Moses Mayekiso has not had much reason to smile for more than a year. He was detained by police as he walked off an aeroplane at Jan Smuts Airport on June 29 last year. He has been in jail since then: first as a detainee under the state of emergency, then as a prisoner on trial.
But he was smiling on Wednesday, May 27. He was smiling because his wife Khola went to prison to tell him: “The metal workers of South Africa want you to be the general secretary of a giant new metal workers’ union.”
The new union was born at a conference at the National Recreation Centre near Soweto in Johannesburg on May 23 and May 24. More than 520 workers came from all over the country to launch the new union, which they called the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA).
But NUMSA has more than 520 members. Each of the workers at the conference spoke for another 250 workers in metal and motor car factories all over the country.
So the new union has 130 000 members. Before the, birth of NUMSA, the workers belonged to seven different unions. The unions were:
The Metal and Allied Workers’ Union (MAWU)
Motor Industries Component Workers’ Union (MICWU)
National Automobile and Allied Workers’ Union (NAAWU)
General and Allied Workers’ Union (GAWU)
Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU)
United Mining, Metal and Allied Workers’ Union of South Africa (UMMAWUSA)
Motor Assembly and Component Workers’ Union of South Africa (MACWUSA)
CHOOSING THE LEADERS
But after the conference, the leaders of the new union asked Learn and Teach and other newspapers and magazines to “please not say that we come from this union or that union. From today we are all members of one union. That union is NUMSA.”
The man the workers elected as their president was Dan Dube, a machine operator from SKF ball-bearing factory in Uitenhage. They elected David Madupela, a metal worker from the East Rand, as first vice-president. They elected Percy Thomas, a motor worker from the Western Cape, as second vice-president.
And when it was time for the conference to elect a general secretary, all 520 delegates stood and shouted for Moses Mayekiso. “Everybody wanted Moss,” says Dube. “The workers stamped and cheered for him.”
Mayekiso, who is 39 years old, was last year elected general- secretary of MAWU. But it was not only the workers in Mawu who wanted Mayekiso as their leader. The people of Alexandra, where he lives, elected him chairperson of the Alexandra Action Committee. Mayekiso worked hard to make life better for the people of Alex.
A LIST OF DEMANDS
The NUMSA conference did not only elect leaders. Workers came to the conference with demands from all the union members in different factories. At the conference, they put together a list of demands that the new union will give to the bosses in the metal industry.
THE DEMANDS ARE:
All metal workers must get a minimum “living wage” of R4,50 an hour.
All metal workers must work a 40 hour week. Most metal workers work longer hours. They say that if the bosses cut working hours they will be able to give jobs to more people.
All metal workers must have the right to strike.
All women metal workers must get six months paid maternity leave.
The bosses must end migrant labour and allow workers and their families to live near their factories. The metal workers know it will take a long time to end migrant labour. So they say that in the meantime bosses must improve the hostels where the migrant workers live.
Metal workers want paid holidays on Workers’ Day (May 1), National Youth Day (June 16), and March 21, the anniversary of the killings at Sharpeville in 1960 and at Langa in 1984.
LOUD AND CLEAR
NUMSA was built by the workers in the factories – and their voice was heard loud and clear at the launch of the new union. The workers knew what they wanted from their union. There were three main things that they asked for:
The workers want strong shop stewards in NUMSA. If the shop stewards are strong and united, the union will always be democratic, the workers say.
The new union must fight for safe and healthy working conditions in the factories.
The new union must fight unfair dismissals and retrenchments.
“A SOLID ROCK”
The NUMSA conference did not only talk about the workers’ struggles in the factories. The workers in NUMSA agreed that all workers must be part of the political struggle in South Africa. They agreed to start talking about the best way workers and their trade unions can join in the political struggle.
They said the Freedom Charter was “a solid rock on which to build socialism.” The Freedom Charter tells how South Africa will be shared when apartheid is ended. It was agreed to by the African National Congress and other organisations at the Congress of the People in 1955.
The Freedom Charter has always had the support of thousands of South Africans, but this year it has grown more popular than ever before.
The conference agreed that the Freedom Charter was a set of “minimum demands” for a future South Africa. They decided that it is time for workers to write a “workers charter”. In the charter workers will show how they will take the lead in the struggle for a free and democratic South Africa.
WORKERS AND THE YOUTH
All the people at the NUMSA conference were workers or union officials, except for Peter Mokaba, the president of SAYCD. The workers asked Mokaba to talk about unity between workers and the youth. Mokaba told them that the youth needed unity with the workers to learn democracy from the trade unions. “Unions are schools of democracy,” he said.
But why did workers need unity with the youth? “Your headquarters at COSATU House were bombed by the enemy,” Mokaba said. “Sayco would have sent our soldiers to guard COSATU House. And when they came to bomb it they would have had to face us.”
Mokaba said SAYCO wanted to work closely with all workers, not just with trade union leaders. “We must work together in the struggle against apartheid,” he said.
14 GIANT UNIONS
But why did the metal workers need to form NUMSA? All 130 000 belonged to other unions before they joined together in NUMSA.
Six out of the seven unions belonged to COSATU – and COSATU’s slogan is “one industry, one union”. It says that all unions in each industry should join together to form one giant union. Then there will be 14 giant unions under COSATU standing together in their struggle against the bosses and the government.
COSATU has asked all its member unions in the same industries to join together before its second congress in July. Many of its unions have already done so. There is a giant new union in the food industry called FAWU. In the building industry there is the Construction and Allied Workers Union (CAWU). There is TGWU for drivers and transport workers. And of course, there is now NUMSA in the metal industry.
THE FIRST TASK
The workers of COSATU and NUMSA also say “an injury to one is an injury to all”. NUMSA is not only going to be a home for 130 000 metal workers. There are about 400 000 workers in metal and motor car factories in South Africa.
“NUMSA must become the home for all metal workers,” Dan Dube told Learn and Teach. “Our first big task is to bring in the thousands of workers who do not have a union to speak for them.”
Moses Mayekiso, sitting far away in a jail cell, would agree. He would have it no other way.