and Jason Felix
THE National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) launched what it has called its countrywide campaign against neo-liberalism with marches in major cities yesterday. The marches in cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban were against the government’s implementation of the youth wage subsidy.
The marches and the one-day strike mark a significant move in what may be Numsa’s special national congress in December as delegates moved for it to leave the tripartite alliance and withdraw support for the ANC during this year’s general elections. Numsa’s relationship with the SACP has also broken down.
In Cape Town about 3 000 union members wearing red berets toyi-toyied and sang Struggle songs as they marched to Parliament.
The union demanded the implementation of a minimum wage for all workers in the industry, a ban on labour brokers, improved basic services like sanitation and stronger links between educational institutions and the industry.
Numsa provincial chairman Vuyo Lefile said: “Now is the time for action. The unemployment crisis has caused even bigger inequality. After 20 years of democracy we have witnessed the implementation of macro-economic policies, the deregulation of the market and the use of labour brokers.”
Lefile said Numsa wanted the government to focus on decent job creation, education, decent health care, rural development, food security and corruption.
He reaffirmed the union’s support of suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
“Vavi is our leader and forever will be. His leadership was critical of the alliance, its unions and the ANC.
“Under Vavi’s leadership workers were mobilised to practically fight for their rights. We need that leadership again,” Lefile said.
Yesterday’s marches signalled the beginning of new political alliances, as Numsa was joined by newly-formed left-wing parties and some representatives of broader civil society organisations.
At marches across the country were Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters and the Workers and Socialist Party, which emerged in the wake of the 2012 Marikana massacre. Last week the party announced Moses Mayekiso as its presidential candidate for the May 7 general elections.
Mayekiso is a popular Numsa veteran who served as the union’s founding general secretary and was among the first leaders of the SA National Civic Organisation.
In Johannesburg, Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said the ANC’s solutions to unemployment were “rubbish”. “Today we are launching a united front. As metalworkers we will unite issues of service delivery protests and municipal issues with our shop floor issues.”
The union was angry because the National Treasury had bypassed the National Economic Development and Labour Council in piloting the government’s Employment Tax Incentive Act, the state’s youth wage subsidy law, which is opposed by the unions.
The law was an example of workers subsidising the bosses, several leaders said.
Jim dismissed calls from SACP leaders that he be the subject of a lifestyle audit as “stupid, narrow propaganda”. He also hit out at Cosatu deputy president Zingiswa Losi, who recently resigned from Numsa but mysteriously re-emerged as a Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union shop steward, apparently without having been employed as a police or prisons officer.
Meanwhile, in Durban Vavi addressed a 3 000-strong crowd. He said 20 years of democracy under the ANC had given more to white monopoly capital than to the working class.
Vavi said the youth wage subsidy was based on the false premise that the cause of high unemployment in South Africa was due to the high cost of labour and restrictive labour laws which made it hard to fire workers.
“In reality, employers will employ more young workers, line their pockets with the generous subsidy, while retrenching an equal or greater number of older workers and thus create no more jobs overall.”
The next rallying point for Vavi and Numsa will be next week when their legal bid to reinstate him as Cosatu general secretary is heard in the North Gauteng High Court.
They are joined in this call, as well as in the demand for a special national congress, by eight other Cosatu affiliates.