Irvin Jim's message to the Americans

NUMSA GS says white domination of the economy has been sustained in SA post-1994 and remains as vicious as ever

Speech by Irvin Jim, NUMSA General Secretary to the Institute for Policy Studies, Washington DC, USA, January 2015

"Numsa and Post Apartheid South Africa: the state of the South African Revolution."

PART 1: Origins and what Numsa is today

A. History of Numsa

Numsa was formed in May 1987.

It is today South Africa, and indeed Africa's largest metals and manufacturing union.

It was born from the merger of four different unions. These unions were:

MAWU - Metal and Allied Workers Union

MICWU - Motor Industry Combined Workers Union

NAAWU - National Automobile and Allied Workers Union

UMMAWOSA - United Metal, Mining and Allied Workers of South Africa

Two different COSATU unions also gave their metal members to NUMSA:

GAWU - General and Allied Workers Union

TGWU - Transport and General Workers Union

For many years MICWU organised and represented workers in the motor industry: components manufacturing, body building, servicing, and petrol attendants. It started as a union for coloured workers in 1961 when laws forced unions to be divided along racial lines. Its white sister union was part of TUCSA and so it too became a member.

But in 1984 MICWU left TUCSA because of the latter's racist and reactionary policies. After leaving TUCSA, MICWU joined the IMF (International Metalworkers Federation). At the IMF, MICWU, MAWU and NAAWU became engaged in discussions to prevent the poaching of each other's membership in the component sector. These discussions led to the emergence of the idea of building one metal union.

MAWU was the first union formed in Durban from the General Factory Workers Benefit Fund.

Back then it was illegal for black workers to belong to a registered trade union so workers joined Benefit Funds - a cover for trade unions. Thousands of workers joined the fund after the Durban strikes in 1972 and 1973. MAWU was formed in 1973, and the Transvaal branch in 1975.

MAWU was a founder member of the Trade Union Advisory and Co-ordinating Council (TUACC) formed in 1974 and of the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) formed in 1979.

NAAWU was formed in 1980 from three unions in the motor assembly industry - NUMARWOSA WPMAWUand UAW NUMARWOSA and WPMAWU had been formed in the 1960s. NUMARWOSA had its base in the Eastern Cape around the auto assembly factories e.g. Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen. WPMAWU was a Western Cape union organising Leyland and Chrysler workers (both plants closed in the 1980s). The laws of the time forced them to organise only one "race" - so-called coloureds. Later NUMARWOSA set up its own parallel African Union - UAW - and African membership grew.

NUMARWOSA and WPMAWU were affiliated to TUCSA but the racism and conservatism of TUCSA forced both unions out of TUCSA and to look at building another trade union federation that would unite all workers and be a force for change in South Africa. NUMARWOSA, WPMAWU and UAW were key players in pushing for the birth of the new federation of trade unions - FOSATU.

The new federation formed in 1979, brought these unions together with MAWU and talks of building a giant metalworkers union began. Dissatisfied members of NAAWU broke away in 1980 to form their own union -MACWUSA . Similarly, UMMAWOSA was a breakaway from MAWU, formed in 1983.

These splits were a great setback for metalworkers' unity, but NUMSA brought them back in to strengthen the unity of metalworkers.

B. Fundamental beliefs, values and revolutionary character of Numsa

Our Numsa Constitution confidently and proudly announces to the world, in the Preamble:

"We, the members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, firmly commit ourselves to a united South Africa, free of oppression and economic exploitation.

We believe that this can only be achieved under the leadership of an organised and united working class.

Our experience has taught us that to achieve this goal we must:

a. fight and oppose discrimination in all its forms within the Union, the factories and in society;

b. strive for maximum unity amongst organised metalworkers and organise every unorganised metalworker into our national industrial Union;

c. ensure that all levels of our Union are democratically structured and controlled by the worker members themselves through elected worker committees;

d. encourage democratic worker leadership and organisation in our factories and in all spheres of society;

e. reinforce and encourage progressive international worker-to-worker contact so as to strengthen the worldwide society of metalworkers.

We call on all metalworkers that identify with these principles and aims to join us and the metalworkers we represent, as comrades in the struggle ahead.

We call on all metalworkers to set aside any prejudices they may have and strive for unity under the guiding slogan of the international working class:

"From each according to their ability; to each according to their needs"."

Metalworkers want a South Africa free of oppression and economic exploitation. We know that such a South Africa can only be achieved under the leadership of an organised and united working class.

Logically, such a South Africa is of course a Socialist South Africa!

