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South Africa’s largest union to launch political party

Published on 15/05/2014

South Africa's largest trade union on Thursday announced it will form a political party, severing a decades-long allegiance with the ANC and heralding a major shake-up in the country's politics.

“The working class needs its own political party” the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) secretary general Irvin Jim said launching the “United Front”, adding that the “working class is leaderless”.

With 340,000 members, the union’s party could prove a potent political force, poaching votes from the disillusioned left wing of the ruling African National Congress and appealing to South Africa’s army of unemployed workers.

Although the ANC enjoys massive support, it has relied on a tripartite alliance with trade unions and the South African Communist Party, to bolster its pre-eminence during two decades in power.

Party and union memberships often overlap and the union’s grass roots organisation provides the ANC with a powerful campaign machine.

Jim said Numsa’s party would contest the 2016 local government elections. “There is no turning back from where we stand,” he said.

Numsa had foreshadowed the move by refusing to campaign for the ANC at the May 7 elections, which the ANC won handily in any case.

But with Julius Malema’s populist Economic Freedom Fighters scoring more than a million votes at the polls, many believe with Numsa’s organisational clout they could prove a dangerous rival for the ANC.