Gatsby Mazwi is one of the leaders of Black Municipality Workers Union (BMWU). Gatsby was a bus driver. But he was fired when the municipal workers went on strike last year. Now he is a full time worker for the BMWU. Learn and Teach spoke to him.
Learn and Teach: Gatsby, Why do workers need trade unions? Gatsby: Trade unions make workers strong. A trade union lets workers speak with one voice. One worker by himself is weak. But when workers stand together, they are strong.
Learn and Teach: When did the BMWU start? Gatsby: The BMWU started on July 23 1981.
Learn and Teach: How did the BMWU start? Gatsby: Last year the Johannesburg City Council said workers could start a union. But it was not a real trade union. The workers were not in charge of the trade union. At the first meeting, a transport worker wanted to ask a question. The worker’s name was Joseph Mavi. Joseph Mavi was not allowed to ask a question. Mavi left the meeting. Then most of the workers also left the meeting. These workers decided to start their own union. The workers wanted to be in charge of their own union.
Learn and Teach: How many workers belong to the BMWU? Gatsby: The BMWU has nearly 7 000 members. We have members from all the departments of the Municipality. We have members from the water department, electricity department, transport department, gas department, parks and recreation department and the cleansing department.
Learn and Teach: How does the trade union work? Gatsby: Workers in every department choose shop stewards. The shop stewards are the people who talk for the workers in each department. Most departments have two shop stewards. The bigger departments have three shop stewards. There is a big meeting once a year. All the workers come to the meeting. At the meeting the workers choose 12 leaders. The 12 leaders sit on the executive committee.
Learn and Teach: What do shop stewards do for the workers? Gatsby: The shop stewards help workers with problems at work. When a worker has a problem, the shop steward talks to the boss of his department. Shop stewards tell workers about their rights. They tell the workers what is happening in the union. They collect membership fees and they hand out membership cards. Shop stewards have another important job. They keep workers together. They tell workers to stand together so they can be strong.
Learn and Teach: What does the executive committee do for the workers? Gatsby: The executive committee talks for all the workers from all departments. The committee does all the office work for the union. The committee keeps workers from different departments together.
Learn and Teach: Last year there was a big strike by municipal workers. What happened? Gatsby: The City Council was not fair. They did not want to talk to the workers. They did not care why the workers were unhappy. They just called the police. The police arrested some of our leaders. The City Council sent 1 200 workers back to the homelands. The police helped them do this. Only 300 workers got their jobs back. But the strike did not fail altogether. The workers learnt something. They learnt to stand together.
Learn and Teach: Are the workers sorry they went on strike? Gatsby: No, I don’t think they are sorry they went on strike. They are proud because they stood as men. They are suffering now. But they know they will win in the end.