Comment by NUMSA General Secretary, Irvin Jim

From the beginning of this year we have hit the ground running. We have been campaigning hard to reduce electricity price increases. We are still fighting to scrap the NDP.

We have fought against those who want to hijack Cosatu and take away its militant voice. And we have begun the hard road of wage negotiations.

We scored a victory in the Electricity Campaign
We launched and championed a national campaign against Eskom’s price increase. We didn’t win everything we demanded, but it was still a major victory. Eskom wanted 16%. Numsa members mobilised all around the country. Numsa’s leadership made presentations at hearings in all the major towns.

We succeeded in reducing the increase to 8% instead of 16%. That is a double victory for us. It is a victory for us in our homes because we won’t have to pay such high prices. And it is a victory for us as workers in the manufacturing sector because higher electricity prices mean more workers losing their jobs.

We are fighting to scrap the NDP
Just as we finished this campaign we had to act decisively to fight off another attack on our interests as the working class and the poor. The National Development Plan is a powerful attack on our jobs and job security.

We saw our allies supporting this plan, as the ANC Congress did, or pretending that it was a basis for discussion, as the SACP did. We could not stand by and accept this most basic attack on the rights and living standards of our members and the working class as a whole.

We stood out clearly as a revolutionary trade union when we rejected the NDP outright. We took the campaign to our Regions, as the National Office Bearers criss-crossed the country speaking at Regional Shop Stewards Councils. We produced that very popular booklet with the cartoon of the Numsa General Secretary listening as Trevor Manuel and Helen Zille agree with one another. The booklet explained how the NDP even sometimes uses exactly the same wording as the DA.

The NDP wants to make it easier to hire and fire workers, taking away the rights we won in the struggles of the apartheid era. It was those struggles that were the rock on which the Labour Relations Act was built. We know that the LRA is not perfect. We want to strengthen it in particular by banning Labour Brokers. But the LRA does give protection for many workers against being fired without good reason. The NDP, on the other hand, wants to allow worker to be fired during the first 6 months of employment with no right to go to the CCMA.

And the NDP wants to pay workers less. It says that if new workers and young workers are paid less than older workers, then the employers will give jobs to more of them. We know what will really happen. New, young, cheap workers will get jobs and older, more expensive workers will lose them. The result for the bosses will be cheaper labour. The result for us will be even greater poverty. Far from helping to deal with the triple crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality, this kind of a plan will make it worse.

There has been an attempt by right wing political parties led by the DA and some in government to take us back to the reactionary conditions of the apartheid days. They want to force unions to ballot their members before they can strike. We succeeded in convincing the ANC to take this amendment out.

There was a two week period during which the ANC members of the parliamentary committee did agree to ban labour brokers, instead of allowing them to employ workers for six months. But to our surprise it now seems that the ANC has back tracked from a ban to allowing labour brokers to operate to operate for three months. Parliament finished its second term on June 21st. It will start again on July 22nd.

We are told that they will be voting on it when they return in July. We must continue to engage the ANC. Allowing labour brokers to employ workers for as three months would further postpone liberation from these notorious blood suckers. The system of labour brokers has been condemned all over the world as precarious work. Our struggle against labour brokers continues.

We are struggling for the unity of Cosatu around a working class programme
In the middle of these challenges a political attack was launched in the media by faceless sources. Their mission is to weaken Cosatu so that its voice is silenced. It is Cosatu which has consistently spoken and campaigned against neo- liberal and conservative policies like Gear.

The strategy of this attack is to target Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi with a fury of lies and allegations so that his standing in the federation is undermined and workers lose confidence in him.

They want him completely out of Cosatu. NUMSA has been left with no option but to go to the trenches and fight tooth and nail in defence of Cosatu. We are fighting for Cosatu unity so that we can improve the lives of all working class people. We are fighting to support the Cosatu General Secretary who has been targeted for dismissal by faceless forces who are trying to destroy his character.

Now they are trying to do the same with me, as General Secretary of Numsa. In the last week or two those same forces have been spreading rumours. Some say I have joined another political party. Others say I am working with Julius Malema.

The agenda of these forces within the alliance is to delegitimize, isolate and where possible silence those who are firm like Numsa. We are the ones who have consistently demanded fundamental change. We have no option but to articulate Numsa positions, just as Zwelinzima Vavi defends Cosatu positions.

