Sharing different worlds

Sharing different worlds

A recent 5-day workshop with representatives from Brazilian metalworkers union – CNM-CUT – gave Numsa representatives from regions and National Office Bearers, the opportunity to share experiences of the two different countries.

Delegates from the two countries discussed common issues of collective bargaining, labour laws as well as political issues like the relationship between trade unions, political parties and the government.

Although racism was not legislated in Brazil as it was in this country through apartheid, Brazil ‘s colonial masters took a different tack. “In 1500 there were 5 million indigenous people. Today just 300 000 remain – killed because they didn’t want to work as slaves for the colonialists,” says Hlokoza Motau, Numsa’s international officer.

Numsa worker delegates were also shocked to hear that racism continues in the workplace – blacks are paid less. Often the discrimination is reinforced by previous practices where blacks were forced to study careers like psychology and social work while whites were encouraged to learn skills like engineering.

Even so, Numsa representatives were excited by the fact that in Brazil public education is free up to and including tertiary education. And their shared love of soccer saw the Brazilians egging on Bafana Bafana at Ellis Park to their first win against Nigeria .

The South African delegates were equally interested by the fact that the metalworkers’ federation allows all political tendencies to exist. Voting for leaders operates in a similar way to government elections in this country. Each political tendency puts up a slate of leaders who win positions according to how many votes their tendency gets. So if the socialist party wins 20% of the votes, it will get 20% of the seats in the leadership.

Summarising the findings at the end of the workshop, CNM-CUT President, Fernandez Lopez, said that trade unions should defend and give support to the government to ensure that it keeps on the right track. But if it goes off the track, “they should criticise and fight those measures that do not protect the rights of workers.”

He said that governments of the two countries were busy signing bilateral agreements and warned that trade unions from both countries must ensure that social and worker rights are mentioned in these.

But Numsa President Mtutuzeli Tom reminded delegates in his closing remarks that it was not just cooperation between the two countries that was important. “Global capitalism is creating an environment with high levels of exploitation of the working class.”

He said that in this process there was a very real possibility that trade unions might “disappear off the face of the earth.”

To counter this, trade unions like Numsa and CNM-CUT must raise the issue of democratising the international trade union movement so as to build real opposition to global capitalism.

If this is not done, “we will have failed the international working class,” Tom said.