In all our trade union work, social, economic and political positions and policies, Numsa consistently strives to live by its Constitution.

The values that have guided us and united us, and made us grow the Union over the past 26 hard years, to the point where today Numsa is the largest metal workers union in Africa with more than 338 000 members, are:

1. We oppose discrimination in all its forms, everywhere!

2. We aim and work for maximum unity of the working class.

3. Our Union is democratically structured and controlled by worker members themselves through their elected leaders.

4. Encouraging democratic worker leadership in the workplace and in society.

5. Promoting internationalism through worker to worker contact among other means.

6. Numsa is fighting for a Socialist Republic of South Africa.

7. We are guided by Marxism-Leninism - the ideology and political practice of the liberation of the working class

All our Numsa Shopstewards must know these values. All National Office Bearers of Numsa understand and have a duty to advance these values.

All our members at the point of recruitment are introduced to these values.

In our Special Congress in December last year (2013), we adopted a Numsa Service Charter, which declares the minimum standards of service to all our members, throughout the Union.

Numsa is a democratic, revolutionary, worker controlled union.

In Numsa we are very proud of whom we are, of our members, our shopstewards, our NOBs, our officials and all socialist intellectuals and friends of Numsa! 

Numsa is a big happy family of militant, revolutionary trade unionists, by our African standards!

Numsa is a very democratic union. Every member, young and old, enjoys full and equal democratic rights.

Numsa is a union that believes in democratic centralism - the revolutionary practice and belief that before a decision is reached, every member has an equal democratic right t express their views, without fear, and to be heard.

Once a decision has been taken by a constitutional structure, all members, officials, shopstewards and elected leaders abide by such a decision, no matter what their views were before the decision was taken.

As a worker-controlled and democratic, Marxist-Leninist inspired Union, the National Office Bearers and all elected leaders and officials of the Union have a democratic responsibility to uphold, defend and advance the constitutional decisions of the Union.

When you hear and read about any of our Numsa leaders pronouncements on any matter, especially if it is the Numsa General Secretary, Comrade Irvin Jim, please always remember that he or she is simply advancing what is contained in our Constitution and representing the positions of constitutional structures of Numsa, and not their personal views!

In Numsa, we guard our revolutionary unity very jealously!

C. Numsa policies, services and benefits all numbers members must expect

C.1.NUMSA's Policies

Numsa has many different policies to guide its actions. This is just a summary of some of its main ones. If you want more details see NUMSA Policy on our website at www.numsa.org.za/

Numsa wants workers' lives to improve on the factory floor. That is why it has been pushing hard to:

  • Close the apartheid wage gap. Apartheid built up big wage differences between skilled and unskilled workers. This gap was mostly a gap between white and black workers.
  • Push employers to provide training that will be recognised in other companies if those workers lose their jobs.
  • Reduce the number of grades at workplaces to 5 and make it a skills based grading system. This way anyone that does some training could be rewarded with higher pay because they will be more skilled.
  • For employers to recognize the skills that workers have learnt on the job and pay them for those skills.
  • Make sure that women are given jobs that are traditionally held by men if they are skilled enough to do them. Women must be paid equally for doing the same job as men.
  • Have more control over management's investment plans and strategies. If the company is planning massive retrenchments, Numsa wants to know so that it can help to reduce the effect on members.

Numsa also believes in meaningful affirmative action. It does not want ex-Numsa shop stewards promoted to human resources positions and then they become tokens because they are given no power to transform the workplace.

Numsa wants affirmative action for all workers. Training will skill workers and automatically move them into more skilled positions with higher pay.

Workers need technical training and basic education. Employers must allow them time to do this during working hours.

Numsa demands that there must be no more discrimination against workers whether it is because of their race, their gender or their religion. All workers must be treated the same.

The work places where Numsa members work are dangerous. Numsa tries hard to protect workers from dangerous and unhealthy conditions.

Numsa helps educate members around the big problem of AIDS. It also defend AIDS sufferers from losing any benefits like their pension or provident funds and from being discriminated against at their workplace because of their illness.

C.2 Economic policy

Numsa wants government to focus on improving the lives of the majority of South Africans by providing health care, shelter, transport and access to economic opportunities.

It wants government to intervene more in the economy to help create jobs. It is not happy about government concentrating on meeting certain financial targets like reducing the deficit, if this means that ordinary people will suffer.

Numsa as a big union in the metal industry wants a say in developing industry policies that expand the economy and create jobs.

