Numsas general secretary Irvin Jim. File photo: Steve Lawrence
Numsas general secretary Irvin Jim. File photo: Steve Lawrence

The real reason Numsa was expelled

By Mphumzi Maqungo Time of article published Jul 14, 2015

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Cosatu had to get rid of a union with policies that exposed the fact that it was more in line with the federation’s resolutions than the federation itself, writes Mphumzi Maqungo.

Johannesburg - The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) is one of the nine Cosatu-affiliated trade unions which in May 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 it has been grappling with for the past three years.

Yet Numsa is the only union whose 365 000 plus members will not be heard at the congress, which after months of delays, started on Monday and ends on Tuesday.

This is because Cosatu’s central executive committee summarily expelled its biggest affiliate on November 7 last year on trumped-up charges, including organising a march to Cosatu House to coincide with the first central executive committee in February last year, 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 a political purge, but one which 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.

It is the current Cosatu leaders who have deviated from these policies and it therefore had to get rid of a union with policies which exposed the fact that its policies were more in line with the federation’s resolutions than the federation itself.

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.

It was believed this would mean the assent of the leadership of the working class in the National Democratic Revolution (NDR), through a broader coalition of community-based organisations around socio-economic crises affecting the working class. This would be part of building a popular mass movement for socialism.

The SACP has been called upon to unite the progressive left-wing formations committed towards a radical transformation and socialism. This would include convening a conference of the left.

Numsa, however, is urging the establishment of a new United Front that will co-ordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities, in a way similar to what the UDF did in the 1980s. The task of this front will be to fight for the implementation of the Freedom Charter and to be an organisational weapon against neoliberal policies such as the NDP.

Side by side with the establishment of the new United Front would be an exploration of the establishment of a Movement for Socialism, as the working class needs a political organisation committed to a socialist South Africa.

Therefore as a union we must convene a Conference on Socialism – in line with the existing Numsa resolutions.

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 will play a meaningful role in pursuit of the NDR in all battles of the struggle for 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.

It is the working class that must re-direct the NDR towards socialism, and jealously guard it against opportunistic tendencies that are attempting to wrest it from achieving its logical conclusion. We must consistently expose and struggle against the neo-liberal agenda of the state, which has led to the growing 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, however, not an instrument in the hands of these struggling masses, nor does it provide leadership to these struggles.

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, for which it was established, 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, say Numsa, must be active on all fronts and in all struggles against neo-liberal policies, whether these policies are 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 NDP.

It has been captured and taken over by right-wing forces, while 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, Numsa. But it is the expellers, not the expelled, who have deviated from their own national congress policies. It is the expeller which took action to get rid of Cosatu’s most powerful voice, Numsa, which was pointing this out.

But the matter of the founding principle of “One Union, One Industry” can never be used to expel any union from Cosatu. All Cosatu affiliates find themselves unavoidably recruiting members across each other’s sectors. Numsa’s sin has simply been to open up 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 know, trade unions do not organise the bosses and their workplaces. Trade unions, however, have a responsibility to dynamically respond all the time, to the tricks, intrigues and tactics used by bosses in the workplaces – the aim being 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 leadership of Cosatu decided to remove more than 365 000 members of Numsa from its list of affiliates.

That is why Numsa hopes that the rank-and-file delegates to the SNC will vote to readmit its biggest affiliate, reinstate its expelled general secretary 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 shop stewards attending the Cosatu SNC have a duty to fully understand the reasons for the crisis in the federation today, and must act to unite us again.

* Mphumzi Maqungo is Numsa’s national treasurer.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Star

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