Natasha Marrian Political editor: Business Day
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), the largest trade union in the country by numbers, is launching its long-awaited worker’s party, the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP) in December but still has to decide whether to  contest the 2019 election.

The SACP, part of the ruling tripartite alliance with the ANC and the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), is also mulling contesting the polls independently of the governing party. Should it decide to contest the general election in 2019 , the workers party and the SACP, which were allies before Numsa was dismissed from Cosatu, will be scrambling for the same votes to the left of the country’s political divide.

The party would also take on the EFF, which has sought to fashion itself as a leftist socialist party. The Numsa-linked initiative could also attract sections of the ANC aligned to former president Jacob Zuma, who are unhappy about the trajectory of the governing party under President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ironically, it was the Zuma faction which pushed for Numsa's expulsion from Cosatu in 2014. 

Numsa’s 2013 decision to set up a workers’ party to contest elections stalled for years, mainly over disagreements regarding the ideological posture of the party.  But it says it has now put those differences aside and has registered as a fully-fledged party with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

Numsa insiders allege that the SACP sought to block the move, arguing that the new party’s logo was too similar to its own. But Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim on Monday said the union skipped this hurdle and was ready to forge ahead with the party after the IEC cleared it for registration.

SACP deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila, however, said the party was not even aware that Numsa had registered its party and has welcomed its formation. But he added that it should be motivated by taking forward the fight for the working class and not “opportunistic factional battles”. 

The Numsa-linked party’s interim chair, Zanoxolo Wayile, told the Business Day that the SRWP will hold its inaugural congress in December, when it will take two critical decisions. The first is whether to contest the 2019 election and at which level — provincial or national — and the second is the policy platform on which the party would be contesting the election.

Wayile said Numsa understood that SA did not have a shortage of political parties but felt that there was room for one which represented the interests of the “working class”, particularly in the context of rising unemployment and a shrinking economy. 

He said the party was not “rushing to contest elections” but wanted to unite the working class. However, it is understood that its congress in December is likely to push the party to contest the 2019 elections. 

Numsa sought to establish a United Front in 2014, which it said at the time would be a precursor to the formation of a workers party, but the initiative fell flat due to differences among the leadership over its ideological trajectory . 

Wayile said that Numsa would allow the party structures to decide on its trajectory when it meets in December. What was clear however, was that the ANC  had a “neoliberal agenda” and that the SACP had been co-opted and would not provide a vehicle for the working class to contest elections, he said. He said Numsa’s political initiative was critical to take representation of  workers in the electoral space. 

He said the party would not rule out possibly working with parties with the same ideological outlook, such as the EFF, but has not yet entertained such discussions. 

Mapaila said the SACP continued in its attempts to reconfigure its alliance with the ANC, but it would hold a special national conference early in 2019 when a final decision would be taken on whether the party would contest elections independently.