South Africa is witnessing the most significant break to the left of the ANC since the end of apartheid, with immense potential consequences. The expulsion of the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA) from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in November increases the prospects for the birth of a mass working class party campaigning for socialism.
At the NUMSA congress last December, the union of more than 338,000 members voted to refuse to support the ruling African National Congress (ANC), in the May elections. The ANC led the resistance movement under apartheid, but has since turned sharply to the right. They have rolled out neo-liberal policies such as the National Development Plan, and privatised roads and other infrastructure. Most horrifically they were involved in ordering the massacre of striking Marikana mine workers in 2012.
NUMSA has led a fight within COSATU to end the triple alliance of COSATU, the ANC and the South African Communist Party, after their failure to represent the interests of workers. The COSATU leadership refused to call a special national congress to discuss the issues and instead pushed ahead with the expulsion.
Thirty three unions voted for NUMSA’s expulsion, with 24 against, showing NUMSA has considerable support. Eight unions have since held a meeting to discuss the possibility of leaving COSATU and establishing a new federation with NUMSA. NUMSA is also part of building a new political party which they hope to launch in December.
The General Secretary of NUMSA, Irvin Jim, says they, “will not stop mobilising the working class on the road to socialism.” NUMSA plans to hold mass meetings of workers countrywide to discuss what has happened and the way forward for the union movement.
The leadership of COSATU has tried to hold back the workers’ movement. The emergence of a new workers’ party holds the promise of harnessing the power of the black working class that brought down apartheid to the fight to get rid of capitalism as well.
By Vivian Honan