Friday, December 05, 2014

Solidarity or Loyalty?

 Numsa, the metalworkers’ union, South Africa’s biggest union has been expelled from the main trade union federation, Cosatu.  

Numsa, which has more than 320,000 members, has complained that the alliance has betrayed its leftist roots and failed to represent the interest of the workers, describing the battle in Cosatu as one between the forces of capitalism and forces of socialism. Ahead of May elections, Numsa refused to endorse the ruling party, which it has been highly critical of, and called on Mr Zuma to step down over a scandal involving R246m of taxpayers money spent on his private Nkandla homestead.

Numsa leaders have raised the spectre of the union forming its own political party and are planning to launch a workers’ movement, the United Front, which they say is needed to act as a “weapon for uniting the working class.” They have hinted that they could contest local government elections in 2016 when the ANC’s hold on key municipalities, including Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth, is expected to be severely tested.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has grown rapidly to become the dominant union in the important platinum sector. Amcu is locked in a bitter rivalry with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the traditionally dominant union in the industry and a key Cosatu member, and is steadily increasing its representation at gold mines. It led an unprecedented five month strike at the world’s three top platinum producers – Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin – this year as workers have become increasingly frustrated with their salaries and poor living conditions.

Black migrant workers from the country side provided cheap labour to the mines for decades. The profits benefited mostly white South Africans and foreigners and recently also a handful of black South Africans. Poor miners have seen little of the benefits but suffered the most. The migrant culture ripped apart their family structures and caused various issues, HIV/AIDS being not the least.  Numsa is standing up for miners, although we cannot be sure if it’s done in the best way.

Maybe this is a sign of emerging normality in South African politics. It would be a shame if the ANC went more or less unchallenged for another 20 years (look how long it took post-independence India to lose its fealty to the Congress Party).

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