NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

Numsa General Secretary Presentation to Unifor

12 March 2014, Posted in Speeches

I greet you in the name of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa – Numsa.  We are the biggest union in the history of the African continent. Despite massive deindustrialisation in our country, during which hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have been destroyed, Numsa’s membership has grown by 55% over the last 4 years. In 2009 we had 219,000 members. By the end of January this year, that had gone up to 341,150. During this period of huge potential for working class struggle in South Africa, Numsa is truly a dominant force. 

Before I go on to tell you what has been happening in South Africa, I want to acknowledge the historical relationship between Numsa and Unifor

Numsa continues to value the relationship between NUMSA and Unifor. We are indebted to you. We know that Unifor has a bright future. I want to spend a minute or two tracing the relationship between our two unions. When our relationship started, of course, we were Numsa and CAW. I want to acknowledge in particular the contributions of Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch, academics who worked with the union at the time.

I was among those in 1995 who worked with CAW to write education material. It was material which presented a critique of globalisation. You must remember that at the time globalisation was being presented to us in South Africa as a panacea:

  • Our economy was just being “welcomed back” into the global economy after the apartheid era.
  • We had some of the big artillery of the neo-liberal agenda inside the union, before they were won over to government and became ministers.
  • We were suffering from the eupohoria of the 1994 democratic breakthrough.  

It was CAW who cautioned us very firmly against the agenda of neo-liberalism. Watch out for this globalisation, they told us. It is nothing but a continuation of imperialism. The bosses are using the new ideology of saying that government has no business in business. So CAW bolstered us so that were cautious. That was a huge contribution to our working class ideological consistency, and it can be traced back to the CAW’s contribution.

It was CAW who warned us to watch out for corporatist practices which would lead to demobilisation of the masses and the working class. Soon enough we had a new Labour Relations Act. It gave us rights but it also constrained us – no longer were we able to strike when a worker was dismissed. Instead there was a process.  A new tripartite structure was put in place, called Nedlac. It isa consultative forum of government, business and labour.

It was CAW who helped us to start to understand the new management techniques of lean production that were being adopted internationally.  We learned to analyse its agenda to co-opt shop stewards, calling them ‘stakeholders’ and ‘social partners’.

In Numsa, CAW will always be held in high esteem. When everybody else was giving in to globalisation, CAW demonstrated that it believed in workers. CAW supported us when we rejected the bosses who said There Is No Alternative. We understood that there must be an alternative and that we can produce our own working class solutions.

We can confirm with Unifor now that the Washing ton Consensus has failed.  We were right then. We are right now. Neo-liberal policies are bankrupt.

We must continue to debate as 2 unions and to maintain a consistent political posture and challenge the continuation of neo-liberal policies.

We want to share with Unifor how we see the challenge for the working class today:

  • After 20 years, the champions of the neo-liberal agenda – its ideological priests – are still trying to flog dead horse policies – right-wing neo-liberal policies.
  • From where Numsa stands, we need to take a very serious, working class ideological debate with Unifor. Central to that debate is that now is the time for the working class to organise itself as a class for itself.
  • We can no longer think that we can give capitalism a human face. We should appreciate that capitalism has no solutions for the problems that confront humanity. It advances only greed.
  • Therefore the immediate struggle is to beef up our capacity and have a coordinated global response to challenge the power of capital, the power of multi-nationals. They champion mergers and acquisitions, with the sole purpose of establishing their dominance as monopolies and cartels, taking over complete value chains.
  • But worst of all is their consistent success in imposing hegemony over nation states.
  • Numsa has taken a view that right now we must go back to basics to revive the capacity of Unifor to challenge restructuring of the workplace and advance our own alternatives from a working class perspective.
  • As Numsa we firmly maintain, from a solid left position, that trade unions cannot keep out of politics, because the dominant class in society reproduces itself in the state, and the state is an organ of oppression.
  • So we have taken a resolution. In order to achieve our objectives we want to relieve the working class of the trapping s of bourgeois politics. All that bourgeois politics does is to put forward policies that worsen the terms of our enslavement.
  • We know that all this cannot be done in one country. Capitalism is international. Even though we are a union, we realise that we must be a catalyst for the working class as a whole. So we have to build a working class party that will no longer tail behind the bourgeoisie but will mobilise the working class in all sites of power, stretching and exposing the limits of the bourgeois state.
  • The future is nothing else but socialism. That is why we campaign for the people of the country and the continent.

