About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

27 Apr 1996: Van Der Merwe, Dannhauser and Abrahams, James

Click here for more information on the Interviewee - Van der Merwe

Click here for more information on the Interviewee - Abrahams

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     Your name again is?

JA     OK, James Abraham and I'm Legislative Director for FEDSAL.

POM     And what does that involve?

JA     The Legislative Director is the formal lobbyist for FEDSAL itself so I act in parliament. I function totally on the legislative aspect of the trade unions that FEDSAL represents. We've got the 16 affiliates which represent 230,000 members. Obviously the distribution of labour in South Africa, I'm sure you're aware, it's COSATU, NACTU and FEDSAL in that order. COSATU has 1.6 million members, NACTU is approximately 370,000 and we're 230,000. So I act in parliament to try and motivate legislation for labour on particular issues. I take the green paper on employment standards that we're busy with right now. Now I would act in parliament where I would try and swing the opinion of parliament to favour the labour legislation and that's basically what it boils down to. The lobbying system is very well known in America so it's the American system that we've basically taken over.

POM     Now would the three federations operate in concert with each other or do they operate independently?

JA     Yes we do, we do both. We have mutually exclusive issues and mutually inclusive issues. It depends what the matter is. For example, the NEDLAC system where we have the tripartite functioning, where we are labour, government and business, in that situation we act jointly, the three federations, the three labour federations act jointly as one labour caucus but with the aspect of, for example, the strike that COSATU has called out for next Tuesday. On issues like that we act independently because those are issues which are pertinent to the members that we represent, so the members themselves give the federation a natural mandate and we represent members in those situations. So it's not in all circumstances that we act jointly. As I say in issues of specific nature to the federation we act independently and in the parliamentary structure we have decided to appoint separate lobbyists. COSATU has a lobbyist, I am the lobbyist for FEDSAL, but NACTU doesn't have a lobbyist, so there again we act independently. I take the FEDSAL mandate to parliament, Neil Coleman takes the COSATU mandate to parliament, and we do align strategies and I will say that that's as jointly as we act in parliament. We do align strategies to make sure that we achieve the ultimate goal together but we approach it from the individual mandates of FEDSAL and COSATU.

POM     So if you had to compare and contrast the mandates of COSATU and FEDSAL what would be the points of comparison and what would be the points of contrast?

JA     I think the overarching philosophy is easier to approach, it's an easier way to answer that question. The overarching policies are basically that we represent a different category of workers to those that COSATU represents, for example, and then, secondly, the goals, the reaching points in our strategies, are to achieve dispensations which are equal and balanced in South Africa for all labour federations irrespective of whether you're COSATU or FEDSAL or NACTU. We have that understanding which derives from NEDLAC. That is where we set up the original mandate, so between the three federations we usually strive to achieve general goals. How we arrive at those general goals is for the individual federations to decide because obviously there is an amount of tempering. We are acknowledged to be the more moderate federation amongst the three and naturally when we approach a policy, or when we implement a policy, any decisions that surround that we carry the mandate of our members generally being a more moderate mandate.

POM     Now would most of your members belong to unions that are for the most part white, representing white workers or what would the racial balance be?

JA     No, the racial distribution I don't think is a criteria any longer. Ten years back I would have answered that question in the positive, not now. Our distribution is very fair. We have a very equal distribution rather than fair, bad choice of word, the equal distribution. We represent, at this stage, probably an equal balance of white and black people. The more important distinction to draw is rather category-wise. FEDSAL definitely has a leaning towards the higher echelons of workers rather than what you would call semi-skilled or your general assistant categories in companies. So we move up into the clerical, administrative, managerial, we're in those categories broadly speaking although it's not exclusive. We have technical workers. We represent, for example, the transport industries. There you are representing technical workers. They are the guys that physically drive the trains or do the harbour loading, for example. So you're still working with general workers. As a federation representative I have to have a feel for technical workers as well as the clerical administrative workers. I have to balance my opinions very well. That's a broad distinction. It's a better distinction, particularly in the current labour situation in South Africa, it is a better distinction to draw rather than a racial one. I think the racial one has faded totally. We generally don't distinguish according to race, the race of our membership.

