‘South African CP avoids the most fundamental questions facing workers,’ says NUMSA

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A South African woman living in the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town where there is no running water or electricity
A South African woman living in the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town where there is no running water or electricity

PART TWO

THE National Union of Metalworkers South Africa’s (NUMSA) response to an attack by Jeremy Cronin of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) is concluded today.

It was written by Karl Cloete, NUMSA’s Deputy General Secretary and reflects the growing struggle for a revolutionary socialist movement there:

Comrade Cronin obviously ‘realises he cannot possibly accuse NUMSA of the old form of ‘workerism’, so he claims to have suddenly discovered that ‘there were always two different “workerist” tendencies in the 1980s, especially within NUMSA itself.

‘The one was stridently anti-capitalist, advancing a platform of a war of class against class. The other was more firmly rooted in centrist, social democratic corporatist traditions.’ And he then asks: ‘Which of these characterises the Jim project when it dons workerist clothing?’

Once again we see, as well as the pernicious personalisation of the issue, Comrade Cronin’s ideological bankruptcy, revealed by his admission that he has no answer to his own supposedly insightful question, when he writes: ‘The answer is sometimes the one, sometimes the other, and neither consistently!’

His ‘answer’ also shows that he has made no attempt to even read the declaration or resolutions of NUMSA’s special national congress, which would have proved that NUMSA is in fact squarely in the camp of the anti-capitalist revolutionaries.

It also shows perhaps that he is all too aware that those in COSATU who are ‘firmly rooted in centrist, social democratic corporatist traditions’ are the very opportunists that his own SACP is in bed with.

‘COSATU,’ says the Special Congress declaration, ‘must at all times advance a revolutionary agenda.’

This declaration contains none of the ‘rhetoric’ or ‘posturing’ that Comrade Cronin keeps alleging. It is a clear Marxist call for socialism and workers’ democracy, in line with NUMSA’s founding principles.

We are proud to plead guilty to Comrade Cronin’s criticism that NUMSA ‘brands itself as the true upholders of the SACP’s revolutionary legacy, in contrast to the supposed positions of the present-day SACP leadership’.

Comrade Jeremy then tries to discover a non-existent division within NUMSA – between a ‘relatively principled ultra-left within NUMSA, which has always opposed the ANC-SACP alliance’ and ‘a progressive trade union whose prime focus was to recruit and school the maximum number of workers in the metal and related sectors, regardless of the individual workers’ political affiliations’.

This contest of different left tendencies within the union, he assures us, ‘was not a problem (in fact, it was often a strength within NUMSA)’. But, he warns, ‘the Jim clique’s attempt to transform NUMSA into a “vanguard” formation will lead (and already is leading) to the fragmentation rather than unity not just of COSATU, but NUMSA itself’.

So what he is in effect saying is that provided NUMSA confines itself to polite political debates with ‘the Trotskyist ultra-left in NUMSA’, that is fine. But once you start to actually implement radical policies, as the Special Congress agreed to do, then disaster and fragmentation is inevitable.

Comrade Cronin then turns to what he scandalously calls ‘the clique’s decision’ that ‘NUMSA should organise along so-called “value chains”, rather than within an industrial sector’.

‘There may (or may not) be merit in this approach,’ he concedes, but ‘for the moment, it stands in blatant contradiction with the most important founding principle of COSATU – “one industry, one union”.’

That sounds fine, from somebody ensconced in Parliament, but in the real world of work, it has become harder and harder to divide workplaces into neat ‘industries’. To give just two examples:

(1) Eskom has built refineries on top of coal mines, so the underground workers are clearly in the mining industry, but those over ground are in the energy industry.

(2) Car ferry drivers are involved in transport, but since their cargos are exclusively cars, they are part of the motor industry.

The reality is that virtually no union has a clear ring-fenced group of workers, the biggest challenge facing all unions is not how to avoid recruiting workers who are outside their scope, but to reach the thousands who are not members of any union at all.

If other unions are not recruiting these workers, then NUMSA’s view is that it is better for us to recruit them than to leave them unorganised. Comrade Cronin then turns the coalition of nine COSATU unions who voluntarily came together to defend the then-suspended General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, and submit a demand for a Special National Congress.

He distorts this into ‘the Jim project cobbling together the leaderships of eight other unions in a factional bloc within COSATU on a “save Vavi” cult of the personality ticket’.

So now he is making the preposterous allegation that not only NUMSA’s 350,000 members but the entire membership of no fewer than eight other unions can be manipulated by one man to support his personal ‘Jim project’.

He does not even stop to consider the clear evidence that these workers actually agree with the demands, as demonstrated time and again across the country at workers’ meetings. In the Eastern Cape, this has spread to members of the other ten affiliates, and a clear majority of COSATU in the province now support these demands.

Further evidence that Comrade Jim has not been masterminding the process, as Comrade Cronin himself admits, is that most of the other eight unions, after discussion amongst their members, ‘do not support Comrade Jim’s anti-ANC, anti-SACP views’ – hardly the outcome which a ‘mastermind’ would tolerate!

While NUMSA would like to be able to convince them to back all our policies, we absolutely respect other unions’ members’ democratic right to disagree with them, while campaigning together on the issues where there is agreement, particularly the centrality of COSATU’s Constitution which had been so wilfully violated by the COSATU National Office Bearers and their clique.

