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Numsa sets to work on a socialist party

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) is planning to form a political party to fight for the abolishment of capitalism and the nationalisation of “white monopoly capital”. It already has 170 potential foot soldiers that will take up this cause at a national conference envisioned for next year.

Numsa held its 10th national congress in Cape Town this week, where its leaders were returned to their positions unopposed, and metalworkers affirmed that the need to establish a socialist political party is “urgent”.

The union first broke ranks with its allies in the ANC and South African Communist Party in 2013 and was expelled from the trade union federation Cosatu a year later.

Members are now more determined than ever to forge ahead with a political party.

Initially touted as the Movement for Socialism and preceded by the establishment of a community umbrella body, the United Front (UF), Numsa has since established a co-ordinating task team to further its push for a political party.

The team responsible for organising the conference includes Numsa’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, Azwell Banda, Norma Craven and its chairperson, Professor Chris Malikane, of the University of the Witwatersrand.

At the union’s political school, Red 100, held from October 26 to 30 in Johannesburg this year, Numsa delegates discussed the formation of the party and “the basics of Marxist-Leninist theory and practice”, according to the organisational report presented by Jim. It has also commissioned opinion articles on unfolding national and international events.

The union has been criticised by ANC-aligned workers for its intention to form a party that will pose a challenge to the governing party but they have been ignored. Numsa’s organisational report reveals that plans are at an advanced stage.

“From the Red 100 school, we would hope to emerge with a core of cadres, capable of taking the discussion to locals and into communities and to begin to build a conscious layer of Marxists,” Jim wrote in the report.

“This should culminate early next year in a national conference to debate perspectives, tactics, strategies and policies.”

But there are already signs that the union has failed to convince its members to take the formation of the party seriously and fuse the work of the union with the party’s political ideology.

After its regional policy workshops, the Numsa central committee decided to speed up the establishment of a “Workers’ Party for Socialism”, and decided that the Movement for Socialism’s task team should be part of local and regional shop stewards, council meetings.

“Unfortunately these meetings are disorganised and we find out after the event or we get an apology for forgetting to invite us. These bodies are the budding Soviets of the revolution and yet political discussion and interaction seem to be a very low priority,” Jim said in the report.

To counter that, the union wants to swell the ranks of the Movement for Socialism with Numsa members.

“The tasks remaining now are for the union to create a national structure with offices and all necessary facilities to begin the work of building the party across the country. There is no time to waste,” Jim said.

But the general secretary was more cautious about the United Front, warning that it needs to be managed carefully.

“We must always tolerate different political views but make sure that the UF is not left in the hands of NGOs [nongovernmental organisations] and single-issue groups with agendas which conflict with ours,” according to the report.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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