Having said all this, and over and above it, our immediate task is to build a very vibrant mass and massive trade union movement. As a union we have been consistent with this path against the backdrop of the crisis of capitalism. And we are the only union that is growing massively. Therefore we think that the way the labour movement in our 2 countries will grow is to build trade unions that understand working people and working class communities as a window through which to see the distant future

While I am talking about the relationship between our unions, I want to pick up on one specific project. Last time we were here there was an initiative that retired CAW people will help us to produce strategic material on restructuring. That project in particular should now make progress.

I also want to raise another possibility. We have a clear objective to modernise our use of ICT. We want to develop our collective knowledge systems and improve our internal communication. We need to break new ground around technology and we see a role for you in helping us to do that.

Now I want to turn to developments in South Africa

Many of you will have heard that, in the last 3 months, Numsa has led a major restructuring of the South African political landscape:

  • We have called for a break with the Alliance with the ANC and SACP – an alliance we have been part of for many decades
  • We have rejected any further electoral support of any sort for the ANC – a party we have supported in every election since 1994
  • We have called for the building of a working class united front to fight for the fundamental restructuring of the South African economy and society, as envisaged in the Freedom Charter
  • We have embarked on a process to build a socialist movement and form a working class political party
  • We have resolved to broaden the scope of the union and organise along value chains – a break with the strict model of one industry one union that is the history of our federation, Cosatu.  

What I want to do today is to give you an overview of the developments in South Africa which have led us to take the decisions we have taken:

  • I will sketch the history of the government’s neo-liberal strategy.
  • I will describe the devastating consequences of that strategy. 
  • I will demonstrate how these policies have prevented the African National Congress, our ruling party, from even reaching its own goals.
  • I will explain the crisis within our own federation, Cosatu, and update you on the latest situation.
  • I will then tell you why we called our Special National Congress in December last year, only 18 months after our 9th National Congress of 2012, and how we prepared the democratic process of that Congress.
  • Finally, I will return to our decisions and what they mean, both for us as the South African working class, and also for the struggle of the global working class. 

Firstly let’s look at the neo-liberal policies of the ANC government

The South African government has consistently pursued a neo-liberal macro-economic strategic direction. It started with the government’s adoption, in 1996, of a strategy called GEAR – Growth, Employment and Redistribution. GEAR has had other names since then but it has always remained fundamentally the same. Broadly it has been a strategy to open up South Africa to rapid imperialist penetration. It has allowed South African monopoly capitalism to evade expropriation and to avoid taking any responsibility for the colonial system. 

I can give you some examples. You will be familiar with many of the policies:

  • GEAR liberalized trade, allowing the dumping of production from China and elsewhere. This was part of a broader deindustrialisation process – it caused massive destruction of jobs across the economy. Nearly 300,000 jobs lost in the manufacturing sector.
  • It removed exchange controls, allowing money that should have been invested in productive industry in South Africa to leave the country.
  • It championed the privatisation of the state and the rise of what we, in South Africa, call tenderpreneurs. These are the entrepreneurs who have the right contacts in the state. The system works at National, Provincial and Municipal level. The tenderpreneurs win the tenders. They have got wealthy. The working class and the poor, on the other hand, have suffered.
  • It rejected export tax on our minerals or the banning of scrap metalexports. One result of this was that we lost seven foundries which were closed. Many jobs have been lost.
  • It supports a Reserve Bank which continues to target inflation instead of jobs. 

And yet, whilst the ANC government was pursuing these neo-liberal policies, it already had a fundamental policy document – the Freedom Charter. And its policies were direct violations of that charter.  

