NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

NUMSA President opening input during National Bargaining Conference on 22 April 2016

“People always have been the foolish victims of deception and self- deception in politics, and they always will be until they have learnt to seek out the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. Champions of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realise that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is kept going by the forces of certain ruling classes. And there is only one way of smashing the resistance of those classes, and that is to find, in the very society which surrounds us, the forces which can — and, owing to their social position, must — constitute the power capable of sweeping away the old and creating the new, and to enlighten and organise those forces for the struggle.” (V.I. Lenin, in “Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism.” March 1913)

Numsa Central Committee Members,
All Numsa Delegates to this NBC,
Friends of Numsa,
Leaders of allied and friendly unions present,
Numsa staff, and invited guests,
Members of the media,
Maximum Revolutionary Unity and Democratic Centralism will see us through this round of Negotiations!

1. On behalf of the entire national membership of Numsa, please allow me to welcome all of you, to this important Numsa National Bargaining Conference.

2. The union has convened this three day National Collective Bargaining Conference in line with the political directive of the union’s constitutional structures. The organization has also convened this NBC as symbol of a living organization that puts the interests of its members first, because workers join the trade union movement not as a “political fashion”, but for the purpose of common struggles to improve their working conditions and benefits

3. Please do know that we value each one of you, and respect the fact that you have responded positively, to our request to attend this NBC.

4. We are gathered in this NBC to develop and share a common national understanding of the socio-economic environment in which we shall engage with the bosses this year, as we battle to win back some of the value which in fact the working class produce, but which the bosses monopolize.

5. It is our hope that at the end of this Council, all Numsa delegates will be empowered to lead the struggle to win better wages, safer work places, and greater respect for the value of workers in the production process and, armed with this power, will act fearlessly in defending the bargaining mandates from our members and constitutional structures.

6. No collective bargaining round can deliver meaningful results for workers unless the workers themselves first are democratically mobilized around their demands.  This requires maximum unity among the workers, even in the first of fierce internal disagreement before final decisions are taken.

7. Numsa prides itself in democratic centralism – the idea that ideas, no matter how hot and divisive they may initially appear to be, must be freely around to play against each other, internally, before decisions are democratically taken.  Once such decisions have been taken, everyone, even those who initially may have opposed the ideas, must rally behind their implementation!

8. More than in any other year of collective bargaining, this year Numsa may be seriously tested because we are a much contested union: we are surrounded by mortal enemies everywhere, after our Special National Congress in 2013.

9. The capitalist bosses think we are too big and must be broken up! The ANC and its choir – the SACP and COSATU wants us fractured, divided, weakened and dead yesterday! Certain sections of the right-wing middle class, fearful of our influence in society, and influence they are failing to use for their right-wing agendas, want us divided and destroyed too.

10. The ANC/SACP/COSATU government will only be too happy to see us collapse! They see us as preventing them from continuing to enjoy the massive black and African vote that has kept them in government since 1994.

11. Every staff member, every shopsteward, every organizer, every elected leader of Numsa has a sacred duty to generously guard the revolutionary and democratic unity which has seen us not only survive this far, but even grow – in the face of serious challenges.

What are the key economic and political features of the current environment?

1. These are hard times, for the working class not just in this country, but in the whole world.

2. Globally, capitalism is in a mess. It is in a deep, protracted impossible to solve crisis. The capitalists of the whole world have failed to find the solution to the problems their system is facing.

3. What is the problem with the world system of capitalism? First, we the working class must always remember that the system of capitalism is a system of slavery for us.

4. We are the slaves – without their buying our labour we are as good as dead. Which is why we fight unemployment! Capitalism is a system that enslaves others for their labour in order to enrich a tiny minority.

5. For the world working class, it matters little whether capitalists are happy or not: we are its slaves – they own our labour, and therefore, they own us. To survive, we need their wages.

6. Now, when their system, which is always a crisis for the working class, is not working well, they hire fewer workers, pay low wages, become more brutal in the work place, and generally do not care about the safety of workers as they struggle to squeeze as much profits as possible from the workers.

