South Africa: NUMSA rejects ANC attempts to split COSATU, turn it against socialism

[For more on NUMSA, click HERE. For more on South Africa, click HERE.]

Statement by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA)

October 27, 2014 -- NUMSA, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- When the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was born in 1985, the federation brought together many different trade unions with different organisational, political and administrative cultures and traditions.

From 1981, it took four long hard years to emerge from the unity talks with the establishment of the largest federation in South Africa in December 1985.

The COSATU we formed, over its 29 years of existence, has grown and been united, by the following values:

1. COSATU is an independent, fearless and democratic trade union federation: it confronted the Apartheid regime and survived! COSATU is shaped and had existed premised on the following key and core values;

a. COSATU is a revolutionary socialist federation.

b. COSATU is an anti-imperialist federation: it fights against foreign capitalist domination.

c. COSATU rejects all forms of cultural, male-chauvinist and racist prejudices and discrimination.

d. COSATU is a militant federation.

e. COSATU is a transformative federation.

f. COSATU is a champion of working class democracy.

g. COSATU believes in working class power, and advocates worker control not only of the progressive trade union movement, but of society as well.

h. COSATU believes in the revolutionary power and unity of the working class which is why it champions the formation of one union in one industry and one federation in one country.

2. The crisis in COSATU comes about as a result of the class struggle between those inside and outside COSATU, who would like to dilute and destroy the traditional values of COSATU as set out above, and those who want COSATU to retain all these values, i.e. an independent, militant, revolutionary, socialist oriented, anti-imperialist, worker-controlled and democratic organisation.

The failed National Democratic Revolution and the global crises of capitalism

The negotiated settlement and the post-1994 period have seen the abandonment of the Freedom Charter (FC) and the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and their replacement with the Growth, Employment And Redistribution (GEAR) neoliberal macroeconomic framework.

We have seen, from 1994 onwards, the adoption of right-wing neoliberal capitalist social and economic policies in defence of South African white monopoly capital and imperialism.

Combined, all these have made it impossible to undo our colonial economy and society, which the SACP in 1962 characterised as Colonialism of a Special Type -- a situation in which the coloniser and colonised live side by side, in the same geographical space.

The negotiated settlement and the neoliberal capitalist policies have entrenched the social and economic dominance of white monopoly capital and imperialism, in post-1994 South Africa.

In 2012, in the African National Congress (ANC) conference in Mangaung, despite twenty years of evidence of the disastrous failures of GEAR, the ANC revised and renamed GEAR and adopted it, now as the neoliberal National Development Plan (NDP).

There is no doubt that the world is experiencing the most severe crisis of capitalism.

The so called Washington Consensus has completely been discredited as can be seen in the 2007/8 global financial capitalist crises. Despite this most obvious evidence, however, the South African government led by the ANC continues to follow the same old neoliberal policy prescriptions of the Washington Consensus, with all the disastrous social and economic results this entails.

All economic policies since 1994 have been incapable of defeating South African Colonialism of a Special Type and the effects of Apartheid Capitalism which condemned the South African Black working class to a life of extreme misery and hardship.

Internally in the ANC, doors are closed to any possibility for a radical transition, as undemocratic practices have become the order of the day, whenever radical policies are demanded by the working class.

As for the South African Communist Party (SACP), more especially after 2009, it has effectively abandoned its vanguard role, and lost any claims to be leader of the struggle for socialism in South Africa.

It is this brutal reality which made the National Union of metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) conclude that, post-1994, the deepening levels of poverty, increased levels of unemployment and extreme inequalities -- all of them are clear symptoms of the continuing capitalist colonial nature of our economy and society -- serve as clear evidence that the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) as the most direct route to socialism, is completely off track, and in fact has been abandoned in favour of a capitalist post-apartheid South Africa.

In December 2013, NUMSA decided to hold a Special NUMSA National Congress, and took its historic resolutions among which was the decision not to support the ANC in the 2014 elections.

We decided to break with the alliance and we resolved to form a United Front and explore the possibility for socialism in South Africa. We took all these historic decisions precisely because we realised that the South African working class clearly needed a political organ of their own committed to socialism both in its policies and action.