The Freedom Charter contains the founding principles of the Congress Alliance, led by the ANC. Let’s look at some of the key provisions of the Freedom Charter:

  • The freedom Charter says that “the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industries shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole.” But the mineral wealth continues to belong to mining capital. So do the banks and monopoly industries. The only thing that has changed is that mining and finance capital is now more global and less South African.
  • The Freedom Charter requires a national minimum wage. The purpose of this was to overturn the apartheid colonial wage structure of cheap black labour. Yet the ANC government has allowed apartheid colonial wages to continue. Apartheid was built on an accumulation path based on the super exploitation of black and African labour. That accumulation path has not fundamentally changed.
  • The Freedom Charter called for the banning of contract labour. But the ANC government has chosen not to ban labour brokering, known here as precarious work. Instead it would rather regulate the labour brokers. 

Despite the provisions of the Freedom Charter, at the end of 2012 the ANC adopted its National Development Plan – the NDP. This is the Plan that now forms the umbrella for all government policy until 2030. I just want to give you a couple of examples of its flavour:

  • It leaves intact existing patterns of ownership and control of the economy; far from disturbing them it asserts how important it is that there is certainty about property rights.
  • It calls for the role of the state to shrink and the role of private capital to expand; it seeks to expand so-called private-public partnerships
  • It blames organised labour for causing unemployment; it says that we are refusing to allow them to drive down the price of labour far enough to create jobs. At the same time it refuses, of course, to control exorbitant executive pay that sees an executive earn 172 times the amount of an ordinary worker
  • It calls for de-regulation of the labour market
    • o   Making it easier to hire and fire workers
    • o   Extending probationary periods
    • o   Introducing wage flexibility for new labour market entrants
  • It calls for a market-based approach to land reform, thereby putting its faith in market forces to resolve a historical injustice that has lasted for 360 years 

And if we look at the repressive apparatus of the state, we see that it has fallen into line with this economic strategy. In the second half of 2012, the leadership of the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party demonstrated that it had clearly and unequivocally taken sides with international capital against us. Firstly, on August 16, 2012, in Marikana in the North West province of South Africa, the armed forces of the state mowed down 34 workers who were demanding a living wage from an international mining company, Lonmin. It has emerged clearly, from evidence to a Commission of Enquiry, that this was a pre-meditated, calculated assault by the police. One startling fact is proof enough. Early in the morning, long before the assault took place, the police ordered more mortuary vans than ambulances to be present in Marikana.  

Then, a few months later, during a farmworkers strike in the Western Cape province, more workers were killed by police. Now, in the last few weeks, working class and poor people have been killed by the police for protesting about conditions in their communities.  

Our people are protesting because they have no water. There is nothing more basic to life than water. And yet the State…. that very same state which failed to supply them with water….kills them for their protest. 

The class character of the South African state has been revealed for all to see. 

And what are the results of these neo-liberal policies?

What do we mean when we say there has been no fundamental change to the structure of the South African economy? We mean that we retain the same dependence on exporting raw minerals, the same enslavement to the Minerals Energy Finance complex, that was the key characteristic of the apartheid economy. Far from an increase in the manufacturing sector – the sector which can really produce jobs – we have seen a rapid process of deindustrialisation. We are not gaining jobs, we are losing them.

  • In 2004 there were 3.7 million unemployed people in our country. Last year that had risen to 4.1 million. Despite all government promises and dreams, unemployment is growing, nor shrinking.
  • The financial sector is dominated by 4 large privately owned banks (ABSA, Nedbank, FNB and Standard Bank). ABSA is 56% foreign owned. Standard Bank is at least 40% foreign owned.
  • The South African Reserve Bank is privately owned.
  • SASOL, South Africa’s dominant energy and chemical company, is about 30% foreign-owned and ArcelorMittal, our major steel producer, is 65% foreign owned.
  • The pharmaceuticals sector is dominated by foreign-owned companies. Aspen, Adcock-Ingram, Sanofi, Pfizer, Norvatis, etc. all have significant foreign-ownership. Recently, these companies of international capital have been caught plotting to subvert the government’s attempt to supply South Africa’s sick people with affordable medicines.
  • The construction sector is also monopolised and dominated by four players: Murray & Roberts, WBHO, Aveng and Group 5 – all with foreign ownership. 