An old ANN7 clip hears the 2nd Deputy President of COSATU saying ‘the suspension was constitutional’ only to hear the South Gauteng High Court declaring that ‘the suspension of the COSATU General Secretary was unconstitutional’ and hence order his reinstatement.

Comrade Jeremy goes on to lament that, ‘Moreover, they (the other eight unions) are deeply concerned about Jim’s adventurist brinkmanship, fearing rightly that if not checked it will lead to the implosion of COSATU with a ripple effect on every single union.’

This is asserted without even a single quote from any members of any of these unions to back this statement up! He has just made it up. Reality is again turned on its head when he accuses ‘the Jim project’ of failing to practise what it preaches on anti-corruption, by ‘seeking by every trick in the book to prevent Cde Zwelinzima Vavi from having to answer to serious charges within the federation’.

Is Comrade Cronin completely unaware that the COSATU General Secretary has consistently demanded the opportunity, as is his right, to answer these ‘serious charges’? While grudgingly conceding that NUMSA ‘correctly castigates corruption that is inherent in a capitalist dominated society’ he accuses us, yet again with zero evidence to support it, of ‘secretly flirting with the EFF, led by the most corrupt representatives of tenderpreneuring and capitalist compradorism’.

The reality is that both COSATU and NUMSA have taken an uncompromising stand against corruption, have had no dealings whatsoever with the EFF and have called for life-style audits for all leading figures in government, business and unions, including our own leaders and that of the SACP, COSATU and the ANC.

So how on earth can Comrade Cronin argue that ‘We have heard absolutely nothing except deafening silence on this score from the Jim clique’? ‘The Jim clique,’ he drones on, ‘portrays the current ANC-led state as nothing but the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, yet the same clique doesn’t hesitate to take its own federation COSATU to court, placing decisions of internal COSATU organisational procedures in the hands of the (arguably) more conservative wing of this supposed “bourgeois dictatorship” – the judiciary.’

Of course NUMSA would prefer to resolve all such matters within internal structures, but surely it has to be free to use the courts when a blatantly illegal decision is taken by one of those structures, as indeed the court ruled the Vavi suspension to be.

Comrade Jeremy then reverts to his role of ANC and government spin doctor, when he argues that the clique tells us that for 20 years the ANC-led government has done ‘nothing for the workers and the poor’, and yet NUMSA is the industrial union that has benefited most from government programmes.

NUMSA does not need Comrade Cronin to give us lectures on the progress that we have made in many areas since 1994, which is on record, but will not therefore ignore the many other areas where unemployment, poverty and above all inequality have actually got worse under the watch of ANC governments, notably in the years of GEAR.

Turning to the terrible Marikana massacre, he accuses ‘the Jim clique’ of ‘jumping opportunistically onto the band-wagon, but with entirely ignoble sectarian intentions’.

He charges that ‘in the name of the NUMSA CC they condemned the “savage, cowardly actions and excessive force used by the police, which invariably (‘inevitably’?) led to the deaths of 44 workers …”.’

He concedes that ‘as the proceedings at the Farlam commission underline, the police, and particularly their command structures, have a great deal to answer for, and not just in regard to Marikana’.

But rather than concede that he and NUMSA agree on at least something, he accuses the NUMSA statement on the Marikana death-toll of ‘deliberately (my emphasis) obscuring the fact that the first 10 of the 44 deaths at Marikana in the tragic week of mid-August 2012 were not at the hands of the police, but included two policemen, two security guards protecting the National Union of Mineworkers’ offices, and six NUM members’.

The truth is that NUMSA has never ‘obscured’ that fact, nor the later murders of NUM members, which we totally condemn. But, unlike Comrade Cronin and the NUM leadership, we will never try to use these other deaths to excuse the police’s criminal and reprehensible role in the 34 murders on 16 August 2012.

Comrade Cronin goes on to quote ‘another classical piece of Jim gymnastics’ from a NUMSA CC statement, that on the one hand the Marikana tragedy was ‘proof that the police were simply an instrument of bourgeois rule’ and ‘will do anything to defend the property rights and profits of this class, including slaughtering the working class’ … and then, a few sentences later, pleaded that these ‘organs of class rule, particularly the police, should not be used recklessly and violently to intervene in industrial disputes involving workers and bosses’.

Is this revolutionary Marxist-Leninist disputing the classic view of the state, as an apparatus for enforcing the dictatorship of capital, as expressed by Engels and Lenin?

Presumably not – which can only mean that while he agrees with that definition, but believes it is therefore inconsistent for NUMSA to condemn particular ‘reckless or violent’ acts, because they are just the police going about ‘their inevitable slaughtering work’.

It is equally ridiculous to argue that because we accept the Marxist definition of the state, we cannot at the same time call for the ‘strengthening of the state sector in mining in particular …’, in ways that are beneficial to the workers.

It is not NUMSA but Comrade Jeremy who is being totally inconsistent. It always used to be the SACP’s position to ‘call for the mines to be taken over by a state that operates in the interests of mining capitalists’, whilst still calling for reforms to be implemented by that same state. So why is that wrong now that NUMSA is saying exactly the same thing?

To turn his own words against himself: ‘There is only one word for all of these ideological contortions, this virtuoso display of political gymnastics – that word is: opportunism’.’