Johannesburg – The country’s biggest metalworkers’ union faces convincing its 380 000 members that they should abandon the ANC in favour of a worker-led political party.
The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) has found easy allies in parties and left formations like the Democratic Left Front, the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp), the UDM and the PAC for its United Front – the springboard to its formation of an opposition to the ruling ANC.
Numsa will meet with the EFF, which it hasn’t yet met one-on-one, when it manages to get “everyone in one room”.
The union announced its intention earlier this year to launch the front, envisioned as a UDF-type coalition of civil society formations, NGOs, civic organisations and religious leaders.
Its goal will be to marry shop- floor battles with the fight for basic services.
This weekend the union launches United Front structures in five major metros in the country, following last weekend’s launch in Gauteng. These are Ekurhuleni, the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, Buffalo City, Emalahleni in Mpumalanga, and Emndeni and Diepkloof in Soweto. Its official national launch takes place in December.
But the biggest battle could well come from within as thousands of Numsa members are still resolute in their support for the ANC.
Numsa’s United Front held its first protest march this week, over possible retrenchments at a company where it organises, and managed to garner mass support from civic organisations, the PAC and the UDM under the same banner.
“We’ll still vote for the ANC… They fought for us,” said Mirriame Mashiane, who has worked at the company for over 20 years and is a loyal member of the union.
“We’ve got RDPs, electricity but they (the ANC) failed us,” Mashiane said. Still, she is not ready yet to abandon the party.
There were loud cheers from the crowd at the Ekurhuleni march when Numsa president Andrew Chirwa repeated the union’s demand for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma.
Mashiane was part of that crowd, but here lies the nub of Numsa’s challenge: She believes the ANC will self-correct and return to its roots as the party of Joe Slovo and OR Tambo if Zuma goes.
A senior national Numsa leader confirmed that its smaller Leftist allies were impatient with the tempo at which the union is going about launching the Front and the planned political party.
“They would have wanted us to move very fast. (But) we said we have a constituency which we have to take along with us,” he said.
“The approach we’ve taken is we must work with progressive people in the ANC and SACP.”
But Numsa faces resistance to this from its Leftist allies in the Democratic Left Front and Wasp.
While the ANC lost considerable support in metros such as Nelson Mandela Bay, Ekurhuleni, Joburg and Tshwane, it knows it has to up its game in the provision of basic municipal services, such as water and sanitation. Another indicator of this is its Gauteng conference resolution to oppose e-tolls.
On Monday Numsa will finalise the organisations it wants to “pull into one room” for the national launch in December.
It would hope that as many of the parties and formations it meets with form a single political opposition party, for now referred to as the Movement for Socialism.
“There’s no easy departure (on these issues) because people do remember who liberated them. The first of two acknowledgments is that it’s going to be difficult. But the second is we know there is a groundswell for things to be done differently,” the same senior national leader said.
But there may be a middle road.
“You need labour movements to be independent. Should a new federation be formed we won’t want it to be aligned to the Movement for Socialism. This is the problem Cosatu faced – it can’t be critical of the ANC because of the tripartite alliance,” said Numsa deputy general secretary Karl Cloete.
This weekend’s United Front launches must address some of these questions. If not, the Numsa moment will fall apart before it has even begun because of disagreements on tactics.
More importantly, Leftist allies will have to make strategic concessions because if Numsa’s constituency is not brought on board then the whole project could split.