NUMSA's Special Congress: The SACP's appeal to delegates

Party calls on rank-and-file workers to rescue their union from Irvin Jim and his band of reckless adventurers

SACP Open Letter to NUMSA Special Congress delegates



Comrade Delegates,

A huge responsibility rests upon your shoulders in the coming days. It has taken many decades of collective sacrifice to build a powerful, independent and militant trade union movement in our country. Over the decades there have been advances and defeats and more advances. Today that workers' movement is best represented in your federation, the 2 million strong COSATU.

In the midst of an ongoing global capitalist crisis, in the midst of an unceasing offensive against the international working class, in the midst of a complicated and often frustrating democratic transition in SA, COSATU faces many challenges. But whatever the challenges and difficulties, whatever the tactical differences within the federation, the unity of COSATU, based on worker control and a principled programme, must be defended at all costs.

As workers you know how hard it is to build and sustain union organisation in the face of the daily onslaught of the capitalist bosses. It is hard to build, and yet so easy to destroy unity from within if we become factionalist, manipulative, intolerant of fellow workers - if we allow democratic worker control to be hijacked.

The SACP, from its long history and experience of trade union organisation, and also taking into account the current challenges facing the working class and the national democratic revolution, a divided COSATU will only benefit the bosses!

Trade union unity is not about the suppression of non-antagonistic differences within the working class. Throughout its history, NUMSA has been home to many shades of radical thinking. This has often been a strength of your union, not a weakness. The SACP is proud of the many outstanding communists who have been leaders and rank-and-file militants in NUMSA. But we also respect and acknowledge the co-existence of many others socialist comrades within your ranks. A vibrant and militant NUMSA in which there are contending socialist perspectives is not the primary challenge your union is facing today. Together, as communists and non-communists, let us not allow your union NUMSA to be hi-jacked, to become a pawn in a dangerous leadership gamble that has nothing to do with the interests of the working class - and everything to do with the personal ambitions of a few.

Frustrated personal ambitions

The resignation letter from former NUMSA president, cde Cedric Gina has lifted a veil. It has confirmed what many of us have long known. In the interests of comradely engagement as the SACP we have held back, but with the unity and even survival of COSATU now in danger, we can no longer remain silent:

It is now public knowledge that, in the run-up to the ANC's 2012 Mangaung National Conference, Irvin Jim tried to lobby President Zuma for cde Zwelinzima Vavi to be installed as ANC deputy president. Jim has not denied this engagement. His claim that the Vavi proposal was not his at this meeting has been half-hearted and unconvincing. If these were not his proposals, Jim has not told us and the NUMSA members whose proposals were they? And what mandate did they derive from? Jim's personal ambitions and original game-plan are now plain for all to see.

He hoped for cde Vavi to be positioned to become Deputy State President in 2014, while Jim would take over the general secretary's position in COSATU. The failure of this un-mandated, behind-the-scenes manoeuvre and Jim's thwarted personal ambitions are what lie behind his current reckless behaviour and posture.


While he was trying to install cde Vavi into the number two position in government, the very same Jim has been leading a strident attack on the SACP leadership's participation in government. The SACP has patiently endured these attacks. At first, we said publicly that, while we disagreed, we accepted in good faith the intentions of those raising the matter of deployment of SACP leaders. We gave those raising the matter the benefit of the doubt, hoping (or pretending) they were genuinely concerned about the strength of the Party and not trying to score factional points. We explained that in 2008 there had been a debate within the Party itself about the advantages and disadvantages for the Party in deploying senior leaders. There were different views in the Party. But, in the end, a collective Central Committee and Special National Congress decision was taken to endorse the deployment of senior Party comrades into government to contest this key site of power. The general performance of our comrades in government since then has, we believe, more than vindicated the correctness of the CC decision.

Who is dividing COSATU?

Having failed to install himself as COSATU general secretary, and the prospect of such now seemingly remote, Jim is now determined to split the federation and lead a break-away. He accuses the SACP, the ANC and everyone else of dividing COSATU. But since the beginning of this year, it is Jim who has openly proclaimed a "rupture" in COSATU. He talks about "two camps" in COSATU, about two "trenches". This is factionalist war talk, not the posture of someone concerned to defend the principled unity of the Federation through conducting a robust but constructive debate.

In particular, Jim has sought to manipulate the disciplinary processes involving cde Zwelinzima Vavi, riding on the coat-tails of a working class leader who, whatever his faults, and whatever the outcomes of the various internal COSATU processes under-way, has earned a legitimate popularity within COSATU and beyond.

Instead of working to ensure that COSATU's internal disciplinary and mediation processes are above reproach, and that they help to build unity and draw lessons for the Federation, Jim has gone out of his way to factionalise COSATU on a simple "for-or-against Vavi" platform. He has even taken the absolutely unprecedented step, in the name of "NUMSA", he has taken COSATU to court.

