The largest South African trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), has been expelled from South Africa’s union confederation COSATU by that body’s executive.
The reason for this expulsion is that NUMSA members voted in December 2013 at a special conference to refuse to support the ruling ANC in elections. NUMSA wants to move towards a independent workers’ party.
The background to this goes back to the struggle against apartheid. In the 1970s and 80s black South African workers were in the forefront of the struggle against the white supremacist state. But moves for a workers’ party then failed. COSATU, formed in 1985, joined a “triple alliance” with the ANC and the South African Communist Party, focused on ending apartheid but keeping capitalism.
The end of apartheid in 1994 was a victory largely due to the militancy of South Africa’s working class. The ANC, in power since 1994, quickly made clear that economic inequality would remain untouched when political minority rule was abolished.
The ANC has followed a neo-liberal agenda supplemented only by adding non-whites to company boards. These black company directors are often leading officials from ANC, SACP, or COSATU, or members of their families.
A few people from the black middle class have joined the ruling class, but the vast majority in South Africa remain extremely poor and live in crowded and unsanitary conditions in townships.
The ANC’s and the SACP’s base amongst black workers has withered as disillusion has grown.
COSATU’s relationship with these parties is mediated by bureaucrats who often amass small fortunes through their own personal business links.
A new wave of working class struggle has developed in South Africa. Strikes of miners, agricultural labourers, and transport workers have won major wage rises despite the active hostility of COSATU leaders.
Non-COSATU unions like the AMCWU have sprung up, even despite threats of death being made against their leaders and activists, and some of these activists have been arrested.
NUMSA leader Irvin Jim has called for a new working class united front and vowed to fight the union’s expulsion from COSATU.