This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
16 Aug 1989: Bishop, Bruce
POM I'm talking with Bruce Bishop on the 16th of August. Bruce you were just giving a little bit of background about yourself.
BB Well I went to school in Natal, it was a private school, it's not funded by the government at all. We people who go there are usually accused of being privileged. But fortunately there we were taught a lot to question things. To think for ourselves. And after that I could do the usual story and go off and do military service. Now the school I went to was very politically aware, which is very different from most South African schools because it's a private school.
PAT Where did you go?
BB A place called Michaelhouse in Natal. And I grew up on a farm and before I could speak English I could speak Zulu fluently. And fortunately at this school I could do Zulu for matric and so I can read and write it which very few whites can actually do. And from there also got into Xhosa which is the Nguni language for the Eastern Cape region. Well I went in the army and I went in the Infantry and unfortunately I didn't enjoy that too much and I couldn't see the point of the whole conflict. And I actually got wounded in my right leg, my right leg is a bit of a problem. And I didn't become too popular with authorities because I said what is this whole thing for. This whole South West Africa thing. Fortunately they couldn't throw me out because they decorated me. So it was a bit of embarrassment for them.
Anyway I left there and I went to work for a company called Sappi. Now if you'd like just now and you've got some time I've made, I don't know if Peter told you, story dramas on film of the whole industrial relations situation in South Africa from 1978 through until now. I have just finished my latest one. And that can sketch for you very clearly and visually what has taken place in South Africa throughout industry. I started this company and I studied through UNISA which is our correspondence university and I got my degrees through there. But basically in this company, this was in 1978, now all I say to people is the situation in this country was much like this, it's what I refer to as diagram one. You have management up here and you had the employee down there. Management had all the power. In 1978 we had what was called the Industrial Conciliation Act. And that excluded blacks from the definition of an employee. Grand apartheid was in place then. What the government, the Nationalist government at that time, wanted was for black people to live in so-called independent states and to travel from those places to work in South Africa, and that you must be pretty well versed with.
If I jump back to 1973, quite a lot of strikes have taken place. But because blacks were excluded from the Act, the Industrial Conciliation Act, there were no procedures to resolve these strikes. And there was nobody who they could actually talk to, management. They were finding it rather difficult. And anybody who they said, 'Look come forward and talk to', said 'We are not going to do that because we get locked up and detained.' Blacks, Indians, coloureds, I mean coloureds, Indians and whites, not blacks. Coloureds, Indians and whites did have certain union rights but they were very limited, there were industrial councils for example. But we had nothing like the Industrial Court, which we have today. We had nothing like an unfair labour practice concept.
So what then happened was because of these strikes in Natal and some of them spread around, the multinationals in the 70's started to, regardless of the Act, to talk to black unions, and in fact they started to have in-house discussions with unions. And the government ignored it. But that started largely in the motor industry in the Eastern Cape. And unfortunately, because of that, certain people got the impression that this is the den of iniquity where all the problems take place. And strikes took place in these multinationals in terms of the procedures they'd had but industry was really backward then in the rest of the country in terms of industrial relations. And I thought ...
POM So in one sense the motor industries' willingness to talk with union representatives in fact set up a process where a strike could occur as a normal form of industrial action?
BB Yes, correct. And you didn't find in the motor industry that they dismissed them at all, immediately. And in the 1970's for, like the company I worked for then Sappi, this was something unbelievable. That you had a strike and you didn't kick the strikers out. I mean for the MD who I reported to this was just something else. And, anyway, so there was in the multinationals that taking place. You were allowed to in your company form what we called a works council and we had that. But these things were very much organized by management. They said, 'Right, you, you and you will sit on the workers council'. And it was usually the good old worker, the good old stick who said yeah boss. Which was useless. But if you as an industrial relations person, the company said, 'Listen we're on - these people are stooges', you'd get a very big X from the senior management and you're regarded as a radical. Fortunately for me I managed to solve quite a lot of the strikes in Sappi so I wasn't kicked out like my predecessor.
POM How is that company spelled.
PAT What does it stand for?
BB South African Paper and Pulp Industries. But because of these strikes, people started to look at the mother industry and think, well, actually although their line is struck they're resolving their issues a little bit easier. And then some industries started ... we're having to train all the people once we fire - a whole new training process - what's it costing us? And slowly it dawned on them. And the government appointed Nic Wiehahn , who was in the law faculty in this university, to have a commission. And I don't know ...
BB Wiehahn. I don't know whether you've heard of the Wiehahn Commission? Well the Wiehahn Commission recommendations came out and the government accepted them, which was quite startling for industry. That was in 1979. And they said, right, we're going to change the Industrial Conciliation Act and we're going to make - blacks are going to become employees. So suddenly now they were saying, we're not expecting these guys to go and live in an independent state and come here, we're accepting that they work in South Africa and they live here permanently. There was a fundamental change there. They also then brought in the industrial, they brought into the Act a concept called the unfair labour practice. So suddenly with the changes in 1979 they pushed through an amendment to the Industrial Conciliation Act. And the first amendments were that blacks are included in the Industrial Conciliation Act. It became in 1981 the Labour Relations Act so if I refer to the two ones interchangeably don't get confused.
Please stop me if I'm off the point of, this is what you want to hear, you don't want to hear. And they allowed blacks now to join unions. They said, so your works council was going to disappear. Suddenly blacks could join unions. And they brought in this concept called unfair labour practice and a body called the Industrial Court to hear what an unfair labour practice is or would be. Now, people in the union movement, there are some rather brilliant people in the union movement, like Hilton Cheadle(?) for example. Now Hilton Cheadle has one of the most incredible minds. He saw what this thing actually meant. And he actually is one of South Africa's incredible social engineers because while the government had tried to socially engineer this society, he is against violence and conflict and he said to a lot of people who were angry at that time, listen what Wiehahn has done we can use. We can actually change this balance of power in industry. And they said, how? They said, well this concept called an unfair labour practice, they came and they said the Industrial Court can hear an unfair labour practice and an unfair labour practice was defined as anything which the Industrial Court deemed as unfair. Now most employers - now you see time went by, didn't think anything had taken place. They were totally and utterly switched off. And a few people said this is an incredible change which has taken place, wake up. There were certain people like Willy Bendix (?) he's professor of industrial relations at Stellenbosch, who said in 1979 that you can't actually have this democratic industrial relations system evolving without a democratic political situation.
