Major Split in South African Workers Movement

Published: 13 November 2014
Intro by: TSN Editor
Author: Union Alliance in defense of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa

Last weekend, the leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) voted by 33 to 24 to expel one of its largest members, the 350,000 strong National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. The metalworkers were voicing the growing dissatisfaction in South Africa at the pro-business direction of the African National Congress-led government and the increasing poverty and inequality that has resulted. But the undemocratic expulsion of the metalworkers is not going smoothly. Already a defense campaign has been launched by seven other unions in COSATU to challenge the decision. Below is their first press statement, plus NUMSA’s own defense statement (abridged ).

Press Statement of the Seven Unions in Support of the Metalworkers

  • Defend the Congress Of South African Trade Unions
  • Defend the National Union of Metal Workers
  • Hands Off Zwelinzima Vavi!
  • Forward to an Independent, Worker Controlled Federation!

This Press Conference has been called to provide an opportunity for the media, the public at large, and especially trade union members, what this group of Unions have to say about the paralysis undermining our Federation. We hope that this Press Conference will finally refute any suggestion that the Unions gathered here are in anyway subservient to, or under the control or influence of, NUMSA through financial or any other means. NUMSA is one of us, and shares our commitment to rebuilding a democratic and worker controlled COSATU.

Sad and Shameful Period in COSATU?s History
This has been a sad and shameful week for the South African trade union movement and the working class in general. COSATU, once a militant and profoundly democratic trade union federation, which was the envy of workers worldwide, has been reduced to a factional shell of its former self and glory. The expulsion of NUMSA, which represents 350,000 metal workers, by 33 Central Executive Committee delegates, (many of whom had no mandate to do so, if mandates were to be revealed) is an attack on the organised working class.
Throughout this shocking affair, NUMSA comrades have been treated unfairly by the COSATU leadership. They have been denied the most basic rules of fairness and justice, and have had to defend themselves against a series of arbitrary accusations for which no evidence is provided of wrong doing. They have been picked out and victimised when many other Unions have taken similar positions and nothing has happened.

At the COSATU Central Executive Committee last week, NUMSA had prepared a compelling response in advance to the ?charges? that had been levelled against it, and which had been defined by the High Court. On every single accusation that had been levelled against it, NUMSA gave a full and comprehensive response, and pointed out how this was entirely consistent with existing policy, and the practices of other unions. However despite the content of the NUMSA document, it was clear from the outset that a particular cluster of Unions, wanted one thing only, and that was the expulsion of NUMSA from COSATU. Some of the leaders of these unions had stated well in advance that they were not prepared or willing to engage in a debate on these issues, but wanted simply to ?surgically remove? NUMSA from the Federation.

The rush to expel NUMSA despite its plea for reason
As far back as February 2014, a Special Central Executive Committee came to the conclusion that NUMSA must be suspended and/or expelled. The Central Executive Committee called this a preliminary view and requested NUMSA to show cause why it should not be suspended or expelled. We now know that NUMSA provided an initial 59 page statement as to why they should not be suspended or expelled from COSATU. NUMSA registered in the Central Executive Committee of 7th November 2014 that the COSATU National Office Bearer?s never responded to their submissions.

Before turning to the events of 7th November 2014 we must say that the Unions in the Central Executive Committee who were pushing for NUMSAs expulsion moved a motion on the 23rd of October 2014 that NUMSA must be expelled even before NUMSA could be asked to make representations on why it cannot be suspended. These sister unions of ours made a U-turn (after the determination to vote on 2 motions after lunch) and suggested that NUMSA must be afforded an opportunity to explain why it should not be expelled. Therein lays the predetermined decision to expel NUMSA under the stewardship of the COSATU National Office Bearers.

During the Central Executive Committee on 7th November 2014, the NUMSA General Secretary made a comprehensive submission of 48 pages (for close to 3 hours) providing details in respect of 5 charges the COSATU National Office Bearer?s levelled against NUMSA, in addition to providing a more than 100 pages submission in the Central Executive Committee. NUMSA?s presentation isolated and responded to the following charges with compelling arguments:

1. The decision to call on COSATU to break its alliance with the ANC ? here NUMSA pointed out how the South African Society of Bank Officials has a non-aligned political policy and does not contribute to the COSATU/South African Communist Party Political Levy. NUMSA also pointed out that the South African Municipal Workers Union took a similar resolution not to vote for the ANC and yet none of these unions were ever threatened with expulsion;
2. The decision to organise a march to COSATU House to coincide with the first Central Executive Committee in February 2014 ? NUMSA refuted the claim that it organised a march to COSATU House even if its structures mandated their leadership to do so;
3. The decision to hold back on paying affiliation fees to COSATU until the special national congress is held ? NUMSA made the case that is was fully paid up and an affiliate in good standing even if there was a resolution withholding subscriptions;
4. The decision to cease to pay their contribution into the COSATU/South African Communist Party levy ? NUMSA argued that many affiliates were in arrears but that NUMSA nevertheless felt unhappy to contribute to South African Communist Party coffers given the attack on NUMSA by South African Communist Party leaders;
5. The decision to extend NUMSA?s scope of operation ? the NUMSA presentation provided a very detailed record of how almost all affiliates in COSATU had amended their scope which extends in to the scope of other unions.

