National office bearers are currently moving from region to region putting their ear to the ground. National treasurer, Philemon Shiburi, was there to hear Western Cape complaints. Mziwakhe Hlangani listened in to the discussions.
Shop stewards themselves conceded that they were no longer passionate about their work because they were expected to do more work in difficult conditions on the factory floor and yet the organisation had taken more than a year to provide them with induction training.
Some suggested that shop stewards should be paid attendance fees or for giving service to the union, but the notion was rejected out of hand because Numsa is a revolutionary union.
Lack of co-operation from experienced organisers, exploitation and harassment by management as well as ineffective communication because shop stewards were not allowed to use company phones or faxes to reach union offices, were cited as major restrictions on advancing service to membership.
“Total chaos”Some described the situation in factories as “total chaos” because new members did not get union orientation because of not enough union organisers. Others complained that the training offered was of a poor standard or non-existent, compared with political training old shop stewards had received before.
Bargaining councils were also accused of failing to provide the required service to union membership. Shelton Keys, a local vice-chairperson complained that members were desperate to get the service they deserved as well as report back meetings but shop stewards were no longer committed and failed to convene meetings on the factory floor.
“Outlying areas are being neglected. There is one organiser who is expected to service 30 towns in the Boland area and engage in dispute conciliations in companies at the same time,” a contributor from the South West local said. What is more frustrating, he added, “is when regional office bearers were invited to come and address company management and shop stewards complained that there was no money to visit these far away smaller towns.”
Local chairperson, Ndoda Mdyogolo, said shop stewards themselves were treated the worst and were always on the receiving end, both from the management and the union officials. Administrators often did not return calls when shop stewards required union assistance with cases.
Labour brokersOthers complained that labour brokers were a major threat to the growth of the union. David Hendricks summed it up, “We can no longer fight with vigour. Labour brokers are intimidating us in the factories because management often threatens to employ scab labour provided by these labour brokers when we embark on strikes.”
With a quest to do things differently, Western Cape, regional chairperson, Christine Olivier appealed to both shop stewards and regional leadership to work together in addressing the weaknesses that prevented the union from maintaining its strong militant culture in the Western Cape region.
With 26 000 members in the region and only 10 0rganisers she said it was totally impossible for them to regularly visit more than 500 companies and give assistance to shop stewards. However, she urged delegates that to break the impasse, everyone should set aside prejudices, stay on top of all industry developments and attend the report back meetings and “re-engage ourselves to better serve the interests of our members.”
Philemon Shiburi, Numsa national treasurer, delivering an address on the evolution of the union and the historical role played by activists and shop stewards in servicing members, said the best shop stewards were those that were themselves political activists.
Report back clearlySpeaking on behalf of the Numsa President Mtutuzeli Tom, Shiburi told shop stewards that they should learn to report back clear decisions and resolutions which reflected the debates taking place and not distort information to serve their wicked interests.
“Call regular meetings, create space for workers to raise their issues and be on the frontline of every strike activity,” he said. He warned however, against officials who spread lies that the union could not afford to finance its programmes and activities because there was no money.
The training of shop stewards must be intensified, that is not negotiable, funds were available, he said.”Don’t point fingers at others when you have failed to do your job. Set and define a programme that will be ratified by the region, and report to me directly if someone says the programme could not be carried out successfully because the union said there were no funds available.”
Shop steward councils must address problemsNumsa regional secretary Karl Cloete said the issues raised about the lack of service delivery to members would be referred to the shop steward council which would decide on how best to address these problems. He also introduced the regional working plan which championed the implementation of more than 10 regional and local campaigns. He said factory complaints should be addressed in each local shop steward council, after factory general meetings were held.
Cloete also instructed local organisers to go back and visit latent companies where shop stewards were not participating in union activities to establish why they were not attending meetings. The regional secretary also threatened to take swift action, including expelling members from the union who used racist derogatory terms.
Watch out for Numsa’s top leadership in the Western Transvaal region next where they will listen again to workers’ voices.