‘There is a need to mobilise the South African workers’ says NUMSA Congress! COSATU must withdraw from Alliance

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Kylelitsha Township – South African working class living in poverty. Nothing has changed since Apartheid was ended says NUMSA
Kylelitsha Township – South African working class living in poverty. Nothing has changed since Apartheid was ended says NUMSA

NATIONAL Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) President Andrew Chirwa has said his union sees no reason to continue supporting the ruling African National Congress (ANC) which has done little to move away from the economy inherited after apartheid.

Addressing the NUMSA Congress in the week before Christmas, the union’s newly-elected leader says various issues have not been addressed and half the population still lives in poverty.

The NUMSA Congress called for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma and for trade union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to withdraw from the tripartite alliance with the ANC and South African Communist Party (SACP).

Chirwa said there are too many outstanding issues with the current government, including e-tolls, the youth wage subsidy which was recently implemented in the Employment Incentive Act, and the National Development Plan, ‘which is nothing other than an attack on workers’ rights’.

The union also said last week that the more than R200 million upgrades to Zuma’s Nkandla home were unacceptable.

Stating that nothing has changed since apartheid, Chirwa said: ‘Wealth continues to be dominated by a very low percentage of our population, which is 12 per cent, and the majority of our people are outside the economic system.’

Chirwa said NUMSA now has little in common with Cosatu and that not enough is done to address race, class and gender questions.

He said they will consult Cosatu, but workers must be mobilised.

‘We need to develop a programme; we have, in actual fact, developed a programme,’ he said, adding that there’s a growing need in South Africa to mobilise workers.

At the congress last week, General Secretary Irvin Jim said all hopes of reclaiming the tripartite alliance had faded, and further options needed to be explored.

Jim said a united front, similar to the United Democratic Front (UDF) of the 1980s, would be formed and headed by NUMSA.

He said it would be aimed at engaging with the theory of socialism and putting it into practice.

The union announced it would withhold its R800,000 monthly affiliation fees to Cosatu.

Jim also said the Zuma administration wrongly pursued neo-liberal economics and was ‘characterised by scandals, nepotism and patronage’.

Chirwa was elected to the presidency of the party during the special congress.

The 33-year-old was previously the first vice president of the union and is now filling the role abandoned around a month ago by Cedric Gina.

Gina said his resignation came because he felt he was being undermined by certain members of the union’s management.

After more than 20 years filling various roles in the union, Gina said NUMSA appeared to be wavering from its original path.

He hinted at his dissatisfaction with Jim’s push to withdraw support from the ruling party and said he didn’t believe the decision was being properly discussed with NUMSA members.

But Chirwa’s stance on these matters appears to be in line with Jim’s, and he is supportive of Cosatu’s suspended Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi who NUMSA is fighting to have reinstated.

NUMSA’s withdrawal of funding to the Cosatu political fund will not affect the South African Communist Party (SACP), the SACP claimed on Sunday.

‘The SACP has not received funding from the political fund for the past three years,’ claimed spokesperson Alex Mashilo.

‘The decision by NUMSA’s leaders to withdraw contribution to the political fund will therefore have no impact over the SACP,’ he said.

NUMSA resolved at its special national congress in Boksburg, on the East Rand, last Friday, to withdraw its contribution to the political fund.

It also said it would not endorse or support the African National Congress or any other political party in the 2014 general election.

Mashilo said the fund had not been set up only for the SACP, but also the ANC, the National Labour and Economic Development Institute (Naledi), the Congress of SA Students and the SA Students’ Congress.

He said the SACP’s focus was to continue to work with Cosatu, to defend it, and to build its strength and unity.

‘We are interested in a strong, independent and militant Cosatu that is part of the revolutionary alliance, but neither the conveyor belt of the party (ANC) nor any of its allied partners,’ Mashilo said.

‘Matters of funding are a subject of bilateral engagements with our ally Cosatu.’

The SACP is part of an alliance with the ANC and Cosatu.

NUMSA, which is affiliated to Cosatu, has called on Cosatu to break away from the alliance.

The SACP occupies the third floor of Cosatu’s headquarters in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Mashilo said this was a long-standing arrangement between Cosatu and the SACP.

NUMSA said it will no longer back the ruling African National Congress, starting with elections next year. The move could prove a big blow to President Jacob Zuma.

South Africa’s largest trade union last Friday said it would cease its political support for the ruling African National Congress, ending an affiliation dating back to the Apartheid era.

‘NUMSA as an organisation will neither endorse nor support the ANC or any other political party in 2014,’ said Irvin Jim.

Jim also advocated the resignation of President Jacob Zuma.

NUMSA’s move breaks up the ANC’s ‘Tripartite’ alliance, which has helped it secure victory in all elections since Mandela’s victory in 1994.

NUMSA, with around 330,000 members, has been increasingly at odds with the government in recent months, accusing the ANC of neglecting workers, and demanding further investigations into the police killing of 34 miners at the Marikana platinum mine last year.

‘The congress called on President Jacob Zuma to resign with immediate effect because of his administration’s pursuit of neo-liberal policies . . . steeped in corruption, patronage and nepotism,’ Jim said last Friday. ‘The time for looking for an alternative has arrived.’

Zuma has come under fire in recent weeks over the state-funded the R206-million ($21-million, 15.4-million-euro) security revamp to his private residence.

Newly elected NUMSA President Chirwa asked metalworkers to consider calling on President Zuma to resign.

‘Should we not ask our own President Jacob Zuma, who benefited from this saga, to resign in the interest of the poor?’ he asked delegates.

‘Must we not ask that he resigns to preserve the legacy of Nelson Mandela?’

Referring to the R206-million upgrade to Zuma’s private homestead at Nkandla, he called it a gross abuse and theft of public money.

NUMSA accused the tripartite alliance of being toothless, appearing only when it was election time and being incapable of ending poverty and inequality.

‘There is no amount of unity that can change the plight (of the poor).’

Chirwa said Cosatu had been hit by a train and paralysed. ‘It’s as if it’s been hit by a truck, a big truck, no, a train, a train is bigger,’ he said.

NUMSA could not fight for Cosatu, which was like a house which had been abandoned, and only the sign ‘beware of the dog’ remained, Chirwa said.

‘That’s not the Cosatu we are prepared to fight for,’ he added.