South Africa’s largest union withdrew electoral support for the governing African National Congress (ANC) in a historic move at a special conference last month. It went on to call for a new workers’ party to be set up.
Some 1,200 delegates attended the special congress of South Africa’s metal workers’ union Numsa from 17 to 20 December.They represented 338,000 workers.
The conference was called as a response to a crisis in the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the trade union federation (Cosatu). This alliance has effectively governed the country since 1994.
This crisis developed out of the failure of the government to deliver for working people. It became public after the Marikana massacre of striking miners in 2012 and the strikes that followed.
South Africa faces a general election this year. The ANC, like the Labour Party in Britain, assumes it will have the active support of the trade union movement.
But the Numsa conference’s closing statement bluntly said, “For more than 20 years we have been urging our members to swell the ranks of the ANC and SACP.
“Swelling the ranks has merely resulted in delivering more working class victims, like lambs to the slaughter by the ANC’s bourgeois leadership.”
The conference decided the alliance was beyond repair. It called on Cosatu to break with the ANC and the SACP.
This ultimatum calls Cosatu’s bluff as it tries to appear more oppositional and regain credibility after its unions lost thousands of members following Marikana.
But it is almost unthinkable that the federation will actually break with the alliance.
Numsa states that it will set up “a new United Front that will coordinate struggles in the workplace and in communities, in a way similar to the United Democratic Front of the 1980s”.
It said, “For this to happen our members and shop stewards must be active on all fronts and in all struggles against neoliberal policies, whether these policies are being implemented in the workplace or in communities.”
In addition it announced plans to “explore” the establishment of a Movement for Socialism to prepare for a new socialist party.
The conference went on to call for the resignation of president Jacob Zuma and police chief Riah Phiyega. It also demanded a fuller investigation into the Marikana massacre than the current official inquiry.
Supporters of Socialist Worker in South Africa belong to the Democratic Left Front. It issued a statement saying, “This Numsa Congress marks a decisive end to the era of national liberation politics
“Numsa has broken new ground and has thereby opened space for a genuine mass-based political alternative to emerge, led and controlled by workers and their communities.”