NUMSA president's speech on the occassion of celebrating 26 years of existence of the National Union Of Metalworkers Of South Africa held on 17 2013 at University Of Johannesburg in Johannesburg.
National Office Bearers present here,
Regional Office Bearers present here,
COSATU General Secretary, Cde Zwelinzima Vavi,
ANC NEC Member, Cde Enoch Godongwane (former NUMSA GS)
SACP CC Member, Cde Charles Setsubi,
Leaders of all MDM formations present here,
Members of NUMSA,
Comrades and friends,
Allow me to greet you on this moment of pride of marking twenty six years of remarkable existence of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa on behalf of the National Office Bearers.
In 1987, when the great trade union leaders from different metalworkers unions responded to the 1985’s clarion call of our beloved federation COSATU, this red and militant union was founded on the back of almost seven metalworkers unions. It was not easy, but it was done.
I think it is proper to remind everyone gathered here and at home that those leaders adopted the following preamble to guide this giant trade union;
“We, the members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, firmly commit ourselves to a united South Africa, free of oppression and economic exploitation.
We believe that this can be achieved under the leadership of an organised and united working class. Our experience has taught us that to achieve this goal we must:
a) Fight and oppose discrimination in all its forms within the Union, factories and in society
b) Strive for maximum unity amongst organised metalworkers and organise every metalworker into our national Industrial Union
c) Ensure that all levels of our union are democratically structured and controlled by the worker members themselves through elected worker committees
d) Encourage democratic worker leadership and organisation in our factories and in all spheres of society
e) Reinforce and encourage progressive international worker-to-worker contact so as to strengthen the worldwide society of metalworkers
We call on all metalworkers that identify with these principles and aims to join us and the metalworkers we represent, as comrades in the struggle ahead.
We call on all metalworkers to set aside any prejudices they may have and strive for unity under the guiding slogan of the international working class,
“From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”
Yes, this is what has guided this metalworkers union since 1987.
We must thank and honour the founding Congress of our Union for bequeathing to us such a powerful and concise preamble that require no further explanation. There are no clarity questions here, it is as clear as you have just heard it.
This occasion takes place when our union headquarters was attacked by an unknown person at 2am on Monday,13 May 2013. It is very hard to believe that our headquarters was attacked by a drunkenindividual, it is just hard to believe, more so when another third unexplained burglary happens at Cde Patrick Craven’s home who issued a statement, just like us, condemning the attack at our offices. These are not small matters and it is about time that our ANC government take very serious these seemingly small, unrelated attacks to the offices and homes of trade union officials.
This union became what it is today because of many unsung heroes and heroines, we must thank them. I have decided to talk about two officials of Metal and Allied Workers Union. Metal and Allied Workers Union was one of the unions that merge to form NUMSA. Their story is found, not in the recently published Kally Forrest book on the history of metalworkers but in an unlikely place, another book titled " Death of an Idealist[ In Search of Neil Aggett] written by Beverly Naidoo.
Gavin Anderson and Sipho Kubheka were two officials of MAWU who were banned by apartheid government because of their work and the then suspected links to the ANC which was obviously banned and in exile at the time.
Gavin was a Wits student who was studying Bachelor of Science, who was very active in NUSAS. He would later meet Sipho Kubheka in a worker education group that ran discussion sessions on Sartudays under the auspices of Industrial Aid Society ( IAS) .
IAS had been set up by Pindile Mfetiand a network of SACTU activists.Pindile was a relative of Govan Mbeki who was already ten years into his sentence of life imprisonment in Robben Island. Steven Friedman and Jeanette Curtis were Gavin’s university friends and part of the IAS.
Sipho Kubheka was dismissed by a company called Imextra because he was one of the two workers that handed a letter to management to recognise a worker elected committee. Sipho left school at Standard 9 because of family circumstances and was employed at Imextra as a clerk, there he met a former Robben Islander who introduced him to SACTWU tradition of labour politics and the IAS.
He was dismissed for that with the other worker. After a week long strike, the worker committee was recognised but Sipho Kubheka and the other worker were not reinstated even after an IAS sponsored case. IAS ended up employing Sipho Kubheka.
The IAS offices were in 277 Bree Street. I think we have a responsibility to visit this address and demand that it be recognised as a workers heritage site for there are many good things that were done for workers in this address. It feels good though that NUMSA Head Office is in Bree Street.
The friendship and comradeship between Gavin and Sipho deepened despite the gulf of their segregated lives. Sipho lived in Alexandra township with his wife, Thandi and young family and Gavin lived in a posh suburb of Yeoville. Both friends, who were later joined in this triangle by Neil Agget, were students of non-racial ANC persepective under the tutelage of Pindile Mfeti at the time when Black Consciousness teachings were gaining popularity.
In the recent past, NUMSA has been on the receiving end, as an ultra left union. I want to share with you what things staunch activists of the Congress movement debated and did in MAWU then. There was already established unions in Durban and in Cape Town, and this prompted IAS activists to discuss the starting a union in Johannesburg. The arguments that took was which form of trade union, the “Durban model” or the “Cape Town model”.