In December this year, 2014, we are launching the United Front.

To better service our members, to defend and grow our union, we adopted a Service Charter for ourselves.

A. NUMSA SNC Resolutions and COSATU

We wish to dispel the myth that in its Special National Congress NUMSA took resolutions at variance with COSATU policies and resolutions.

On the "Movement for socialism":

In the last six congresses of COSATU, going back to 1997, COSATU has clearly resolved:

To set up a United Front: COSATU called it "a broad popular movement for transformation around common struggles on issues facing the working class"

To explore a Movement For Socialism: COSATU called it "a popular movement towards socialism".

NUMSA is today merely doing what COSATU has desired to do all this time!

On the United Front:

In the 6th Congress COSATU said: "COSATU should initiate a broad popular movement for transformation around common struggles on issues facing the working class..... It should be seen as a home for popular mass formations that currently lack a common agenda and programme". That is clearly a call for the formation of a United Front!

In the 8th Congress COSATU said: "COSATU should initiate talks with a broad range of progressive social movements in an attempt to strengthen the hand of the working class and communities as a whole, provide leadership, and bring them into our fold....Differences in tactical approach should not prevent the Federation from its key mission of uniting the working class, defending it and deepening democracy." Only a moron of a very special type would not recognise the United Front in this position!

In the 9th Congress COSATU said: "The working class must mobilise society and all progressive forces against the current macroeconomic framework...We must bring back the fundamental thrust of the Freedom Charter and the RDP on nationalisation of key and strategic industries". It is impossible to achieve this without some United Front coming into existence!

In the 10th Congress COSATU said: "We are committed to rebuild a broad coalition of social forces united by the common objective to build a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa." There it is: "a coalition of social forces" is a "United Front" by another name!

In the last congress, the 11th Congress in 2012, COSATU said: "We, the workers gathered here today, pledge to embark on a united and radical programme of action to realise workers legitimate demands, and to engage our communities and the broader democratic movement, to support us in these efforts." What more must we say?

What our detractors fear is the mighty power of the united working class united and working together with their communities. We are forging ahead to implement a long standing resolution of COSATU -- to build a United Front of social forces united behind the banner of the Freedom Charter and against neoliberal capitalism!

B. One Industry One Union -- COSATU's "Founding Principle"

We have done our homework on the matter of the founding principle of COSATU of "one industry one union". Our work has revealed that virtually all COSATU affiliates at some factory, industry or sectoral level do organise across industries and therefore stray into other affiliates areas.

Further, we have established the extent of constitutional amendments to COSATU affiliates' constitutions in order for affiliates to extend their scope. More than half of all COSATU affiliates have at one point or another extended their scope. Many have done this several times in their existence.

It is an established fact that several COSATU affiliates have not only expanded their scope and strayed into other COSATU affiliates' factories, industries and sectors, but we know as a matter of record and fact that some have actually extended their scope to allow them to organise along value chains, in the process straying into other COSATU affiliates well recognised and established areas of organizing.

The principle of "one industry one union" is a noble persuasive and aspirational ideal for COSATU, it has never been the basis for either admission into COSATU or cause for dismissal, should a union, once affiliated, flout this principle.

Why then this extreme and negative fixation on NUMSA's extension of scope and resolution to organise along value chains, when this has been going on in COSATU for all of its 29 years? The reason is not difficult to find: the forces of darkness and capitalism who are very terrified of the organised socialist power of the working class are fishing for any possible constitutionally justifiable cause to expel NUMSA from COSATU.

Further, NUMSA has grown to such an extent that it has now become an open threat to the dominance of right-wing leadership of traditionally large unions, who are now in terminal decline because of their leaders' anti-workers, anti-members behaviours and politics. These unions' elite and plainly reactionary leaders are determined to eliminate NUMSA from COSATU, in order for them to continue to use COSATU for their selfish personal and right-wing political purposes.

C. Our Marxist-Leninist understanding of the crisis in COSATU

During NUMSA's 27 years of existence, we have been inspired and unwaveringly determined, in our theoretical and practical work and engagement with COSATU to:

Defend and protect the integrity of constitutional decisions of COSATU.