You said earlier how intertwined are these going to be, and I'll get to that later. I know black people very well, I mean I've lived with them etc. Their homeland systems or Bantustans, whatever you want to call them, is totally, utterly rejected, as you well know, by the mass of people. They are an absolute lot of rubbish, they've bankrupted this country, etc, etc. It's duplication, we cannot afford it. Not even America builds nine countries. But this stupid government thinks it can. Now, so what the masses want are rights in this country. And what the government keeps telling them is no, you go to your homeland and express your rights. But these are stooges who've been put in the government. They're corrupt. They are absolute, I mean that they even consult them on what they think about things is an insult to a lot of people. So what would be the net result if they keep telling people to go and talk through those structures, those political structures? They are not going to because they don't want them. They are going to talk through another structure which is the labour relations field. Through the industrial relations structure.
So it was inevitable that their political grievances would surface in the work place, in a place where a lot of people were just not able and not equipped to handle them. And that's the situation we've got today. But a lot happened in between there to change the balance of power. And one of the biggest things which changed that balance of power was the Industrial Court. So you had in 1979 the unions saying, is this something or is it just another piece of government machinery? You had employers ignoring it and Hilton Cheadle saying it's something we can use. And in 1979 three cases went to the Industrial Court on dismissal. And they said, these dismissals, the union took them, are unfair. They are procedurally unfair and substantively unfair. And all three people were reinstated. But it never ever hit the headlines so much. Just these couple of companies were shocked that these people could be reinstated. Because in terms of their contracts of employment, they could give them 30 days notice. In terms of common law, they're entitled to dismiss them. And a lot of boys couldn't understand this new wishy-washy thing and unfair labour practice in this Labour Relations Act and they got incredibly frustrated. And everyone started to say, well what is an unfair labour practice? If you dismiss somebody we say, well, contract would give them 30 days notice, so cheers. Industrial Court said no, you've got to be procedurally and substantively fair. Still employers ignored it and 1980 came along. And in 1980 sixteen cases went to the Industrial Court on dismissal. That was the main focus, dismissal.
So you can imagine now if a company has been kicking people out and suddenly they're told by this Industrial Court, no, you can't do that. They didn't realize management by and large in South Africa that with this new - the changes to the Industrial Conciliation Act which become the Labour Relations Act, this balance of power had taken place. And because they didn't recognize that, they ended up reinstating people and this situation took place in some companies. Suddenly managers had these people in the early 80's reinstated and they said, well how must we do, what must we do? And the average white manager suddenly sat like this. Fearful to discipline. Morale started to plummet. And a few of us in industry said we've got to train people. We've got to train the managers how you can handle this. You can have discipline, you can manage, it is how you do it, why you do it. Those are the critical issues. And management was not interested. I mean you I'd go to a manager I'd say, 'You're Indian', and you'd say, 'Look I need 10,000 rand to develop a training program to address this cause', that's what is going to happen. Totally ignore you.
Hilton Cheadle and them realized what was taking place and they wanted this situation. Because they thought they could get a political movement by getting people here, saying we'll allow you to come back to here, but we want trade offs. We want you to pressurise the government in Group Areas Act, etc., etc. So in 1981 over 100 cases went to the Industrial Court. And then the Industrial Conciliation Act actually became the Labour Relations Act. They made a few more amendments. They didn't change the name up until 1981, they just made amendments to it. Then it's become the well known Labour Relations Act. Still management were as I said off, switched off.
And 1982 took place and over 300 cases went to the Industrial Court. And you started to get an incredible negative thing amongst managers. What the hell is happening? Can't do anything. What's this stupid body? In 1983 what management was still not prepared to look at it and say, well, what can we do about it? We should spend money. They were far more interested in getting out production and making money. That was far more important to them. They didn't realize this fundamental thing which took place. And in 1983, 1 said to a few people in industry, look it's quite, we can see now what the actual Industrial Court expects of us in terms of discipline. They expect that we be procedurally fair and substantively fair. Procedural fairness is the how. And this is the first book that I ever really - basic things for managers in 1981, which explains the how. You know, you must warn an employee that he is coming to some discipline. You must have an inquiry, he must be represented, etc. You must tell him if he is guilty or innocent. And then you must give him the punishment, you must given him a chance to appeal. That was very straightforward. And what we did was, I said to the guys, look let's get together and let's make a film to show to managers that if they carry on behaving like this they are going to end up like that.
POM This being that the workers talk ...?
BB This is being diagram three. Now suddenly the workers are in charge. You can imagine, Patrick, that if I fire you or you fire me and I come back to your work and I say how the hell you going to handle me? And if you like just now I can show you some of these films, if you'd like. And what we really needed to do was change the behaviour of management and do some dynamic behaviour modelling. And get people to realise, listen you just can't carry on behaving like this. We're not becoming some fat left wing liberals, it's just not on. Throughout the western world people don't behave like this. They've moved to here. You can manage, you can become productive, etc., here. But we don' t have to end off there.
So there was in 1983 where we started but we only managed to get the money together near the end of 1984. And then the professor who was the head of the Industrial Relations Unit here asked me if I wanted to start this Industrial Relations Training Unit to industry. So that's what I started off from nothing. And most people weren't interested in funding it. Well today these things have changed so much and management has suddenly woken up so much that there is a very different situation now. But if I just carry on with this thing so you can see what was actually taking place there, by 1985 the unions had got most of South African industry into this situation here.
