With more than three hundred and thirty thousand (330,000) members, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is outrightly the biggest single trade union in the country of South Africa.
The Union is officially affiliated with the World Federation of Trade Unions – WFTU with Andrew Chirwa currently serving as the president of NUMSA while the current general secretary is Irvin Jim. NUMSA, which is headquartered in Johannesburg, was previously the biggest affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) before its expulsion.
Brief Overview of NUMSA
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa was founded in 1987 following the merger of four different unions; Metal and Allied Workers Union (MAWU), Motor Industry Combined Workers Union (MICWU), National Automobile and Allied Workers Union (NAAWU), and United Metal, and the Mining and Allied Workers of South Africa (UMMAWOSA). Two other unions under the umbrella of COSATU – General and Allied Workers Union (GAWU) and Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), further gave their metal members to the union.
The union largely considers itself to be Marxist-Leninist, a political philosophy that was built on the ideas of Leninism and Marxism which seeks to create and develop socialist states.
Achievements of the Union
NUMSA has recorded a few achievements over the years since its inception. Some of them include:
1. Closing the wage gap between highly paid and low paid workers.
2. Uniting metalworkers across race, ethnic, and gender lines. Women have further been able to secure their jobs after maternity leave.
3. The wages and benefits of the workers have been improved. The union has won pension or provident funds for almost all members.
4. Successfully influenced the government to adopt worker-friendly laws as well as to implement pro-poor policies and increase the level of services.
5. Embarked on campaigns that assisted sister unions on the continent and around the globe to grow and fight the misery of exploitation and dehumanization.
NUMSA VS COSATU: Why The Union was Expelled
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa remains the first and only trade union to be expelled from COSATU since the latter came into existence in 1985.
NUMSA was charged with the violation of COSATU’s constitution. The union supposedly did so by organizing a march to COSATU House to coincide with the first central executive committee and its decision to cease paying its contribution to the COSATU/SACP levy while further extending its scope of operation.
On the 8th of November, 2014, after a 15-hour-long debate, the Central Executive Committee of COSATU voted in favor of expelling the union at 33-24. Following the announcement of the votes, an argument erupted as president of COSATU Sdumo Dlamini told NUMSA delegates to exit the meeting.
The then general secretary of COSATU Zwelinzima Vavi, however, intervened citing the COSATU constitution to NUMSA’s defense. He stated that NUMSA needed a written confirmation of the expulsion before it could be considered valid.
But regardless of this clause that would delay the inevitable, the situation remained aggravated as all the NUMSA delegates walked out of the meeting. The general secretary of NUMSA, Irvin Jim, went on to tell journalists outside the COSATU house what had transpired between the unions. He went on to reveal that NUMSA believes the expulsion was politically motivated and as a result of its decision not to support the African National Congress in the country’s general elections in 2014.
The announcement of the expulsion of the union of Metalworkers from COSATU was met with backlash and criticisms from various angles, including from Zwelinzima Vavi. Other affiliate unions spent almost a week trying to rebuild the battered trade union federation’s image with the likes of the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) arguing that the NUMSA’s matter was not handled well. On the other hand of the spectrum, SAMWU, supported by the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU), the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU), South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) supported the expulsion.
With Zwelinzina being so openly opposed to the expulsion of NUMSA, he himself was also later expelled from COSATU on the 30th of March 2015 by COSATU’s Central Executive Committee with the votes coming in at 31-1 in favor of ejecting him from the union.
In response to NUMSA’s expulsion, 7 unions announced on the 10th of November that they were voluntarily suspending their relationship with COSATU in solidarity with NUMSA. The seven trade unions are: Communication Workers Union (CWU), the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA), Food and Allied Workers Union (FAWU), Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (PAWUSA), South African Commercial, Catering, and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU), South African State and Allied Workers’ Union (SASAWU), and the South African Football Players Union (SAFPU).