For the record – and on the off chance that  someone may one-day want some background on the (at time of writing) unresolved metalworkers strike – here are the bits and pieces I have published over the last two weeks; ordered from most recent at the top.

The piece from the eve of the strike was written jointly with my colleague (economist at BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities) and friend Jeff Schultz … and just while I am on that, well done Jeff on your accurate 25 basis point hike call  from the SARB’s MPC.

(btw, I am publishing in something of a rush … I will attempt to clean up the formatting and editing over the next day or so.)


Numsa and SIEFSA – so near yet so far – 13th July 2014

The engineering strike has reached an impasse that is less insignificant than it first appears. Numsa, representing the majority of the 220 000 workers on strike, has gradually reduced its demand from 15% to 10%. SIEFSA is prepared to meet the 10% for the coming 1 year period but only if this is part of a 3 year agreement with 9.5% in 2015 and 9% in 2016. Numsa has rejected this offer (which SIEFSA subsequently withdrew) saying it will only agree to a 3 year agreement at 10% for each of the years

So what

The strike is entering its 16th day and the knock-on effects into the rest of the economy are severe; threatening our already anaemic GDP growth estimates.

Numsa has adequately jumped the hurdles to ‘prove’ that it is not opportunistically pursuing the industrial action purely as a way of building momentum towards launching a political party. By moving towards the employer organisation at each bargaining round (from 15% to 12% for 3 year agreements and then to 10% for a single year) but staying just out of reach of SIEFSA’s mandate, Numsa can now dig in its heals without losing the backing of those of its members who feel unwilling to be used in the Numsa leadership’s broader political game.

Numsa now promises to produce “a detailed Programme of Action (PoA) to intensify the (indefinite) strike action” – Numsa press release 14/07/2014. Numsa is hinting that this means getting other sectors in which it organises (especially the automobile manufacturing industry which is already negatively affected due to parts shortages) to strike in sympathy.

At issue here is that if our assumption that Numsa has ‘hidden’ motivations is correct, then predicting how and when the strike will end is that much more difficult.

Numsa’s trade union movement to the left of Cosatu and political party to the left of the ANC are an historical inevitability – and likely to garner significant support

A useful background article by Eddie Webster and Mark Orkin concerning the historical origins of, and potential support for, a ‘workers party’ appeared in Monday’s Business Day (15/07/2014). The article is based on “a large nationally representative sample of adults of all races” conducted in February and March this year and concludes that the party (which Numsa is pushing to form) could win as much as 33% of the national vote in an election. While we think these estimates are a bit rich, the article is a ‘must read’ for anyone wanting to understand the ideological origins and potential size of the initiative emerging from Numsa and other dissident Cosatu sectors and leaders.

To restate our oft restated view on this matter:

  • the initiative will cause heightened industrial unrest in the medium term (over 2 years) as the breakaway unions compete with established Cosatu unions;
  • the resulting ‘political initiative’ could push the ANC to a marginal hold on its absolute majority in future elections (potentially leading to more schizophrenic policies … but potentially having more positive impacts).


The National Union of Metalworkers is ready to fight – 30th June 2014

A strike in the engineering sector is on – and Numsa will attempt to extend the action to Eskom.

“The national executive committee has agreed to the decision from our members to embark on an indefinite strike action, beginning on July 1,” said Irvin Jim, general secretary of Numsa yesterday at a media briefing (SABC News).

Numsa claims membership of 341,150 (making it easily the largest union in the country) and it organises 10,000 companies across the motor, auto, engineering, tyre and rubber sectors – although it is officially only the engineering sector that is targeted by the strike (see here for the strike certificate and the full lists of all unions and employers involved in the dispute).

(Note that the strike is not directly in the automakers’ sector. Numsa took 30,000 workers out on strike here in 2013 – in an action that ostensibly led to BMW shelving plans for a big South African investment. However the strike will affect the auto parts sector and hence could impact directly on the automakers’ sector.)

Irvin Jim, Numsa Secretary said members would also picket the headquarters of state power utility Eskom on July 2 as part of a push for a wage increase of 12% – in a linked, but separate action. Eskom is defined as an “essential service”, making strikes illegal.

(Note that while the Eskom action is separate but parallel to the strike against SIEFSA, Numsa says that Eskom will feel the impacts of the main action because of the mechanical and engineering contractors on the Medupi and Kusile building sites.)

SIEFSA (the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa) is the counterparty in the negotiation with Numsa (and five other unions). SIEFSA represents 27 independent employer bodies and 2,200 companies which employ over 220,000 hourly-paid workers – although 62% of those companies employ fewer than 50 workers (see the SIEFSA website here).

So what?

We (Jeff Schultz BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities economist and I) covered on Friday evening – quite extensively – the political and economic issues around the strike(see below).