Because we defend the positions which our organisations have democratically agreed, we become targets. The subtle propaganda against us is that we must be dealt with because we criticize the ANC government. For that we are viewed as nothing less than the enemy of the state. Increasingly that is how we are being viewed and treated.

Some call us ultra left. All of them are telling lies with the aim of destroying my credibility amongst Numsa and Cosatu members. They will never succeed.
As your leadership, we have been co-operating with the facilitation process in Cosatu. However we also have serious doubts about the process. We are unhappy that it is taking place in secret.

We believe that those who are cowardly enough to make accusations behind our backs should be brave enough to repeat them in public. We believe that justice can only be done if it is seen to be done. Secrecy is fertile ground for rumours. We prefer to deal with the truth.

We are representing Numsa members in Collective Bargaining
Whilst soldiering on all these fronts, metal workers are facing a mother of all battles. The conditions for this year’s collective bargaining season are very tough.

As we negotiate, the global crisis of capitalism continues to unfold. For example, in May this year new car registrations in Europe dropped to their lowest level for 20 years. Fewer cars sold means less steel, less platinum for catalytic converters, less car components.

Yet we see the working class of the world fighting back. In Greece, the workers of the national TV station, supported by thousands of demonstrators, took over control after the government tried to close it down. In Brazil, millions of people have demonstrated, night after night, against transport price increases, corruption and inequality. We know that the unity of metal workers behind the banner of Numsa will carry us through this round of negotiations.

We must secure living wages for our Numsa members; this must include:
• Closing the apartheid wage gap.

• Achieving skills development.

• Using collective bargaining to secure the future of manufacturing, which is the future of our country and the future of metal workers.

So NUMSA will negotiate with the bosses for wages. But at the same time we shall call on government to take decisive measures to defend what is left of our manufacturing industry so that we don’t lose any more jobs. On the contrary, a growing manufacturing industry is the only way to create sustainable new jobs. Here are some of the demands of Cosatu’s Section 77 campaign that will take us out on the street:

Nationalise the commanding heights of the economy. We know, for example, that the auto sector uses light steel which Arcelor Mittal refuses to supply to them because they say it is not profitable enough. By doing this, ArcelorMittal kills the opportunity to create local, South African jobs. Sasol is doing something similar in the plastics industry.

These are companies which can only think about their own profit. They must be nationalised so that they can stop thinking only about their own profit and start thinking about how they can help to build manufacturing industry and create jobs.

Beneficiate minerals locally through a clear beneficiation strategy. We must stop sending raw minerals overseas and start to process them and to manufacture with them here, in South Africa. This will also help to improve the situation with our large trade deficit.

Use the powers of the State to deliberately drive industrialisation and sustainable development:
• Raise tariffs to prevent dumping and ensure the survival of our industries without losing our preferential duty-free status.

• Re-introduce capital controls

• Ban the export of scrap

• Ban import-parity pricing

Numsa remains very firm that no force or clique will be allowed to silence Numa’s voice which speaks in the interests of the working class. Elections will not stop Numsa from demand from the ANC that they must act now in the interests of workers and the poor by implementing the Freedom charter and taking ownership and control of strategic minerals to use them to champion manufacturing and industrialization.

Numsa is firm that the NDP is a disaster for South Africa as it leaves intact white monopoly capital and colonialism of a special type. It will not deliver the jobs it is promising. It will continue to allow wealth to be concentrated in the hands of white monopoly capital while poverty, unemployment and inequality are concentrated in the lives of the Black and African working class.

As NUMSA, we appreciate the continued support of the Department of Trade and Industry for the auto sector. However the auto sector has not been localising and as a result the components industry has suffered.

For example, we have received reports that two South African car manufacturers have been importing windscreens from China instead of buying local ones. So we believe it is high time for the DTI to conduct a proper assessment of what local content is in a South African manufactured car in order to ensure localisation in the true sense.

These are the conditions under which this round of collective bargaining is taking place. We will remain united. We will negotiate with the bosses. We will keep you, the members of Numsa, informed. And, above all, we will continue to renew the mandate of the Numsa negotiating teams as we look for a settlement.