`Before all else, members first!

Towards the special National Congress; developing a first draft of the Numsa Services Charter.

The issue of providing quality service to members has been on the union agenda for many years now. It gained impetus with the 2012 research study conducted by the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand. SWOP was challenged with finding out what members thought of the service that the union provides.

The SWOP research found that a significant number of our members at workplaces with weak structures were dissatisfied with union service provision. According to the report in these workplaces “…shop stewards are out of their depth, members are divided, and there are low levels of solidarity, which leads to disillusionment with the union. When members call on the union, they find it hard to get hold of organisers, who seem too busy to avail themselves to deal with urgent matters on the shop floor.”

In the survey shop stewards list a number of reasons for failures to service members adequately:
• Communication problems at the workplace and a lack of communication with the local and regional NUMSA office;

• Divisions amongst shop stewards and within shopsteward committees;

• Lack of support by management to allow shop stewards time off to perform their duties, as well as a lack of support for shop stewards from the relevant union structures;

• Lack of trust by members of new shop stewards and a lack of co-operation by members on attending meetings called by the shop stewards;

• Lack of training of shop stewards on how to do their job effectively and a lack of support on complex legal matters; and

• Lack of support from organisers/local/regional office, with a call for more regular and routine visits from organisers.

Reasons why members feel the union had failed them included continued discrimination in the workplace, a lack of solidarity, poor communication between members and the union, a failure to deal with job grading and wage negotiations, a lack of success in fighting dismissals and retrenchments, the non-delivery of union benefits, a failure to deal with labour brokers, a lack of shopsteward capacity, and failures of union organisers.

The SWOP report was discussed in all our regions in the run-up to the union’s 9th National Congress held in June 2012. National Congress adopted the recommendations in the SWOP report. Subsequent discussions have taken place within the union to reinforce the centrality of service to members.

Lessons from Marikana
After the Marikana massacre, the Numsa August 2012 Central Committee (CC) meeting revisited the issue of service to members within NUMSA.

The CC made the following call:
• Don’t lose contact with members.

• Be careful about preferring one section of members over another.

• Our involvement must be about members first and growing the organisation.

• All office bearers, shopstewards and officials must get out of our comfort zones.

• In small establishments Numsa members must feel that Numsa is their shield and their spear.

• We must go back to the shopfloor and take up bread and butter issues that affect workers.

• We must prepare for an assault on trade unions by the bosses and the state in order to reduce union power.

• Our unity in the face of this kind of dynamic is even more important than ever before.

• As a union we have TWO options: Be diverse, united and grow OR Be intolerant, divided and shrink.

Motsotso wa Numsa: Appreciating ‘the Numsa moment’
Motsotso wa Numsa is a Sepedi/Sesotho/Setswana phrase that translates to “Numsa’s time” or “Numsa’s moment”. The March 2013 CC adopted the concept.

The CC said what we have is a “Numsa moment”. This moment is defined by the recent turn to Numsa by different organisations, individuals and Left academics, asking Numsa to provide leadershiup, support and direction on a number of issues. More than once people and organisations have come to the union saying; “unless there is a Numsa intervention, the consequences for the working class, the poor and society will be dire”.

When we speak of Motsotso wa Numsa, we are talking about the turn on part of fighting battalions of the working class and broader society for our union to lead. Equally critically, Motsotso wa Numsa demands that we provide quality service to you, our members!

The four-year strategic plan
Theme 2 of the current union 4 year strategic plan adopted at the same CC speaks to “Transform [ing] service to members through organisation and representation”.

It is founded on the understanding that the union can only be healthy and grow if it is built on strong, democratic structures.

This particular theme includes two very specific tasks:
• Building structures in the union and

• Improving the organisation of members and the service the union offers to those members.

An instrument to measure the state of our organisation on the shopfloor:
The National Executive Committee (NEC) held in March 2013 adopted a Monthly Shopsteward Reporting Form. This is a very important instrument to strengthen workplace organisation and for better coordination at Local level. Shopstewards are required to complete the form monthly and submit it to the Local.

The form is meant to give the Local Shopsteward Council (LSSC) a picture of:

The state of membership in different workplaces. Is Numsa growing or declining in different workplaces?, Who makes up NUMSA membership in different workplaces? Is it young or old workers? Is it men or women? whether in different companies there are rival unions challenging NUMSA? Cases and issues being tackled at shopfloor level by shopstewards
whether workplace general meetings are being convened and that shopstewards are regularly engaging management. Whether shopfloor structures such as skills committees, youth and gender structures are functional.

All of these are meant to be contributing to the adoption of a draft Numsa Service Charter at the forthcoming Special National Congress in December 2013.

You can contribute to this draft:
• Through your participation in the Oiling the Engines workshops where the Service Charter is being discussed

• Through your participation in the LEDCOM run workshops on Providing Quality Service to Members