An opportunism that stoops to the lowest level

In seeking to portray himself as the leading champion defender of cde Vavi, Jim's opportunism knows no bounds. When the unfortunate episode of cde Vavi's involvement at work with a subordinate whom he had personally appointed became public, Jim (in the name of "NUMSA") treated us to a garbled reference to the Communist Manifesto- "for us the working class, in a capitalist society, all law, morality, religion are so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which hides in ambush just as many bourgeois interests ...in a capitalist society, our relationship to our wives and children have no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations!" (This quotation is taken from the NUMSA 11th August Position Paper entitled "Analysis of the Crisis in COSATU".)

This disgraceful piece of opportunism (printed in your name, NUMSA comrades) seeks to displace the real issue in question. What is at stake in the matter of the relationship between cde Vavi and the COSATU employee is not whether they infringed bourgeois family morals, but a very real working class issue - was a female subordinate the victim of patriarchal abuse by a manager? Was the relationship used to misappropriate COSATU resources? Since this matter is the subject of an internal COSATU disciplinary process, we have no interest in pronouncing on it as the SACP.

However, we do note that once the matter became public, cde Vavi had the decency to apologise, if not to his former subordinate, at least to his wife and family and indeed to COSATU and the working class. Irvin Jim has singularly failed to follow cde Vavi's lead in this regard.

Jim's "NUMSA" versus the real COSATU on the NDP

Jim is a sectarian bully who seeks to drive wedges wherever possible. Anyone who does not agree with his factional positions 100 percent is presented as the "enemy" if not "a sell-out". For instance, Jim constantly seeks to portray the positions of the SACP on the National Development Plan as a "sell-out". He contrasts our positions with the "NUMSA/COSATU" position on the NDP.

In point of fact, the SACP and COSATU (the real COSATU, not Jim's portrayal of it) have adopted almost identical positions on the NDP. This is not accidental. There has been close engagement and mutual influencing between our two formations on the NDP. The joint SACP-COSATU stance on the NDP had an important impact on the end August/ early September Alliance Summit resolutions. It is not the SACP that is out of step with COSATU on the NDP, but Jim's "NUMSA" leadership clique.

It was not COSATU that boycotted the Alliance Summit. All major COSATU affiliates were present and active in the summit - with the exception of NUMSA, under the sectarian boycotting influence of Jim and his clique.

An opportunism that is prepared to sacrifice workers' interests in the pursuit of personal ambition

With his ambitions frustrated, with the royal road to the general secretary position in COSATU not opening up for him, Jim has become ever more reckless. He is prepared to risk workers' jobs in his headlong quest for personal publicity.

The SACP unambiguously supported the demands of metal-workers in the recent auto and components sector strikes. However, it is an open secret that while the demands of the workers were absolutely legitimate, something gravely went wrong with the strike. Instead of a militant, short but sharp and massive demonstration of worker strength across the sectors based on proletarian solidarity and unity in action, the strike was fragmented. Sectors that form part of a single auto industry were brought out on strike at different times.

The strike in one sector impacted negatively on workers in another sector which was not on strike within the same industry through short-time, lay-offs, loss of wages, and therefore defenseless suffering for workers without any intervention to mitigate the effects of wage loss. In practice, the strike dragged on but was staggered for 8 weeks between the auto assembly and the components sectors, with potential long-term implications for jobs.

The bombastic pseudo-Marxist Jim likes to proclaim that there is an irreconcilable class war between capitalists and workers. We do not disagree. But in the midst of the auto sector strike what did this proletarian warrior have to say? He complained to the commercial media that the Retail Motor Industry bosses were no longer treating him as a friend. "Speaking at a briefing on Friday, Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim said employers were no longer treating the union as an ‘insider' but rather an adversary. This called into question the hard-fought right of collective bargaining, he said." ("Numsa threat to motor sector collective bargaining", Business Day, 30 September 2013). It is not collective bargaining that is called into question, but Jim's own self-proclaimed credentials as a class- struggle warrior. Having clumsily led the strike for his own personal political ambitions, Jim also came running to the much maligned SACP leadership in government asking for assistance to end the strike.

Jim and the EFF - flirting with a fascist right-wing

The bourgeois media like to present Julius Malema and his EFF as militant "left-wingers". Nothing could be further from the truth. While amongst the rank-and-file membership of EFF there might be genuine if misguided youth, Malema and his side-kick Floyd Shivambu are lumpen-capitalists. Malema and his side-kick have ripped-off public resources. They have eaten their former organisation the ANCYL into bankruptcy. "Commander-in-chief" Malema amassed a fortune in ill-gotten wealth, a farm, mansions, and much more - without ever having done a day's work. Their call for the "nationalisation" of the mines is little more than an ill-disguised attempt to rip off more resources for personal accumulation. With their swaggering para-militarism, their ill-discipline and cult of personality, these are not left-wingers, but a dangerous right-wing fascism.

They have been expelled by the ANC. They have been disowned by cde Vavi. Almost alone from within our movement, Irvin Jim refuses to distance himself from this dangerous right-wing tendency (On 20 October at Queenstown, Cosatu Local, about Jim said the ANC was draconian, thus he not only undermines the ANC's independent right to exercise discipline but he identified himself with those expelled by the ANC and who ultimately formed EFF). Why? That is a question that delegates must pose to Jim at the NUMSA special congress. The answer, we suggest, is that these right-wing rabble-rousers are part of the storm-troopers that Jim hopes to deploy to advance his own personal agenda.

