The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the trade union federation Cosatu's largest affiliate, is mobilising its members to strike over the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP), the youth wage subsidy, and e-tolls – starting from January, at the time the ANC will be rolling out its election campaign.
The ANC plans to use the NDP and youth wage subsidy as drawcards; they are expected to feature prominently in its election manifesto, which will be revealed by President Jacob Zuma in the party's annual statement on January 8.
In an interview this week Numsa's regional secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, Mbuso Ngubane, said the union will launch a massive protest against the implementation of the ANC's economic policies in the first quarter of 2014, a move political observers say is a clear indication the union is getting closer to splitting from Cosatu.
Ngubane said the union has already filed a section 77 notice with the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to allow its members to take to the streets. Numsa, Ngubane said, is mobilising other Cosatu affiliates, including the Food and Allied Workers' Union (Fawu) and the South African Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) to join the protest.
Samwu and Fawu are among the nine unions that have written to Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini demanding that he convene a special national congress to discuss, among other things, the suspension of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and the federation's failure to implement radical resolutions adopted at the 11th national congress in September last year.
But the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu), one of Dlamini's vocal supporters, this week rejected calls for a special conference and said the alliance would be better off without Numsa.
Unions that are also expected to reject the call for the special congress include the National Union of Mineworkers, the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union.
Numsa will return to court again this month in a bid to force Cosatu to reinstate Vavi, who was suspended after he admitted to having sex with a junior official at Cosatu's offices.
Ngubane said Numsa would discuss at its special national congress in December a possible split from Cosatu and the issue of campaigning for the ANC.
"Members will look at whether we should continue to be affiliated to Cosatu even if it is no longer biting. At no point are we going to say we accept the NDP or the wage subsidy. If we support the ANC's election campaign now, would we be able to stand firm after the elections and say we reject the NDP? For us, there is nothing personal. Our members are not employed by the ANC but are in the private sector and organised by the working class," said Ngubane.
"We are now realising the ANC is not prepared to deliver to the working class. They have rejected all our demands, including scrapping of labour brokers, doing away with inflation targeting, e-tolls and the NDP. What it is that has been delivered by the ANC government for the working class?
"Every time we raise these issues, we are told to follow internal processes. We are also elected by our own members. We must be able to account to them," he said.
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim recently attacked the ANC for failing to improve the conditions of the working class.
"All the positive hype before the Mangaung ANC conference, such as the need for a radical second phase of transition involving radical economic policies in line with the Freedom Charter, have been drowned out by the NDP and the refusal by the leading elites in the ANC to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy. We are now witnessing the destruction of Cosatu as an independent organ of the working class.
"It is very clear that members of the South African black working class are faced with two extreme options – succumb to the domination of right-wing neoliberal capitalism, or fight to end national, gender and class oppression and exploitation by advancing the struggle for a national democratic revolution …
"It is also very clear that the working class must either hand over Cosatu to the rightwingers in the liberation movement or forget about a campaigning, militant and revolutionary federation, or fight to retain Cosatu as a socialist and revolutionary federation," Jim said.
Labour analyst and author Sakhela Buhlungu said that the only way Numsa can win working-class battles is outside Cosatu.
"Chances are that Numsa will walk out. If nothing changes about the NDP, youth wage subsidy, labour brokers, e-tolls and Vavi is not reinstated, they will have to walk. They can't explain themselves out of it.
"If they walk, they might be a rallying point for all sorts of disgruntled people within Cosatu. Many affiliates in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape [including Sadtu and Nehawu] might take a different position to decisions taken at a national level, and support Numsa.
"Numsa might not have a vehicle [the ANC] in Parliament anymore but the best way to fight will be from outside, where they will have more leverage and ammunition to hit the ANC where it hurts the most, including on the Nkandla saga and comments about Malawi and Africa," Buhlungu said.