To South Africa’s economic and social crisis – characterised by poverty, inequality and unemployment – can be found in radical economic policy formulation and an interventionist state, argues NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim.
Jovially talking of NUMSA’s growing membership of 318000 members, Jim said he was not worried about ‘poachers’ who were trying to attract members away from the union saying it was providing a superb service to its members.
His advice to poachers: ‘Workers are not rhinos, they cannot be poached’.
Setting the tone at NUMSA’s national bargaining conference, Jim said the foundation for radical economic transformation is located in the Freedom Charter. Other documents that discuss this include those of the liberation struggle whose ‘historic mission’ was to attain the ‘National Democratic Revolution’.
The Charter and other documents promoted the interests of the working class and the poor.
However, instead of adopting the Charter ‘the government goes out of its way to please capital (both South African and foreign)… at the expense of advancing a thoroughgoing and radical National Democratic Revolution, which could open up space for advancing to socialism’ says Jim.
One of the ways to reverse this trend is for the ‘working class to impose its hegemony over the nation state’.
It is on these grounds of government bending to capital that Jim dismisses the National Development Plan (NDP) as ‘a right wing document that will direct the wheels of history in the interests of the ruling class until 2030.’
Among other things, the NDP is accused of promoting restructuring, casualization, labour broking and outsourcing.
He says this goes against Numsa’s commitment to ‘defend our members, improve their conditions, and secure their future’ and such policies were ‘privatisation through the back door’.
The NDP is also criticised for using the same logic as that of GEAR which ‘promise that redistribution will come after growth when we know that growth can only come after redistribution.’
According to Jim, such policies present a ‘false road as the basis of the gradual evolution of a “New South Africa”’. He also questions how the SACP could endorse the ‘neo-liberal NDP’.
One of the features of South Africa’s economy post-1994 has been de-industrialisation which resulted in huge job losses in manufacturing. 350000 jobs were lost between 1995 and 2008 and a further 250000 between 2008 and 2012.
Says Jim: ‘Black and African people’ have been the worst affected confirming
the ‘undying, stubborn colonialism of a special type’.
Accompanying this is racial polarisation and massive concentration of wealth in SA banks and ‘increasing affluence of the white population’ add Jim.
Furthermore, he argues that beneficiation of minerals such as platinum can create jobs and increase the country’s wealth and that a leaf can be taken from countries such as Germany, Brazil, China and South Korea that have shown that a strong manufacturing sector can lead to economic growth and development.
This shows that orthodox neo-liberal economic policies should be rejected and manufacturing such as in the auto-sector must be supported by government.
No rock stars in bargaining
Some trade unionists want to be popular. So they behave like pop and rock stars and make empty promises to workers.
However, central bargaining needs to be better understood, even if it means that the trade unionist loses popularity but instead becomes known for speaking the truth about the realities on the ground.
‘We must appreciate that central bargaining cannot be translated into a permanent revolution by which socialism shall be attained at the end of the process’, warns Karl Cloete, deputy general secretary of National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).
Outlining the success story of Numsa’s 2010 central bargaining process to the NBC, Cloete draws some inspiration from Vladimir Lenin who says struggles for socialism are difficult:
‘We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh…’
Despite the difficulties, Cloete says there were lots of successes in 2010. Part of this success came from ‘workers’ unity in action and their preparedness to sacrifice and to struggle in all our NUMSA-organised sectors’, he says.
However, this was achieved under difficult economic conditions when the economy felt the initial stings of a global economic recession. Over a million jobs were lost, of which 62000 were in the sectors that NUMSA organises.
The unions also faced hostile anti-worker media coverage while the employers said they could not afford to increase wages because of the recession and accused workers of making ‘inflated and unreasonable demands.’
A lower Consumer Price Index of 4.5% did not make matters better for union demands for higher wages.
However, according to Cloete, the success story came from the workers’ firm stand and how they presented their case.
‘We argued that workers had experienced a drop in real wages since 2007 and that their share of incomes has been falling since 1994.’
‘Sensitive to the prevailing economic climate, we realized that if we demanded less, workers would be financing the fall in companies’ profitability during the recession’.
Among other things, Numsa called for the banning of labour brokers, and the establishment of a social security net. It also called for economic policies that reduced high inflation for food, fuel and electricity.
Numsa also complained about apartheid wages that condemned workers to poverty and argued for better wages that increased workers’ buying power thus boosting domestic markets.
Will this success story be repeated in 2013, and how will it influence the current NBC?
Struggling for socialism is difficult
We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire.
We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation.
And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh.
In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh! – VI Lenin