A brewing volcano simmering in Numsa

What started out as a vote of no confidence in the Port Elizabeth Ford Shopstewards Committee, turned ugly when the Chairperson of the Ford FSSC in Port Elizabeth was shot dead and the Eastern Cape Regional Treasurer, who is also the Chairperson of the Auto NSSC, was shot in the hand.

The long-standing and democratic tradition around the removal of shopstewards, has in recent times seen differing degrees of ungovernability in Numsa organised workplaces. Karl Cloete, Western Cape regional organiser, unpacks the issue.

Ford – Eastern Cape

At Ford, a group of Numsa members demanded the removal of shopstewards. They drafted a petition which 30% of the members signed.

Shopstewards argued that whilst a 30% petition complies with the constitution, in terms of the newly amended constitution it can only trigger an investigation by the Local.

Should the local however find that the demand is unjustified, such petition can be overturned.

On advice from the shopstewards that the process was thus unconstitutional, two opposing groups emerged.

One group accepted the shop stewards' explanation. But the other group argued that there was no reason why the local should be allowed to intervene when it is the right of members to elect and remove shopstewards.

What followed was the unfortunate and regrettable shooting and killing of a fellow comrade.

Consani Engineering – Western Cape :

The revolt by members against shopstewards in Consani was not as volatile as Ford. But the seriousness with which members wanted shopstewards removed was more or less the same.

Even when the Regional Office Bearer and Regional Organiser intervened, one member viewed the region's intervention as "nothing more than an attempt to hide behind the weaknesses and uselessness of shopstewards."

And the divided shop steward committee was another sign to members that "shopstewards were incapable of representing members' interests".

Cape Gate – Western Transvaal

Members, against the advice of some shopstewards, insisted on withdrawing their shares through Old Mutual's demutualisation. Some shopstewards quite openly sided with members' demands even though the registrar of pension funds forbids individuals withdrawing their shares as cash. The cash from their shares can only be added to their Provident Fund credit.

Shopstewards, who stood their ground on the unrealistic demands of members, became the target of members' frustrations.

One such shopsteward recalls that "Many a member came armed to factory general meetings, ready to blast those who dared go against the wishes of the members."

"Shopstewards, who were aligning themselves with the members' demands, would often sit amongst the members in general meetings and thereby expose those who were not toeing the line."

The National Office Bearers had to intervene when workers proceeded directly to the Head office of the union.

Toyota South Africa – Kwazulu Natal:

A member at Toyota South Africa in KZN says, "Numsa members have developed a common saying which decries shopstewards as having been elected once and appearing thereafter in company negotiated cars and air conditioned offices allotted to the full-time shopstewards."

Many petitions and motions of no confidence in shopstewards and officials alike have arisen at Toyota .

Members say:

we never see the shop stewards shop stewards have negotiated for themselves to study further at Technikons shop stewards are the ones that are promoted.

In the latest episode a group calling themselves "NUMSA activists in Toyota TSM Plant" has sought the intervention of the General Secretary and the Numsa National Executive Committee (NEC).