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Why union linked workers' party could make huge impact at polls

Published May 2, 2019


Johannesburg - Workers in South Africa have many burning issues that include the pressing need for better pay, cheaper transport, adequate benefits such as pension and medical aid, flexi-time and a whole variety of creature comforts that are absent in many workplaces. 

Imagine deciding one's vote based on the need for toilet paper - as in the case of cash-strapped arms manufacturer Denel whose workers were last summer told to bring their own tissues to work. 

Deciding where to place the "X" on the ballot with 48 parties on May 8 based purely on the belief the chosen party will make sure the voter gets a lovely cuppa at work might sound far fetched - but the reality is that it is now possible.

For the first time since democracy in 1994 despondent workers whose only recourse to be heard in the past was through rowdy strike action now have an alternative - the Socialist Revolutionary Worker's Party - led by one Irvin Jim.

Yes, the same Jim who leads the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the union that was expelled from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in November 2014 for refusing to back the African National Congress (ANC) in the general elections - a move that breached the federation's rules. 

The federation’s membership sharply dropped from 1,923,436 in 2015 to 1,605,973, a 16.5% decline, a Cosatu organisational report revealed in 2018. Cosatu, the SA Communist Party and the ANC are in a tripartite alliance - a pact that has delivered significant numbers of votes from workers in the past.

Vavi, who had a falling out with his union colleagues over several issues including alleged infidelity and financial misconduct, was kicked out of Cosatu a few months after Numsa was expelled. 

Undeterred, the dynamic duo of Jim and Vavi hatched a plan. They would form their own union federation that was not beholden to the ruling elites.

In April 2017 Vavi launched the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu). It now represents 30 unions collectively with just more than half a million members.

Seemingly buoyed by Vavi's success, Numsa the biggest metalworkers trade union formed in 1987 which has about 360,000 members, decided to launch its own party to look after the interests of workers.

Commenting on the November launch, last year, Numsa’s spokesperson and member of the SRWP’s interim committee, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, said: “The SRWP is a revolutionary party which will drive a Socialist programme for the formation of a Socialist South Africa. 

"Our formation is a result of the historic decision taken by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) special national congress in 2013 to establish the formation of a workers party to champion an agenda for the working class, a social grouping of people who are employed for wages, especially in manual or industrial work. 

"We are a Marxist-Leninist political party fighting to overthrow the brutal capitalist system.”

Surprisingly, Jim's mate from long back, Zvelinzima Vavi famed for his verbosity and Marxist rhetoric while he was Cosatu general secretary says Saftu does not support the new workers' party.

Speaking at a Workers' Day rally in Durban on Wednesday, Saftu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said the trade union federation does not support the new SRWP because the federation has not had a chance to discuss the issue yet.

Statistics indicate that about 30 percent of South Africa's workers belong to unions. It remains to be seen if the country's struggling workers will throw their lot in with Jim.  


13 Different political parties are represented in Parliament. In the last elections in 2014  the ruling African National Congress (ANC) retained its majority, although it was reduced to 249 (62%) seats, down from 264 seats out of 400 (66%), while the Democratic Alliance (DA) increased its lead of the opposition, taking 89 (22.23%) seats, up from 67 seats (16.75%) in the National Assembly of the 25th parliament. 

SA 5th democratic Parliament has 400 Seats:

ANC - 249 seats 

DA - 89

EFF - 25

IFP - 10

National Freedom Party - 6

UDM - 4 seats

Freedom Front Plus - 4 seats

Congress of the People - 3 seats

African Christian Democratic Party - 3 seats

African Independent Congress - 3 seats

Agang SA - 2 seats

PAC - 1 seat

African People's Convention - 1 seat

African News Agency (ANA)

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