Numsa New Year Statement
The National Office Bearers of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) sends greetings and best wishes for the New Year to its members and their families, and to all the workers, rural poor, unemployed youth and the elderly people of South Africa.
Sadly however we know that thousands of South Africans will have little to celebrate or look forward to, after a year in which appalling levels of poverty and unemployment remain, and inequality has widened still further.
Workers are in a perilous economic and social crisis. Unemployment, at 34% by the more realistic expanded definition, is destroying the hopes of young workers. Thousands more workers face a new jobs-loss bloodbath, as entire industries face possible collapse – mining, steel, the Post Office, SAA, etc.
South Africa has become the most unequal society on earth. While millionaires become billionaires, millions of the poor, black majority of our people go to bed hungry every night. Oxfam has revealed that one in four people currently suffer hunger on a regular basis and more than half of the population live in such precarious circumstances that they are at risk of going hungry, because people simply do not have enough money to buy food.
Almost 9 million workers are unemployed and over 15 million depend on social grants. But thousands of workers too live in poverty. University of Cape Town academics calculate that every day about 5.5-million work in jobs that cannot keep them and their dependents out of poverty. These are the “working poor”.
The underlying reason and responsibility for all these problems is the global capitalist system, in which wealth and power is becoming more and more concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. In South Africa the economy is still owned by the same white elite as in the days of apartheid, and it is getting richer every year.
The imminent creation of the biggest-ever global brewing company, with the merger between SA Miller and In-Bev, has brought home to even non-political beer drinkers the extent of the globalisation of the economy. We have seen more and more key local companies becoming global players, like ABSA being swallowed by Barclays Bank, ArcelorMittalSA (formerly Iscor) becoming Indian-owned and Old Mutual, BHP, Rio Tinto, Glencore, Anglo-American and others all relocating to the London Stock Exchange.
Meanwhile economic growth has slumped to its lowest level for years. Yet more capital is being syphoned out of the country, often into tax havens, where billons of Rands can lie idle in bank accounts, earning high interest. Any that is invested goes anywhere in the world where it will yield the biggest and quickest profit.
Investment decisions are increasingly being taken not by the individual owners of capital but by asset managers who base their decisions on what their computers say will maximise a companies profits with absolutely no thought of the consequences on jobs, communities or the environment.
These developments are replicated throughout the world, especially in developing countries, which have remained over-dependent on the export of raw materials rather than developing their own manufacturing base.
Through rating agencies, capital blackmails governments into not ‘interfering’ with the ‘market economy’ - in reality monopoly capitalism – and sticking to neoliberal, ‘market friendly’ economic policies by threatening to downgrade their economies and convince investors to withdraw their capital from those countries.
The promise of the Freedom Charter that “The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people” is further then ever from becoming a reality.
Exploitation of workers is getting more and more ruthless, through the greater use of outsourcing and labour brokers, the undermining of collective bargaining and attacks on the trade union movement. There is a growing worldwide army of workers who have become vulnerable and marginalised - working long hours in dangerous and unhealthy conditions where unions are banned and with no job security.
But workers are not sitting back and letting the bosses’ offensive roll over them. They are fighting back. Just in the last month of 2015 we saw angry strikes by Pickitup workers in Johannesburg and Parliamentary staff in Cape Town.
And we have been joined by a huge new ally in the form of the students in their massive #feesmustfall campaign, prompted by the outrage at the failure to implement the Freedom Charter’s pledge that The Doors of Learning will be Open to All, and not just to the children of the rich.
Never has there been a greater need for strong, militant trade unions to organise all these workers. But 2015 has been a difficult year for the workers’ movement, beginning just after Numsa was illegally and undemocratically thrown out of Cosatu, a federation which has been stolen by our class enemies and become nothing more than a mouthpiece for the increasingly right-wing pro-capitalist leadership of the government, ANC and SACP.
Besides the actual and threatened job bloodbath in the mining sector, the steel sector in 2015 stood poised to shed thousands of jobs. Numsa did its bit: we embarked on rolling mass action to defend jobs; we pushed for tariffs to protect jobs in the steel sector. We note the positive response from DTI, Economic Department and National Treasury – especially in our fight for tariffs.