Defend and advance the revolutionary socialist traditions and trajectory of COSATU.

Prevent the conversion of COSATU into a lame-duck federation, labour desk or toy telephone for anyone.

Defend and protect the revolutionary leadership of COSATU.

Defend the unity of the federation at all times, being mindful that such working class unity is always born and grown out of shared struggles and campaigns of the working class, and not in boardrooms.

Defend the revolutionary basis of the ANC led alliance, the Freedom Charter.

Ultimately, defend COSATU itself from being destroyed!

We must remind the NUMSA membership and the broader South African public that the SACP general secretary at the 13th SACP National Congress preempted NUMSA's dismissal from COSATU when he said;

"There is a small, but lingering, phenomenon in the trade union movement that of wanting to deliberately cause strain and divide the labour movement from the SACP and the ANC. We must intensify ideological work to expose and defeat this phenomenon within the ranks of COSATU and the progressive trade union movement."

Consistent with our Marxist-Leninist theoretical, philosophical, ideological, political and cultural traditions, NUMSA in its December 2013 Special National Congress correctly analysed the history and class causes of the crisis and paralysis in COSATU.

We found the following to be the real causes of the crisis and paralysis of COSATU:

a. The pursuit of capitalism and the failure of the Alliance to pursue consistently a radical National Democratic Revolution (NDR) after 1994 are at the heart of the crisis in COSATU today. In our view, the struggle for freedom, justice and democracy in South Africa cannot be achieved without the popular democratic forces advancing a socialist oriented National Democratic Revolution.

b. It is important to understand the significance of the socialist orientation, traditions and socialist orientated revolutionary culture of COSATU because the crisis in COSATU today is in fact about whether or not COSATU should continue to be a socialist trade union federation or it should simply become a yellow capitalist federation of the workers or a labour desk of the bourgeoisie.

c. It is evidently clear that those within COSATU that have been advocating the idea of a rupture in COSATU are correct. There is an irreconcilable rupture among the leaders of COSATU! In our view, this rupture in COSATU is between forces of capitalism and forces of socialism, among the leaders of COSATU. We make this correct statement confidently because we have seen how in the CEC some now argue why we should not be campaigning against e-tolling, why we must not honour and execute the COSATU resolution and policy of nationalisation of the commanding heights of the South African economy, why we must support the ANC even as we all can see that neoliberalism is alive and well during the Zuma leadership, and ultimately today, some leaders are quite comfortable with GEAR which is now called the NDP.

d. The rupture in COSATU is between those who want to give capitalism a human face through some slow gradualist capitalist reforms and those who believe that we must, in a radical fashion, undo the continuation of capitalism and colonialism of a special type in South Africa and their evil effects which have placed more than half of the population in extreme poverty by demanding the radical and immediate implementation of the Freedom Charter.

e. Inevitably, the rupture in COSATU is between those who want to see a radical and thoroughgoing implementation of the Freedom Charter, thus a rejection of the GEAR that the NDP is, and those who are consciously or unconsciously defending South African capitalism and imperialism by defending the NDP and not openly supporting the implementation of the Freedom Charter, especially its nationalisation demands.

Those who want Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi out of COSATU want a COSATU which will be a "toy telephone", a "labour desk," a pro capitalist COSATU and those who are defending Comrade Vavi want a revolutionary socialist, anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist COSATU.

Clearly, Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi is seen as a threat to the ambitions of the right-wing capitalist forces within and outside the former liberation movement, which see a COSATU under his leadership as obstructing their capitalist ambitions.

Ultimately, from where we stand, our analytical work confirms that the centre of the crisis in COSATU resides in the neoliberal and capitalist trajectory of our post 1994 socioeconomic formation, which has sustained the racist and capitalist colonial character of South African economy and society.

These are not positions arrived at by some idle theoretical and academic work! In NUMSA we have been in the trenches with the rest of the liberation movement, the ANC-led alliance, the SACP, South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) and others, for 27 long and hard years, twenty of those during the ANC neoliberal and capitalist rule of South Africa.

