Earnest revolutionaries have been a familiar sight on the fringes of mass gatherings, usually handing out a pamphlet declaiming the alliance between the country’s largest labour federation and the ruling party. The ANC, goes the argument, is a bourgeois party advancing the interests of capital and for the achievement of socialism, any alliance with it would have to be broken.
This heralded dawn is well past mid-morning for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) which together with other unions, celebrated the formation of a new labour federation. At the Workers’ Summit held the previous day, where 51 unions were represented, ten principles upon which the new federation will be established, were agreed.
The first of these, as the former General Secretary of COSATU and presumptive leader of the new federation, Zwelinzima Vavi, announced in his address to the workers’ rally, is independence. “This does not mean that unions are apolitical,” he said, reading the declaration of the Workers’ Summit.
Irvin Jim, the GS of NUMSA, understands this well and set the stage for Vavi to herald the new labour federation. Together, they are an ideological tag-team in the wrestlemania of South African politics and they had the ANC pinned. Reviewing South African democracy, Jim declared that the ANC had clearly not understood what the struggle for liberation was about – it had allowed the manufacturing industries to be decimated and its land redistribution, willing-buyer-willing-seller policy had only benefitted the thieves. “The governing party is in a crisis. They are shy to admit that for 22 years its policies have failed,” he said.
Marikana and the massacre of mineworkers there in 2012 stands as the decisive moment when state and capital collusion was revealed.
But like WWE Smackdown, the ANC is going to wriggle out numerous times from under its opponents’ pin. To come out on top, argued Jim, the new labour federation will have to mount an anti-capitalist struggle in which its own political formation takes on the existing parties that serve capital. The first step for the new-born federation in winning liberation will be to organise the estimated 70% of workers that are not unionised. These unprotected workers are largely in casualised employment, in the domestic, agricultural and service industries.
“Jobs must be defended!”
The master of ceremonies for the May Day rally had announced that the day’s programme would feature a roving microphone so that workers could voice their own expectations of the new federation. This was to be followed by an unveiling of the federation’s inaugural jobs campaign. After the speeches by Jim and Vavi, and commendations from many of the affiliate unions, as well as cultural performances, the leadership had lost its appetite for the rest of the programme and the jobs campaign item was left for another day.