C.3. Political policy

Numsa is an affiliate of Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) and Cosatu is in alliance with the ANC and the SACP. In its December 2013 Numsa National Special Congress, Numsa has resolved to place before Cosatu its resolution to break the Alliance, as, in our view, the Alliance no longer serves the interests of the working class. Further, Numsa has resolved in its Special Congress not to support the ANC in the coming elections.

Numsa has called, together with nine other affiliates out of the 18 affiliates of Cosatu, for a Special Cosatu National Congress to resolve all the problems which have currently paralyzed Cosatu.

Currently, Numsa is busy working to forge a united front of all workers in South Africa and advancing the cause for a Socialist South Africa.

C.4. Other benefits and services

Other benefits and services all members receive from Numsa include the following:

Free, professional, legal advice right from the day a member joins the union. Our skilled legal team represents members at workplace level, through the bargaining council or the CCMA right up to the Labour Court as the case may be.

We provide our members with access to a bursary scheme for their children to study at a university or technikon for certain specified courses (applications are opened every year between May and August for following academic year).

We provide free membership of a funeral scheme as soon as a member starts paying union subscriptions.

We own a scheme - The Doves scheme - which gives a your spouse and a member's children (under the age of 21) a dignified burial should you die.

As part of Cosatu, Numsa takes up issues that affect its members both in their homes and in their communities like electricity hikes, e-tolls, price increases in food, transport and rent, HIV/AIDS, safety and security at work and in our communities, gender struggles etc, etc, etc!

We regard ourselves as a revolutionary social union that combines both shop-floor struggles and community struggles in pursuit of our objectives, vision and mission to grow the power of the working class in society.

Part 2: Numsa and Post Apartheid South Africa

Numsa and the unions, which came together in may 1987 to form Numsa, played a very important role in the fight against Apartheid capitalism. We mobilized the black and African working class in factories and in their communities to oppose the brutal Apartheid system.

After 1994, together with millions of other South African working class, we expected the ANC government to radically implement the Freedom Charter, which set out the vision for a non-racial, democratic and egalitarian post Apartheid South Africa.

We now know that long before the formal open negotiations for a post Apartheid South Africa begun in the early 90s, some leaders of the ANC had already crafted a post Apartheid neoliberal capitalist South Africa with South African and multinational corporations and the South African white political community. They betrayed the South African revolution. 

Today, more than half of the South African population - 26 million to be exact - lives in extreme poverty. There is massive poverty, acute and widespread unemployment and extreme inequalities in South Africa today.

Most affected of course are Africans especially women and youths. There is anger among millions of black and African South Africans about how South Africa has turned out to be, post 1994. Which is why Numsa has decided not to support the ANC in the coming elections.

A. The Objectives of the South African Revolution

What was the South African revolution all about? What was the global struggle against Apartheid South Africa all about?

1. To end racist colonial/capitalist imperialist occupation and all its social evils.

2. To end national domination of Black and African people by the white population.

3. To end gender oppression.

4. To defeat economic/capitalist/imperialist exploitation

5. To institute in place of all these evils an egalitarian, democratic, non racist, non sexist South Africa.

B. Mission of the Revolution

What was the mission of the South African Revolution? It was to:

1. Weld together into a single nation the South African people

2. Restore human equality

3. Restore citizenship to all people in South Africa (Freedom Charter)

C. The Freedom Charter (1955) and citizenship

What does the South African Freedom Charter say and promise?

1. The People Shall Govern!

2. All National Groups Shall have Equal Rights!

3. The People Shall Share in the Country's Wealth!

4. The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who Work It!

5. All Shall be Equal Before the Law!

6. There Shall be Work and Security!

7. The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened!

8. All Shall Enjoy Equal Human Rights!

9. There Shall be Houses, Security and Comfort!

10. There Shall be Peace and Friendship!

Precisely because the rightwing elites of the ANC gave in to all the key economic and political demands of the white block during the "negotiations", today, 20 years after 1994 the Freedom Charter demands lie in ruins as:

1. The economy of South Africa continues to be white male dominated, and imperialist penetration in mining, finance, construction, energy, chemicals and so on has deepened.

2. Out of roughly 53 million people, 26 million live in extrme poverty, and 25 million of these are Africans, thus confirming the colonial nature of the South African economy and society.

3. As everywhere in the capitalist world, the people enjoy paper political, legal and social rights while the rich live the life of kings and queens. In South Africa today, our jails are full of Black and African males while white males who committee crimes easily secure expensive lawyers and walk free!

4. At birth, an African child is 36 times more likely to be born in a single paraent poor home, compared to a white child.

