Organisational renewal: Numsa in two worlds

We must also review our recruitment policy. The problem with recruitment policy happened when we started to employ people from outside the union. There is no thorough vetting and screening of candidates. We bring people who failed elsewhere and give them very strategic and key positions. As a result we have many cheque collectors amongst us. They have no loyalty and dedication to serve the workers.

The other problem is that when we employ an ex-shop steward as an organiser, it is not based on that shop steward’s ability to organise and unite the workers. We employ him/her because she/he is either a demagogue or friend and then we fail to provide them with training. The union must begin to develop a programme to give the new recruits the basic principles of unionism and organising.

I was shocked when I attended the Numsa organisers’ forum in Gauteng . They were debating how to organise members – something that every shopsteward must know.

There is also a belief that the environment has changed, therefore everything must be done differently. I think this view must be corrected – workers are still dismissed through disciplinary hearings, workers are still getting dismissed through work-re-organisation which started in the late 70s and 80s with the advent of CNC machines which were computerised. We also experienced a change in the lay out of factories where machines were clustered together so that one worker could operate more than one machine at a time.

We must also correct the view that the Labour Relations Act amendment of 1995 changed industrial relations more than ever before

The Labour Relations Act underwent three major revolutions in 1979, 1988 and 1995. After each revolution there were changes in terms of administering the Act. It is surprising now that organisers take the changes of 1995 as a major change that had never happened before in terms of handling disputes.

They now regard their most important task as dealing with individual dismissals at the CCMA. I want to argue that, the problem of the multiplicity of disputes is caused by the lack of negotiation skills. Issues that were supposed to have been resolved at company level through negotiation, land up at the bargaining council and CCMA.

When I was a regional organiser we had one organiser who thought declaring disputes was a symbol of hard work. That organiser was not prepared to negotiate and engage properly. He used to bang the tables and go and declare disputes. When most of the disputes remained unresolved at the Industrial Council he realised his predicament and decided to resign from the union.

Now organisers are obsessed and overwhelmed with arbitration cases. I want to advise them that they must not pretend to be lawyers and always use the legal route to deal with organisational issues.

The weakness of Numsa is clear and much more visible in our participation in Cosatu. Our participation and respect in Cosatu has degenerated and dwindled at all levels. In the past we commanded great respect in Cosatu. There was nothing that Cosatu would do without Numsa being in the forefront. Even in strikes and struggles that Cosatu embarked on, Numsa would be leading. Most of the forums that Cosatu established were led by Numsa.

Today our participation is conspicuous by invisibility. This is an indication that our capacity has collapsed at all levels.

I also want to argue against those who say that we must build a second layer leadership. Numsa does not even have a first layer leadership, therefore Numsa must build leadership. Because of our lack of capacity to lead, we hire consultants to deal with the core function of building the organisation. This vindicates the claim that the unions were brain drained by the exodus of leadership into government in 1994.

In conclusion I want to say that the problems and the political differences and fight amongst us in Numsa, which is regarded as taboo today, has been there for many years, but because of insecurity and fear, is now getting exaggerated. Instead there are other more important issues that I have highlighted here that we should look to, to revive our organisation.