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The election of Mthuthuzeli Tom and Silumko Nondwangu of Numsa at their recent Congress, spells the beginning of the end for this formerly militant union. Despite all the ‘anti-GEAR’ sloganeering, the era of sweetheart trade unionism is now well and truly entrenched. Both Tom and Nondwangu played key roles in the undemocratic and unconstitutional removal of the elected shop-stewards at VWSA. They also played a leading role in alliance with the VWSA bosses in denying the workers’ right to representation of their choice and their right to effective collective bargaining. Their very role has been the practical implementation and safeguarding of pro-GEAR policies on the shop-floor. Notwithstanding that some of the Numsa Congress resolutions may sound progressive, the leadership of Numsa lack the commitment to give effect to them since they do not have the workers interest at heart!

It is difficult to date when the rot started within the union but the political basis on which the degeneration of Numsa has developed is its alliance with the ANC and SACP. Numsa [and Cosatu’s] incorrect recognition that the ANC is the leading alliance partner means that all their activity is subject to the programme of the ANC. The current economic programme of the ANC is the captialist GEAR. The cold truth is that the tripartite alliance will not act in the interests of the working class. Cosatu must be torn free from the bourgeois ANC and the stalinist SACP both of which are acting as significant brakes on the advancement of the workers objective of socialism.

In 1997, when the VW workers started to mobilise against the negative effects of productivity and flexibility deals signed by the Numsa leadership, the VWSA bosses sponsored a Numsa conference to discuss internal problems of the union [the workers were unhappy with the officials and their 1996-era shopstewards]. The trend was set with an input from VWSA bosses in the conference on the importance of "defending investments" and lean production. It is ironic that the conference documents contained noteworthy warnings of the dangers of corporatism: that it undermines the independence of unions, leads to the union leadership siding with the programme of the bosses and resulting in expulsions from the union of those who oppose these policies. Clearly the warning that union officials would do the dirty work of the bosses was lost on the Numsa officials

In 1998, Numsa officials signed, without the consent of the workers, an export order agreement with VWSA. Distinguished from previous exports was that the whole method of work was changed across the entire factory. The proposal of the company was to introduce continuous production measures and to increase the intensity of work [abolishing tea breaks; introducing a three shift system; staggered lunch breaks and a holiday corridor]. One of the key proposals of the VWSA bosses was for the union to support discipline of its own members and this monstrous idea reared its head again in the 28th January 2000 ‘agreement’ when Numsa officials signed that the plant be re-opened during the strike by their members. Both agreements [1998 and 2000] were not mandated and were imposed on the workers.

The Numsa propagandists have tried to put the blame for supposedly unconstitutional behaviour on an informal structure called the ‘Indlu ye Ngwevu’.. Informal workers structures have their origin in the days of NAAWU/Fosatu and these groups of activists operated as workers’ control commissions over the shop-stewards. John Gomomo was one of the founder members of Indlu ye Ngwevu. The Numsa bureaucrats are not saying that they are also promoting unconstitutional groups, namely SACP cells. These SACP cells are there to police the workers to ensure that the ANC’s GEAR policy is practically defended. Since the election of new militant shop-stewards, the combined onslaught from VWSA bosses and Numsa officials began in earnest. It is not in the interest of Numsa (and the ANC) and VW that militant worker leaders like the 1999 shop-stewards should raise, as they did, essential questions such as the impact of new production techniques on the cultural life of the workers, the failure of the company to comply with international standards on occupational health and safety issues and the like.

In its new role of taking responsibility for the capitalist system, the Numsa officials joined the VWSA bosses in frustrating the mandates of the 1999 shop-stewards. This was effected by dis-information put out by the bosses; undemocratic and unconstitutional attempts by the Numsa officials to remove the new shop-stewards and not to recognise the will of the workers on the factory floor. Measures included letters from local office bearers and from the then regional secretary, Nondwangu to the shop-stewards expelling them, even though only a union regional executive committee had such powers. It was Nondwangu who led the court interdict against the remaining shop-stewards at VWSA. Yet the Numsa Constitution is clear, a mere 30% support is needed to remove any shop-steward! Such was the desperation of the Numsa officials to install sweetheart shop-stewards that acceptable worker methods were abandoned. Such undemocratic expulsions and practices are appearing to become the norm within the union. The national education officer of the union, Dinga Sigwebu was dismissed for calling the method of the union officials into question in a discussion document. Only drastic arbitration action saw him returned to his position. Nondwangu is well aware of a bribe of a vehicle from VWSA to the Numsa Eastern Cape region, accepted without consultation with workers. This is the tradition that is now entrenched in the centre of Numsa. The union officials rule the roost. The actual union, which is the sum of the union’s members, no longer matters in Numsa.

The role of the Numsa leadership is reflected in an international trend of workers’ ‘leaders’ who are in reality the voice of the bosses within the workers’ movement – they play a vital role in controlling the working class for exploitation by the capitalist class. This is generally true for the ICFTU, what is left of the WFTU and the International Trade Secretariats [eg International Metalworkers Federation]. The VW German Works Council statement on the strike is quite revealing. It states that VW was asked by Numsa to dismiss the shopstewards from employment. This shows the extent to which the Numsa leadership is prepared to work with big capital against the working class. At the same time, the struggle of the VWSA workers reflects an international trend of workers fighting against the alliance of their union leaders with capitalist governments and the capitalists themselves. The VWSA workers have received support from IG Metall [Berlin]; Yugoslavian auto-workers; German and Brasilian VW workers as well as other auto, chemical and media workers across the globe.

That the Workers International Vanguard League (WIVL) only made contact in Uitenhage among the VWSA workers after the mass dismissal reflects the general weakness of the real left within the country. Contrary to lies put out by Numsa it is not our policy to promote splits among the working class. Despite the majority of the VWSA workers having joined the Oil Chemical General and Allied Workers Union [OCGAWU] our proposal for unity between any independent union and Cosatu/Nactu [or others] is simply this: there should be the unconditional right that minority views are to be expressed and to be reflected within the structures of the union, as well as the absolute right for only the workers’ constituency to elect or remove their representatives. For example, the Brasilian model of the trade union federation, CUT, allows workers to be represented at local regional and national levels according to their political tendency and the platform of their tendency. Leadership is elected based on proportional support that a tendency receives. The Brasilian model demonstrates a much greater level of tolerance than that which currently exists in Numsa or Cosatu.

The struggle of the VWSA workers shows that globalisation is not faceless, but is an onslaught by international capital (imperialism), assisted by the national governments, other state structures and certain trade union leadership against the very fabric of life of the working class. In Brasil, the siding of the Communist Party with the Dictatorship led to the formation of the Workers Party there. We need to learn from their experience and its shortcomings and continue to fight for the replacement of the leadership that has suppressed the 1993 Numsa resolution for a working class party in South Africa. The question of the leadership of the unions and the formation of a revolutionary working class party is indeed a life and death matter for the working class. WIVL will work with all working class militants to in building a Workers Party that will lead an uncompromising struggle against capitalism.

issued by Workers International Vanguard League
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