Book Review: Metal that will not bend  – Author Kally Forrest

Kally Forrest has set out on an epic journey to conscientise today’s crop of union leaders and the entire workforce.

She tells us about the sacrifices that were made by their fearless predecessors who were more than ready to confront the ire of the infamous apartheid regime in the quest to fight and advance workers’ rights against all odds.

Evolution of the revolution.

The book is about the evolution of Numsa’s revolution for workers’ emancipation from the apartheid capitalist yoke.

It chronicles every step of the union’s rise to the giant that it is today.

Forrest gives readers a careful, detailed and well-researched account of the union from its humble beginnings, and its position in South African labour history.

The author presents the workers’ point of view, but consistently remains objective.
She wrote in her introduction: “This is not a history from the employers’ or from government’s perspective.

It is a history teeming with human rights abuses which white business would prefer to be forgotten.

It is an account of a crucial phase in the development of the metal and engineering unions, written from their point of view.”

The book has 22 chapters. Chapters 1-5 (1980-1984) are about Numsa’s predecessors, the National Union of Motor Assembly and Rubber Workers of South Africa (Numarwosa), the Metal and Allied Workers Union (Mawu) and the Motor Industry Combined Workers Union (Micwu).
This section deals with how the unions built local power through various organising strategies and tactics, and includes its early focus on organising the workplace and developing and educating shop stewards, committees and organisers.

Mass mobilisation

There is also information about the mass mobilisation campaign to increase membership and union mergers nationwide in the metal sector which aimed to unionise and organise workers across the country.

Chapters 6-8 (1983-1989) outlines Numsa’s building of national bargaining and organisational power.

The union streamlined its internal systems, enabling it to operate more efficiently and to stabilise its income.

“It controversially entered the national metal industrial council and became the most important bargaining partner in both the engineering and auto sectors.

This allowed it to consider how to reshape its industries,” Forrest writes.

Chapters 9-15 (1989-1995) talks about a now-powerful Numsa taking on the employers and winning substantial gains in both wage and non-wage areas.

Numsa aimed to create stable and improved conditions to rebuild South Africa’s troubled metal sectors that had been devastated by recession, which resulted in its industries fading and bleeding jobs.

Chapters 16-22 (1980-1985) focus on Numsa’s socialist politics, drawing on its various political standards and its emphasis on uncompromising independence.

They show how they were affected by political conditions in South Africa, including the outbreak of severe violence perpetuated mainly by Inkatha supporters, and the nature of the alliances it forged.

After reading this book, I regard it as a worker’s Bible that no ardent historian-worker should be without.

Told in a simplified understandable language, it is the kind of book which, from time to time I will revisit for reference to South African labour history.

Yingwani Mashaba is a shop steward and cartoonist at Hernic Ferrochrome, Brits
See page 20 for an extract from the book.


Numsa News No 1