South Africa – SOUTH African Federation of Trade Unions president Mark Tshabalala says radical forces in Africa must continue building alliances across a continent that for far too long has been separated along imposed borders and languages.

And National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) second deputy president Basil Cele says it is an insult to that country’s working class that the African National Congress government is offering a minimum wage of 3,500 rand (measure this against the cost of living in SA- it gives us a better analysis) when Marikana miners were in 2012 killed for demanding a wage of 12,500 rand. 

Addressing delegates to the second Pan-Africanism Today conference on the Mediterranean Sea resort of Caribbean World hotel, Erriadh, situated about 25 kilometres from the Tunisian capital, Tunis, early July, Tshabalala, who is also NUMSA secretary for the Hlanganani region, in his welcoming remarks described the global convocation as a pivotal one for the progressive forces.

“Our continent has for far too long been separated along imposed borders and languages. We need to meet, not just amongst ourselves but also the international community, if we have to defeat the evils of capitalism,” said Tshabalala, adding that capitalism had exposed the working class to inhuman living conditions and stripped them of their human rights. “Capitalists have continued to increase profits on the basis of the workers.”

And presenting a paper entitled, Socialist political party formations: prerequisites and alliances during the same conference, Cele observed that political formations that described themselves as socialists no longer chant slogans such as ‘Forward with Socialism’.

Tracing the history of NUMSA since 1987, Cele said the 350,000-strong membership trade union has been a leader and a voice of the industrial proletariat, the voice of the working class in South Africa within trade unions inside the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and in politics. 

“Initially NUMSA through COSATU was in an alliance with political parties such as the Africa National Congress (ANC), the government of the day. Since 1996, NUMSA felt that the alliance was not working for the working class,” he said. “It was only working for the ruling party. It was from that premise that NUMSA started to put a position within COSATU that the trade union movement should do away with the alliance with the ANC. Therefore, the breaking of the alliance between the labour movement and the ruling party is not something that started recently.”

Cele said prior to 1994, NUMSA was leading all trade unions not in politics and that it was this trade union that was behind the releasing of political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and many others. (Requires some clarity and deal with it as a point of fact, not what was said.)

“But when the new [ANC] government took over, they forgot about the workers and it was then that the resolve to break the alliance was made. In 1995, NUMSA proposed that COSATU leaders must form part of the ANC’s National Executive Committee but the trade union was violently opposed,” he said.

He charged that the ANC was not assisting the people in terms of making their position better in South Africa.

“Another attempt to have the COSATU leaders form part of the ANC’s NEC again failed in 1999 to a point where even the teachers unions that had promised to back this position backed out. A special national congress was convened in 2013 and at this congress NUMSA got it right, and a number of resolutions were made,” Cele said. “One of the resolutions was the breaking of the political alliance and the other was the formation of a United Front within the structures that were going to work with community structures on the ground.”

He said the other resolution was to extend NUMSA’s scope by not only focussing on the metal sector but also organise across the value chain. 

“This made COSATU to classify NUMSA as a general union and asked that the trade union should be clear about its structures. NUMSA was not the only trade union within COSATU that was organising along the value chain. This was what COSATU used to dismiss NUMSA in 2013 and an appeal made against the decision was in vain,” Cele said. “NUMSA felt that it needed to belong to a labour federation and that was achieved this year with the formation of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU).”

 He explained that the task of this new federation was to organise workers who were unorganised and co-opt them into SAFTU with its 24 affiliates and 700, 000 members.

“One of the first tasks of the new labour federation was to fight the new minimum wage of 3,500 rands which had been imposed on the South African working class by the ANC government. SAFTU was clear in rejecting this minimum wage having in mind that the miners of Marikana in the country’s North West had been killed whilst demanding for a minimum wage of 12,500 rands,” Cele said. “For the ANC to come up with a 3, 500 rands minimum wage is an insult to the workers.”

He said issues had already emerged among the workforce in South Africa’s engineering sector; one of the biggest, over negotiations on the proposed minimum wage.

“Alliances between political parties and trade unions do not usually work for the working class. It was learnt in no time that the ANC was not willing to come up with policies that work in favour of the working class,” said Cele.

 

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