POM The worker was in charge.
BB The worker controlled the situation, the worker. There was really a lot of fear amongst management. In 1986 it got worse, a lot of managers, you know why? Abdicating their responsibility. So all we decided to do was to say right, you can actually discipline. How do you do it? And we said you've got to move in your company from there back to here. And you are going to do that via what I call the human relations pillar. Now, what do we need in here? We need disciplinary procedures. We need grievance procedures. Also we need housing policies. We need a lot of other human relations things done. So all of that came into there.
And under the second form then on how you actually handle a disciplinary problem your procedurally and substantively fairness. Procedural fairness then became how do you handle it? I warn the employee, I give him the reason, he's afforded a representation, etc. Why is he guilty? Well that's based on evidence. I saw him come late. That's oral evidence. I have his clock card. A man's walking towards the gate and he's taking something out. You don't call the police. You don't need that. You saw him try to take something, you've got the article, that's real evidence, that's why he's guilty. Now the test in our disciplinary enquires of guilt is on the balance of probabilities. In a criminal court it is beyond reasonable doubt so is it probable that why and then the second part of substantive fairness is, why do you chose this particular punishment?
And that's been very painful for a lot of South African managers who are very autocratic. It's the nature of a lot of South Africans. To go through that and also to accept that black people are human beings. That is a large driving force. Would you do this to a white manager? Would you do this to a white person? And there we had to teach people that an introductory of proper punishment, of why you chose a particular radical punishment because it has criminal connotations but sanction. And that I can explain to you later, there's a whole triad system and you take the interest of the employer and employees into account. You take the infraction into account, you take the employee into account, the offender - mitigating and aggravating circumstances and then you look at your whole decision that you've applied your mind and reasoning why.
POM Could you address perhaps four things? One would be the mine workers strike in 1987, whether that was an attempt to break the power of the unions? Two, the stress within unions themselves between the political wing who believes that the primary purpose of the union is to advance the political agenda and, say, those who are more traditional trade unionists who want to build a trade union, build its membership and, for example, over sanctions, if you're for sanctions it's difficult for a shop steward to go back to his workers and say you're out of work because sanctions which we all approve of are being implemented. And the third would be the amendments to the Labour Relations Act that took place, I think earlier this year or earlier last year.
BB I'll come to those amendments and that stuff now. Because when we finish, when we did this in 1986 everyone started to get this right. But then unions said look ...
POM This is the Human Relations pillar?
BB Yes, this is the Human Relations pillar. Then people said well it's all very well your being nice to us, you being nice to us, but that's not the only thing we want. We also want some decision making which is the second pillar. We want some decision making in your business. Now what decision making are you going to allow us? Still management hadn't woken up to things and this took place where a lot of companies started to sign recognition agreements which regulated how much power they were going to give the union in their business. If they gave them too much they'd end up in diagram 3 also.
POM That's the worker in charge?
BB So they had to decide how much of that they were going to use. And what we say is why is the strategic plan so important? It's because of profitability, effective utilization of resources which is the third pillar. If we allow diagram 3 to take place in a free market economy, although we have a bit of a mixed up economy in terms of that. We going to end up going out of business.
POM The three pillars are the human relations pillar, the decision making pillar and the ...?
BB Effective utilization of resources or profitability. Certainly we need fairness, we need equity. But how is this going to be managed. Every organization needs discipline. And it needs some human relations. Every organization needs decision making ability, who is going to decide what, how, when. And it needs it for a reason. In our industry it's to be profitable for the effective utilization of resources. Now, a lot of people in this country in management didn't realise, didn't have a strategic plan. This is really what the whole thing is about but the unions to a large degree had a very structured strategic plan and you got this situation which you're talking about between those who wanted to build a strong trade union in terms of the interests of the workers and those who wanted to advance the politics. But just advancing this from here to there, you advance politics in any case because this is a fundamental change.
POM From the management being on top to the situation where the workers and management are working together in balance.
BB Yes, and this is largely white haves and this is largely black have-nots. However, management, a lot of them ended up in somewhere here, and they weren't happy with this. So they went to the government, now Hilton Cheadle and them had organized this through their own proper - what the government had created. They had done it within the structure. But management's answer to this was, they ran to the government and they said, the unions are becoming far too powerful, we can't manage our businesses, change the Act. So that's when you had the response to the Labour Relations Act and the amendments which came up. Which were a tragedy because we had a system which was working, which was accepted. And suddenly they went and tampered with it. Now in the end in terms of dismissal, they sorted out a lot of problems and it made no difference. But just the fact that there was tampering to it created distrust.
POM What were the main amendments that were passed?
BB What they did was, you see when the Industrial Conciliation Act was changed in 1979 they never codified what an unfair labour practice was. So the first thing they did to the amendments in 1987 was they codified exactly what an unfair labour practice was. That didn't worry the unions so much, but what really got the unions up was that they changed, they introduced new things, like, sorry, on dismissal they said if you've been somewhere for six months you can be dismissed and you've got no recourse in Industrial Court. That they didn't like. And that was a ridiculous introduction.
POM If you've been ...?
BB If I start here within my first six months I can be fired and this means nothing to me. Now we are not just talking about black workers. We are also talking about whites, coloureds, Indians. It pertained to everybody. But the really strong thing which they did which was tragic was they brought in, in terms of strike action and sympathy strikes, they outlawed sympathy strikes and those sorts of things and they also brought in the fact that you could sue a union civilly for a strike or whatever. Now that really enraged unions. And what they'd done after building up structures, they destroyed some of their own structures. Because if you suddenly had a strike after this whole story, the union official would say we know nothing about it, we've go nothing to do with it. He'd have to because otherwise he could be liable to a civil, to prosecution.
PAT The individual could be sued, not simply the union, the individual union?
