NUMSA commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution

Interview

31 July 2008, Posted in News

Moving up the ranks – from general worker to regional secretary 

Sizwe Dlamini, hard at work at his RS desk. Cedric Gina

Attend Numsa's National Executive Committee or Central Committee and you will see some new faces representing their regions.

Since the elections early this year, three regions have elected 'brand new' regional secretaries – Wits Central West, KwaZulu Natal and Sedibeng regions.

(Although Western Cape also has a new regional secretary in Fred Petersen he is not brand new in that he has served before as regional secretary in his region!) Over the next few issues of Numsa News we will carry interviews with these comrades. Here Cedric Gina talks to Sizwe Dlamini, Wits Central West regional secretary.

Please tell metalworkers, who is Sizwe?I was born in KZN in the Mahlabathini area outside Ulundi. I grew up in Mandeni, did my primary education there. I moved to Ngwelezana township to do my secondary education.

How did you become a worker?When I finished matric in 1990, I moved back to Mandeni. I got a job in Isithebe.

I was paid R60 per week at Elangeni Oils. I was called a trainee operator. I left work after three months to seek greener pastures in Johannesburg.

What happened when you arrived in Johannesburg?I arrived in July and got a job in October. Wynberg Panelbeaters employed me as a general worker.

Before that I had been offered other jobs at OK and another place. I lost the OK job because of racism and in hindsight that was a blessing for me because I landed in a place that put me in contact with Numsa.

For how long did you work at Wynberg Panelbeaters?For some years I was just a general worker. I first became a shop steward in 1995.

I was under the Johannesburg North local. Cde Steve Nhlapo groomed me (he now heads up the International Metalworkers Federation office in Africa) because he was the local coordinator.

Did you play any particular role in the local?Within no time I was elected to serve in the education sub-committee in the local. Numsa was still educating its shop stewards then.

Are you suggesting that Numsa does not educate its shop stewards these days?Yes, I am saying that. My first education workshop was in Wilgespruit, a place where there were no shops.

I felt very confident when I came back from that workshop that I was a shop steward. I was ready to face any challenge from the employer. I cannot say the same about the confidence of shop stewards coming from workshops these days.

Tell us about your other responsibilities in the local.After the Mafikeng congress, the first congress I attended, I became an office bearer in the local. I think I was elected in 2001.

What were your impressions of the Mafikeng Congress?I think it was a historic congress. The level of debate was high but I still feel that delegates had not read adequately in order to take appropriate decisions.

All the problems that we see now with the ANC government were identified in that congress but no firm resolutions were taken to redirect the policy direction of the ANC government. We basically ignored the problems.

Tell us more about your role as a local office bearer (LOB).My tenure as a LOB was short-lived because I became an organiser in 2003. I only served as a LOB for two years.

I was employed by Johannesburg South local as an organiser. But I cannot leave out the most important responsibility that the organisation gave me. I became a motor rep for my region in the national negotiations, comrades like Basil Cele, Hosea Morapedi and Karl Cloete moulded me in collective bargaining strategies.

What do you remember from your first few months as an organiser?I enjoyed defending workers. However I was disturbed by the fights that I had with one organiser who was based in the region.

I got confused as to what was happening until I discovered that the organiser was a consultant for the companies that I was organising. That was my baptism of fire.

I never thought that an organiser can cheat Numsa by advising employers against Numsa. But there it was happening right in front of my eyes. Who knows – maybe we still have organisers who do the same?

Any other things that you remember whilst an organiser?At some stage I moved to the organising and collective bargaining department in the region. There I got more strategic responsibilities.

I dealt with retrenchments, where issues like steel prices, import parity pricing and stiff competition were used as reasons for employers to want to retrench.

Any victories for members?Sometimes yes, sometimes not. In some cases it was like you sit there just to accompany workers out of the gate.

In some cases through the services of the National Productivity Institute (NPI), we would be able to put up a 'business case' against retrenchments. One that stands out is how we stopped Federal Mogul from closing and moving all production and a few workers to Pinetown in KZN. We saved our members' jobs and I was proud of my role in that.

Is the union using NPI effectively?I don’t think so. Sometimes the employers frustrate NPI by not supplying information in time.

But sometimes even when NPI has done its work, lack of relevant training of organisers in reading and analysing financial statements becomes a hindrance.

I think as a matter of urgency, all organisers must be equipped with advanced financial literacy courses.

The last regional congress elected you as regional secretary. Tell us about the period leading up to it and after it.It was not the nicest of periods.

The relationships changed completely. And even when you assume office, you encounter challenges. Everyone expects performance without realising that there are challenges that you inherit, that you must deal with.

For example, when the new collective took over, we discovered that MEMS project was non-existent in the region. We had to take decisions, unpopular as they may be in the interests of the organisation.

Preferences towards congresses are just that, preferences. Beyond congress they must pass and the organisation must be the priority. Staff discipline remains a minor challenge because the majority of staff are doing well.

What are your goals for the region?The short term goal is to prepare our delegates thoroughly for the Numsa National Congress.

As this collective we do not want our delegates to just go to the congress and vote, we want every Wits Central West shop steward to feel that they have made a contribution to the direction that the next Congress will take in terms of content and debate.

Then after the congress I think we need to find a balance between our core function of servicing and growing this union and our important political duty as a proletarian trade union in South Africa. Numsa in Gauteng must find a way of talking with one voice on political issues; we must find a way of consolidating our regional positions into a Gauteng position when we go to Cosatu or if we go to engage the ANC in Gauteng.

I think that Numsa must also play an important role in building the Party (SACP). In our last REC we invited the leadership of the Party in Gauteng to start what we think must be a long term relationship that is in line with our last congress resolution to build the Party.

Our strategy will be to ensure that personal chemistry or lack of it does not hinder the implementation of the congress resolution to build the SACP.

Your message to metalworkers in Wits Central West and in South Africa?Participate in structures and influence debates at all levels.

Educate shop stewards so that they are empowered to lead.Improve service to members.Increase membership – I want Wits Central West to have 50 000 members within two years!

Source

Numsa News