The Durban model was advocating for organising the working class, industry by industry( textile, metal, chemical, transport and so on), the model was arguing it is vital to avoid politics and a direct conflict with the state and the Cape Town model was advocating general unions in which workers across different industries and services were united by common concerns and this concerns were likely to have political implications. Sipho and Gavin felt that general unionists were correct not to divide the experience of workers artificially.
They correctly argued that workers did not cease “being” when they left the factory and that their conditions at home and in their communities could be just as crucial for organising. There was a bitter debate amongst student activists with Sipho and Gavin involvements. Titles like “ultralefts” and “reformists” were exchanged.
After a research was done that validated that most workers in Johannesburg fell into metal and allied trades and could be covered by a single union, the Metal Wing of IAS was born. This was supported by Pindile, Gavin and Sipho who all felt that the whole argument had been over false division and labels.
The activists were angry with Gavin and had planned to “deal” with him in the IAS Annual General Meeting. According to Gavin, Pindile enaged them that Gavin was to lead the Metal Wing of IAS and Pindile was to avail himself for the IAS Secretary position, they could not argue against Pindile because of his political savviness.
This indeed happened, Steve Friedman and Jeanette Curtis felt betrayed by Gavin and broke contact with him. Pindile, Sipho and Gavin worked very hard to build the workers’ organisation. It is for this reason that we use todays celebration to formally launch our campaign to achieve 400 000 members in 2016 and Iurge you to drive this campaign in order of this unsung heroes of MAWU and NUMSA.
In 1975, Pindile arranged a trip for him, Gavin and SACTWU administrator Mirriam Sithole to meet exiled leaders Ray Alexander ( former GS of SACTWU), John Gaetsewe ( General Secretary of SACTU) and Uncle Dan Thloome ( ANC NEC Member). The meeting had a profound impact on them.
Sipho did not attend the Bostwana meeting was immersed in the work of the Congress movement of building ANC structures within the country. In the process, they always took advice from Pindile that the ‘struggles’ course would be determined by vibrant internal organisation and we should resist simply following instructions from someone outside, since some were not informed as were about what was happening on the ground and hence could make miscalculations”
Pindile’s insight was related to the exile and in-xile, but one may ask if it can be used in the current context of the NDP debate that is taking place in our country.
It is workers who bear the brunt of capitalist exploitation everyday in factories, it is workers who feel the pain of belonging to a labour broker for more than ten years without benefits and even without a possibility of a hearing if the so called “primary” employer calls the labour broker to remove you from the factory.
It is our duty to build to organise this workers as NUMSA and it is our duty to continue to call on our ANC government to ban the labour brokers now because they are making miscalculations by thinking that regulating them will provide decent work as decided by the 2007 Polokwane Conference resolution.
We have been called different names on our stance against the NDP. We are not going to say much today save to say we are looking forward to the COSATU CEC next wek where we will make a strong case that NDP as it stands does not represent the shadow of what Gavin, Sipho and Phindile struggled for when they build this organisation under those difficult circumstances.
When the Metal Wing of IAS was transferred to the Transvaal branch of the Metal and Allied Workers Union, with Gavin making way for Sipho to be the General Secretary, work of building the workers’s organisation continued, when Gavin did not have a salary and had to find innovative ways to continue to survive and sometimes rely on friends, on top of waking up at very early to catcth workers before their 5 am shift, they would attend meetings in different parts of Gauteng townships linking worker and community struggles.
The Heinemann’s strike and the case, where they were defended by George Bizos made them covered by Rand Daily Mail, which helped them to survive harsher sentences. They were fined for “inciting the continuation of a strike”. Gavin R90 and Sipho R45.
As we celebrate our 26 years of existence, we must always remember that this organisation was formed by organisations who had been there organising and defending workers. We cannot change now and be an organisation that does not debate.
We do pride ourselves of raising the consciousness of society. We pride ourselves for having assisted our country, together with all organisations that joined us this year to reject the 16 percent tariff increase by Eskom and we want to invite communities to join us in stopping municipalities from ripping us off in the Municipal Round of NERSA application that Municipalities will add
on top of the 8 percent that was received by Eskom.
We pride ourselves that the South African Communists Party has released a detailed paper on the National Planning Commission and the NDP. We are studying the paper of our vanguard and we will reflect on it in our coming National Executive Committee.
We will use our NEC to plan our approach to the COSATU CEC, where in honour of the struggles of all the unsung heroes, we think we must defend a strong, vibrant and independent voice of workers COSATU. We will also reflect on the approach to the 2014 elections wherein our 11th National Congress mandated us to ensure the victory of the ANC.
We will receive a presentation from the Deputy Secretary of ANC on the ANC readiness and we will engage on what we think must be in the ANC Elections Manifesto.
In conclusion, this is a joyous occasion indeed. We are humbled and privileged as the six current NOBs to be leading this growing giant in our country that is respected all over the world. We hope that when comrades like Sipho look at us, they do feel that we are continuing in their footsteps in building a strong, independent, militant and red metalworkers union.
Happy 26 years NUMSA, Happy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I thank you