The key points worth reiterating here are:

  • the potential impacts on the broader economy are profound – a characteristic that Numsa hopes to leverage off, helping to bring pressure on the employers represented in SIEFSA;
  • Numsa’s motivations include its political ambitions to set up a mass-based workers party – which makes the length of the strike and the tractability or otherwise of the union negotiators difficult to predict.

How government deals with Numsa’s apparent attempt to break the ‘essential services’ clause in the industrial relations regulatory framework is going to be interesting. Numsa is threatening to call 9,000 workers at the power utility out on strike after mobilising them through a protest action on Tuesday. “The intention is to move toward a full strike,” said Steve Nhlapo, Numsa’s sector coordinator for energy and non-precious metals. SIEFSA has offered a 5.6% wage increase and Numsa, coordinating its action across sectors, is demanding 12% (City Press 29/06/2014).


Numsa’s Industrial (political) action – June 27, 2014

Industrial relations

The possibility that 2014 would be another tumultuous year for South African labour relations looked good in January, and is coming true with a vengeance.

The cycle meets a secular trend

The five-month platinum sector strike – perhaps the most costly mining strike in the country’s history – and the metals and engineering workers’ strike from 1 July (based on confirmed reports in the media) might have happened as part of the normal cycle or normal part of the negotiation cycle – but we think the main drivers are secular.

NUMSA’s political ambitions coming to the fore

NUMSA has been moving towards a political divorce from the ANC and from the Ruling Alliance for several  years – and in the last nine months has begun to talk explicitly about forming a ‘left’ or socialist party that will compete against the ANC. We do think NUMSA wants (and plans) to strike next week and we think its leadership hopes to turn this momentum towards building a political party (although we lay out several qualifiers in the main text.)

The risks to the real economy remain large

It is too soon to even estimate the numbers but a metals and engineering sector strike on the scale NUMSA plans could spell disaster for SA’s growth and investment outlook – at least in 2H 2014. We reiterate the large downside risks to our current 1.9% GDP growth estimate for 2014.

(The above  is the summary, below is the body – Ed)

SA industrial relations: The cycle meets the secular trend

Our long-held view that the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) are looking to vigorously compete for membership with other COSATU affiliated unions in different sectors of the economy is at the forefront of our concerns here. We believe this week’s press release by NUMSA sums this up quite succinctly:In our 2014 Outlook document released in early January we highlighted our expectation for another tumultuous year for South African labour relations and our concerns therein. With the more than five-month-long strike in the platinum sector likely to be one of the most costly in the country’s history and confirmed reports this week that the metals and engineering industries are now about to embark on a strike from 1 July, our concerns seem to have been warranted.

“Our NEC wishes to send a congratulatory message to the courageous mineworkers for securing a decisive and historic settlement in the platinum belt. This settlement is not only a victory for mineworkers, but for workers in South Africa as a whole. The settlement secured after bitter battles between workers and the mining ruling oligarchy has called on workers to not simply unite beyond the logos or t-shirt colours of their unions. It has renewed workers battle assertion of “an injury to one; is an injury to all”.

“Furthermore, it has called on the progressive trade union movement to go back to basics, and not to be used by politicians to garner electoral support and parliamentary seats, while worker grievances and challenges remain unresolved. Doing so will continue to lead to the implosion of those trade unions that possess a rich heritage in our struggle.”
NUMSA and the numerous elements/questions to considerIt seems to us that the ‘normal’ cyclical nature of industrial action in South Africa’s winter months is now also meeting a trend specific to this political-economic moment. We believe NUMSA (and AMCU’s motivations) are playing a role here, as is the orientation of government and the ANC towards these unions.

The questions on our minds concerning Numsa since at least January this year have included: ‘will NUMSA engage in industrial action primarily to build momentum for its soon to be launched political party or movement?’; and: ‘will NUMSA ride the anti-ANC momentum implicit in the platinum strike – and implicitly and explicitly build a relationship with AMCU?’ and finally: ‘how will this mobilisation relate to the Economic Freedom Fighters?’NUMSA has been moving towards a political divorce from the ANC and from the Ruling Alliance for several  years – and in the last nine months has begun to talk explicitly about forming a ‘left’ or socialist party that will compete with the ANC.

The EFF question is more difficult. NUMSA has been extremely cautious not to be seen to be sidling up to the EFF. NUMSA has widespread credibility and respect – and was a leading critic of Julius Malema’s ‘tenderpreneurial’ habits and the ‘proto-fascist’ nature of Malema’s mobilisation around mine nationalisation and expropriation of White-owned farm seizures. However, the actual policies of NUMSA and the EFF are extremely close, and, in our opinion, the EFF has successfully occupied a political niche very similar to the one the leadership of NUMSA would like to occupy. It would be in the interests of both the EFF and NUMSA to cooperate rather than compete directly – especially when they are both up against the ANC. This might end up resembling the careful courtship of porcupines – but we think it will be courtship nonetheless.We do think NUMSA wants (and plans) to strike and we think its leadership hopes to turn this momentum towards building a political party. And we do think that NUMSA is flirting, politely, with AMCU. On both these issues, however, we have many provisos, disclaimers and cautionary notes – which we deal with in the bullet points below.

