user preferences

NUMSA and the ‘United Front Against Neoliberalism’

category southern africa | the left | opinion / analysis author Wednesday September 03, 2014 16:26author by Jonathan Payn - International Labour Research and Information Groupauthor email jonathan at ilrig dot org dot za Report this post to the editors

Part 1 in a series of articles on the concept and history of the United Front

The resolution adopted by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) to form a ‘United Front against neoliberalism’ – as well as its decision not to endorse the ANC in the elections – represents an interesting development in the political landscape, one which activists should look at carefully and engage.

Due to the language used by the media, the Left, NUMSA’s critics and even NUMSA itself much confusion surrounds the debate – leaving many questions: Is the ‘United Front’ an organisation or attempt to build a new labour federation or political party? Is it an attempt to revive the 1980s United Democratic Front (UDF)? Why NUMSA’s sudden interest in community struggles?

This series, of which this article is the first, aims to clarify these and other questions by looking at the proposal and history of united fronts locally and internationally to clarify key issues and draw lessons that activists can use when engaging the pros and cons of NUMSA’s United Front proposal and if and how they think it should be developed.

First published in issue 86 of Workers World News

Part 2: Anti-militarist United Fronts and Italy’s “Red week”, 1914
Part 3: The 1917 Russian Revolution and United Front
Part 4: United Working Class Action and the Workers’ Council Movement in Germany, 1920-1923

NUMSA: The United Front is a weapon for uniting the working class.
NUMSA: The United Front is a weapon for uniting the working class.

Global capitalist crisis and a stalled revolution

To understand NUMSA’s decision to break with the ANC and SACP, and the potential its call for a united front could offer for building a working class-based alternative to the ANC-led Alliance and its neoliberal policies, activists must contextualise these decisions and unpack what NUMSA understands by the United Front.

NUMSA has noted that, twenty years after the democratic transition, the majority-black working class has not experienced meaningful improvements in its conditions. At the same time, however, a small black elite has become super wealthy. In South Africa NUMSA has noted that the neoliberal restructuring, implemented by the ANC government and supported by its Alliance partners, has been aimed at benefiting the capitalist class and has resulted in the increased dominance of finance capital, in massive job losses and increased poverty and inequality.

‘A weapon for uniting the working class’

NUMSA claims not to see the United Front as a new organisation or party but a mechanism “to mobilise the working class in all their formations into a United Front against neoliberalism”. Whereas NUMSA sees the Alliance as “simply a mechanism for mobilising a vote for the ANC”, it envisions the United Front as a “mobilising tool to organise and coordinate working class struggles”.

The United Front is also not about building a new labour federation as NUMSA is calling on COSATU to join it in breaking with the Alliance and building a new movement. Nor is it an attempt to simply revive the UDF. Rather, it is “a way to join other organisations in action, in the trenches”, through sharing common struggles.

NUMSA says that “better working conditions are inseparable from the working class community struggles for transportation, sanitation, water, electricity and shelter” and that it wants to break down the barriers that exist between worker and community struggles. The two pillars on which its United Front would stand are gaining community support for NUMSA campaigns and building “concrete support for other struggles of the working class and the poor wherever and whenever they take place”.

‘NUMSA is part of the community, and NOT the community’

For many community activists the question then is why now, after ignoring community struggles for so long, does NUMSA claim to want to support them? Moreover, why does NUMSA think it should lead this unification process? After all, community activists long ago identified the ANC’s neoliberal character.

Despite the fact that its members come from the communities NUMSA has not supported community struggles in recent years. Yet now it seems NUMSA wants to support community struggles and lead them in building a united front. While it might have a role to play, some community activists feel NUMSA cannot legitimately take the lead in uniting community struggles.

Instead they feel NUMSA should focus on building unity with other unions before approaching communities. Similarly, communities should first work together to unite their own struggles from the bottom up; a process that is already underway in parts of the country.

Only once community struggles are united and coordinated from below, by the activists involved, can they feel confident in uniting community and worker struggles without fear of bigger, more resourced organisations like NUMSA imposing themselves on them.

Conclusion

A good thing about the United Front is that it accommodates ideological differences in order to build the unity of working class formations in struggle. However, Communist Parties have historically engaged in united fronts to create unity in action in struggles against the onslaught of capitalism, but also with the aim of winning over the majority – who mostly (but not exclusively as there were other revolutionary currents) supported reformist social democratic parties – involved in these struggles to their programme and lead as a Party. When engaging the NUMSA United Front proposal, then, it is important to ask whether or not NUMSA also sees the United Front as a tactic to win what it has sometimes unfortunately described as leaderless and unorganised community struggles to its perspectives and to ensure they accept its leadership in struggles.