BB You could, no, you could sue the individual and you could sue the union. You could bankrupt the union if you wanted to. What they failed to realise in this country was that the social forces are far more powerful than the legal forces. And it's what I try to tell a lot of senior management. Are you going to go if the union distances itself, means you can't take them on, you'll lose your case. You haven't got enough evidence. The union official can say I don't know nothing about this. You're not going to be able to prove it. But obviously you can prove it against your individual employee. What are you going to do. Are you going to sue that guy, are you going to go and lock up your whole work force? Now of course you are not. Definitely not. So you may be made to be the laughing stock. What's more, we'll go back to pre 1979 days, we will be saying, right, we've got a strike, will someone talk to us. And nobody will be wanting to talk to us because they will be frightened of being detained.
POM Has the authority and power of the unions, among workers been somehow reduced because of these restrictions?
POM But you have strikes taking place that are not authorised by the unions, or simply strikes taking place from which the unions try to distance themselves even though they are involved?
BB Patrick, that's happened but actually they distanced themselves. But what has actually happened is that a lot of employers have ignored the Act. Even employers who supported it have realised that the social forces are more powerful than the legal. It is not going to pass to go and lock anybody up, to go and sue anybody. We can't sue the union. That's who we really want to sue. But we can't do it. So what they actually ended up doing is contracting out of the Labour Relations Act certain items. They've agreed that we will not sue you. And they've entered into separate agreements. And in fact some of them have entered into things totally divorced from some of the hated aspects of the Labour Relations Act. So does that answer your one question on the amendments to the Labour Relations Act?
PAT When were those?
BB 1987. There are companies who use them but another tragic thing which took place in South Africa is that the Industrial Court was created to be something like the small claims court where, that American show which we had here where our small claims court actually evolved from, we came in and the judge sat there and he said, 'Right you two sort it out no lawyers, nothing.'
POM People's court.
BB People's court, what's your case, what's your case? That's what the Industrial Court was. If you read in the Act that was Wiehahn's initial thoughts. How it should be. You tell me your story, you tell me yours, we don't want it to get any more complicated. Although the Industrial Court has the word 'court' to it, it is not a court of law. It is a tribunal. Now what happened was because of all of this, management ran along and they got high powered lawyers in 1984 and 1985 and they brought all this fire power in. They hadn't spent money in the early days putting systems in and they didn't try to bring in the high power lawyers, and the legal intelligentsia moved in and have made an absolute fortune out of this. They have raked it sick. And it's lost its form. A certain major company who I don't have too much time for, decided their whole personnel department would become advocates, and I refer to them as the 'law faculty'. And they will be only employee lawyers. Look I've also got a lot of law in my qualifications but what a lot of them failed to recognise, if you have not done industrial psychology, if you have not gone into the human side or you understand the human side, you are going to have a major problem in industrial relations. There at this one particular company at the moment, this group, it's a major South African group, it's the Barlow group, I don't want to be quoted on this but it's the Barlow group, one of their companies, Plascon, have got a 14 week strike on now. It is synthetically operated mainly on the law. We can lock them up, they can starve. There's nothing about their relationship. It is fascinating that they're offering 80 rand more than their competitor AECI but AECI rejects the legal aspect in industrial relations. And they have focused on the human relations element. They've done an incredible amount. And they are reaping the benefits of it. They had a lot of strikes and people said you see you liberals, what happens there. You get kicked in the face. Well now AECI hasn't had a strike. They've got a wage agreement 80 rand less than Plascon.
POM 80 rand per month or per ...?
BB It's across the board for all workers. The minimum wage is 800 rand. AECI and Plascon they offered 880 rand. They're still out on a 14 week strike there. But if you speak to the Barlow's guy he'll tell you, you know Bruce how we're sorting it out, we hit them with an interdict, we've got 12,000 rand there for them because they can sue them. I said that's great and what does that achieve? Do you people need that 12,000 rand, I mean a massive company like you? How we locked them out over here you know. And then they all went home and da da da. But all that does is fuel the spiral of violence. And we've go to unwind that. And we've got enough people contributing to it that we don't need industry contributing to it. So, that for me is a tragedy and for quite a lot of other people in industry on management side. Barlow is regarded as a union basher by COSATU. It's not popular. And that is that problem there.
PAT Is Barlow the law firm or the corporation.
BB It's the corporation. The personnel department I call the law factory. And, look, they've supported my unit before. They don't support it any more. I don't want them to support it. That's cost me because their donations were very nice. But you know, I disagree with them and that's as simple as that. And what I've said before has been proved now, what's happening to them. It's a very successful South African company, it's one of the biggest, they make absolutely millions. It's all very well making money now but are you going to be making money in 1995 in this country, you know? Can't we cut some of our money now for our long term future?
POM Would you say that the state of relations between management and labour have improved over the last five or six years or that it's inevitable that the unions become political vehicles and that strikes are increasingly not about working conditions but about social and political conditions?
BB Patrick, it depends where you go but by and large the strikes are become about political issues. There was a stage where the relationship was being built up but it's being destroyed by the political problems. And the trade unions, the industrial relations guys sitting down by and large to negotiate with the union guy, if we can call him liberal, but the two are having heated debates and you know with disinvestments, sanctions, the whole thing is just, yes, it is destroying the relationship, it is polarizing people into camps. It's forcing people to choose sides. And it's destroying the relationship.
POM Do you get a situation where very often you have management which thinks in terms of its own narrow interests or the company's interests which is sitting on one side of the table and sitting on the other side of the table you have somebody who is a union person who is broadly thinking in terms of political and social demands or actions so that there's even no capacity for dialogue between the two?