Having listened to NUMSA, a sincere request was made to the Central Executive Committee that unions be allowed to take back to their structures the very comprehensive and detailed submission of NUMSA for a mandate. It was also requested the COSATU National Office Bearer?s to process the NUMSA submission with their own verification of the 5 issues NUMSA made in their submission.

As is public knowledge now is the fact that a 33/24 vote led to the expulsion of NUMSA. Any reasonable person must ask the following questions;
? Was the process fair and did natural justice find expression in this whole saga? The answer is NO.
? Did the Central Executive Committee make a guilty finding on the five charges? The answer is NO.

From this it is clear that NUMSA has been expelled unfairly.

The NUMSA document was not circulated in advance, and affiliates were deliberately denied an opportunity to discuss it beforehand and secure a democratic mandate from their Unions.

Nevertheless, NUMSA presented their document and provided very firm evidence of how the positions that their December 2013 Congress had taken had their origins in existing COSATU policy for example:

The Failure of the Central Executive Committee
At the Central Executive Committee it was obvious that some affiliates were not interested in a rational engagement on the issues raised by NUMSA. They were not prepared to listen, to take the discussion back to their own members, or indeed, abide by the rules of natural justice as espoused in the COSATU Constitution.

NUMSA were at the Central Executive Committee to be victimised and denigrated not because they have transgressed any of COSATU?s policies, but because they were implementing them! All of the accusations levelled at NUMSA are simply not credible, and it is the duty of all trade unionist to defend them against the trumped up chances, and unsubstantiated accusations that have been levelled against them.

The expulsion of NUMSA will not solve the intractable paralysis that has consumed COSATU since its watershed 11th Congress of 2012 and its revolutionary-compelling resolutions. If anything, it will make it far worse for the working class and the State and Capital will be the winners.

All of the Unions represented at this press conference are not prepared to see NUMSA abused in this way, for they know that they may well find themselves attacked despite the fact that they too have played a meaningful role in building and maintaining COSATU over the years. Now is the time to come to defence of NUMSA and to challenge the unconstitutional and divisive actions of the current leadership. It is time to take off the gloves, and fight for the Federation and save it from those who are wilfully plunging it into this unprecedented crisis.

Defending NUMSA, Defending COSATU
The current leadership, as represented by the majority in the Central Executive Committee, has become paralysed by factionalism, negligent of the needs of members and the interests of the of the working class, and has frantically turned away from the radical worker-biased policies endorsed by successive COSATU Congresses that made it a powerful defender of the working class. Instead, it has turned towards blatant neo-liberalism as enshrined in the National Development Plan (NDP) and other Government policies.

The fate of COSATU is at the heart of the current divisions. What we are witnessing is a battle of ideas, a contestation between revolutionary and reactionary policies and programmes, and a fight for the very soul of COSATU. This is a battle between those who want to see a radical transformation of our economy, and those who have abandoned all hope of radical change in favour of an insipid and increasingly conservative form of class collaboration. This is a contest between those who want to implement the radical policies agreed by successive COSATU Congresses, and those who want to turn the clock backwards, and reduce COSATU to a labour desk.

The Attacks on NUMSA are Politically Motivated
NUMSA has been especially targeted by those with vested interests in maintaining a passive Alliance, in which COSATU is seen as a mere rubber-stamp, despite the fact that government policies have not benefited the working class. A section of unions has been prepared to expel 350,000 metal workers from COSATU by casting a meagre 33 votes.

This irrational and vindictive action has more than anything else laid bare a shameful episode in our history as a labour movement. Those responsible for dividing COSATU at a time when its unity is needed more than ever will one day be called to account, and be forced to explain how and why they engineered divisions in the organised working class for their own narrow factional and political interests.

NUMSA Not Found Guilty But Expelled Anyway!
The Unions represented at this press conference completely reject the charge that NUMSA had contradicted the policies of the Federation. On the contrary, the attacks on NUMSA, and before then on Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi, were made precisely because they were seeking to implement COSATU policies and re-open discussion on others. This has always been a vibrant part of the internal discussion in COSATU. How else can policies be refined, made relevant, and connect with the changing needs of the working class?

What the expulsion shows is that even revisiting existing policy, and seeking to democratically clarify your own stance, is now considered ?treasonable? by the leadership clique of COSATU. So insecure and over-sensitive are the political leaders of the South African Communist Party that any challenge to the orthodoxy they defend is considered dangerous, counter-revolutionary, and in the words of a National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union leader, must be ?surgically removed?.