Community activists across the country have, despite scepticism, responded positively to NUMSA’s call by supporting the 19 March actions against the Youth Wage Subsidy.

Will NUMSA reciprocate by putting its resources and capacity at the service of building “concrete support for other struggles of the working class and the poor “wherever and whenever they take place”?

The possibility of NUMSA playing any relevant role in fostering working class unity depends on the answer to this question.

Related Link: http://www.ilrig.org/
This page can be viewed in
English Italiano Deutsch
Employees at the Zarfati Garage in Mishur Adumim vote to strike on July 22, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Ma’an workers union)

Front page

Where to now, Zimbabwe? Beyond the “good” charismatic pastor.

Contre la loi Travail: le bras de fer continue

Announcement of Nationally Coordinated Prisoner Workstoppage for Sept 9, 2016

Opinião da CAB diante a atual conjuntura Brasileira

¿Habemus pacem? Los desafíos en el tránsito de La Habana a Colombia

Italia - terremoto

Inside the Zimbabwean Uprising

La experiencia de Mujeres Libres: 80 años del surgimiento del feminismo anarquista organizado

Con Lucha Y Organización Fortalecemos La Resistencia

Algunas reflexiones en torno al poder y la institucionalidad a 80 años de la Revolución Española

80 aniversari de la insurrecció obrera i popular i de la revolució social

80 anni fa la rivoluzione comunista libertaria in Spagna

De los comités de defensa al análisis de los órganos de poder

The Coup in Turkey: Tyranny against tyranny does not make freedom

Greve, Piquete, Marcha e Ocupação! Educadores e Estudantes unidos pela Educação!

Making sense of the Brexit tide of reaction and the reality of the racist vote

[Colombia] Ante el acuerdo de cese al fuego bilateral y definitivo entre el gobierno colombiano y las FARC-EP

Coyuntura Política en Venezuela: Crisis, Tendencias y el Desafío de la Independencia de Clase

Orlando means fightback

Palestinian workers in Israel: between scylla and charybdis

A Socialist On City Council: A Look At The Career Of Kshama Sawant

Élargir la lutte et généraliser la grève pour gagner

Carta de Fundação OAZ

[Colombia] Documento de Formación: Análisis de Coyuntura 2015-2016

Southern Africa | The Left | en

Mon 26 Sep, 23:40

browse text browse image

zacfront_symbol_1.jpg imageThe “Democratic Left”: A Small Step Towards United Working Class Struggle 01:46 Wed 23 Feb by Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front 0 comments

From 20 to 23 January 2011, working class and revolutionary militants from throughout South Africa, including a ZACF delegation, gathered in Johannesburg for the Conference of the Democratic Left (CDL). The gathering ended in the launch of the Democratic Left Front (DLF) as a loose alliance of organisations and individuals in struggle.

In explaining our relationship to the DLF, we will here summarise our reservations, while explaining why they are outweighed by the genuine achievements of the CDL. The reservations cover three main areas: attitudes towards the state and elections; leadership structures; and the DLF programme and demands. (We are also less than enthusiastic about some new terms that have become popular in the CDL and DLF, such as “eco-socialism”; but this is largely a matter of language, which we will not discuss in detail here.)

textIn Solidarity with Cosatu and the Workers of the World 19:26 Fri 16 May by Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front 0 comments

The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) recognises that the crisis in Zimbabwe, ongoing xenophobic attacks and rising food prices are of great importance to the working class, both in South Africa and internationally. Resolving these crises in favour of the poor and working poor will require mass direct action and solidarity. [ Italiano]

textZACF statement on the "racist anarchists" of Potchefstroom 17:10 Wed 27 Jun by Jonathan Payn 3 comments

Right-wingers in the South African town of Potchefstroom removed street-signs with the names of liberation figures and replaced them with those of Boer leaders. But the Potch City Council attributed the actions to "racist anarchists".

textSWAZILAND: Rush hour for liberation movement 18:08 Thu 07 Dec by International Secretary ZACF 0 comments

Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation statement on alleged armed struggle tendency of Swaziland pro-democracy movement.

textPower corrupts the left in South Africa 21:26 Fri 19 Aug by Zabalaza 0 comments

Even sitting on the government council at a local level puts a person on the other side of the line between oppressed and oppressor / exploiter and exploited and that is why we say that it is only when we fully control our communities and workplaces ourselves will we be able to provide decent food, clothing and housing for ourselves and our families

textSouth Africa: COSATU & Social Movements 22:15 Fri 12 Aug by Michael Schmidt (International secretary) 0 comments

COSATU has remained an ANC loyalist organisation - despite the 1-million job-losses under ANC rule but a survey by the human sciences research council shows that while 75% of COSATU members still consider themselves ANC loyalists - 25% of its 2-million members have lost confidence.