BB To answer that, to go back to this thing, these days it's quite interesting. When it was here in 1979 management was telling the union to go and jump in the lake. We don't have to talk here. I can remember many meetings I went to where the union would say how many people work here and the union would say, 'I don't have to answer that question'. I'd say now just hang on, what's wrong with telling him how many people, a petty thing? And there was that attitude. And this guy was trying to be reasonable. You've actually got the situation now where it's here and management is trying to beg him to talk, beg him to sort something out, he's not interested. He wants a total and utter takeover of the company or destruction of the company. There's very little feeling for the worker. He's going to lose his job, his family is going to go hungry. Don't even waste your time explaining that sort of thing. He thinks that's needed to sort the struggle out.
PAT He wants a takeover, the worker wants a takeover of the company, worker ownership in other words?
PAT Or, I mean that's what the issue ...
BB One is worker ownership.
PAT Or destruction of the company.
BB Destruction of the company.
PAT We'll lose our jobs. Because in the larger scheme of things ...
BB That's the only way you can destroy apartheid.
POM Does the rank and file go along with that?
BB A lot of the rank and file don't perceive what these leaders are actually leading them towards. I mean there is a frightening recklessness. The rank and file are also petrified to stand up for fear of being killed. And certainly the rank and file don't go along with it when they actually know what it means.
POM If they know what it means they don't go along?
BB No ways. When they know what it means, I mean, I've in the last three years handled over 200 retrenchments and when a man's out in the street there's not one of those people including even union people who have lost their jobs properly, not those who left and managed to get a job somewhere else or those who are being fed and don't see their children starving. But I want to see those who are starving and can't feed their children who are saying that they support that. I haven't come across it. And I tragically, I'm not proud of it, but I've had to negotiate many retrenchment agreements because of sanctions.
POM Retrenchment is where they're fired after ...?
BB The company is closing down. For example, they're closed down. I had to retrench over 7500 thousand people for different companies. I needed a two week holiday, I nearly had a breakdown over watching these people leaving. Now it's very well for [Capildus] to shout and scream and for all these things. He's never gone hungry. He hasn't seen his family. But what's taken him over and other people are the struggle. And for me personally, and now you're getting it personal, I think it's tragic. Because they could have through the machinery, without making people starve, achieved, the social forces, could have achieved things. Boycotts of white goods could have achieved far more, limited strikes, and pain to management, which is already making them think, could have achieved more than having the company push off. And the tragedy is with this disinvestment, let's take Goodyear for example, this here is a self funding faculty, we get no money from the government what so ever. Nothing, not a cent. Each unit has to generate its money from industry. Beth Burket(?) next door to me, she is in charge of English, there is Hugh Glover in charge of math and they do incredible work in uplifting black school teachers.
Now places like, a lot of the multinationals due to the Sullivan code, you know the Sullivan code, put money into this place for this work. As soon as they are disinvest and they become South African that money disappears. This place is in dire straights just because of that. My unit is ticking along OK, although income has gone like this, because you have to chose sides. You know management says to me, we want you to make a form like this. And I say I can't make it because it will annoy the union. The union's got no money to put into my forms but I also know that if I make something too that way, I won't get the behaviour modelling that I'm looking for. So the tragedy is the good news of this world, and we can list over 100 of them, pull out, take Firestone, they're taken over by South African interests who immediately cut that money to human relations out. It's a waste of money. He can tell his board next year we've sold 4 million, he won't tell them where, they can't see the benefits of this work, it's not tangible. Then only in 15 years time we'll realize that we haven't got an educated work force out there. Then only in 10 years time we'll see the bitter fruits of Bantu education system, although we're really seeing it now. So that is the tragedy which, this is just one example, of what this whole disinvestment thing is doing.
POM Can I stop you there for a moment and one, am I correct in saying that on the one hand you have a situation where the union leadership is in reality pursuing a political struggle and that they are pulling the rank and file along with them but that the rank and file worker really hasn't much of a say in terms of determining his or her own fate? And that those, that if they really had to choose between the union movement being used for liberation purposes as distinct from working class purposes, when it comes to themselves, they would prefer to be used for working class purposes and to retain their jobs?
BB Absolutely. But you have one other thing which is very important. You put it very nicely. And that is that if I went up to Goodyear and I asked all the NUMSA members, do you support disinvestment? They probably all of the mass say yes because of the pressure groups around them. If I took them individually aside and I explained to them what is going to happen truthfully, not propaganda from the government or whatever, but actually now this means that you could be without work for three years, he won't support it. He won't support it. So the problem is how it is communicated to him. His leadership isn't, the whole liberation thing good and well but what sort of liberation is it going to bring? Are we going to be able to, if Goodyear is destroyed, pull it up again? Are we going to get another Goodyear here? If somebody is pulled out and lost money is he going to come back again? So really the crux of the thing is how is that individual worker making his decision? Is he really thinking about it himself, or is he being led along like a sheep?
POM Now what's happened to unions in cases where there has been disinvestment, where the company changes hands from American or multinational ownership to South African ownership? Has the company improved its productivity on average, are workers treated less well on average? Are unions less strong on average?
BB Well firstly social responsibility by and large goes out the window. That goes straight out the window. So, and if you'd like I can introduce you to the professor of this faculty, because he's got the terrible responsibility of trying to get funds for this place and he can tell you the last three years where all the companies have pulled out of here. But, they in terms of industrial relations, in terms of handling, the way to handle discipline, the way to handle strikes, it's no real difference. They have to follow the same sort of pressures. In fact with all due respect, I'd be inclined to say that certain management I have come across who are managing a multinational in certain strikes, have been more sympathetic than certain foreigners. They've begged the foreigners, while those companies be multinational - I've had a dreadful fight with one company last year with an overseas interest who wanted to fire the local workers here, they weren't interested. The management here didn't want to go along with what the overseas were saying, fire them, you know. So there are a lot of very good South African managers who are very perturbed.
