When we think of trade unions, we think of people at work. We know that trade unions help people to look after themselves and to speak for themselves. But we do not think of singing when we think of unions. And there we are wrong.
If you go to a meeting called by one of the Fosatu unions, you will know why we are wrong. There you will see people in bright uniforms. They come on to the stage and sing beautiful songs. These are the choirs from the singing unions.
Their songs are different to other choirs. They do not sing just any songs. They write their own songs. And these songs are about them selves and their problems, at home and at work. But most of all these songs are about their unions.
THE BRAITEX CHOIR
Khosi Maseko is a singer in one of these union choirs. She is a member of a union called the National Union of Textile Workers (NUTW). She tells why their choir is different:
“I have sung in choirs ever since I was at school,” says Khosi. “Then I sang in the church choir. The church choir was very strict with training. We sang classical music and there was never any dancing.
“The Braitex Choir is very different. We sing for workers. We tell them about unions in our songs.
” You can hear this if you listen to their songs, like this one:-
“Hlanganani Basebenzi nibe munye Ukuze sinqobe abaqashi ngeningi. “
“Come together workers and be one. So that we can defeat the bosses with our numbers.”
Khosi was one of the people who started the choir at the Braitex factory. She spoke to a shop steward, Tiny Mabena. Tiny knew the best people. She knew the good singers from the meetings – the ones who stood up and sang loudly.
Soon they had 20 people and a date to sing! They were going to sing at the big, yearly meeting of their union. They had to work hard to be ready in time – practising during the week and not just at week-ends. But they were ready in time and people enjoyed listening to them. That was the beginning. Since then the Braitex Choir has sung at many meetings.
SIZANANI LUCKY STARS
Sizanani Lucky Stars is another choir in Fosatu. Their members all belong to the Transport and General Workers Un ion (TGWU). They had a different beginning. Sizanani started ten years ago. They sing in the Mbube competitions in Natal.
“We have many problems,” says Gerald Buthelezi, one of the singers. “Our biggest problem is transport. It is very difficult to get all the members together when we have to practise or sing somewhere. “
But even with their problems, they have won many competitions. As their leader, Boy Michael Dladla says, they are ‘dangerous’ – and other choirs in the Mbube competitions must be careful of them.
About a year ago, Sizanani changed. They no longer sang in competitions only. When their union had their big yearly meeting, they went to sing, like the Braitex Choir. So they started to think about other songs, songs about workers, like this one:-
“Anoyibhasobha lempimpi Yiyo ezothutha izindaba. Yiyo ezothuthela umqashi izindaba.”
“Beware of this informer He’s the one who’s carrying the news He’s carrying the news to the boss”
Sizanani Lucky Stars are not the only choir from the Mbube competitions who sing workers’ songs. The Clover Choir also began to sing worker songs when a union, Sweet Food and Allied Workers Union, came to their dairy. Their songs go like this:-
“Ngiyacela kuye uFosatu Siyacela kuye u Fosatu Asi khanyisele indlela.”
“I am asking you Fosatu We are asking you, Fosatu To light our path”
HERE, THERE AND EVERY WHERE
The union choirs come from far and near. The metal workers of Brits also have a choir. They belong to a union called the Metal and Allied Workers Union (MAWU).
They got together after a strike. All 300 workers used to meet in the Catholic Hall everyday. And so when they started a choir, they sang about their strike and about their union. They sang:-
“Ke Fosatu Ke ya rona ethusang bad iri mobathapi Hore batle babone Ditshwanno tsa bona mabathaphing Amandla awethu Niyabasaba Asibasabi Siyabafuna”
“This Fosatu is ours It helps the workers against the bosses So they can get their rights The power is ours Are you afraid of them? We are not afraid, we want to get them”.
And then there is also the K- Team from the Kellogs factory on the East Rand. They tells us about one of their songs before they sing it. “This song is about Andries Raditsela, a shop steward for the Chemical and Industrial Workers Union. He was arrested by the police. Then they set him free. Two hours later he died, from head injuries.”
These are not the only choirs. There are many others. There is the Umbrella Choir, the Frame Choir, the Pretoria Auto Plastics Choir, the Simba Quix Choir and still more. They are all from different unions and different places.
THE UNIONS HELP THE CHOIRS AND THE CHOIRS HELP THE UNIONS
The unions are pleased with the choirs. The workers are proud of them even if they don’t sing themselves. The choirs help the unions with their work. They help because they sing about what is happening in the unions or even in the country. The choirs also help to make long meetings more interesting. They show that the unions are not about work only.
“We try to bring new songs to the workers,” says Khosi. “We try not to sing old songs. People just get bored with this. Or the workers will join in – and a large meeting of workers will sing more powerfully than the choir anyway.
“Workers have taken some of our songs – and now they sing these songs in meetings. We have to work hard looking for and writing new songs.”
The choirs show the new feeling of working people today. They show us that people feel strong in them selves, strong to stand up and sing their own songs, strong to help people know their problems, and strong to do something about them.