THE battle in the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has now hit the shop floor with warring factions holding mass meetings and shop steward councils to defend their actions in a bid to win over workers.
On Monday, National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) general secretary Irvin Jim pleaded with workers at Ford’s Silverton headquarters to defend the organisation and remain united after its expulsion from Cosatu last week.
“Yes, the organisation (Numsa) is under attack, we can only rely on your unity and your strength to make sure the organisation is defended,” Mr Jim said.
Numsa is battling the rising popularity of a well-capitalised but not yet registered Metal and Allied Workers Union of SA (Mawusa).
Numsa’s expulsion from Cosatu on November 8 has plunged the federation into a crisis, not least because Numsa is the federation’s largest affiliate and biggest financial contributor.
The fate of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, a close Numsa ally, will be decided this week by a special central executive committee meeting in which disciplinary action against him is expected to be discussed.
Mr Jim said Numsa would not compromise on shop floor struggles and would ensure that a national minimum wage is implemented. He said the union would fight its expulsion, but should it fail to return to the Cosatu fold, it would turn all its energy to recruiting and organising workers across the economy, in mines and in factories.
He said Numsa would save nearly R1m a month on subscriptions it no longer would have to pay to Cosatu after its expulsion.
Using the additional resources, it would employ more organisers to recruit members.
Referring to Mawusa — which was taking shape under the guidance of former Numsa president Cedric Gina — Mr Jim said he was aware that a new union that “carried bags of money” was attempting to poach Numsa members.
Kgotso Lamola, a Numsa member at Ford, said he was “not bothered” by Numsa’s expulsion.
Tebogo November, a fellow Ford employee, agreed. “Cosatu did well to expel Numsa. Now the union can focus on workers. Cosatu was taking the African National Congress (ANC) line and it is failing workers,” Mr November said.
He said that the union should not fight to remain in Cosatu.
However, Sello Rapao disagreed, saying Numsa’s fight with Cosatu had nothing to do with workers and the judgment of union leaders was clouded by “political ambitions”.
Mr Gina on Monday said Mawusa would be registered by the Department of Labour “very soon”.
At Volkswagen, an official who wished to remain anonymous said Mr Gina’s union had tried to break Numsa’s hold in the company, where the expelled Cosatu affiliate has about 3,500 members. Workers were called to a meeting and told that if they wanted to leave Numsa, they were welcome. But none have left so far.
However, Numsa shop stewards had to explain the union’s new political position and told workers that they were free to be members and participate in the ANC in their individual capacity, but the union as an organisation as a whole would no longer support the party.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union had also failed in an attempt to organise at Volkswagen last year.
Mr Gina said the Port Elizabeth area was a challenge for the new union as it was the “home ground” of Numsa’s office bearers. Numsa had pumped in resources into the area linked to contesting the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality in 2016.
In KwaZulu-Natal, Toyota — with 5,000 Numsa members — was a key entry point for the new union, after disgruntled officials aligned themselves with the new project. But Mbuso Ngubane, Numsa’s regional secretary, said workers largely remained loyal to Numsa.
On Monday three Cosatu unions defended their decision to expel Numsa. They were police union Popcru, the SA Democratic Teachers Union and chemical and paper union, Ceppwawu. Ceppwawu said its leadership was “bracing” for an “open war of influencing” members against Numsa.