NUMSA national treasurer Mphumzi Maqungo's address to the Australian Workers Union, Australia
March 3, 2015 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- I greet you in the name of the National Union of Metalworkers of
South Africa (NUMSA). I am here to give you an update since our general secretary, Irvin Jim, addressed your 2013 conference. I am happy to
report that, despite the shrinking of South Africa's manufacturing
sector, NUMSA has continued to grow.
In 2013 we reported to you a membership of 300,000. Today it stands
at 360,000. We are the biggest union in the history of the African
continent. Despite massive deindustrialisation in our country, during
which hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have been destroyed, NUMSA's membership has grown by nearly 65% over the last six years. NUMSA
is truly a dominant force.
The key development since Comrade Jim's address to you in 2013 was our Special National Congress at the end of 2013.
We called this congress because we realised that the situation in
South Africa had fundamentally changed and that we needed to respond.
The response of the Special National Congress was very clear:
It called for a break with the Alliance
with the governing African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP) -- an alliance we have been part of for
more than 20 years
It resolved to build a working-class
united front to fight for the fundamental restructuring of the South
African economy and society
It resolved to embark on a process to build a socialist movement and form a working-class political party
It agreed to broaden the scope of the
union and to organise along value chains -- a break with the strict model
of one industry one union that is the history of our federation,
the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).I want to explain each of these resolutions briefly to you.
Why did we call for a break with the governing Alliance?
There were three main reasons:
First, the government of the ANC and the SACP is presiding over a neoliberal strategy which is damaging the
South African economy and hurting the working class and the poor. We sit
with an unemployment rate of 35% and the number of unemployed people is
rising. In 2012 the ANC, with the support of the Communist Party,
formally adopted the National Development Plan. This is a final
commitment to a strategy that refuses to restructure our colonial
economy. Our minerals will continue to be exported in their raw state
while our manufacturing industry declines. The result will be profit for
capital and increased poverty, unemployment and inequality for the
working class and the poor.
The plan also calls for de-regulation of the labour market:
making it easier to hire and fire workers;
extending probationary periods;
introducing wage flexibility for new labour market entrants.
The second reason for calling for a break with the Alliance is that
it attacking democratic freedoms. You will have heard of Marikana, a
community next to a Lonmin mine. You will have heard how 34 mineworkers
were massacred by South African police on behalf of private mining
capital. You will also have heard more recently of the chaos in the
South African parliament as a result of the president refusing to answer
legitimate questions about huge expenditure of public money on his
private residence. The equivalent of nearly 30 million Australian dollars spent on making his homestead into a luxurious estate. We see
the clear signs that we are headed for a security state.
And the third reason for our resolution was that there has been a
complete breakdown of democracy within the ANC. The will of the
leadership is imposed regardless of the views of the membership.
In short, those were the reasons for the call to leave the Alliance.
Next let me look at our resolution which called for the building of a United Front
In South Africa today community protests, which often become violent
and are attacked by the police, take place almost every day. 214
community protests were recorded in 2014. They represent the grievances
of South Africa's working class and impoverished people -- a lack of
decent housing, a lack of sanitation, a lack of piped water, a lack of
electricity. They are complaining that they are being left to rot in
apartheid townships while the white ruling class and its black allies
get wealthier. These protests need to come together into a protest
movement across the country. The United Front is a vehicle for that.
We understand that any division of workers' interests between their
lives at work and their lives at home is a completely artificial one.
Those who live in shacks are workers. Those who use buckets instead of
toilets are workers. Those who queue round communal taps are workers.
We are pleased to be able to report that we convened an initial
Peoples Assembly of the United Front at the end of 2014. The United
Front is already active all over the country, supporting and initiating
community protests. The United Front will formally have its national
launch in June.
What about the resolution on building a working-class political party?
There is no political party in South Africa today which represents the interests of the working class and the poor.
The South African Communist Party has claimed to represent those
interests and continues to make that claim. But in reality it has buried
itself inside the ANC. Its general secretary is a minister in the government. Its deputy general secretary is a deputy minister in the
government. It supports the National Development Plan. As a party
representing the working class, it is dead.
We have been researching working-class organisation around the world
with a symposium and a series of study tours. We will have our own
national conference on socialism in the build up to our April Central
Committee meeting where we will decide on the form of working class party to
Finally, I must explain the resolution to broaden the scope of the union
Our congress decided to endorse the principle of organising along
value chains, instead of simply being locked into sectors and
We believe that the real power of workers will increase if we
organise in the whole of the metal value chain, from mining to transport
of raw materials, to production of metals, to manufacturing and
transport of the finished product..
As a result of this resolution, we have struggled successfully with
the Department of Labour to register our new scope which now includes
mining, transport, security, construction, cleaning, industrial
chemicals, renewable energy, information and communication technology,
aviation and related services, and health and canteen services. We are
already recruiting significant numbers in mining and transport.
As a result of these decisions we have been expelled from our federation, Cosatu
The national leadership of COSATU has failed to implement the
militant resolutions of its own 11th Congress. Instead, it has spent the
last 2 years trying to get rid of those forces who want to implement
The result is that the federation has become disarmed and demobilised.
At this moment, eight of Cosatu's 19 affiliates are supporting NUMSAa and
have refused to participate in any COSATU national structures. This
Group of eight has now decided to mount a campaign of rolling mass action in
support of the resolutions of COSATU's 11th Congress. It has challenged
the leadership of COSATU to support this campaign.
So where do we stand today?
NUMSA is facing challenges as we grow in numbers and expand our work:
A new union in the metal industry has been formed by disgruntled
former members and officials. It is being well funded. This is taking
place in a year in which all of Numsa's shop stewards stand down and new
elections are held.
Institutions of the state are less co-operative than they were before, doing their best to obstruct us at every turn.
Our leaders are routinely vilified in the media by ANC, and SACP and COSATU leaders.
But we are growing from strength to strength. We are fighting to be
reinstated in COSATU. But if we don't succeed, we will build a new
federation. Whatever happens, as we move forward into this new terrain
of struggle, we will remain the militant, revolutionary union that we
have always been.
As we say in South Africa, Amandla ... Power. Power to the organised working class!