Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

THE National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) is to issue a section 77 strike notice at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), warning of rolling mass action against the Treasury over the country’s macroeconomic policy, its general secretary, Irvin Jim, said on Sunday.

Numsa is a self-styled, militant affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions — with 300,000 members its second largest — and has called for radical economic reform to address unemployment, inequality and poverty in South Africa.

The union replaced the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League as the juggernaut in the call for the nationalisation of the mines and other strategic sectors of the South African economy. It has long been an outspoken critic of the Treasury and South Africa’s macroeconomic policies.

On Sunday, Mr Jim said Numsa’s central committee had resolved to serve a section 77 notice, indicating that the four manufacturing sectors it represented would embark on rolling mass action in the form of a national strike, aimed at the Treasury.

In a media briefing after the committee meeting, Mr Jim listed a number of grievances against the government that Numsa believed led it to "fail the country".

"Why does the ANC government allow our manufacturing bases to be destroyed by imports, despite us having capacity to produce all products that are flooding our markets here in South Africa?" he said. "Why does the ANC government allow self-imposed imperialism by a country like China, which acts in the interest of its own people, to extract our raw materials like chrome and rob us of an opportunity to manufacture ferrochrome and create jobs?"

Mr Jim also questioned the government’s pursuit of the "failed" macroeconomic Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme and its "toxic combination" of inflation targeting, high interest rates, removal of exchange controls and low tariffs.

"Today, this rightwing agenda is globally discredited ... and yet the ANC government continues to faithfully and blindly follow it," he said.

Other grievances related to petrochemicals group Sasol’s impact on the plastic industry and the high cost of electricity, caused by the state selling Eskom’s coal rights.

Numsa welcomed the radical direction promised during the ANC policy conference, noting that six of nine party provinces demanded the nationalisation of key sectors of the economy.

However, Mr Jim said the union was "disturbed" by the "open attempt" by the leadership of the movement "not to announce the majority decision taken by the branches".

The ANC’s position on nationalisation was ambiguous after its June policy conference, causing confusion among investors.

"Such an ambivalence was problematic ... if the leadership of the movement is not democratic in championing majority decisions and subscribing to democratic centralism, for Numsa this is something that must be defeated," Mr Jim said.

He added that the ANC needed leaders with a working-class bias, and a leadership collective with the "political will" to implement the Freedom Charter.

Numsa and Mr Jim angered the governing ANC earlier this year when it criticised the ruling party’s top leadership structure, the national executive committee. The ANC holds a national conference in Mangaung at the end of the year where President Jacob Zuma is expected to defend his spot at the helm of the party in a bid to serve a second term.

Mr Jim hit out at Mr Zuma’s ally, South African Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande, who publicly criticised the union for raising the matter of his deployment to the Cabinet while serving in the key post in the party.

A standing Cosatu resolution calls on the SACP’s general secretary to serve the party on a permanent basis. However, the party disagrees with this and has altered its constitution to ensure that Mr Nzimande can serve both the state and the party at the same time.

Numsa accused the SACP leadership of "speaking in forked tongues" and of accusing the union of "grandstanding" when the party itself launched an attack on the union "in full view of the media".

Mr Jim said Mr Nzimande’s report to the SACP’s national congress earlier this year showed the party did not enjoy a "good relationship" with Numsa and, in particular, its leadership.

"We are quite clear that singling out Numsa is not neutral. Its main political intention is to isolate Numsa ... so that it must have absolutely no political influence," Mr Jim said. "The intention can only be to liquidate its organisational influence and its leadership."

Numsa’s running battle with the SACP is rooted in the current power plays unfolding among alliance partners in the run-up to the ANC’s national conference in December.

Numsa and its general secretary are allies of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Mr Vavi’s outspoken criticism of the ANC, the SACP and the federation itself has upset many in the alliance.

Mr Nzimande’s position in the SACP has enabled him to exert considerable influence over Cosatu and its affiliates through federation leaders who are also part of the party’s top brass. Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini is one such leader and a supporter of Mr Zuma. It is understood that this group is trying to influence National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union general secretary Fikile Majola — who is also on the SACP’s central committee — to take on Mr Vavi in an attempt to dislodge him from his long-held position.