5. Mass poverty and widespread unemployment are largely balck and African problems, with the white population enjoying less than 6% unemployment rate.

6. Millions of African children are unable to complete primary and secondary school, are unable to enter universities or find employment upon completing their studies, while white people dominate in the education and employment rates.

7. Housing, sanitation, water, education, and so on continue to be poor and very inferior for Balck and African people, while white people enjoy first world services in all these areas.

8. Racism of course, in the post 1994 context in which white domination of the economy has been sustained has remained as vicious as ever, especially in education and other cultural fields.

The answer to the failure to secure a genuine Freedom Charter based post Apartheid South Africa lies in the class contents of our so called "negotiated settlement".

D. The Negotiated Settlement

What do we know now about the "negotiated settlement"?

1. There is now written evidence of "secret negotiations" that lead to the neoliberal capitalist transition.

2. The class content of the negotiations gave birth to a neoliberal South Africa, complete with the corruption it comes with!

3. Instead of the Freedom Charter being the blue print for the transition, we had a neoliberal capitalist transition, which expanded, deepened and entrenched white monopoly domination of the South African economy and society, through our most liberal constitution!

4. We got an extremely liberal constitution, guaranteeing pre and existing property rights, and creating new rights, especially in land - thus entrenching racial capitalism and perpetuating the colonial status of Black people and Africans, post 1994.

5. The ANC secured for its elites Black Economic Empowerment as a means to consolidate a parasitic and comprador Black middle class, in post 1994 South Africa.

E. Post 1994 South Africa

While in law and on paper legal Apartheid has been abolished in South Africa, we find ourselves with the following post Apartheid realities:

1. Our neoliberal coded capitalist transition entrenched racial, social and economic domination of the Black and African population by the white population.

2. As is historically inevitable in any postcolonial capitalist transition, ours has also produced its own kleptomaniac and corrupt tiny but politically very influential Black and African middle class.

3. Dismantling of the popular and revolutionary block.

4. Entrenchment of racial, social and economic hierarchies in citizenship.

5. The inevitable mass and popular unhappiness with the ANC led tripartite alliance, inside South Africa.

F. Numsa and post 1994 South Africa

Over the 27 years of our existence as a union, and over the past 20 years of our post Apartheid transition, we in Numsa:

1. Have confirmed that the ANC led alliance no longer serves its revolutionary purpose.

2. We have now cut our ties from the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

3. We have come to recognize that the SACP has exhausted its revolutionary potential.

4. We have demanded that Cosatu breaks with the ANC led Alliance.

5. We have called for a Cosatu Special Congress to deal with the paralysis and leadership crisis in Cosatu.

6. While we have done, and will continue to do everything in our power to rescue Cosatu, should we fail, we are determined to create a militant, revolutionary, socialist, democratic and worker controlled trade union center in South Africa.

7. We have decided to unite the working class both in their communities and labour formations in order to fight neoliberalism and to advance the radical implementation of the Freedom Charter.

8. We have come to understand that the South African working class - Black, white and African - now need a political organ of their own committed to socialism both in theory and in practice. We are working towards the creation of such a political organisation.

9. All in all, we have refused that mass poverty, deep, systemic and structural poverty and extreme inequalities - all features of our continuing colonial economy and society, should be our permanent fate!

We took resolutions on all these crucial matters in our December 2013 Numsa Special National Congress.

G. The Crisis in Cosatu - a reflection of the class struggles in South Africa and in the ANC led Alliance (ANC/SACP/COSATU)

1. In Numsa we have come to appreciate that post 1994 South Africa is being constructed on a neoliberal capitalist foundation, complete with the corruption and potential disintegration of the liberation movement and its formations.

2. We are not surprised that many former freedom fighters have turned corrupt, there is massive competition for government jobs and government tenders and so on.

3. We see this neoliberal culture now threatening Cosatu - some Cosatu leaders have been elected onto the powerful ANC National Executive Committee and these leaders are now obviously eying powerful government jobs after the may 7 2014 elections. These leaders are leading an assault on the current general secretary of Cosatu and on Numsa; all this is aimed at turning Cosatu into a toy telephone, a toothless dog, of the ANC, just like the SACP has become. 

4. Soon after the Cosatu Congress, these leaders who lost in the elections in Congress to remove Vavi as secretary general of Cosatu, soon launched an attack to remove him, now using an internal structure of Cosatu - the CEC - in which they know they have a majority.

5. They hate comrade Vavi because he is very outspoken on corruption and the deviation from the Freedom Charter of the ANC in government.

