National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) general secretary Irvin Jim has declared war on its sister union – the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) – saying his union would now recruit openly in the mining industry and welcome NUM members who wanted to join Numsa.
In a move that is intended to appeal to the mining community, Numsa on Wednesday asked its members to donate anything from R100 towards the Marikana Trust, to support families of the 34 miners who were killed by police in August last year.
The NUM, which has been accused by workers of having close ties with mining companies, has lost thousands of workers to rival union Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu). As a results of this, the union lost its prime status as Cosatu's largest union to Numsa.
Delivering his secretariat report at the Numsa special congress on Wednesday, Jim said Numsa was no longer prepared to listen to those in Cosatu, who said the union should not organise in mining and other sectors.
"We are no longer going to reject any worker who comes [from the NUM] to Numsa. If people want to take that as poaching, well, workers are not rhinos but human beings. The focus on Numsa membership must be rejected. [Cosatu] Public sector unions are recruiting among themselves. They [those opposed to the idea of Numsa recruiting in other sectors] can go to hell. We will recruit workers that come to us and want to belong to the organisation."
Numsa, according to its documents, is planning to recruit workers in mining, construction, chemical and petroleum industries. The decision goes against Cosatu's long-standing resolution of one union per sector. Jim also urged delegates to discuss whether his union should continue to contribute towards Cosatu's political levy, which goes to the South African Communist Party whose leaders continue to attack Numsa. He said the only sin that Numsa has committed was to criticise the ANC for failing to implement radical policies for the benefit of the poor.
"The battle is not about anything. This grouping [pro-Jacob Zuma faction] wants us to support the ANC, ANC, ANC. But the ANC does not have an agenda for the working class. Why must we support it? If the ANC is not willing to support the interest of the working class, what must we do? That's our challenge. That's why we are being hated. We say ANC must ban labour brokers, do away with the national development plan and stop privatising public roads. Why must we fear to say that when the ANC by its own nature is a multiclass organisation?" said Jim.
He said leaders like ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa made sure there was no resolution on the strategic nationalisation of key sectors during the ANC national conference in Mangaung last December.
"I must say, we are now gatvol. We no longer care. We no longer have capacity to deal with this propaganda.
"We have been trying to clarify issues over the years. We are [now] tired. Numsa delegates are currently discussing whether or not to split from Cosatu and the alliance in commissions."
NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said he was happy Numsa was now coming out in the open about its plan.
"They [Numsa] must not act as if it's something new. They have been recruiting our members, who are disgruntled. But now we are very excited that they are going to do it in the open," said Seshoka.
He said the NUM's national executive committee would discuss the matter and decide whether it should also welcome Numsa member in its ranks.
There are Numsa members, who have been knocking at our door because they are not happy with Numsa's politics," said Seshoka.
Earlier on Wednesday, Seshoka announced he was leaving the union at the end of the month. "I am joining an institution of higher education which I may not disclose for now. I think it is time to move on. I have spent 13 years in the trade unions."
He said he had worked for the NUM for seven years, had spent six years at the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa, and a year at the education council.
"I think it is time to interact with young people who are not yet teachers and nurses. I have interacted with teachers, nurses and mineworkers."
Seshoka said he had worked as a part-time lecturer, and felt it was time to follow his interest in teaching.
He said it had been a good to work for the NUM. "They give you freedom to speak. You do not have to consult with the secretary general," he said in a statement.
"For seven years that I have been spokesperson of the NUM, all of you have been good to me and for that I thank you.
"Sometimes we had some minor differences, but those differences were catalysts for more cooperation.
"I take this opportunity to bid all of you goodbye as I am leaving the employ of the NUM this month," he said.
"It has been a wonderful experience for me and I will miss all of you, members of the fourth estate, members of the NUM and the alliance as a whole." – Additional reporting by Sapa