So the productive and wealth-producing forces of our nation are increasingly owned by global capital, not by South African capital. The results are clear for all to see: 

  • The unemployment rate in South Africa in the 4th quarter of 2013 was 34%; in 4 provinces it was over 40%.
  • 72% of the unemployed are young people; most have not completed secondary education
  • 68% of the unemployed have been unemployed for more than a year.
  • 60% of the unemployed have either never worked in their lives or have not worked in the past 5 years.
  • 44% of workers in South Africa live on less than $1 a day.
  • Most of the unemployed rely on support from the employed…..who survive on less than $1 a day.
  • Almost 25% of South African households have inadequate access to food; this figure has grown from 20% in 2009.
  • Almost 20% of people who head households save money by walking to work. 

And it has become clear that the ruling party cannot even meet its own goals

In 2004, the ANC announced a 10 year programme it called Vision 2014. Since we have now arrived in 2014, I will give you a few examples of how reality stacked up against the vision: 

  • On unemployment:
    • o   Vision 2014 pledged to reduce unemployment by half.
    • o   In 2004 the unemployment rate was 23%. In 2013 it had risen to 24.7%
    • o   In 2004 the number of unemployed was 3.7 million. In 2013 it had risen to 4.1 million.
    • ·         On poverty:
      • o   Vision 2014 promised to reduce poverty by half:
      • o   In 2004 48% of our nation was living below $50 a month
      • o   In 2011 this had increased to 52.3%.
      • o   That means that in 2004 22 million of the people of our nation were living on less than $50 a month
      • o   In 2011 that number had increased to 26.5 million.
      • ·         On inclusive rights and freedoms:
        • o   Vision 2014 promised to “Ensure that all South Africans, including especially the poor and those at risk – children, youth, women, the aged, and people with disabilities – are fully able to exercise their constitutional rights and enjoy the full dignity of freedom
        • o   Compare a white child to a black African child in South Africa in 2014;
          • §  The black child is 18 times more likely to live in poverty
          • §  The black child is 1.5 times less likely to be exposed to early childhood development programmes
          • §  The black child is 2 times less likely to access adequate sanitation and water
          • §  The black child is 12 times more likely to experience hunger
          • §  The black child is 2 times less likely to complete secondary education. 

So, what we have done to oppose this strategy?

As Numsa, we are proud of our militant heritage. Our union, right back from its beginning, has taken the side of the working class and the poor. We have always been a union that champions shop -floor struggles as well as the struggles of working class communities. We have always understood that workers come from communities and live in communities. Community struggles are workers’ struggles. 

So, as metalworkers we fight for policies and strategies that will create jobs. We want more working people from our communities to have jobs. We fight for water. We fight for houses. We fight for the safety of our communities. We fight against a police force which kills our people when they protest because they don’t have water. Because they don’t have houses.  

A key part of ANC and SACP strategy is to weaken the federation

Our federation, Cosatu, has been deeply divided over the last year.  The divisions have paralysed it. Now they have come to a head. In the last few days, Cosatu’s current leadership has demanded that we, as the federation’s largest affiliate, must give them reasons why they should not expel us.  What has caused this to happen? What is the fundamental rupture in Cosatu? 

  • The rupture in Cosatu is between those who would like to accommodate the National Development Plan and those who denounce it in its entirety.
  • The rupture in Cosatu is between two forces. On the one side are those who, consciously or unconsciously, oppose the struggle against capitalism and colonialism. They oppose the radical, immediate and full implementation of the Freedom Charter. On the other side, together with Numsa, there are those in Cosatu who are demanding the full and radical implementation of the Freedom Charter.
  • The rupture in Cosatu is between those who see the salvation of the working class and the poor under the leadership of the ANC and those who see that this will never happen.
  • In short, the class struggle, which is raging in the country as a whole, has also been raging inside Cosatu. 

Towards the end of last year, we joined with 8 other Cosatu affiliates in requesting the Cosatu President to call a special congress of the federation. We realised that the only way to resolve the crisis was to call together the worker delegates and let worker control of the federation solve the problem.  