7. The greedy of the bosses always causes them to overproduce, over invest in new technologies in their quest to beat their competitors and make more profits. This inevitably makes them shed jobs, which inevitably reduces the very demand for the goods that workers produce in the first place. Thus sets in motion their periodic crises – the crises of overproduction.

8. The South African capitalist system has always been a crisis for black and African workers precisely because South African capitalism is based on the racist and colonial supper exploitation of the black and African working class.

9. The average wage of the African worker in this country is a poverty wage incapable of sustaining life.

10. The worker must walk to work part of the time, is heavily indebted as he or she must buy food on credit, cannot afford decent medical care, fails to put their children in good schools, and generally lives a hand to mouth existence.

11. In fact, the life of a dog in an average white home is this country is richer than that of an average African or black worker. Millions of black and African workers cannot even get these poorly paying jobs.

12. The black and African worker is poor – employed or not, in this country. Many times in fact, employment simply multiplies the stress as the worker is now expected to take care of the army of the unemployed.

13. Violent crime, rape, murders, xenophobia, theft, burglaries, domestic violence and all sorts of dangerous sources of insecurity are the daily-lived experience of the South African working class. On average, it I estimated that 50 workers are killed in South Africa every day!

14. This is the ugly reality we must have in mind as we prepare to do battle with the bosses, during this round of collective bargaining.

15. Today, 22 years after 1994, the ANC/SACP/COSATU government is more afraid of credit rating agencies than the millions of black and African workers who put them in government.

16. Today, 22 years after 1994, the ANC/SAC/COSATU government has become what we in Numsa always feared it would become if it did not radically implement the Freedom Charter – a very corrupt and bankrupt political formation and government.

17. The racist and apartheid black and African wage, black and African youth unemployment, inferior usually domestic work for the black and African woman – these are the conditions in which this round of collective bargaining is taking place.

18. Massive unemployment, extreme inequalities and countrywide poverty in a climate of rising food prices is the economic and psychological background to this collective bargaining cycle. Twenty six millions South Africans starve regularly today.

19. The system of Capitalism here at home is even worsened by the crises of leadership credibility and Corruption.

20. In the past few weeks the president of the country has been found guilty of violating the country’s constitution.

21. We must put it on record that we were the first 3 years ago, in our 2013 SNC resolutions to warn everybody of the rot in the ANC.

22. The SNC resolved that “The SNC calls on President Jacob Zuma to resign with immediate effect because of his administration’s pursuit of neo-liberal policies such as the NDP, e-tolls, labour brokers, youth wage subsidy; and the track record of his administration which is steeped in corruption, patronage and nepotism.”

23. In making this demand, NUMSA was neither driven by base negative racist emotions or hatred towards Jacob Zuma, nor was this a populist demand! We were very clear that Zuma had failed the test for the reasons we had supported him in the first place.

24. We, therefore, take great exception to any quarters suggesting that NUMSA and its current leadership are “standing outside” the mass demands and campaigns for Zuma to go. We have a standing resolution for Zuma to go, and we stand by that resolution.

A united, democratic, worker controlled and militant Numsa can secure victories even in these circumstances!

1. Workers do not join Numsa because they love to us! Numsa has historically been a militant, democratic and worker controlled and always united union despite the many ideological currents in it.

2. We must keep these traditions, now more than ever. We must resist the temptations to be Rambles in the Jungle type of anarchist leaders.

3. We must always treasure the Marxist philosophy and ideology that has served this union so well. We remain a Marxist-Leninist inspired socialist trade union.

4. As the General Secretary will remind us, Numsa will work with other unions to crystallise a new federation. We will continue to grow our United Front. And we shall succeed to give birth to a genuinely revolutionary socialist political party of the working class.

