The Crisis in SAFTU and the Fight for Revolutionary Leadership Break With the Labour Traitors—For Black Proletarian Power! Jim vs. Vavi: Both Factions Bankrupt
19 JULY—The May congress of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) made it unmistakably clear that both SAFTU and its largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers (NUMSA), are in a massive crisis. The main expression of this crisis so far is a split in the bureaucracy, running up through the top leadership, and a bitter struggle for organisational control between the two factions—supporters of SAFTU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on one side and supporters of NUMSA general secretary Irvin Jim on the other. The struggle for positions repeatedly threatened to plunge the May congress into chaos and split the federation. At one point, pro-Jim delegates marched toward the podium singing “ungayiyijahi impi, iyabulala [don’t rush to war, it’s deadly]” as Vavi tried to steamroller obstacles to the election of his slate. Many expect the battle to continue at NUMSA’s 11th national congress, which has now been postponed twice as Jim and his allies try to suppress revolts in a number of regions by NUMSA members aligned to Vavi.
Despite the ferocity of the organisational struggle, both sides try to obscure the political issues while making a big show of unity. Behind this crisis is something neither faction wants to (or can) address: the utter failure, since the split from the ANC/SACP/COSATU Tripartite Alliance in 2013-15, to bring about the revival of a militant and powerful trade-union movement that would defend and advance the interests of the black toiling masses. This is what left-wing workers hoped for at the time of the split. Many also expected it to lay the basis for some kind of new political voice of the working class, feeling thoroughly disillusioned with the wretched pro-capitalist SACP leaders. These hopes have been utterly betrayed. The fundamental reason is not a “lack of urgency” or organisational incapacity, as preached by the pseudo-Marxist left groups whose whole strategic outlook is defined by supporting and pressuring one faction of the bureaucracy or the other—WASP, Marxist Workers Party (MWP), Keep Left!, etc. The root cause is the nationalist, class-collaborationist programme of the NUMSA/SAFTU leaders, who despite their secondary differences all seek to re-furbish the nationalist popular front by building a “left” version of the Tripartite Alliance. (read on)