We have suffered millions of job losses as the ANC presided over the dismantling, through its neoliberal and capitalist policies, of the inherited apartheid manufacturing sectors. Privatisation, deregulation, removal of price controls, trade liberalisation, inflation targeting and a cluster of similar neoliberal measures have ensured that the inherited white male dominated manufacturing system of South Africa is dismantled, and in its place, nothing, is established save for massive cheap imports, largely from China and Indonesia. In the process, millions of jobs have been destroyed.

In the meantime, a filthy rich Black and African tiny middle class, now politically represented by Cyril Ramaphosa, has become very vocal and evident, and is now leading the ANC. This parasitic black middle class now believes BEE [Black Economic Empowerment] can and does build a prosperous society! Like all parasitic classes in history, it too has substituted itself for South African "society", post 1994.

D. So far their strategy has failed

So far their strategy has been to attack us with propaganda such as:

They say NUMSA leadership is corrupt

They say we are a business union

They say we are a union dominated by one man -- crazy, ultra-left Irvin Jim

They say that we are busy turning a trade union into a political party, and that we are planning to take workers away from COSATU

This has all been designed to persuade our members to desert us

What has caused their greatest frustration to date is the fact that all this propaganda is simply having no effect.

They believed they could separate us from workers and they have dismally failed.

They embarked on cheap propaganda to say that the problem in NUMSA is not workers, it is the leadership. Remember the SACP open letter which was circulated at the NUMSA Special National Congress

It is true that they hate NUMSA leadership with passion.

E. Whither COSATU?

NUMSA will not hand over COSATU to individuals and groups of individuals who have no interest in defending the principles, values, resolutions, policies and constitution of COSATU. These individuals, in our considered opinion, are in office now illegally, after violating the COSATU Constitution by refusing to hold a Special COSATU National Congress, as properly petitioned for by the requisite number of affiliates of COSATU.

While all this will be happening, the basis of our continuing colonialism in South Africa -- mass poverty, nationwide structural and systemic unemployment and extreme inequalities will continue unabated. The working class, meanwhile, will sink deeper into poverty and despair, in the absence of any revolutionary organisation and leadership of the working class.

The combination of extreme inequalities, widespread unemployment, mass poverty, despair and despondence among the working class may not last long: soon we may enter the era of intensified violent mass protests and generalised leaderless rebellions, as the millions of suffering workers spontaneously violently vent their anger and frustration with life.

The South African working class is crying out for a committed revolutionary socialist orientated trade union and political organ to educate, organise and mobilise them for radical transformation and socialism in South Africa.

NUMSA will let no one, or any groups of individuals, separate it from the 2.2 million members of affiliates of COSATU whom we know very well the majority recognise, appreciate and endorse the principles, values, resolutions, policies, constitution and decisions of NUMSA precisely because all these are also COSATU principles, values, resolutions, policies and decisions.

The only reason why the COSATU national office bearers have blatantly violated the COSATU constitution by not holding a Special COSATU National Congress even when the affiliates of COSATU who have petitioned for the Special Congress have met all the constitutional requirements is precisely because they all know and understand that the majority of members of COSATU affiliates will easily side with NUMSA's principles, values, resolutions, policies, constitution and decisions.

Naturally, as the demand for a Special National Congress includes dealing with COSATU president Sdumo Dlamini leadership collective, Sdumo and his friends (who are now illegally running COSATU) know very well that they would not only be defeated in any National Congress to be held while NUMSA still remains in COSATU, but that the majority of ordinary delegates to such a Congress would easily remove all of them from office.

It is this mortal fear of loss of office that has caused them to violate the COSATU constitution by not holding the Special Congress.

NUMSA will never allow itself to be used to destroy the socialist revolutionary unity and militancy of 2.2 million members of affiliates of COSATU in whom, working together, NUMSA has made an immense contribution to develop, over the past 27 years.

Unless all the members of affiliates of COSATU join us in demanding the holding, immediately and urgently, of the COSATU Special National Congress, Sdumo and his friends, terrified of being humiliatingly booted out of office by the owners of the federation -- the delegates to any COSATU Congress -- are bound to perpetuate the crisis and paralysis of COSATU, in order to illegally keep themselves in office, till COSATU actually finally collapses!

