The pale colour of Numsa members like William Tones, spraypainter and shop steward at Boart Longyear, makes him stick out in union meetings and marches. But close your eyes and the passion for serving the members in his workplace that flows in his words is just as strong as those of his fellow black comrades.
Are there other trade unions that organise white workers in your workplace?
Yes, there are. Solidarity and Uasa are here. One of these shop stewards made it clear to me that “the union doesn’t pay me. My job comes first and not my union work.” When I asked why he doesn’t resign, he replied “I am using it to my advantage.”
The other shop steward from the other union works day shift and night shift but he doesn’t know where his union office is nor the phone number. A little while ago he came to me for advice even though he has been a shop steward for four to five years and I only since late last year.
Were there other reasons why you didn’t join them?
They never contact their offices, they never give workers feedback, they’ve never been in meetings with members. There is no such thing. At this company you need to have an active union, a union that is not scared to take on anybody.
I also looked at the state of our country. We can see which way our country is going. I joined Numsa because it is a forward-going union. We have an African government, we are connected to the ANC through Cosatu.
What do you say to other white workers on why they should join Numsa?
I introduce Numsa to them as a leading union. I do not try to convince them in any way. I let them choose for themselves. I have recruited another 40 in our section. I do tell them the ‘pros and cons’.
What are the ‘pros’?
If you compare us with other unions they will notice that Numsa has a lot of meetings and our opposition, as far as I know, they don’t have meetings.
Other unions do have their benefits but we have a funeral benefit. We have all other benefits like legal advice. You don’t even have to be a Numsa member, it’s open to all. Everyone is welcome to go and ask for information, the organiser is glad to assist anyone with problems whether you are a union member or not.
Some of the opposition trade unions provide discounts on travel, accommodation, shopping if they show their membership cards. What do you know about these benefits?
The workers who belong to other unions in our companies don’t even have membership cards! They don’t have banners, they don’t have a running newspaper, nor a Numsa Bulletin. In Solidarity, I think I’ve only ever seen one newspaper.
In meetings you stick out because of your colour. How do you find being in Numsa?
I get noticed from all sides! But they treat me so nicely. They don’t push me forward, they don’t push me down, they just make me feel comfortable. They treat me like anybody else.
What has Numsa given you that has helped you do your job as a shop steward?
The recent course on case handling gave us guidelines for future reference regarding hearings. Since then we’ve had about four disciplinary hearings, of which I have handled two myself. Members were found not guilty.
What of the other two?
Those two were against my fellow Numsa shop steward, Josias Mantjane and myself. We were charged with intimidating witnesses and disrupting disciplinary hearings. They weren’t expecting me to represent my black comrade and he to represent me.
But we won, we got the findings all in black and white and with an apology. We have now filed a grievance against one of the managers who told us that he is “sick and tired of this Numsa crap”. If we are going to take on this guy, we must go in with one reason and that is to win. If those people look at Numsa’s hearings and findings they will know that Numsa is very active. But with Numsa behind me, I fear no evil.