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South Africa: Numsa's bold and historic decision to cut ties with the ANC
Workers And Socialist Party (WASP)
Delegates at the special congress of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) have taken the bold and historic decision to cut ties with the governing party, the African National Congress (ANC).
With financial and logistical support for the ANC withheld, the ANC will be entering the 2014 elections without the support of the biggest and most politically influential union in Cosatu (the largest trade union federation in South Africa).
The ANC will emerge from the 2014 elections significantly weakened. The nightmare scenario of the ANC's own election strategists of receiving less than 50% of the vote cannot be ruled out.
The aftershocks of the earthquake detonated at Marikana (the police massacre of 34 striking mine workers in August 2012) have now found expression on the political plane.
The golden bars of the political prison in which the working class has been kettled for going on 20 years, have been broken and the process of establishing political independence of the working class has begun.
Additionally, Numsa will cease financial contributions to the South African Communist Party (SACP) breaking the political link with this (in the words of Numsa general secretary, Irvin Jim) "ideologically bankrupt" party.
The anger and sense of betrayal that delegates felt for the ANC and SACP leaderships was on full display throughout the conference.
At no point did a single delegate make any serious argument for continuing to support the ANC. In the minds of Numsa members the reality is clear: the ANC and the SACP are parties of the capitalist class.
The next ANC-led government, with the neoliberal National Development Programme as its centrepiece, does not deserve the support of the working class.
At this stage, Numsa has held back from taking a decision to support an alternative party in 2014. Instead, Numsa plans to launch a 'united front' modelled on the United Democratic Front of the 1980s to unite the struggles of workers and communities while simultaneously helping to bring into being a 'Movement for Socialism'.
WASP, in its open letter to Numsa made the call for the launching of a socialist trade union network to help overcome the divisions in the working class and the paralysis of united struggle caused by the crisis in Cosatu.
We also made the call for an assembly of working class unity to draw up a battle plan for the struggles of the masses.
In Numsa's decision to launch a united front and a movement for socialism we recognise these calls as broadly met.
However, with the national and provincial elections only months away we invited Numsa to "take its place in the leadership of WASP".
WASP was launched to unite the struggles of workers, communities and youth and is organised in a democratic and federal way that would allow Numsa to use the WASP umbrella to stand its own candidates, selected by its own procedures.
At Numsa's special congress the leadership laid down criteria that any political party would have to meet in order to warrant political support.
We believe WASP meets these criteria. WASP was born out of the struggles of the mineworkers and bases itself on the working class; WASP stands for the nationalisation of the mines, the banks, the commercial farms, the factories and other big business on the basis of workers' control as part of the struggle for a socialist society; WASP is a thoroughly democratic organisation.
As part of the adoption of their new political strategy, the Numsa leadership was given a mandate to "be alert" to a "party committed to socialism standing for elections in future".
We therefore repeat our call for Numsa to take its place in the leadership of WASP and support and stand candidates under the WASP umbrella in the 2014 elections as a crucial part of building the new Movement for Socialism.
The limitations of Numsa's specific position on the 2014 elections cannot however detract from the monumental shift in the political landscape that Numsa's decision heralds.
Numsa sent a clear signal to mineworkers and other workers that Numsa will not abandon them to the pro-capitalist misleadership of unions that continue to cling to the ANC.
Irvin Jim declared, in open defiance of Cosatu's "one union, one industry" policy, that Numsa "will no longer reject any worker".
Jim even lamented that this has not been Numsa's policy at the time of Marikana. This will put Numsa on a collision course with the pro-ANC right-wing of Cosatu and almost certainly lead to the break-up of Cosatu.
With plans for rolling mass action in early 2014 and the extension of the hand of solidarity to the mineworkers by the congress - who will most likely be waging new struggles over wages and retrenchments in the new year - Numsa will be at the centre of workers' struggle in the next period.
Numsa has taken its first steps into the new landscape and, alongside WASP and the mineworkers, has taken up the historic task of rebuilding the political independence of the working class. WASP salutes the Numsa leadership and delegates for their decision.