'Workers only have power when they have power' – these are the words of minister of trade and industry Mr Alec Erwin in his address to the delegates of the 2003 Numsa National Bargaining Conference. In his address he called upon Numsa to take measures to fulfil the traditional obligation of metal worker unions to lead the working class all over the world.
The minister pointed out that for any trade union to remain relevant in the economy and to the working class in particular, it must develop various coherent strategies for the future.
Amongst others he emphasised the challenge that is facing the trade union movement in areas like linking training with wages, research, developing internal capacity, benefits for workers and the social plans.
The minister reminded the delegates that in the past the core qualities of a unionist were bravery, commitment, and the ability to work hard. On the other hand, the modern trade unionist has to formulate a strategy on research and information management capacity, form active partnerships with the government as well as influence government processes.
The modern trade union must invest in skilling its organisers, so that they can be ready to respond swiftly to chase and hunt down outsourcing wherever it comes. It must demand the linking of wages and skills.
He warned against abandoning the union policy of linking skills and wages. Capitalists are not interested in big benefits packages for workers, but flexibility. This calls upon the modern union to devise a collective perspective towards workers.
They can achieve this by negotiating benefits that stay with the workers even in times of difficulties. The minister also referred the delegates to the history of the worker funds as a good example of collective benefits.
When asked about the types of benefits that remain with workers even during difficult times, he explained that negotiating social plans provides a security net for communities rather than just for the workers that are employed.