The Cosatu Constitution is clear and unequivocal. If more than one-third of the affiliates call for a Special Congress, the Cosatu President “must” call a Special Congress. It doesn’t say “may”. It doesn’t say “should”. It says “must”. Despite the fact that the 9 affiliates represent more than one-third of the affiliates, the Cosatu President has repeatedly refused to call the congress:

  • He has delayed by trying to engineer a ‘consensus’ on the agenda – no such consensus is required in the Constitution.
  • He has tried to block the Congress by saying that the federation does not have the resources to call it.
  • Finally, after we offered to help to finance a modest congress, we were told that he “declined” to call the congress.  

As a union, we have been in the trenches with revolutionary forces within the liberation alliance led by the ANC and SACP. Yet when we speak out clearly in defence of the working class and the poor, our allies attack us:

  • They call us oppositionists because we reject the policies of the ANC and SACP which attack the interests of our members.
  • They call us ultra-leftists suffering from infantile disorders because we refuse to betray the interests of the working class and support an ANC and SACP whose leadership has consistently attacked the working class.
  • They seek to expel us because we have defended Cosatu’s militant policies. 

That brings me to the Numsa Special National Congress

We called our Special National Congress because we understood that there will be no significant improvement in the conditions of the working class and the poor until we fundamentally change direction. We, as a union, have understood that the ANC and SACP will not lead that change.  

We know that the current leadership, the very same leadership that calls itself anti-imperialist, is in reality in a lucrative alliance with international capital. It is a leadership which, in the name of Black Economic Empowerment, accepted shares in the major companies of the South African mining industry. But those shares were not given for nothing. We have a saying in South Arica – “nothing is for mahala which means nothing is for free”. They had a price. And the price is being paid by the working class and the poor of our country. The price is a macro-economic strategy which focuses on maintaining profit for global capital, not jobs for South African workers. 

There is only one way to create the number of jobs that are needed in South Africa – the number the NDP dreams about. That is to harness the profits of the mining and financial sectors and use them to build manufacturing industry. That is why we call for the nationalisation of the mines and the financial sector. It is not some dogma from the past. It is an immediate and urgent requirement.  

We understand that for the investors in London and New York and Berlin, South Africa is just another possible investment destination. They don’t care about the working class and the poor of South Africa and we don’t expect them to. But now our political leadership has aligned itself with the global looters. Our political leadership is no longer able even to represent the interests of the majority of the South African capitalist class. It has a conflict of interest. Its real, material interest lies in the profitability of the globalised mining and financial sectors. That prevents it from looking after the interests of the mass of its own population – the interest of creating jobs by building our manufacturing industry.  

We called our Special National Congress because, as a leadership, we needed to seek a fresh mandate from our members. In our 9th Congress in 2012, we were deeply critical of the ANC leadership. But we called on our members to “swell the ranks” of the ANC so that we could build its working class cadre. After our 9th Congress, the ANC adopted the NDP, slaughtered workers at Marikana and launched an all-out assault on us in our federation.  The conditions had dramatically changed. 

And our members made their views extremely clear in our Congress. We circulated discussion papers throughout the union before the Congress. There was vigorous debate in our locals and regions. Resolutions were consolidated at national level and then sent back to the regions for further consideration. Our objective was simple – to identify where we agreed as a union and to be clear about the points we still needed to debate. We are justifiably proud of our democratic heritage. Because we debate openly and democratically, we know that what we decide has the backing of our members.

So what was the nature of our final Congress Decisions?

I said at the beginning of this presentation that I would return to the decisions of the Special Congress. Let me explore them in a little more detail:

  • The Congress demanded accountability for the Marikana massacre right from the Minister and the National commissioner of police downwards, including all politicians who were involved. Those who were party to this massacre of workers must go.
  • The Congress decided that Numsa will not spend workers’ money on the ANC’s election  campaign and we will not, as a union, campaign in favour of any political party. You can see, from what I have told you today, why we took that decision.
  • The Congress resolved that Numsa will play a central role, as a catalyst, in the building of a united front. That United Front will take up the bread and butter issues of the working class. It will link our struggles on the shop floor with our struggles in our communities. It will build an irresistible force for fundamental change.
  • The Congress agreed to open the scope of our union to organize across value chains. This has been necessitated by the global restructuring of capitalism.
  • The Congress mandated the Numsa leadership to study, research and investigate various forms of independent working class party and to serve as a catalyst to form a party. Such a party would contest elections at an appropriate time. This resolution came from the understanding that unless the working class organizes itself as a class for itself, it will remain unrepresented and forever toil behind the bourgeoisie.  One of the things that is not settled is the nature and form of the working class party. There is a process in motion to research and discuss. We ask that you contribute to this debate. We are Marxists who believe that before the new is born the old must die –we ask you to help us to define the new with your ideas and experience.
  • The Congress also called on the Cosatu leadership to convene a Cosatu Special Congress in line with the Cosatu Constitution, with immediate effect. And it called on Cosatu to break out of the alliance, which has failed to use the political power it secured in 1994 to take ownership and control of the national wealth of our country and replace the white racist colonial economy.
  • Finally the Congress threw its weight behind the campaign of rolling mass action initiated by the Numsa structures to demand fundamental change in the direction of the South African economy and society.

 So we have now launched a campaign which will take us through the whole of 2014. It is a campaign of rolling mass action, using provisions in the Labour Relations Act that allow for protected strike action in support of socio-economic demands. Our first one day strike will take place on 19th March. Our first set of demands centres on the fundamental restructuring of the economy to create jobs through building manufacturing industry. When it comes to the young people of South Africa, we demand from the government:

  • Provide us with free tertiary education
  • Build stronger links between Further Education and Training Colleges and industry
  • Give career guidance at schools to match youth to skills needed in the economy
  • Use infrastructure projects to train local youth 

And we demand from employers:

  • Invest in your workforce through training and development
  • Increase your intake of interns and apprentices
  • Support the Further Education and Training colleges and disadvantaged schools in your area
  • Use the infrastructure project tenders that you win to train local youth 

We are calling for the working class and the poor of South Africa to demonstrate in their numbers on March 19th that we have had enough. The nation must be protected from those who are destroying it. March 19th is the beginning of our rolling mass action throughout 2014. We are starting to build the irresistible force that will force fundamental change, in the interests of the majority. 

And we are calling on the working class of all countries to see that our struggle in South Africa is part of the struggle of the international working class as a whole. We must come together to support the working class struggles as they erupt around the world. We know that the working class is on its own. There are no capitalists who will help us.  

So we are calling on you for your support. Support us by mobilising in your own ranks and explaining our struggle. Support us with your ideas and your expertise. Support us with your resources. We have recently launched a Numsa Institute designed to lead our research around industrialisation and manufacturing and around policy development as we move to build the United Front and the Movement for Socialism I have described to you.  We need resources to keep that institute running and to expand it.  

And we need resources to expand our struggle into the continent of Africa. We need to mobilise for manufacturing and industrialisation on the continent as a whole. Africa is a continent rich in minerals. Yet it remains caught in a debt trap as countries of the more advanced world make profit and create jobs on the back of the minerals that come from our soil. We need to lead a fight back against the widespread looting of our mineral resources that feeds the profits of the advanced world. 

I want to end by quoting from a hero of the South African struggle – the late General Secretary of the South African Communist Party, Joe Slovo.  He helped us to understand the nature of trade unions: 

“A trade union is the prime mass organisation of the working class. To fulfil its purpose, it must be as broad as possible and fight to maintain its legal status. It must attempt, in the first place, to unite, on an industrial basis, all workers (at whatever level of political consciousness) who understand the elementary need to come together and defend and advance their economic conditions. It cannot demand more as a condition of membership. But because the state and its political and repressive apparatus is an instrument of the dominant economic classes, it is impossible for trade unions in any part of the world to keep out of the broader political conflict. 

Especially in our country, where racist domination and capitalist exploitation are two sides of the same coin, it is even more clear that a trade union cannot stand aside from the liberation struggle. Indeed, the trade union movement is the most important mass contingent of the working class. Its organised involvement in struggle, both as an independent force and as part of the broad liberation alliance, undoubtedly reinforces the dominant role of the workers as a class. In addition, trade unions’ and workers’ experience of struggle in unions provide the most fertile field in which to school masses of workers in socialist understanding and political consciousness.”

As Numsa we are doing what we can to follow in that tradition.