imageBeyond "Zuma must fall", beyond choosing between elites May 14 by Warren McGregor 0 comments

A constant fixation on the machinations of elite power manoeuvring, and persistent, recurring calls for either new leadership, or new political parties, are evidence of a very conservative and authoritarian political culture. These stories may well be important. Indeed, this is the nature of current socio-economic organisation (capitalism and the state). These human-created forms of control always operate to centralise power up the hierarchy, thus investing tremendous power in the hands of very few. This few – race, gender, rhetoric regardless – the ruling class, are those who control the means of production, administration and coercion. Our pre-occupations are drawn to such elite individuals and groups as many of us have chosen to hand over our political power and future to these. Now this political culture usually results in the general and often vain belief and hope that through hierarchical, fundamentally undemocratic organisation, leaders invested with this incredible power are somehow to create the foundations for a more equal society and world. Also important to consider is that all political parties, no matter the colour of its beret, whether in control of the state or seeking to attain this control, centralise the power of decision-making upwards, and are thus fundamentally authoritarian and anti-democratic.

imageThe general orientation of anarchists/ syndicalists to the United Front and NUMSA Sep 02 by Jakes Factoria and Tina Sizovuka 0 comments

Will the United Front (UF) address the crises we are currently facing in South Africa? I am concerned about how the UF works and who leads it. In my own view we don’t need a leader, we need to all have equal voice. How can we build the UF as a basis for a stateless, socialist, South Africa?

imageCosatu used to pump millions of Rands to support the ANC’s election campaigns Oct 13 by Mzee 0 comments

At the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (Cosatu) media briefing on Thursday 21 November 2013, its president Sdumo Dlamini told a journalist that the federation is “yet to decide” whether or not to contribute financially toward the ANC’s 2014 election campaign. The briefing followed a Cosatu central executive committee (CEC) meeting.

imageNelson Mandela Dec 10 by Michael Schmidt 6 comments

A frail multimillionaire dies peacefully in bed at the grand old age of 95, surrounded by a coterie of those who love him and those with an eye on the inheritance, an event that would in the normal course of events be seen as natural—but the man concerned has been treated internationally as more of a supernatural entity than an ordinary man. The unsurpassed hagiography around Nelson Mandela, who died in the über-wealthy enclave of Houghton in Johannesburg last Thursday night, the famous prisoner turned global icon on a par with Mohandas Gandhi is upheld by most observers of South Africa as a necessary myth of national unity, and not least of the triumph of racial reconciliation of over the evils of segregation.

imageTowards a Truly Democratic Left Dec 27 by Jonathan Payn 1 comments

Failures of democracy have been a big part of the history of the DLF. We in the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) have had to raise such challenges several times (see “DLF structure: concerns and proposals” by ZACF). We have long been troubled by the lack of proper democratic structures, by a leadership that consists far more of middle-class intellectuals than of grassroots militants, and by a programme that seems to be determined in advance by the academic and NGO interests of these intellectuals instead of by the immediate needs of the workers and the poor.

more >>

imageThe “Democratic Left”: A Small Step Towards United Working Class Struggle Feb 23 ZACF 0 comments

From 20 to 23 January 2011, working class and revolutionary militants from throughout South Africa, including a ZACF delegation, gathered in Johannesburg for the Conference of the Democratic Left (CDL). The gathering ended in the launch of the Democratic Left Front (DLF) as a loose alliance of organisations and individuals in struggle.

In explaining our relationship to the DLF, we will here summarise our reservations, while explaining why they are outweighed by the genuine achievements of the CDL. The reservations cover three main areas: attitudes towards the state and elections; leadership structures; and the DLF programme and demands. (We are also less than enthusiastic about some new terms that have become popular in the CDL and DLF, such as “eco-socialism”; but this is largely a matter of language, which we will not discuss in detail here.)

textIn Solidarity with Cosatu and the Workers of the World May 16 ZACF 0 comments

The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) recognises that the crisis in Zimbabwe, ongoing xenophobic attacks and rising food prices are of great importance to the working class, both in South Africa and internationally. Resolving these crises in favour of the poor and working poor will require mass direct action and solidarity. [ Italiano]

textZACF statement on the "racist anarchists" of Potchefstroom Jun 27 ZACF (southern Africa) 3 comments

Right-wingers in the South African town of Potchefstroom removed street-signs with the names of liberation figures and replaced them with those of Boer leaders. But the Potch City Council attributed the actions to "racist anarchists".

textSWAZILAND: Rush hour for liberation movement Dec 07 Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation 0 comments

Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation statement on alleged armed struggle tendency of Swaziland pro-democracy movement.

© 2005-2016 Anarkismo.net. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by Anarkismo.net. [ Disclaimer | Privacy ]