NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

Across borders, women speak their minds!

30 June 2002, Posted in News

Metalworkers' unions across the globe are taking resolutions on the position of women in society and within their organisations. Are these resolutions leading to improvements in the plight of women workers? Cedric Gina, a shopsteward from Alusaf and a Numsa writer spoke to three women unionists. They were attending a Southern African seminar organised by the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF). The meeting was held in March in Richards Bay, South Africa. 

Australian Jenny Holdcroft only started working for the IMF last year, but with seven years experience in unions there as an organiser/educator and with background in an affirmative action agency, she brings a great deal of experience to the IMF.

What is the vision of IMF going forward now from the congress?

Firstly I want to point out that our resolutions did not capture the role of women until the last moment when women delegates pointed that out in the congress. My immediate task is to ensure that women play a prominent role in IMF and the affiliates.

How do you envisage that?

It is a myth that women need to be empowered. It's about time that comrades realise that we are empowered. In fact we've always been empowered. What we need now is to be given opportunities and be treated equally.

Good point, but the IMF is all over the world male-dominated. How practical are your aspirations?

We plan to do things regionally. For example we want to focus in the Southern African region as we are doing at this workshop. Our next focus will be Asia and to a lesser extent South Eastern Europe . I'm impressed with discussions in our workshop. I believe that Numsa experiences will ease my job. I'm referring here to your 2nd Vice President's role in collective bargaining and the fact that she is a woman.

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Despite her youth, 20 year-old Mauritian Laura Moothoo, a quality checker in her company, Princess Metal, has been a shop steward for more than two years.

Is your company a state enterprise or a private company?

It used to be a state enterprise but not anymore. It was privatised and bought by British people.

How is gender representation in your factory?

Women are the majority of the workforce. Even at shopsteward level, we have eight female shopstewards in a committee of nine.

Impressive! Is your chair a woman?

No.

Why?

I can't explain. It just happened that the only male in our committee is our chair.

How long have you been working and how long have you been a shopsteward?

I'm 20 years old. I started working when I was 15 years old. I have been a shopsteward for just over two years.

Did you say you started working when you were only 15?

Yes.

Was that not too early?

No. That's normal in my country. You get a social number as soon as you finish the school.

What is a social number?

With that number you are eligible to work.

How do you organise women into your union?

Our union has recruited a permanent organiser to organise women. The federation is doing the same. We hold general meetings. In these meetings we discuss issues that affect women – be they health and safety issues, social issues, welfare or collective bargaining.

What are your challenges as women in Mauritian industries?

Low wages, inadequate maternity leave and no childcare facilities. There is inequality and the usual stereotypes about the woman's place being in the kitchen. The other problem is that there are too many workers from neighbouring countries who allow themselves to be paid very low wages. This in a way defeats our struggles. They come from India , China , Bangladesh and other countries.

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With 16 years as a shop steward in Duly Motors, Bulawayo , Zimbabwe , Betty Msimanga, is well equipped to talk of progress with regard to women's issues in her union and country.

You must be a role model for other women. 16 years in the trade union!

I think so. I'm the chairperson of the workers' committee in our company, a branch executive member of the Automotive and Allied Workers Union in Bulawayo and I'm the councillor for Bulawayo region in our federation, the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

What strategies do you use to recruit members especially women?

Prior to me coming to this IMF meeting, I've been away from work for 10 days in the trenches training women.

How did it go?

Satisfactory but of course it is not easy to organise women especially in the motor sector. The majority are white collar workers. They see themselves closer to the bosses than to the shop floor.

What has been the role of women in trade unions and in broader society of Zimbabwe ?

A turning point for women happened in a ZCTU meeting in Masvingo where the voice of women influenced the decisions of that meeting. Ever since, the women have been visible in the struggle for human rights, although the stereotypes of our culture are there that think that the woman's place is in the kitchen.

How many women are entering what used to be called male-dominated jobs?

Slowly, they are coming up. There are a number of female apprentices doing trades like instruments and electricity. But too few for our satisfaction as women. We want government to speed up the process by compelling companies to put more women in those jobs.

Given recent events in your country, what are your hopes?

I hope there will be a rule of law and the government will develop a coherent land reform strategy not what is done by Zanu (PF) at this point in time. Land must be given to people who have skills to use it and not to Mugabe's relatives and cronies.

What is your message to South African women?

They must carry on with the struggle both in their homes and their workplaces.

Source

Numsa News