commentators agree that Numsa’s decision not to endorse the ANC for elections for the first time since 1994 is devastating.
It means the governing party is losing not only the traditional organisational muscle, but also financial support. It is understood the ANC election coffers could be at least R3.6 million short.
Similarly, Cosatu’s pockets will hurt.
As the labour federation’s largest affiliate, with 338 000 paid-up members, Numsa also decided to withhold the monthly affiliation fees - more than R800 000 - to ensure Cosatu holds a special congress in the first three months of next year.
The question now is whether the resolutions taken at Numsa’s special congress last week - among them to organise workers along value chains, in contravention of Cosatu’s “one union, one industry” principle - and the union’s programme of protests on socio-economic issues will rile Cosatu into expelling the metalworkers.
A call for “decisive action” to be taken against Numsa, described as “turncoats” in the light of its special congress resolutions, has been made by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union, long opposed to the metalworkers in the rift over Cosatu’s suspended and outspoken general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi.
However, Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini said the expulsion of Numsa was not a given.
“Numsa has yet to take its resolutions to Cosatu. As Cosatu we will engage. If they (Numsa) are an affiliate - and they still are - then they abide by the federation’s principles and policies,” Dlamini said.
With the door open to a special meeting of Cosatu’s highest decision-making body bet-ween congresses, the central executive committee, being held next month - before its regular February sitting - Numsa will find itself under greater pressure to toe the line.
Numsa was not ignorant of the impact of its decisions, taken at the end of a year described as having been “difficult” and “odious”.
In a closing address, its president, Andrew Chirwa, described them as “serious resolutions which have far-reaching implications”.
A call made by the SACP, in an open letter to the 1 200 delegates, to “take back” their union from leaders with frustrated ambitions - a reference to Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim - clearly backfired.
Instead, the SACP was ditched as the political home for workers following sharp criticism of its leaders for having taken up posts in a government that is implementing the National Development Plan, the vision to reduce poverty and inequality by 2030, which Numsa has rejected as being “right-wing”.
Numsa displayed remarkable unity at the special congress. It also has the financial muscle to back up its decisions.
The special congress cost R10.5m, paid from members’ subscriptions, according to the union’s deputy general secretary, Karl Cloete, who said R22m had been set aside for the meeting and for attendance at Cosatu’s special congress.
Numsa has member numbers and finances on its side and the probable backing of others, like the Food and Allied Workers Union and municipal workers union Samwu, and, possibly, among the rank and file of unions opposed to its direction.