Numsa through the eyes of the young worker

This year NUMSA celebrates its 15th birthday. Many view this as a great milestone for the organisation. But for the young minds and the fresh blood in the organisation, their question is what can Numsa offer them?

VW shop steward, Sidima Nolutshungu, himself a ‘young lion’, spoke to two young minds in his workplace to find out about their expectations.

How do you view the organisation?

Stokwe*: In my view Numsa has lost some ground and its dignity has been dented in most of our communities. This is because of he mass dismissals at VWSA in 2000.

Mbili**: Numsa needs to change how it does things.


For instance its political appearance. Times have changed , we cannot continue to remain behind and act as if we are still in the 1980s. We have to meet the expectations of members without changing the character of trade unionism . Political education for the membership is very important and includes how the leadership at the factory level is elected.

Now we have an abundance of well educated workers. The union should use those skills for the betterment of the society and the workers at large. For example recently we were told that we will be working short-time, because of the shrinking market demands.

To most workers, including the leadership, it would be like telling them something that they could not verify. But some of the educated workers could be used to verify this.

Laws were amended recently. We need people that will be able to interpret these laws without having to waste time consulting with the regional office or the head office legal department.

Stokwe: I agree that Numsa needs to change. I want to make a specific example, currently leave due to workers is being brought forward. So leave that workers should have taken next year, is being given this year. The list is endless of the issues and cases that still need consultation with the regional legal dept, that situation needs to be changed. We do need a legal department in the organisation but it should only be for broader legal matters.

Workers talk about Numsa ‘s involvement in the community, what are your views:

Stokwe: Before we are workers we are members of the community and the society. Our communities are faced with many ills and as responsible members of the community we need to act responsibly.

As Numsa we need to go beyond representing the workers at plant level. We need to go where our members are and represent them on issues such as HIV/AIDS, growing crime, unemployment etc.

Recently in Daimler Chrysler SA (DCSA) and in VWSA as Numsa we partnered with employers to formulate HIV/AIDS policies. We had spectacular events to unveil those policies.

To me that was a waste of money. Instead that money could have been used to create a workers’ trust for people who suffer from this ailment. With the launch of these AIDS policies you won’t hear anything said about how our communities will benefit from them. Instead it only talks about what it can do for the workers, and even this is minimal.

Our involvement in schools and with student movements is minimal if not at all. In my view this is the most critical area of society. We should be tapping into these organisations for the survival of our own organisation. Current students at all levels should know the importance of being a member of the Union .

Mbili: Our relationship with the employers is critical. We should maintain that relationship. But it should not be perceived as selling out. We won’t always see eye to eye with employers but that should be managed.

Amongst workers there are clear racial divisions amongst workers. Numsa stands for non-racialism but is not doing much.

Do you feel a part of NUMSA?

Stokwe: The majority of workers are young and active. They love trends and would want to keep up with them consistently. You don’t see Numsa in any meeting changing its format in addressing members, you will find meetings still done the old way people being very serious and that is boring.

Why can’t we call meetings in a relaxed fashion but at the same time send the right message and be heard? For instance currently Numsa should have had its anniversary celebrations but we hear nothing that this region has planned.

This could be used to rally more support and recruit more workers because they will be able to identify themselves with it. The organisation is stiff currently, it’s like we are politicians but we are not supposed to be, and I know there is a thin line of distinction between these two.

We should be able to organise soccer tournaments, Miss Numsa etc. and I’m saying this knowing that it could spark a debate about beauty shows!

Would that not create competition amongst the workers?

Stokwe: It would be done in good faith to promote the good name of the organisation. In the process we will be able to educate the community about what Numsa stands for, and whatever funds raised should be ploughed back into the communities.

Where do you see Numsa in 5-10 years?

Stokwe: The unions are losing favour from the youth. The mixture of the young and old is critical in order to balance the diversity and strategic positioning in the community. And if it is not adequately and seriously looked at, we will see the demise of trade unionism in this country and as Numsa we cannot risk that.

Mbili: Numsa has managed to stabilise the tense situation in this locality. But Numsa has and will always be judged for what happened in 2000. We really need to change with the times, target young workers and bring them closer to the union, mobilise students. If we are unable to do most of these things we will see the end of the unions in the next ten years or sooner.

You spoke earlier about not being politicians, can you explain this notion.

Stokwe: There is a growing tendency of promoting party politics in the unions. To me this is not acceptable, it is against our own principles as a trade union. We cannot continue to promote party politics and I’m saying this as a disciplined member of the ANC, fully aware of the fact that we are in an alliance through Cosatu.

The slogans chanted in most of our own meetings prejudice other members of the union hence the withdrawal of many workers from attending meetings.

Mbili: We should be able to distance ourselves from party politics . For instance in this war against privatisation, the fact that we are still in the alliance with the ANC and SACP but as Cosatu we are fighting with our own government, confuses most workers. Continuously workers raise the question of how do we maintain this alliance and our independence as workers.

Mbili: Numsa needs to further tighten its working relations with other international trade unions and should exchange ideas on how to tackle similar experiences.

* 22 year old Mzolisi ‘Mfana’ Stokwe has been working in VWSA since 2000 and is a member of the ANC and SACP since 1998.

** 24-year old Mbili has been working in VWSA since 2000. A SACP and ANC member now, he was also a SRC and Cosas member while at Sophakamisa High School in Port Elizabeth , and later a member of SASCO and the faculty head in applied sciences while at PE Technikon.