There is more to be fought for in 2016, including advancing the demand for localisation, for government procurement policies and practices to be geared towards local content and local products, and to expand the range of goods and services which must be produced locally, and procured by the many government departments and structures.
In 2016, we shall fight and demand that government must move swiftly to nationalise not just the steel industry but the entire steel value chain. Only this way can the government protect genuine local industries and advance the cause for value add local manufacturing and protect jobs.
In 2016, we shall intensify our fight as a union to ensure that neoliberal policies are dumped, as they are responsible for mass unemployment, countrywide poverty and extreme inequalities.
We reject with contempt the rating agencies and their support for neoliberal economic policies which are, in the first place, responsible for our Olympic levels of poverty, unemployment and inequalities, and therefore, directly responsible for the failure post-1994 to develop a national economy that responds to the needs of the majority of South Africans.
In 2016, we shall intensify the struggle against labour brokers. We shall also embark upon rolling mass action to protect workers’ savings in pension and provident funds. We reject the current retirement funds reforms which inevitably relegate workers savings to grant status.
Our 2013 Special National Congress decisions have been fully vindicated:
1. To build and strengthen the union, pass our target of 400 000 members and expand into other sectors of the labour force, which now include:
- Mining, including all related activities;
- Industrial Chemicals;
- Renewable Energy;
- Information and Communication Technologies (ICT);
- Aviation and related Services; and
- Health and Canteen Services;
We are well on track, as workers are queuing up to join us, and are confident that we shall pass our membership target in 2016
2. Now that it is clearly impossible to reclaim Cosatu, we are ready to start the difficult work to build a new, independent, militant, workers-controlled, democratic, anti-imperialist and socialist orientated labour federation.
A Workers’ Summit is being organised for early in 2016, and support is growing rapidly, from existing unions and several new unions led by purged and discontented members of Cosatu unions, to set up the kind of federation which Cosatu was supposed to be but is no longer.
3. To establish a United Front to link struggles in the workplace with those in communities.
The United Front has found resonance within society and is set to be officially launched early in the New Year.
4. To move towards the formation of a Movement for Socialism.
A task team is already hard at work drafting programmes and structures for a new workers’ political party, which will be put to the Numsa Central Committee and the membership as a whole.
The team has been successfully ensured that the union’s socialist outlook is defended and advanced, including in the mainstream media. Much of this work is now on the union’s website and in a special bulletin. This work will continue with an ambitious plan to create an alternative, socialist media hub which will challenge the hegemony of the capitalist controlled media.
There is an overwhelming need for a socialist party, democratically controlled from below by the working class. The ANC leadership has fallen into the hands of the white monopoly capitalist elite, with the adoption of first GEAR and then the National Development Plan, both of which commit them to enforcing orthodox neoliberal economic policies.
They have followed the route dictated by the World Bank, international Monetary Fund and credit rating agencies, who use the Treasury and successive Ministers of Finance to act as their proxies within government.
When President Zuma tried to replace one of these, although for the worst possible reasons – to protect and advance the personal interests of himself and his cronies – the powers-that-be immediately mobilised their forces to make him relent and bring back one of their trusted agents.
This incident brought into the spotlight the need for a party which will break decisively with capitalism, rather than simply try to make it slightly less corrupt and exploitative. Existing opposition parties have failed to make any real impact on the ANC’s power, either because, like the Democratic Alliance, they have even worse pro-capitalist policies, or because they are undemocratic structures with no mass involvement at the base.
The recent setbacks for left-wing reformist parties in Greece and Argentina and the danger of similar developments in Brazil and other South American countries, which tried, with some temporary success, to challenge the worst features of capitalism are now paying the price for leaving the system and the power of the ruling elite in place. They have been able to undermine the reforms and then opportunistically exploit the anger of workers and the middle class at the dire consequences of their counter-revolutionary sabotage.
We must not make the same mistake in South Africa. Numsa’s goal, which is well captured in the union’s Constitution, is to build a mass-based, democratically controlled mass workers’ party which will destroy the whole capitalist system and replace it with a socialist society in which the country’s wealth is owned, controlled and managed democratically by the majority of the people, who, by and large, are the working class!
Statement issued by Irvin Jim, NUMSA General Secretary, 1 January 2015