In the meantime the respect, prestige, the popularity and credibility of COSATU among the South African working class and poor rural populations will continue to be eroded, until COSATU itself is completely destroyed and reduced to a rotten cabbage.

F. The ANC Task Team

From February 2013, soon after the historic post Marikana massacre COSATU 11th Congress, a faction of COSATU affiliates leaders imbedded in the ANC/SACP leadership structures have sought to get rid of the general secretary of COSATU and NUMSA from the federation. This faction has consistently used the CEC of COSATU where they can muster a voting majority since the 11th Congress, to effectively put out the general secretary of COSATU, in the process effectively paralysing COSATU too. Today this faction is determined to get rid of NUMSA from COSATU.

We are adamant that our expulsion from COSATU has been a well-coordinated and political attempt by the ANC/SACP faction, to weaken, isolate and destroy NUMSA and its leadership because of our socialist revolutionary character. This faction seeks to undermine our Special National Congress (SNC) resolutions, which resolutions are firmly enshrined in COSATU resolutions and policies.

We reiterate our very correct political analysis that the ANC's Task Team intervention, led by deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, was not only a farce, but an overall flouting of COSATU's constitution and founding principle of being a worker-controlled and democratic union federation of workers.

When the NUMSA National Office Bearers presented the NUMSA National Executive and Central Committee resolutions, with respect to the crises in COSATU, to the ANC Task Team on September 10, 2014, we made the following succinct points about the ANC's mediation role;

1. There is no ANC that can facilitate in COSATU.

It is the neoliberal agenda of the ANC, supported by the Sdumo faction, that is the cause of the problem

It is the ANC's desire for a toy telephone that is the cause of the problem

2. How can the cause of the problem suddenly become the referee, player and the mediator?

3. The problem is that COSATU has existing resolutions which Sdumo doesn't support, and the ANC doesn't support.

The ANC Task Team effectively handed over Vavi to their faction to deal with, and isolated NUMSA and thereby prepared the grounds for its expulsion from the federation. This is all masked by a report which hides the identity of who it is talking about by talking of "many affiliates" and "the majority of affiliates" and "most affiliates" and "some affiliates" and even sometimes "only one affiliate". Always without mentioning any names

After the latest Special CEC and the experience NUMSA was exposed to, the NUMSA NEC now officially distance ourselves from the ANC Task Team and its involvement in COSATU. As NUMSA, we will confront the crisis COSATU is going through using COSATU's constitution and its membership.

NUMSA will not, from now on, blindly escort itself into any slaughter house, which is what COSATU CEC meetings have become for NUMSA today. We will stick, strictly, within the confines of the constitution of COSATU and its resolutions and policies. We will also not hesitate to approach affiliates of COSATU who genuinely want to resolve the crisis in COSATU on behalf of its affiliates and members.

Just like the SACP, the ANC Task Team Report blames the crises in COSATU at the door of the NUMSA "current leadership" when the report says;

"All the other affiliates agree that the Federation must engage NUMSA on its behavior and there are affiliates who said that "NUMSA should go" but in interacting with them it becomes clear that this relates more to the conduct of the current leadership of NUMSA."

G. We think there is a new strategy at play

They hate NUMSA because we take a clear, unequivocal position against their class interests.

This is not just a question of ideology.

It is a question of clear material interests.

Now that their propaganda has failed, their new plan is to dismiss NUMSA. Then they will say to NUMSA members:

You have been dismissed from the federation because of your leaders.

We will welcome you back as our members if you leave those misleaders of NUMSA and join MAWUSA [the pro-ANC Metal and Allied Workers' Union of South Africa].

They are dismissing us from the federation. But they hope that they can persuade workers to believe a different story -- that it is we, the NUMSA leadership, who are taking the members away from their true political home in the ANC and SACP. And they will offer a way back to that home by abandoning those national NUMSA leaders.

To pursue this propaganda, they have raised one other thing which also appears in the ANC report. They say that NUMSA and Vavi are working with the CIA -- the report calls them "international foreign bodies that are anti-ANC".

This is the same strategy they have used for Thuli Madonsela.

