(GIN) — The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa, or Numsa, a major partner of the African National Congress with more than 350,000 members, was expelled in a late-night session of members of the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions, also known as Cosatu, the labor federation of the ANC.
The unprecedented expulsion was approved by a select federation committee. Numsa, a militant activist union, was tossed out for disloyalty to the ANC, for poaching members of other unions and for proposing the organization of a united front of left-leaning organizations.
The vote was 33 for expulsion and 24 against.
“Welcome to the ANC’s biggest nightmare,” The Daily Maverick newspaper wrote in a banner headline, adding, “Consider it ‘Game On.’”
Numsa President Andrew Chirwa said the expulsion would be the beginning of a “real class struggle,” rather than the end of the road for the union and seven other Cosatu affiliates that are supporting them.
According to its critics, Cosatu in recent years had become cozy with political leaders and unwilling to defend union members, whose wages hardly budged while a small middle class and some notable millionaires and billionaires (including the expected successor to President Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa) saw fabulous gains.
Income inequality in South Africa—the gap between the haves and the have-nots—is one of the widest in the world.
After the group’s ouster, Numsa leader Irving Jim declared, “We have reviewed the so-called charges against us, as far as we know what they are, and we have shown that at the bottom of them all is one thing: You, the Cosatu leadership, remain loyal to the ANC and South African Communist Party alliance … In fact, you are more loyal to this class alliance than you are to your working-class brothers and sisters.
“We want to make one thing clear: Inside or outside Cosatu, we will not stop mobilizing the working class on the road to socialism. We will not give you any peace as we expose the miserable failure of the class alliance you are entangled in and how it compromises your ability to lead the working class.”
And as a parting shot at his former union brothers, Jim said, “What we must give them credit for is that they managed to achieve what the apartheid regime failed to do, which was to destroy a federation that had been both a shield and spear in the hands of workers and in the consciousness of the nation.”
Numsa will be taking its battle to a ground-level offensive, the leaders said, convening mass meetings and shop steward council meetings as part of a consultation process on the way forward.
Cosatu opponents of Numsa are demanding an apology and a retraction of the metal workers’ resolutions, including a pledge to withdraw electoral support for the ANC and plans to form a united front of left-leaning organizations.