We believe that NUMSA has been singled out because of the radical decisions that were taken at its democratic congress last December, including the decision not to call for collective support for the ANC, and because it sought to withdraw support from the Alliance. The personal, political and organisational attacks that followed from senior ANC and South African Communist Party leaders were vicious. To say this was uncomradely behaviour is an understatement. The South African Communist Party, which is currently in debt to the Federation for its rent, was financially and organisationally dependent on Unions like NUMSA for decades as was the ANC needing the Federation and its affiliates when elections are called. The fact is that there was a section of the leadership in COSATU who not only allowed these public attacks to go unchallenged, but who were also prepared to carry out the same or similar attacks, to expel NUMSA and to marginalise Comrade Vavi. If evidence was needed to prove how far the COSATU Central Executive Committee has strayed from being an accountable, worker controlled and independent structure of the federation, then this must be it.

COSATU Undermining Its Own Constitution Time and Again
Over the last two years there have been a series of constitutional blunders by this faction of COSATU, which have cost a fortune in legal fees through misguided attempts to defend the indefensible. One classic example was the suspension of General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and the absolute waste of financial resources this involved. Not only did it lead to a massive legal bill paid for by members subscriptions, but also a virtual shutdown of COSATU campaigns, and left the Federation without a credible leader capable of addressing the needs of the working class.

Without credible COSATU leadership, the ANC Government was able to disregard our demands to ban labour brokers, to place moratorium on e-tolls or the youth subsidy, and many other matters. Our objections to legislation to increase state secrecy, or measures to tackle corruption at all levels, including defending the Office of the Public Protector have been largely unheeded. Addressing the disaster of unemployment and inequality through a radical economic programme has failed to materialise. Instead we have a neo-liberal New Development Plan.

This is one reason why the coalition of Nine Unions was established, to fight for a leadership of COSATU that implemented COSATU decisions. What we are witnessing is an attempt to neutralise COSATU, and turn it into a subservient or uncritical formation at best.

The Demand for a Special National Congress
One of the worst examples of unconstitutional behaviour has been the blatant refusal of the President of COSATU to call a Special National Congress, despite a clear responsibility to do so. It is now abundantly clear that the attacks on NUMSA were aimed at undermining the campaign for a Special National Congress, and to try and curtail the clamour of hundreds of thousands of workers who want to see a revitalised COSATU capable of defending their interests.

Instead of responding to the crisis in our society, where millions go to bed on an empty stomach every night, and where hundreds of thousands of young people have no prospects of any type of job, never mind decent work, we now have a factional Federation leadership that sees the enemy within its own ranks. Instead of taking our campaigns to where power and wealth actually reside, to where workers continue to be super-exploited, the current leadership decides instead to split the Federation.

We Will Not Allow Our Federation to be Stolen From the Working Class
We reiterate that there is a deep treble-crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality in our country, yet the faction in COSATU only wants to listen to a ?good story?.

Despite the attacks on NUMSA, and the attacks that are likely to follow on Comrade Zwelinzima and on other Unions, we are not prepared to allow the paralysis to continue. We have resolved to accelerate our campaign to transform and reclaim COSATU through the following measures:

  • With immediate effect we are suspending our participation and cooperation in COSATU board room/palace politics,
  • We are urgently calling our NEC/Central Executive Committees to discuss the crisis in COSATU and to reaffirm our mandates.
  • We are renewing our calls for a Special National Congress, believing it to be the only way of dealing with the degeneration of the federation, and to ensure that COSATU once again becomes the militant, independent and worker controlled federation capable of campaigning for an end to class oppression and a socialist South Africa.
  • To ensure a Special National Congress will take place, we will pursue a mass program in every corner of this country to mobilise workers to demand that it take place without delay, and we will also pursue it in the Courts.
  • We will be supporting our comrades in NUMSA and campaigning for a reversal of their unconstitutional expulsion at the last Central Executive Committee. There can be no COSATU without NUMSA!
  • We will be vigilant and guard against any further victimisations of those prepared to campaign for a progressive agenda, including offering the hand of support to those who are being attacked within their own unions for supporting this program.
  • We refuse to accept that the crisis we are in demands that we behave in a ?business as usual? manner. We intend to seize every opportunity to defend and save COSATU from those wanting to destroy it.

For more details of the programme of action of the Unions signing this Press Statement, please contact the General Secretary of the Union Concerned, or Comrade Katishi Masemola, the General Secretary of the Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU) on 0824672509.

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Here is the actual defense presented by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa to COSATU. It is a thorough refutation of the charges presented against them. Plus a powerful indictment of the anti-working class direction of the ANC government and the betrayal it represents of the South African struggle against apartheid and imperialism. This version is shortened for readability purposes.

NUMSA 20141107 at CosatuCEC defence edited

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