This is the same strategy that they used in concocting what was called the "intelligence report' which we got to know about from Cedric Gina, who told us that he was in Sdumo's house when he got showed the "intelligence report".

H. We remind ourselves of the inaugural COSATU political policy

There is much talk of the founding principles of COSATU. But there is very little clarity on what those principles are. The following are the founding principles from the Political Resolution of the founding congress in 1985:

1. This federation and the working class should play a major role in the struggle for a non-racial and democratic society and this federation will not hesitate to take political action to protect and advance the interests of its members and the wider working class.

2. This Congress asserts the economic, political and organisational independence of the federation and all its affiliates and asserts the independent political interests, position, action and leadership of the working class in the wider political struggle.

3. We should do this by taking up political struggles through the membership and structures at local, regional and national level as well as through disciplined alliances with progressive community and political organisations whose interests are compatible with the interests of the workers and whose organisational practices further the interests of the working class.

4. The federation will strive to ensure that its members participate effectively in the progressive organisations and campaigns that conduct democratic struggles against oppression and economic exploitation in the interests of the working class and the democratic society.

5. The federation will make sure that there is full discussion of the demands and aims of workers in the struggle at all levels of the federation.

6. In the interests of building unity the federation shall not affiliate to any political organisation within the democratic struggle in South Africa at the present time.

G. Continued violation of the COSATU constitution

COSATU national office bearers and its faction of affiliate leaders, supported by the ANC and SACP, have committed no less than six violations of the COSATU constitution:

1. They have suspended the general secretary without bringing the report of his investigation to the CEC to decide whether or not to subject him to a disciplinary hearing.

2. They have suspended the general secretary without going through the process set down in the constitution, a decision which has now been overturned by the High Court.

3. They have nakedly refused to call a COSATU Special National Congress, despite receiving the number of requests required by the constitution.

4. They have tried to keep Zingiswa Losi as a president of COSATU when she has resigned at Ford Motor Company SA and therefore, in terms of the constitution, has ceased to be eligible to be a COSATU NOB

G. What happened at the COSATU CEC

At the time of the adoption of the agenda, we put on record that we remain firm and resolute behind our correspondence that that CEC couldn't take any decisions from the ANC report. It can only receive it. We had absolutely no mandate and nor did any of the other affiliates.

This became a big debate as those who are fighting NUMSA registered a different view that this was an adjourned CEC.

We remained very firm that whether or not it was adjourned, as NUMSA we are not witch-doctors.

We could not have known the ANC report, without being given it.

So the meeting can't take decisions because none of us have a mandate, as required by the COSATU constitution.

The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers' Union persuaded NUMSA that we must at least receive the report first. Then later on, once it has been presented, we can revisit the NUMSA position.

We confirmed that we remained constructive and progressive. However, the position that we have presented is the position now and it will be the position even after the ANC report was given.

Being constructive, we were willing to allow the report to be presented, knowing that we would revert back to our position that we have no mandate and therefore no decisions can be taken

Within no time, as there was absolutely no objectivity, there were two motions. The meeting was steam-rolled into voting in an arrogant way by Zingiswa Losi who is allowed to sit in the CEC with no status. She herself resembles an organisational crisis.

Under her biased, caucused leadership they moved a motion that the meeting will take decisions. This was put to a vote and they won with ±34 votes and we lost with ± 23.

In the old days, we could have embarked on a walkout. But in today's dynamic legal environment of laws and procedure, if a meeting quorated and you choose to walk out, maybe, for example, because you find yourself in a meeting of thieves, unfortunately the meeting remains quorate and its decisions are binding on you.

The only option left for us was to put on record that in all decisions that would be taken in that unlawful fiasco of a meeting we will participate under protest. We will oppose all the decisions that the meeting purports to take, on the record. We regard any decision that may be taken as unprocedural and completely unlawful.

H. Our demands

The NUMSA NEC held on October 27, 2014, demand the immediate convening of a COSATU Special National Congress as the only constitutional structure of COSATU capable of taking the federation out of its paralyzing crisis.

We will place before the national office bearers the demand that from now on, no COSATU CEC or any activity must be executed unless it is in furtherance of holding the Special National Congress.