6. They have also pushed for Numsa to be expelled from Cosatu for the positions we took in our December 2013 Special National Congress, especially the resolution not to campaign for the ANC in last year's elections.

7. We called for a Special Cosatu National Congress, and the President of Cosatu who is constitutionally obliged to call for it has refused to do so.

8. We have gone to court to force for the Special Congress.

H. Expulsion of Numsa from Cosatu

In the early hours of the 8th of November 2014, Numsa - a founding member and largest affiliate of Cosatu was expelled in a Central Committee of Cosatu, from Cosatu.

I briefly outline below, the supposed reasons, emanating from the NUMSA Special National Congress in December 2013, why NUMSA was expelled from COSATU:

a. NUMSA was accused of having made the decision to call on COSATU to break with the African National Congress Alliance. Our position is that NUMSA is perfectly within its rights, in a properly constituted congress, to take such a decision. There is in fact nothing new about such calls and they have been made in the past too.

b. NUMSA was accused of taking a decision to organize a march to COSATU House to coincide with the 1st CEC of February 2014. Neither the constitution of COSATU nor the South African Republican constitution forbids such marches, when they are lawfully done. In fact, the march never took place!

c. NUMSA was accused of deciding to hold back paying affiliation fees until the COSATRU Special National Congress is held. Numsa never withheld paying its affiliation fees. However, quite a number of affiliates are in arrears and COSATU has not moved to dismiss them.

d. The decision to cease to pay its contribution into the COSATU/SACP levy. It is not a precondition for unions to pay the political levy to join COSATU. Some unions, it can be shown, have never ever paid any such levy at all, others pay as they wish, but NUMSA in the past has been a generous and large contributor!

e. The decision to extend its scope. Many, if not all COSATU affiliates, it can be shown, have either extended their scope or now organize in the same sectors as other affiliates of COSATU. This is a reflection of the existing and ever-changing nature of workplaces both in the public and private sectors. Research has revealed how for example a predominantly nursing union organizes transport workers (drivers of ambulances are not nurses!) or a mining union organizing cooks (these cooks may or may not be working in the mine canteens) and so on.

The South African economy has dramatically changed over the last period. Supply chains have crisscrossed former organizing boundaries, in private and public work places as neo-liberal capital accumulation and privatization has intensified, and combined with our untransformed colonial labour structure has fractured traditional scope areas.

In the private sector, massive changes have taken place in the past 30 years to work places, and unions must adapt to these changes or become irrelevant. What is needed is an honest and frank discussion of these changes, and what they mean for union organizing, and not knee jerk responses based on defending turf.

NUMSA has in fact supplied COSATU with a 59-page response, and demanded specific charges. There was no response from COSATU.

What is the problem in Congress of South African Trade Unions?

Our thesis is that the real bases of the crisis in Cosatu are its complex and contradictory class relationships which it finds itself having to deal with, on a daily basis, in the multiclass and unstructured ANC led Alliance, to which it belongs.

We believe the second basis is the failure of the liberation movement as a whole, to resolve the national, gender, and class questions post 1994, and letting the Black and African capitalists in the liberation movement to win the day. This has led to the strengthening and deepening of the colonial capitalist mode of production in South Africa and its social relations, and thus deepening and worsening unemployment, mass poverty and extreme inequalities.

Thus the struggle in Cosatu is ideologically and politically between those leaders of Cosatu who would like to continue along the post 1994 capitalist path within the ANC led alliance, and those who are for a thoroughgoing National Democratic Revolution which would lead to a socialist South Africa.

To minimise or fudge over these deep seated class contradictions playing themselves out in Cosatu today would be to put blinkers on the eyes of the Black and African working class who are the owners of Cosatu, and to allow Cosatu to continue to pursue interests that are inimical to its own.

Numsa has therefore been expelled from Cosatu for refusing to allow Cosatu to become a tool for the Black and African ANC/SACP elites in government, but rather, we have consistently demanded that Cosatu remain a weapon and shield of the South African working class and poor urban and rural masses.

H. Numsa Political Strategy

1. We want to contribute to uniting the working class through a united front.

2. We are exploring socialist alternatives - we have resolved to initiate a movement towards socialism in South Africa.

3. We will instigate the creation of a socialist workers party.

4. We will fight for a socialist South Africa.

We are ready to learn and share with you, your experiences too. We are convinced that united, the world progressive block cannot be defeated.

I thank you!

Irvin Jim

Numsa General Secretary

USA, January 2015.

Issued by NUMSA, January 11 2015

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