The thing which we're trying to get through to a lot of people also is, do you understand where you guys are coming from? Because of apartheid I live in a white superb, the average whitey has got little conception of where the black man's got to go, the distance from where he's got to come from. And I'm always saying the most common minor offence, if you want to call it that, is late-coming amongst black, and they'll say blacks are always late. But that is because they don't realize he's got to travel 36 kilometres, he's got to get up at four in the morning to get to work and after a while that gets to him. That's simple psychology. But, are they changing, to get back to your question, are they changing when they're taken over? Yes, there is a change in certain instances and in certain companies and in others it's exactly the same as before.
From the union's point of view they've got no more clout overseas, management suddenly thinks great, we don't have to worry, Akron and Goodyear isn't getting faxes and pressure groups. I'm sure if Shell pulled out that would be a tragedy which a lot of union people are very short sighted to realise because a lot of managers there would be quite relieved that they could actually forget about pressures overseas and get on with sorting certain people out. So, yes there's a change, but they'll still carry on in terms of industrial relations norms as before, they have to, otherwise the union can take them to court, the Industrial Court. It's just that they don't contribute to the community, the company, like they used to before. The community support disappears, financial support, building of crèches. I mean there are very few South African companies like AECI, which is a South African company, which pumps money into community. I've actually mentioned a few companies and I wouldn't like them ...
POM I won't quote you on any of them.
BB I'm rather, as you might gather, I'm rather bitter towards them. They way they forget about, they want to make fat profits now but not pumped them into social responsibility, into communities. But they want to drive their fat Mercedes and their fat BMWs. I mean rather drive around in a small car and give that money to a few crèches and that sort of thing. But that is a personal thing of mine.
I'm still saying we must have a free market, it's the only solution as far as I'm concerned, I totally reject socialism, and this government's socialist in any case. It hasn't worked in the rest of Africa and I'm not trying to spin you a South African government propaganda spiel. But I have travelled Africa I know it backwards, I've been to all the African countries up to the equator and I've spent time there. I did a big research project and development administration to look at the economies of various African countries, etc. So the only thing here if we want a growth rate of 6%, which we need, is going to be a free market economy. But a free market economy, where there's a regulation on certain monopolies, and that is what we've got, we ought to have in this country, a capitalist/communist economy. We have got five companies which own South Africa, Old Mutual, Sanlam, Liberty Life, Rembrandt and in actual fact there are virtually four only. They are in South Africa.
POM Are they American?
BB Anglo-American is another one, but Liberty Life has a lot of shares in it. Old Mutual has a tremendous shareholding in Anglo-American. Gencor is owned, the mining company, by Sanlam. Sappi is owned by Sanlam. Sanlam owns Trust Bank, all the Bankcorp group of companies. Old Mutual owns SA Breweries, it owns Barlows, major share holding in Barlows, for example. So you've got this major problem. And you know you've got Southern Life, which is another big insurer, but then Liberty Life bought them out. So you are getting this dreadful situation where four people own everything. So where is free market? They destroy the small guys who tries to start out.
POM If you look at, would you say the relations between industry and labour are becoming increasingly polarized?
BB Very much so.
POM What over the next four or five years would you identify as the potential major points of confrontation?
BB One of them which is a ridiculous one, but I believe management is going to grow up and change it, are black holidays, for example. Things like June 16th, May 1st. These sort of days to commemorate Soweto. You know in March when people were killed in Sharpeville, these sort of days, they're always going to be a problem. They're already causing a situation.
Inflation is going to be a major, major problem which a lot of people don't realise. The black man cannot understand inflation. That he's actually getting a 19% increase but it's being chewed away and it looks like a whole government plot. Unemployment is a major problem. The problem which has been for a long time but it's getting worse and worse is the have-not situation and the haves. You're even having now whites who are going to move into the, let's call it half way between the have and have-not situation. You are even getting in certain companies right wing whites who are saying but the black union, left wing can give me more. Are white unionists actually just a puppet to this company?
PAT Are there whites moving into black unions?
BB Very, very minor. You know it is a whole cultural, it's a whole racism story but it's happened very slightly but nothing to talk about. But it was fascinating at VW, this whole state of the emergency, detention of their leaders, all of that is a major, major issue. A major problem is their lack of productivity which is getting worse with the political situation, stayaways which is all costing management. And then on the other side with inflation etc. the need for higher wages.
POM Is the lack of productivity due in part to the inability of the country to borrow abroad and to invest in more productive capital?
BB I wouldn't say that, no. A large part of lack of productivity has been over the years a total flop in black advancement. Total disaster. And then also management started it only in the 1980s, South African management. Before that it was the whitey always got the supervisory job regardless of whether he had less education than the black man. So that black guy could stay on a job for 27 years and held be on the same job because of the colour of his skin. That's changed, drastically. But the problem is, as soon as the black guy goes into the job he is then targeted that he is joining the bosses and the intimidation against him is not worth it. So because of those forces you can't get these people there. And companies which have had a successful policy, have had these guys victimized. In stayaways they've got a problem. Who do I give my loyalty to. To management or the struggle? In strikes, what do I do? And you will find that one company which had 19 managers out of their total management of 100 last year were left with one black manager. They left during the strike. The intimidation was not worth it. A tragedy. So they want, we desperately need black mobility in management but our problem is how are we going to get it. White management could have done this years ago. but because of racial policies etc. they didn't. Now the social forces are preventing it. White management were preventing it taking place before the 1980s, now the blacks are preventing it taking place and the whites want it to take place.
POM Bruce I'd like to get your thoughts on what you see as the major problems facing the development of black trade unions in the next five years and the major concerns of management and business during this same time period and whether because the political situation here and that relationship will be necessarily an adversarial one rather than a cooperative one.
BB Let's just put it, major problems of black trade unions. You then said about the third one was ...?
POM What would be the major concerns of management and business and whether the relationship between the two will be necessarily a confrontational rather than cooperative because of the political situation?
BB The major problems of black trade unions, one of them is going to be if there is no political solution, it's going to be for both sides a major problem which is going to spiral the conflict.
POM What is your belief in that regard, I mean as somebody who is involved in the political process, what hope of a ...?