5. All these structures and organizations are to grow the power of the working class in the world, in the country, in our communities and on the shop floor. Our Numsa Constitution demands that we do this. And we gave ourselves these commitments in our historic 2013 SNC. Without these structures and organizations Numsa is naked, exposed, and an easy target for our class enemies.
1. First and foremost: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we now and where are we going as an organization? Furthermore, in the 30 years of existence as this giant within the Metal and related Industries, what are the serious lessons and experiences we have learnt as an organization especially with regards to the history of collective bargaining in different epochs?

2. It is almost 26 years since Numsa met to draw up its negotiating demands of the Numsa National Bargaining Forum (1990).

3. In 1991 the CC decided on the different approach to bargaining across all the sectors.

4.  The union was concern that its wide range of bargaining demands led to a lack of focus. ( Metal That will Not Bend – Page 200)

“Even on our side the long shopping list of demands was causing the problem. There was such a long list such that it was difficult to report back on all the issues. On top of this, some of the demands were not easy to explain or understand. So most people when they reported back just focused on wages. In negotiations, things moved slowly. For months we met we employers again and again trying to get the whole list through. We felt we had to do this because it was our mandate from workers. Our members lost interest in negotiations, they lost militancy. And in the end all what we got was the agreement on the core issues of wages and very little or no improvement to the other conditions of employment”, Paragraph 3 – Page 200.

5. How much change has taken since the last 26 years, and are there any serious lessons we have learnt as the union? And this NBC must reflect and make serious introspection.

6. At the Numsa’s National Bargaining Conference in February 1990, where all sectors drew up common demands and strategies for the first time, the union committed itself in bargaining at the industry level as the first step towards restructuring of the economy.

7. The conference set the priorities as job security, training and job creation. Underlying this was the broad working class agenda spelled out by Numsa’s President in 1989 :
“We are facing many deviations in the struggle for liberation against exploitation. Many of these dangers come from inside ourselves.
The first danger is ECONOMISM. Instead of seeing our collective bargaining as part of our struggle for an end to exploitation, we see it as the only way to get the money …we think only about our short term aims, and we forget our long term aims…we forget about our national campaigns about union and working class solidarity.
Remember – even if you do get good increase, the capitalists will take it away through rising prices and higher unemployment.

One other danger, which closely linked to economism, is SECTIONALISM. I call this FACTORY TRIBALISM. It means that workers in one factory think only of themselves. They are not interested in the rest of the union, or in the rest of the working class .You can win some things in your own factory. But you can’t win big improvements there … We can’t win big victories unless we build NUMSA and build the unity of the whole working class”

8. Delegates to the 1993 NUMSA national congress adopted a three year collective bargaining strategy. This was in the context of strategic and dynamic unionism “The union strategy was meant to respond to the globalization of capital and to the industrial restructuring that was contributing to massive job losses and declining standards in working conditions. Such unionism focused on alternative industrial policies and work place change as a way of building workers power” – Page 254 (Australian Congress of Trade Unions).

9. According to Comrade Chris Lloyd on employer’s predicament :  “ The employers faced a period in 1993 when not only were they facing the beginning of tariff reductions programmes, but the beginning of globalization, particularly, illegal imports …and they were really not prepared. He believed that this pressure made them more receptive to the union’s ideas.

A lot of initial interest by employers to our bargaining approach came because they felt they could not go on with those industrial relations any longer (adversarial). Secondly, they were facing globalization and introduction of foreign competition, and they had to do something urgent. So they had the initial interest and we had initial interest. Hence the three year bargaining strategy was agreed in the 1993 national congress and negotiated during the 1993 bargaining year.” Therefore, the collective bargaining strategy is almost 23 years old.

10. The Union is currently discussing the new bargaining strategy, this present a critical moment to build a dynamic responsive Union which is able to respond to the ever changing nature of capitalism, let’s all shape.
11. If we remain revolutionary, democratic, worker controlled, united and militant, ideologically coherent, no boss can crash us!

Thank you!

Aluta Continua!
Andrew Chirwa
Numsa President
22nd April 2016.