Filling the vacuum with a strategic plan

Eight months after the 7th National Congress and with all the allegations, division and tensions at the congress, the National Office Bearers formulated the 4-year Strategic Master Plan. Judy Madumo* and Philip Sapud* spoke to the General Secretary, Silumko Nondwangu, on some key issues in the ‘Master Plan’.

Can you give us an overview of the master plan and how it came about?We held a facilitated strategic planning session after the congress with the national office bearers (NOBs). We were taken through a training process on why it was important to have strategic planning in a revolutionary trade union. From there we went through the different resolutions.

The resolutions were split amongst the NOBs as follows:President: Political1st Vice: Socio economic2nd Vice: InternationalTreasurer: Administration

The plan was presented to the December Central Committee and Regions then added to it, and the 4-year master plan was subsequently endorsed. The NOBs agreed that the next step would entail getting regions to develop their own plans from the master plan. A session with regional office bearers (ROBs) was held and they were taken through the tools of strategic planning. Interestingly, Ekurhuleni has set the pace by having a three-day session that brought together local office bearers (LOBs), all organisers, regional team members and ROBs, facilitated by their Regional Secretary. Can you imagine a Regional Secretary attending a workshop, and then subsequently facilitating a workshop? For me it shows will on the part of the comrades to do things on their own.

Congress resolved that the existing policy on staff nominated as councillors should be reviewed, how far is that process?The sponsor of the resolution in congress was the Eastern Cape. Subsequently in the central committee (CC), (we) proposed that (they) circulate to the CC in July, a discussion paper that sets out the guidelines with regards to officials standing as local councillors. What we must do is to draw experience from other unions, in particular the Num, with regards to how their officials were able to undertake responsibilities as officials. Thus far, there is absolutely no empirical evidence both in the union and outside of the union that local councillors who happen to be officials of the union have compromised service to members. We’ve got shop stewards that have served members as shop stewards in the plant but at the same time serve as local councillors. Do we have empirical evidence that says that these shop stewards have compromised service to members? Not that I know of. With regards to officials, we expect more or less the same conduct.

How would officials be held accountable?If someone becomes a local councillor, LOBs have got a responsibility to say, ‘chief you’re now a local councillor. On a monthly basis, let’s have a plan of your activities. How much time will you spend on membership issues, how much time will you spend dealing with local authority issues?’ LOBs must ensure that the local councillors who also happen to be Numsa officials are monitored accordingly. For me it’s misleading and too narrow to look at compromises because even though s/he is accountable to the ANC, but to the extent that s/he sits in the structures of the union we should use that. So it’s going to be a contested terrain.

Has the resolution to raise the class consciousness of Indians, coloureds, whites and white collar workers been heeded to by regions?Yes and regions are active with regard to complying with the master-plan. In the Western Cape (WC) where this problem is more prevalent, they are currently planning a conference. It is important to raise the class consciousness of whites, coloureds and Indians in the organisation but also you can’t divorce the national question from the class question, so the conference that the region is currently planning would deal with the national question and the class question. It will be a very useful exercise.

On the issue of xenophobia is there anything that we are doing to confront this issue?In my view, if you want to deal with xenophobia you don’t deal with it as a concept in isolation from other things. The discussion internally in the union about Zimbabwe is also indicative of South Africans being interested in what happens beyond the borders of our country. All of us in the union say there must be political and economic stability in Zimbabwe – that’s one dimension. The second dimension operates at the level of the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF). Numsa representatives in the IMF Southern Africa regional meeting that took place quite recently, were instrumental in developing a 4-year plan that says what we can do to build independent, democratic and stronger trade unions in Southern Africa. There’s an interesting resolution that we will present to the IMF Congress, about Africa in particular. It deals with issues related to poverty, income inequalities, the Blair Commission, and what are the nature of problems in Africa in relation to the debt questions of poverty, HIV and Aids etc. We can’t deal with xenophobia internally in Numsa if we don’t deal with issues that create such conditions. The reason why Africans migrate from their own countries to South Africa is precisely because there’s political instability in their countries. Therefore we should rather seek to ensure that we assist those countries with regard to economic development, issues of poverty, issues of building institutions of democracy and the trade union movement as one such institution of democracy.

Do we have xenophobic issues in Numsa?Our bargaining unit representatives in the engineering industry opposed very strongly a demand from Solidarity (in this year’s round of negotiations). Solidarity said that there must be a ban on foreign workers in SA. The reference was to workers as production workers, not in managerial positions, nor as chief executive officers. My comment was that this was self-serving and too narrow because it once again perpetuated white privilege. My sense internally in the union is that xenophobia has not been a major problem. Some of the national leadership of the union were not born in South Africa, but they live quite comfortably and work closely with comrades in the different regions. Where xenophobia is a major problem is in the informal sector because of the level of poverty at that level. People are fighting and scrambling for the local economy, selling in the streets, that’s where this problem has got to be addressed. We should be developing a combination of strategies interacting with those at that particular level and also contributing to relative stability in the different African cultures.

How is the master plan going to benefit the general membership of the union organisationally, especially after the divisions shown at the 7th National Congress?Nature does not allow a vacuum. I want to use this basic example with regards to Ekurhuleni. I said to Ekurhuleni, “you see comrades if you develop your own regional strategic plan, you’re not going to come in to the next regional congress with shop stewards from Wadeville asking you: ‘George, what have you been doing?’ It’s locals that must say from the previous congress up to this congress ‘this is what we said we should do as a contribution to the master plan.’ We’re changing the mindset in the organization. Once you don’t engage human beings, human beings find issues to engage themselves with. And unfortunately those kinds of things that they find to engage themselves with become very destructive, and therefore you engage them in constructive things such as developing regional strategic plans, which is something we never did in the past. Remember the previous 4-year Numsa plan; that was a top down process, we do things differently now. I think we have to be patient. Get regions to develop their strategic, monitoring mechanism, and that will unify the organisation. You will not believe after the congress the level of unity and constructive engagement in the last CC in December. And the subsequent meetings that we have had, have been very, very constructive because all of us are engaging.

How will this benefit the membership in general?Regions must develop their own strategic plans because part of the strategic plan is how do we get the contributions of members and how do we improve service to members in the different regions so that officials are held accountable directly by their members. One of the things that we have to think about creatively is what can we circulate to members that simplifies what we’re doing so that members can get a better sense of what the plan entails. Information can’t sit in that office, it has got to be disseminated to where it belongs, and where it belongs is hundreds and hundreds of shop stewards and thousands and thousands of metalworkers – they should know what we are doing. It’s not very good to have grand ideas that sit in this office, they must go where it matters most – general membership. So an interview subsequent to this one would be appreciated!