BB Patrick, I thought about 18 months ago there was no hope. I really was pessimistic. To the extent, you know, a lot of people, young people my age in their 30's, lots of whites were saying, what are we doing here? And the situation is getting - there were black trade unions who you used to have to talk to who wouldn't even talk to you now. I'm not trying to be patronising but we were regarded as reasonable whites. We're totally opposed to racism in any form and we'd live with them no problem, I mean, and we reject the government.
When that started happening we started to say to ourselves, well you know there's no room for us and these people are saying, yes, we don't want you here. You see a lot of us have been in the army, whites, and we've fought on the South West border, we've been into Angola, this sort of thing. There's hardly a young, there's hardly a white guy under 36, 38 in fact who hasn't done military service and one or two who haven' t been in combat. So, and for those of us who have been, it was like Vietnam. There just seemed absolutely no way you could win this. It was mainly a war of attrition. And how long were we going to last? And where was this going to lead us? And the government was determined to hold on to Namibia, South West Africa. I'm not trying to digress, I'm getting towards your answer and we couldn't see the point. The number of killed in action would fluctuate each year. For some miracle, some miracle we never had the type of casualties you people had in America. It could have easily happened. But our training, and I say this from speaking to Americans in the army and those who've actually served in the army, was streets ahead of your training. So from that point we're fortunate in that because of our training we didn't lose even pro rata the sort of numbers that you people lost in Vietnam. Some people claim that we did pro rata but we didn't. But it was still people saying what are we fighting for. And the government was determined to hold onto South West. They were worried of the political cost of them having a settlement and what would the white electorate say. But we were then very concerned in 1987 when the army went right into Angola and they were really getting into heavy conventional warfare.
But an interesting thing happened. Suddenly the public, and that includes Nationalists really, started saying, what's this for? And the Afrikaans church started to question it. And that is when a whole lot of other factors etc., we suddenly got this peace agreement. Which took quite a long time. For a lot of us, you know when those negotiations went on we've just found this government so deceitful we never believed that an agreement would be reached. Because there had been so many since 1978, there had been just so many we've learned not to raise our hopes. So in most of us, right up to a couple of minutes before the thing was signed, there are many of us now, our confidence is so much up now that we'll only believe it once the last remnants are out of South West or Namibia. So what I'm really saying is, and we really believe now, economically they've been forced out of there, out of Namibia. They realised they can't afford to stay there. And they've been at pains to stick to the agreement, the Nationalist government. Even when SWAPO invaded South West Africa or Namibia, even with all those violations they've still stuck to it.
So with that, for me and quite a lot of other people, suddenly we've become a lot more optimistic that a solution can be found here. Now there is a key to your questions that you've got here. The question is, can a solution be found here? If a solution is found, how do we answer that? If it is not, how do we answer those questions which you're asking here? I'm pretty optimistic. Very optimistic that the government is going to talk to the ANC in the next year. They are going to sit down and they're going to start talking. They're going to unban the ANC in South Africa in the next year. Now I am very anti-government. I'm very well known for that. You know this week you could have seen a couple of my latest in the newspaper too. So it's not just coming from, you know if I said then I think ... you know it's something to sort of take notice of if I'm saying it. And this week too, you know even some radical, black unions who are regarded as radical are even saying that now. There are clear signs that the spadework has been done, very similar spadework to South West Africa. Very similar.
And these Nationalists have learned a tremendous amount from Namibia. We owe Chester Crocker, whoever was responsible for that, an enormous amount, an enormous amount and if only because he knows how to handle the Afrikaner. If only some voices overseas could see how they played carefully with the Afrikaner and they got him to a settlement without him losing face, with him being able to come up and boast, which is his character. Come out bolshie out of the thing. If they could come out and do something like that here. But it is going to happen.
But both the Nationalist Party and the ANC have got major problems because they've got to tell their own public why they are talking. And actually they have similar problems of persuasion. The Nationalists with their propaganda of the SABC, that's our television which they control, have pumped up and fed the white electorate, that this is a terrible communist ogre. And that they've slated all opposition who goes to talk to the ANC and you are just, you are written out if you go. So how are they - those people, they're worried that some of the people might go to the right if they do that and the CP could come into power. A lot of people are very worried about that at the moment, about 6th September. And with PW Botha retiring now, he gave them quite a lot of ammunition, because he was against de Klerk going to see him.
POM Namibia, yes.
BB Now, I believe they are going to start talking. Economically, we are heading beyond an incredible force, a rushing river with one hell of a waterfall waiting for us.
POM Do you think the decline of the economy has been due to the sanctions or whether sanctions are really only part of the overall economic deterioration?
BB People say sanctions don't work. It' s a lot of rubbish. Sanctions do work. The problem is the consequences they bring. What I mean is sanctions will persuade the South African government to change. The sanctions will remove the South African government. But through that process you've got to ask, what are those people going to inherit? And sanctions are going to make a lot of people unemployed. Will those people remain unemployed? My question to Bishop Tutu, to Boesak, all the sanctioneers, is this, are you going to win your circle, democracy comes along, going to run around the world asking for investments in South Africa? Don't be naïve. Americans, and I've seen them in this country, I've been sickened by some of the companies pulling out of here, they are only interested in the bottom line. When I say to them try and be a bit more reasonable, you've sucked these people here dry, you've milked the country dry.
For me the greatest tragedy is Goodyear. Now I'm really speaking out and wouldn't like to quoted. But I'm angry about that. I think Goodyear, if they felt so much about apartheid, I feel a lot of other American companies who pulled out of here, if they felt so much for apartheid, they would have put those businesses in the hands of blacks. Mobil for one. And there is a conspiracy behind that whole thing. They've got agreements I'm quite sure to buy back the day everything is right. And I hope the next government prohibits that happening. But that is what really makes me sick.