Cautionary notes

  • A union, especially one as well organised and sophisticated as Numsa, understands that is does not have a free hand to pursue obviously political objectives around a wage strike. Strikes are costly to workers who are often indebted and whose lives and families can be seriously disrupted by a strike.
  • NUMSA’s grand ambitionsIn the NUMSA central executive committee statement this week, NUMSA presented its demands by stating “We have now made a significant compromise to decrease our wage demand to 12%”. This is NUMSA making sure it can say it has done what it can to avoid a strike while refusing to budge even one cent from 12%.
  • Remember too that in the communities where NUMSA’s membership lives, the African National Congress is electorally overwhelmingly dominant. Numsa must be cautious and limited in how it attempts to turn strike mobilisation into political mobilisation.

From the early 1990s, NUMSA has been the ‘left’ edge of COSATU and has long criticised the ANC – especially the fiscally conservative Growth, Employment and Redistribution macro-economic policy adopted in 1996. However, throughout the presidencies of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, NUMSA made the assessment that there was more to be had by being within the Ruling Alliance than without it – an assessment that is probably true, given the pro-union regulatory and legislative labour regime that was developed during that time.

NUMSA conceives itself as occupying or potentially occupying the centre of the economy. The trade union aspect to its political ambitions is that it hopes to ‘vertically integrate’ along the supply chains of energy (including construction of generation capacity – Medupi, Kusile), mining (including smelting and associated industries) and metalwork/engineering/manufacturing.However, NUMSA has always harboured an ideology way to the left of the ANC, i.e., explicitly socialist. It preached caution in dealing with the ‘African nationalist political formation’ (i.e., the ANC) which would try to co-opt socialist unions into the struggles of an aspirant black bourgeoisie. NUMSA preached a kind of ‘partyism’ (the belief that unions should only support a worker’s party) and ‘workerism’ (a belief that unions should stay away from politics to avoid co-option by political parties). In many ways, where things are heading is rooted in NUMSA’s long held ideology.

The real economy 

So what does all of this mean for the SA real economy and where do the risks lie?For almost 10 years, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has been complaining that NUMSA constantly trespasses on its turf – poaching its members. NUM has also warned for many years that NUMSA has political ambitions driving its contestation for members with NUM and other COSATU unions. The seldom explicitly stated strategy (or fantasy) of the NUMSA leadership is that they can build a union or alliance of unions that can occupy the whole centre of the South African economy and spin or leverage that into powerful political influence – leading naturally to the formation of a mass socialist workers political party that contests with the ANC. We think this week’s actions by NUMSA are the next phase of these ambitions.

While we concede that it is a little premature to ascertain or quantify the 2H 2014 economic implications of the impending strike in the metals and engineering sector, we nevertheless find it necessary to highlight the risks and our concerns here.

The SARB calculate in its most recent quarterly bulletin that the impact of the loss of production in the PGM sector in 1Q thanks to strikes equates with a decrease of 0.3% in real GDP (or 1.3% at an annualized rate). The indirect effects of the strike (i.e., onto household consumption and the manufacturing sector, etc.) reveals that annualized GDP growth would have been around 2.2ppt higher at +1.6% q-q saar versus the headline 0.6% contraction (i.e., 1.3% due to direct effects and 0.9% due to indirect effects – (i.e., a ratio of 60/40). The current account deficit, the SARB estimates, would have been around 0.3ppt smaller than the 4.5% of GDP it registered in 1Q.

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA) represents 23 affiliated employer associations, representing 2,072 companies and employing around 200,000 workers. Comparing the damage done to the local mining sector from the recent PGM strike which had only around 70,000 members down tools over three companies’ operations, the negative impact of this strike could prove to be much more damaging.

A breakdown of SA’s gross value add by sector indicates a risk to around 40% of the production-side of the economy (mainly direct). Add to this the massive risks to the country’s export base (being conservative, we roughly estimate such a strike has the ability to hinder at least a quarter of SA’s total export receipts), and the strong linkages between the manufacturing and mining sectors (from an intermediate inputs standpoint), and the outlook for the real economy in the second half of the year has the potential to be very damaging. We continue to highlight the large downside risks to our current 1.9% 2014 GDP projection as a result.Furthermore, next week’s purported strike action in the metals and engineering sector in gross value add terms accounts for a much more sizable chunk of the local economy’s GDP composition than just the platinum industry.

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