We will demand that it is irrational, against all known rules of justice, for the national office bearers structure to preside on any event, constitutional or otherwise, with the purpose of expelling NUMSA when NUMSA and other unions have successfully petitioned the president of COSATU to hold a Special Congress to resolve the same issues NUMSA is now threatened with suspension or expulsion.

We will, to that end, immediately reinstate the legal challenge to demand that the current national leadership of COSATU devote their efforts to ensuring that a Special National Congress is held, to resolve all the matters now killing COSATU.

COSATU meetings going forward must attend to the calls for a Special National Congress and in that regard must attend to date and logistics for the hosting of the Special Congress in or before the end of 2014.

To achieve our objectives of keeping the 2.2 million members of COSATU affiliates united, militant, socialist revolutionary respecting the time tested principles of worker control and internal democratic order in our unions, NUMSA will spare no effort to advance the resolution of all NUMSA constitutional structures.

"Nothing demonstrates better the increasing rigor of the colonial system: you begin by occupying the country, then you take the land and exploit the former owners at starvation rates. Then with mechanization, this cheap labour is still too expensive. You finish up taking from the native their very right to work. All that is left for the Natives to do in their own land at a time of great prosperity, is to die of starvation." (Jean Paul Sartre, 2001)


By Terry Bell

November 2, 2014 --  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I tender this classic apology on behalf of many of my fellow journalists who have recently misled the public about the situation regarding South Africa’s National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) and the Cosatu federation.

Part of the blame does, however, seem to lie with the confusing utterances by some members of the Cosatu executive. These have too often been taken at face value, without checking their veracity against, especially, the Cosatu constitution.

As a result, contradictions abound and throughout this week, we have had reports in all media noting authoritatively that Numsa was about to be expelled from Cosatu; was about to leave Cosatu; had left Cosatu; was forming a political party.

All of these claims were wrong and nothing any of the Numsa leaders said, justified them. Yet most of the reports this week emanated from a Press conference held by Numsa in Johannesburg on Monday.

It was at this conference that Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim repeated the position taken by the union’s special national congress in December last year: that Numsa had resolved to leave the ANC-led political alliance. The only new information provided on Monday was that Numsa planned to facilitate the launch of a socialist orientated united front by December and that a “socialist conference” would be staged in March next year.

But neither a united front nor a socialist conference do a political party make, much less a “Numsa political party”. Throughout, Numsa has stated that it will remain a trade union; that it hopes to play the role of a “catalyst”. And a catalyst is an element that is necessary to precipitate a change, but remains unchanged itself.

Acting as a political catalyst, leaving the alliance and not supporting the ANC in the May elections also did not mean that Numsa had left, or intended leaving, Cosatu. There is, in fact, no constitutional obligation for Cosatu affiliates to support the ANC or the alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP).

What did confuse issues was the fact that members of the Cosatu executive expressed the intention to expel Numsa from the federation. This was reported as if it was solely within the executive’s power to do so. However, while the constitution gives the Cosatu executive the authority to suspend or expel any affiliate, only a national congress can make such a decision binding.

Since resignation is no option for Numsa, the union is pressing ahead with its demand — backed by eight other affiliates — for a special national congress to be called. It should have been — more than a year ago. The federation’s constitution has clearly been grossly flouted and this may explain why so little attention has been paid to the rules governing the organisation. But they are clear — and binding.

As Jim warned this week: if need be, the union would take the matter to court since the constitution has the effect of a legal contract. But unions — and Numsa is no exception — are reluctant to take legal action since the democratic structures and rules within the labour movement should make this unnecessary.

However, by ignoring their own rules and by indulging in such bitter, internal feuding, the Cosatu unions are failing their members. Federation general secretary Zwelinizima Vavi claims this has resulted in “paralysis”. In turn, this means more disillusionment and demoralisation.

From the point of view of union members, an urgent resolution must be sought. It can only come through a national delegate congress that decides, democratically, the way forward. And that should include not only the question of political affiliation but also the vexed issue of union investment companies and the lack of accountability and transparency within the unions themselves.

Unity should, of course, be a priority, but it should be principled unity — and that should never be confused with blind loyalty.