History: Learning from the past

Numsa’s National Bargaining Conference in April took a break from debates to reflect on its rich history. Past leaders, Les Ketteldas and Bernie Fanaroff shared their stories with delegates.

Les Ketteldas takes the stage, looking not a day older than when he left Numsa. This is the man that had legendary staying power in his years first as a shop steward at General Motors in Port Elizabeth , then as an official in Naawu and later Numsa. In his final years in Numsa he was national secretary of collective bargaining. Now as Deputy Director General in the Department of Labour, he still fights employers – his current battle is taking on large white farmers over the payment of the new minimum wage for farmworkers. But just for a moment he is back in action in the 1980s teaching us how they recruited workers at the time when unions were small and had to beg workers to join. “We used to stand in front of the gates of Firestone from 5am. That’s because a new shift was coming in at 6am and others were going out at 6am . Then we had to come back at 2pm and then again at 10 pm at night to talk to the other shifts. “Building organisation wasn’t easy. Workers would come to the office when they lost their jobs at the factory, we had members at all those factories. ‘If there are vacancies there tell us,’ we would say to them, and then we would issue a letter to members to ‘go to General Motors for example, they have a position as a welder’. “We were running that service for members and other services as well, like helping them with UIF forms, filling in forms for illness benefits, maternity benefits. They would bring the forms and we would take those forms to the Department of Labour. Organisation was very important and we had to organise all the time.”

On the auto NBF

House Agreement shop stewards’ ears pricked up when Ketteldas described the battle to form the Auto National Bargaining Forum (NBF). Could this be a recipe for their efforts to bring the house agreement companies into the Main Agreement? In the early 1980s, there was an Industrial Council (now called a bargaining council) for the auto industry but it only covered auto companies in the Eastern Cape . Companies like Toyota in Durban , Ford and Nissan in Pretoria , fell out of its scope. “We decided to first get uniformity in all of these plants so we submitted the exact same demands to every company. We drafted one letter and then sent it to each individual company. We then negotiated with each and every company but we wouldn’t settle far from the other settlements. That is why in 1982 we had rolling strikes – the first strike was at Mercedes Benz SA, then we used that settlement as a basis to settle with Sigma (now Ford) and so on. “In 1987, we met in Mariannhill near Durban . “˜Now we are going for a NBF,’ we decided. We did the same thing, we sent letters to all of the companies. We told them, “˜We are not going to negotiate in Pretoria, East London, Port Elizabeth (PE), make sure you are all in this place on 19 June 1989 at 10am.’ Some came and said “˜we don’t negotiate like this’. We said, “˜yes we are going to negotiate like this’. Newberry at Nissan said, “˜no ways’. Nissan comrades then went on strike. Peter Dantjie, Numsa’s organiser, told him, “˜you must go to PE’. “˜No, I am not going to PE.’ “˜You must go to PE,’ Dantjie said. “Eventually he couldn’t stand the strike any longer and he sent Strydom to PE. Strydom came and we forced them into one negotiation. The other one that was screaming was Toyota . “That is how the NBF started. We summoned them to PE, to one place into one negotiation. We said, “˜our demands are the same, why must we talk to you individually?’