Marching Together

Shaheed Mahomed chats to Numsa News on the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union’s (Nehawu) supporting Numsa’s Section 77 (social justice) campaign; the implementation of the Employment Incentive Tax Act (EITA) and on the significance of cementing a United Front.
Mahomed, a shop-steward at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) Bellville campus, traces his footsteps in Nehawu and talks to the future.
Numsa News: How long are you a Nehawu member?

Shaheed Mohamed (SH): About five years. I tried joining Nehawu in 2003 but was not accepted as I was a contract worker and joined when I became permanent.
Numsa News (NN): What made you join a trade union?
I was involved with the Congress of South African Trade unions (Cosatu) since 1985, first. I then joined the Unemployed Workers Movement (UWM), Western Cape Unemployed Workers Union (Wecuwu) and Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union (PPWAWU).
NN: What has your role been in Nehawu?
SM: I’m an active member I attend general meetings and initially I assisted staff on the Foundation Programme (induction programme). I later assisted staff with Vodacom billing queries. I focused on labour broker issues and worked on wage negotiations at CUPT in 2013 for 2014.
I became an acting shopsteward in 2013. I assist contract cleaning workers to become permanent workers. Campaigns build members confidence in asserting   their demands. The leadership collective is getting stronger and new worker leaders are emerging- this is what campaigns do. We should always create opportunities for a new layer of leaders to emerge.
NN: Why is it important to join a trade union?
SM: Without a union, management can more easily intimidate workers into submission. It is important to join a union to secure and extend gains. The law only gives limited protection and allows a lot of things which amount to attacks on workers. We need to unite, not only for socio-economic rights but also for political demands. Everything is political.
NN: Should trade unions align themselves with political parties? 
SM: Yes. But only with parties that are independent of the capitalist government and that stand for working class interests. Currently the major challenge we face is that our federation is aligned to a capitalist party. This is a problem as the top leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) are capitalists and even labour brokers.
Unfortunately, the South African Communist Party which is supposed to champion workers’ demands instead it works with the capitalist ANC government.
Numsa is right to be building a revolutionary working class movement. Socialism needs to be consciously built.
Workers must be free to raise and debate issues.
Trade unions must unite all workers in the workplace and create an environment where all workers are free to associate with the party of their choice.
NN: What do you expect from a trade union apart from defending you in legal matters?
SM: A trade union must take up issues of and for the broader working class. At the end of the day, we are all fighting one struggle against the capitalist class.
NN: What is your view on Nehawu membership?
SM: The issue of better conditions for cleaning workers is now on the agenda. Workers have grown in confidence –and are able to unite in strike action. For example, the cleaning workers and a section of CPUT’s permanent staff held a general meeting to debate and discuss Numsa demands and then chose to picket March 19th.
More workers are joining Nehawu. This is what we want. Nehawu is still a minority union here (CPUT). It’s a challenge to win workers over and get them to commit and be active in the union.
NN: Do you think your expectations are being met? How do you think this can be improved?
SM: My expectations are not being met. Unfortunately, Nehawu and the federation are tied to the agenda of a capitalist government. We need to speak to and mobilise more workers for a special congress of Cosatu so that we can once and for all break the alliance with the ANC and SACP and begin to put in place a genuine communist party.
The actions of the federation are nationalist. We need to embark on mass action campaigns in a real way to support the masses in Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine and elsewhere. For too long has governments and the capitalist class supported regimes that are anti-workers. We should side with the masses internationally, even the Chinese masses.
NN: Is it necessary for trade unions to combine shop floor struggles with community struggles?
SM: Unions must be involved in community struggles and we can help strengthen these struggles, unify and provide leadership and take the state  on – a state that is fundamentally responsible for ensuring capitalist interests are kept intact by keeping the masses in homelessness and in poverty. All our struggles are inter-connected. If the mines are nationalised and the monopolies expropriated all our problems can be solved overnight, not only us, but the entire sub-region.
NN: What is your view on the endorsement of the Employment Tax Incentive Act?
SM: The government has betrayed the working class as it opts for youth slavery instead of creating real, permanent jobs.
NN: Is this Act the solution to the escalating unemployment rate?
SM: To qualify for the subsidy employers will keep wages low…The bosses will find ways, through increased dismissals and retrenchment, or not filling vacant posts with higher paid workers… ‘Special Economic Zones’ an idea that came from the Democratic Alliance in their 2009 manifesto…Some factories might just close down and/or relocate to these new Bantustans. So job losses will be there as well as increased levels of slavery.
NN: What is your view on the Numsa national strike, 19th March?
SM: It was a great success. One can only salute Numsa workers for taking this initiative, especially as the capitalists and their media wants everyone to think about elections. The march shows…that we will not get our gains through elections but by organising, planning and engaging in mass action.
NN: Do you think Numsa met their objective/s?
SM: Numsa has met its first objective by checking its strength to mobilise…Now Numsa and the United front ought to consider taking steps to overcome weaknesses and ways to build a united front from below… going to members of Cosatu, Nactu and others, on the ground, through meetings and discussions, universities, industrial areas and communities on the next phase of the campaign. Perhaps, Numsa could start a process of gathering demands for a Workers Charter, possibly a Workers Summit.
This was the first time that an affiliate of Cosatu that has broken from the ANC and SACP has stood up on working class interests, against the regime. This has begun to give a whole new layer of worker leaders the opportunity to grow and develop. What a great beginning!
NW: What do you envisage is the way forward towards the United Front?
SM: The United Front needs to identify which are the main class struggles and how best to unite and support them. We should not worry about labels or which working class formation is calling or leading it. We should look at the general working class interests and how we can advance them.
The Platinum strike is one such example. No matter, if they are led by Amcu but their demands are for R12 500, which really should be the minimum wage. If Numsa and the United Front mobilised material support or even laid the ground work for solidarity actions such as pickets or even solidarity strikes, this will open the hearts of all mine workers to the cause that Numsa is championing.
Numsa Western Cape writers: Shahied Stoffels, Yondela Gijane and Amanda Piyose.