Towards the socialist transformation of worker funds

Monopoly capital has manoeuvred very smartly in post-1994 SA. Monopoly capital has built a powerful class hegemony in key sites of economic power. A major strategy has been to seize class control over the multi-billion rands in worker retirement funds, among a variety of other worker funds. At best this has involved capitalist financial firms deciding on profit-maximising investment strategies for these funds regardless of developmental, job-creating objectives. They receive massive management and consultancy fees for this. But often this parasitic activity has gone much further. There has been widespread pension stripping, and complicated restructuring deals in which fund surpluses are illegally transferred to other businesses putting them out of sight of the pension fund's registrar and democratic worker control. These manoeuvres have often been facilitated through BEE intermediaries and through the corrupting of some union officials.

The SACP does not know if this has happened with NUMSA and its investment arm. But there are many rumours floating about. It is for this reason that the SACP CC recently called on Irvin Jim and Karl Cloete, in their own interests, to subject themselves to lifestyle audits. Let us clear the air. Worker leadership and members need to be clarified on NUMSA's investment arm and its relationship to its holdings in Dove (the funerals, insurance and finance company). What is the relationship between NUMSA's Doves Absa account, the Eriotrax FNB account and Brevity Trade 12? Have the membership of NUMSA, or at the very least, the broader leadership collective, even heard of these entities? What is Jim's explanation for personally allotting Preference Shares from Brevity Trade to Eriotrax in December 2010? What was the purpose of so doing?

Comrade Cedric Gina, in his resignation letter as NUMSA president, referred to a NUMSA Absa account and his differences with Jim in this regard? What exactly was cde Gina referring to? Can Jim assure NUMSA members that funds earned through Dove and other NUMSA Investment arm activities are not being diverted into a web of personal accounts, businesses and war-chests? What is the role of Khandani Msibi, Mahlubi Mazwi, Mphumzi Maqunqo, and Azwell Banda and their private businesses?

These are some of the questions that, we believe, the rank-and-file membership of NUMSA must pose to the leadership. They must do so in the name of worker democracy and in the name of taking back control of their union and their own funds.

We hope that there are credible answers to these and many other questions. We are not necessarily making any allegations - but, at the very least, NUMSA members and worker leaders deserve clear answers. The NUMSA special congress should call for an independent audit.

We call on NUMSA and COSATU to lead a campaign for an end to the privatisation of worker retirement funds, as a starting point. We call on the federation to spearhead a campaign to socialise the billions and billions of rands in these funds. Let these funds be used to invest in sustainable development, in housing for the working class, in decent public transport, in the job-creating manufacturing sector. It is a scandal that worker funds continue to be part of the capitalist productive investment strike in our country.

Forward to a radical second phase of the democratic transition!

The SACP agrees with COSATU and many in the ANC that all is not well after nearly 20-years of democracy. Serious policy errors were made, particularly with the 1996 GEAR package. The 1994 democratic breakthrough had presented a favourable situation in which to advance immediately with a radical reconstruction and development programme. Our ANC-led alliance had secured an overwhelming electoral victory. Monopoly capital in SA was off-balance, having lost its decades-long white-minority semi- colonial state. The time to press ahead with a radical second phase of the democratic transition should have been immediately in the mid-1990s. Precious time and opportunities have been lost.

Yes, important redistributive gains have been advanced since 1994- social grants, RDP houses, water and sanitation connections, free schools, progressive labour legislation, and much more. But the main beneficiaries of our 1994 democratic breakthrough have been the big monopoly corporations, and their narrow BEE partners. Inequality has widened and the dominant capitalist system in SA continues to reproduce crisis levels of unemployment.

So what should we do? Some argue that we should break the alliance and form a new "independent workers' party". There would be nothing "new" about such a party. It would, at most, be the temporary coming together of a host of squabbling, pre-existing factions, groupings, ambitious personalities, frustrated entryists, and even business unionists. Like other break-aways from the liberation movement, like the PAC, or UDM, or COPE, it would quickly fragment, disappointing starry-eyed followers, with a few leading personalities clinging on to and squabbling over the remnants of power.

The problem with such a break-away is not the threat that it poses in its own right - but rather the fact that it could lead many genuine working class militants into the wilderness. It would draw socialist energies away from contesting for the heart-and-soul of our liberation movement, our national democratic revolution, and democratic state. In practice, it is advancing a strategy of abandoning these key sites of struggle to monopoly capital. Above all, it would seriously divide COSATU. And we again repeat: The only beneficiaries of a divided COSATU will only be the bosses, not the workers!

It is time for NUMSA rank-and-file workers to rescue their union from reckless adventurers spurred on by their own personal ambitions. It is time for the workers' movement in general to take back their unions from the tenderpreneurs and parasites who are leeching off worker funds, from those unelected intellectuals from outside of COSATU and from outside of our movement, who are paid to write divisive speeches and policy documents supposedly in NUMSA's name.

It is for all of these reasons that the SACP calls upon you, NUMSA Special Congress Delegates:



This letter first appeared in Bua Kominisi! Information Bulletin of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party, issued December 16 2013

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