We are trying to, we need in this country, and I said it to you in our last meeting, a growth rate of at least 6%. We need black people to stop the polarisation, to come into management. We need black industry. We need black buying power. We need the black, powerful black business which can turn to the government and say we're not going to pay your taxes, which can turn to other companies and say go jump in the lake. And they are passing up an incredible opportunity. And those companies which are pulling out, are passing up an incredible humanitarian thing. Money isn't everything. But unfortunately that's what too many people think. They can be profitable. I'm not saying we're so socialistic. Here's Goodyear. Why not give an interest free loan? Why can't they lobby for some special incentive you can get in America for doing that in South Africa? That's what I would like to see happening.
POM When I was here in October of 1987 looking at trade unions, one of the things we were looking at was whether there was any potential here for [ESOP] employees, stock ownership plans. I have a friend who, you're quoting her verbatim, her whole thing about disinvestment was that it could be used as a vehicle for black empowerment.
BB Exactly, that's what I ...
POM Through funds, properly set up funds by these companies they turned over to black ownership. So that disinvestment ...
BB Whose this person?
POM Her name is Marcy Marningham. I'll have her write to you.
BB Is she in ...?
POM Yeah, she's in Boston.
BB Well I strongly, you know I, I mean if people want to take me across to America to give speeches on this it will be the greatest of pleasure because I have been incredibly involved watching with certain American companies, Kodak for example, pulling out, giving workers two weeks pay and pulling out. And I've been sickened by this whole crisis. Mobil, you know. All that happens is the white management here gets rich. That's all. The whole thing is a flop. And therefore there is no strategy from the union side. It is far too much paranoia about the struggle rather than a more sit down calmly and think right. It's a good tactic. I mean to admit that as a white, I don't like it because it's going to hurt me. That's what the average white is saying. But it's a good tactic. So long as, which is a very good counter, people aren't becoming unemployed. That argument is coming from the fat cat whites. It is merely to line their own pockets. It's merely so that they don't have to go hungry. But you can counter on that, you can counter it by, you use this word black empowerment, or the empowerment of the underprivileged, and we are missing, for me it's tragic. And I, so I'm digressing a bit but that's my feeling on that.
But from that South West thing, major problems of the black trade unions, they've got to ask themselves, they've got to ask themselves, what are they actually trying to achieve through sanctions. COSATU's got to ask itself, what is their strategy? Because they've going to have a major problem from workers who in their droves start to say, will it actually start to go out in the streets and realise, but this is what Jay and I do, and everyone's achieved from it nothing. In actual fact we've got no big clout any more. Because all that's going to happen is they're going to need so few jobs for blacks, whites are going to get those jobs. You understand? So the economy as it shrinks it becomes - just they're going to look after their own interests. That's what's going to happen. And so their power could be reduced in that way. And their major thing is for them to wake up to a better strategy. Socialism and communism has not worked. I mean perestroika and all of this is proof enough of it.
And, I'll come back to this, they've got to look at employment, they've got to look at these sort of situations and, I really, unemployment is going to be one of their major problems which they've got to look at and face. You've got to look at their problems in terms of two scenarios. One is a solution which comes about and where no solution comes about. Where there is no solution, their problems are going to continue to be states of emergency, restriction of leaders, that sort of thing. Those are going to be their problems. Persistent conflict with employers. Another big problem they're going to have is the union leadership that I believe is going to start to battle to control their members, they are going to battle to control their members. And you are going to find what's already happening - union officials battling and that is a frightening scenario. So you know they actually are faced on that scenario with so many problems.
POM A guy came up today at Volkswagen where some of the, at least according to Phil Burrows, some union people would come to him and say, you know, we can't control the workers on this, you know the source of why it's happening is coming from some activists and we've got to go along with it because we've lost control of it.
BB Yes, well that's not just there. That's in about seven factories here in town at the moment, which is happening. There's your other problem which comes in. The shop steward in conflict with the activist, with the politician. Now you see, in both scenarios you are going to have a problem. Which COSATU is waking up to at the moment. They think that they're going to have this so-called freedom when there is a democratic black government. We've never seen one in Africa yet. In Zimbabwe they're farmers but it's far less industrialized then here. Quite a problem where the government can start to control the unions and they have to report to them. And COSATU is suddenly waking up to the fact they don't want the ANC to tell them what to do when the ANC comes into power. And that is going to be a problem in both scenarios.
POM This cropped up yesterday when we met with some members of NUMSA and they were talking about, you know they believed in a democratic, socialistic South Africa, so their question was how does that square with the new economic document issued by the ANC where they talk about a mixed economy. So, it was like that will have to be worked out. We'll have to discuss that with them. Essentially it was the point you're raising.
BB Yes, and that answer which you get is another major problem. The immaturity which is a problem at the moment is going to continue. The immaturity of a lot of the union leadership, the lack of education of them, major problem for the union movement and for the employer, for management. Major, major problem. We've got to upgrade the level of the people to understand things. Talk about socialism. They don't understand what it is. I had a guy here the other day on Wednesday, he came to thank me for some union negotiations I'd done for them. He talks about socialism. I said, 'My friend this country is socialist.' He looked at me like this. I said, 'Can you define socialism for me?' So he defines it. I said, 'Well all that you define is already nationalised in this country. You don't have to nationalise the Airways, you don't have to nationalize the Railways, you don't have to nationalize the Post Office, they are nationalised, the government owns them.' I said there are co-operatives, there are Mielie Boards, there are Potato Boards, all these things are government agencies. He said, 'Oh.' I said, 'Yeah, we've got to get rid of those damn things.' He says, 'I agree with you.' I said, 'But that isn't socialism. What you are talking about is free market.' He said, 'Oh.' Because he told me, you know, look at the taxi business. I said, 'But the taxi business is free market. What has changed?' We actually had a socialist transport system. The buses and all that were part of a government system and now they have been, they've started getting rid of them and blacks are owning, its an incredible industry which is growing. And that is a really encouraging thing.