NUMSA’s international tour to investigate forming a workers’ party

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NUMSA deputy general secretary KARL CLOETE addressing his members at a rally outside the Glencore mining corporation offices
NUMSA deputy general secretary KARL CLOETE addressing his members at a rally outside the Glencore mining corporation offices

THE National Union of Metalworkers of SA (NUMSA) has kicked off its year with study tours overseas to investigate the feasibility of forming a workers’ party as part of a campaign to explain its political programme to potential allies across the world.

The first of these was NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim’s visit to the US as a guest of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the first of its study tours is to Kerala and Delhi in India in the next three weeks.

Details of the union’s study tour to African countries are to be finalised soon, followed by a third study tour to Greece.

In December, NUMSA’s United Front elected its first National Working Committee (NWC) which held its first meeting last weekend and has been tasked with preparing for the national launch of the Front, scheduled for April 25th to 27th.

The weekend’s meeting was expected to consider what decisions to take and what must be processed between now and the April launch, NUMSA deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said.

These included what resources are needed to kick things off, what teams to set up to do campaigns and fund-raising, and consolidation of the resolutions taken at last month’s assembly.

Jim’s US trip included an event hosted by the Institute for Policy Studies, Washington’s first progressive multi-issue think tank, a speaking event to activists and leftist thinkers in New York, and an interview with labour and world of work focused radio show, ‘Building Bridges: Your Community & Labour Report’.

NUMSA’s ambitious programme, as resolved by its watershed special national congress of December 2013, has largely been funded by the union itself thus far.

This included its International Left Symposium held in August last year, which brought together leftist activists and trade unionists from across the world, although Cloete said some funding had indeed been raised for that event.

‘Largely it was NUMSA that funded all of the work, but we can’t anymore – it is going large-scale, going big, so therefore one of the key tasks of the United Front’s NWC will be exploring funding avenues,’ he said.

‘I know of no funds that are coming in from whatever quarter, but I cannot deny (the need for) a serious fundraising drive if we are to make this thing work.’

NUMSA has three separate pillars which its members have tasked it with completing: the establishment of the United Front, exploration of a Movement for Socialism – which could include the establishment of a Workers’ Party, and reclaiming COSATU or, if all else fails, creating an independent labour federation.

‘Reclaiming COSATU, the three separate pillars (and) the exploration of an independent labour federation, it is work that is very specific to the crisis in COSATU and whether in terms of NUMSA’s own resolution if all else fails whether we explore a new independent federation,’ Cloete says.

‘(It) is separate work to the United Front and separate to the Movement for Socialism. They are three independent pillars but there is no Chinese wall.’

Meanwhile, bosses at the the Northam Zondereinde platinum mine in Limpopo have threatened workers on an unprotected strike that they would be dismissed if they did not return to work on Friday.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) called the strike at the start of the Tuesday night shift to highlight several grievances, including a demand that Northam CEO Paul Dunne and a number of the company’s managers be fired.

The union, which represents about 80% of Zondereinde’s workers, said Dunne and the managers were guilty of ‘divisive’ labour practices.

Northam reported on Thursday that 40% of the normal day-shift complement of the 4,600-strong workforce at the Limpopo mine returned to work after a second and final ultimatum was issued on Wednesday afternoon.

The situation around the mine was tense, with a few incidents of threatening behaviour reported, but no acts of violence.

NUM members held a mass meeting on Thursday at which they resolved that the situation would remain ‘unchanged’. They apparently would not be responding to the ultimatum and would continue to seek talks with management.

A Northam spokeswoman said the company would talk to the NUM about its issues only once all workers had returned.

The NUM’s dominance at Zondereinde is under threat from its fierce rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which is recruiting its members.

Therefore, the NUM’s hard stance on the strike can be seen as a flexing of muscles in highly contested terrain. Financial commentators have said that the underlying cause of the wildcat strike by NUM members may be inter-union rivalry.

According to strikers at the mine, they downed tools because of ‘unfair hiring practices’. However, the strike also coincides with the granting of recognition status to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union that already dominates workforces on the major platinum producers.

Amcu was ruled to have passed the 15% of membership demanded for recognition. There are now reports that Amcu members, who did not join the strike, have been chased from mine accommodation.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa has also confirmed that he has sent a letter to President Jacob Zuma regarding events at the mine.

Although he refused to divulge the contents of the letter, it is understood that it relates to claims of intimidation by NUM, in violation of a ‘peace accord’ signed by that union with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Talks were still under way on Friday afternoon among mine officials and union members.

l The Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) has issued a press statement saying it ‘notes with disgust, the suggestions and proposals; made by some representatives of Big Business and Capital, such as Barclays Bank, and by some political parties, such as the Democratic Alliance (DA); for our government to consider embarking on privatisation of state-owned enterprises, at the back of ESKOM’s electricity delivery challenges as a justification’.

The statement continues: ‘We wish to reject such suggestions and proposals with contempt they deserve and regard those as nothing but blackmailing programme to the government to privatise those critical assets to the highest or even lowest bidder from the ranks of private sector.

‘We call on our government to employ a professionally based yet development-mandate programme to get ESKOM and, certainly several more of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs), back into shape for a continued role as an enabler and catalyst for economic development and delivery of basic needs to the people.

‘Therefore, FAWU will not accept any attempt, even an inch of such a move, to privatise those SOEs and doing so will be regarded as a sell-out policy offensive against the clarion call of a radical phase of the transition and to the agenda of a radical socio-economic transformation in eradicating poverty, substantially reducing inequalities and creating full employment with decent jobs.

‘If anything, FAWU will mobilise for a, or be part of any, rolling mass action that is likely to unfold from the working class formations and communities.

‘The R86 billion could easily be achieved through a re-introduction of a progressive taxation system and the increased taxes to the rich than through sale of shares in companies owned by the state.

‘We hope our government will ignore such calls and, instead, embark on fiscal expansionism by raising taxes for the rich individuals and to the corporates so as to mobilise resources needed to support SOEs, to roll-out both social and economic infrastructure and to deliver basic services to and/or meet basic needs of the people.’