Shop steward’s corner: Against all odds

after school because of lack of funds to further their education. Despite this, some workers are showing that with discipline and commitment, working and studying can be done. Cedric Gina* reports that after twelve years of part-time study, Pam Ngcobo, Toyota shop steward, has recently graduated with an honours degree.

It’s a Saturday evening. There’s a buzz in the corridors of Coastlands Hotel from REC delegates. “We are going to Umlazi tonight,” they say in unison. “What’s happening there?” I ask. “Ngcobo has invited the whole REC.” Three cars drive in a convoy to Umlazi U –Section. The matchbox house resembles a busy mall on a shopping day. There is a tent in the yard full of chairs. Braaistands are arriving, music is loud from cars “˜we Bhuti ngihamba nawe” is popular. The reverend calls for calm, and everyone listens. Prayers are conducted. “GP” is seated in front wearing a graduation robe, with other shopstewards from Toyota . People are in stitches over the programme director’s jokes. Yes, the moment we have been waiting for has arrived. Pam takes the podium. Telling his story, he begins from “˜alpha’. “Hard labour at Toyota encouraged me to study,” he explains to huge laughter from attendants. Secondly social pressures from ex-schoolmates and former teachers made him “˜sweat in order to have sweets later’. Like many children from working class families, lack of funds to further his education at tertiary level landed him on the “˜production line’. At the time “˜Fordism’ had advanced to such a stage that the robots kept the work coming at high speed. Few souls had a chance to catch a breather.

Implementing his decision

He registered for a Business Diploma at Durban Computer College (DCC) in 1991. At that time the company had a shift called “˜mbongolo shift’ (donkey shift). Workers worked nightshift continuously from Friday to Sunday and were off on weekdays. He would attend full time from Monday to Friday. “Fridays and Mondays were the toughest,” he stresses. In his third year of study at the DCC, he registered for a degree with Unisa. “By 1992, studying was like a hobby to me,” he says to everyone’s surprise. On completion of the Business Diploma, he increased the number of subjects with Unisa. From completing a junior degree, he enrolled for an Honours Degree. His successful completion is the reason for the party.

The role of Numsa

He told of the critical role that Numsa had played in his study success. “The study assistance negotiated by the union helped a lot**,” he says, “while the struggles that Numsa engaged in were learning points for me,” he adds. On top of this, his role as a shopsteward moulded him into a disciplined scholar and activist. “I learned how to conduct myself theoretically and practically simultaneously in the shop steward committee and local shopsteward council meetings,” he explains to well-wishers. And the fact that you pay even if you fail, ensured passes all the time. Now he would like Numsa to use him in any capacity where he will use what he has learnt to strengthen the union. “The comrade must just improve his local (Isipingo)!” quips Woody Aroun, Regional Education Officer of Kwa Zulu Natal Region.

Message for shopstewards

Pam would like to see more shopstewards studying in the union. “I have thrived on challenges and they can do it too,” he advises everyone, especially worker leaders. “Social life and studies aren’t enemies.” He has managed his time efficiently between the two important things in life.

*Cedric Gina is a shop steward at Hillside Aluminium, Richards Bay