     This is Dannhauser van der Merwe.

POM     Talking with Dannhauser van der Merwe on 27th April 1997. Dannhauser, let me ask you first just with regard to the conversation we have been having. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the first elections in the country and will be celebrated throughout the country. What's your analysis of the state of the economy, the economy being the most important challenge the government faces after two years of a government of national unity in action and in your analysis could you segregate what elements of policy-making are within the government's control and what elements are simply outside of their control?

DVM     Firstly, looking back on the second anniversary someone made the remark today, this being quite a bad week for the South African economy, the rand down to R4.45 to the dollar and being about R3.65 a year ago, saying that it's an uncomfortable anniversary. In general, though, I think if you look back at the economy where we were and where we are now, there was a lot of war talk before the 1994 elections, a lot of things happened and I think generally we're better off now. The problem, though, is that our economy should grow at not less than five to six percent and if things don't get better soon we might only see a three percent growth and we need more than that to keep unemployment in hand.

     You talked about the elements which government is responsible for. Stability, it's not an element as such but it's a principle. The government is really responsible for the stability and FEDSAL, for example, feels that this national strike being called next week on the right to lock out, we think government could have done more, could do more even, there's time left, to convince their ally, which is COSATU, which is calling the strike, not to go ahead with the strike. That's coupled with the uncertainty about the third Minister of Finance appointed recently. All those I think are things which government should take control of, stricter control and make sure that they give a message of stability to the outside world.

     I don't know what other elements you could refer to but the stability is the one single element that stands out, and clear direction. There's not proper direction. I think government could take more of a lead. Micro elements such as the payment for rents and services, the government has the support in some provinces of 80% of the voters, in general 64% - 65%, a lot of FEDSAL members comment and think that they could do more to really use that nice support that they have and be firm on issues. People have got to pay for rent, services, the government has got to deliver, they have got to rap people over the fingers, officials who do not control funds properly, who do not deliver and I think government shouldn't try and go for 70%, 80%, 90% majority, 60% to 65% is very good, they should use the opportunity now between 1994 and 1999 to really provide strong leadership.

POM     And the elements that are outside their control, that have an impact on economic performance?

DVM     Elements not outside their control?

POM     Outside.

DVM     Outside their control. I think government is a government of the people so you could also say all elements are in their control, but things like productivity at the workplace, etc., that I suppose we as unions have a big role to play together with business. So that also counts a lot. I think the view of many people of South Africa being part of Africa and the surrounding problems, I mean the recent Lesotho problem, Swaziland problems that we had, Burundi, those are elements outside of the control of government. Well it's a bit far but it affects in Africa a lot of people, as you know a lot of investors are not always too sure that South Africa is a bit different as far as infrastructure is concerned, etc., from the rest of Africa. There are elements around.

POM     Would you believe that the performance of the rand is a matter that's within government control or something that's largely outside of their control? I'll frame that in a context of what happened, I think, 18 months ago to first of all the peso and then the lira and then the franc and then sterling when speculators went after each country in turn and took on their Reserve Banks and beat the Reserve Banks flat. Even when the German Reserve Bank moved in to support the franc it was insufficient to save the franc from devaluation and many countries used up their foreign reserves trying to hold the line, not only to lose the battle but also to lose their foreign reserves. Do you think in this situation a policy which seems to me to be essentially of we're not going to use our reserves to support the rand, we'll let it find a market equilibrium, so to speak, then it may start recovering because of other factors but we're not going to use up our precious resources in terms of external assets because (i) the speculators will beat us and (ii) we will have no reserves left?

DVM     You see we're also getting into macro-economic policy and things. Obviously these things are debated within federations as well but my off-the-cuff view is, of course, that the reserves, I think, are quite important for us in South Africa, so to protect the rand I think it's more than just the central bank moving in to protect the rand falling. I think that one shouldn't use up all your reserves to try and protect the currency and things should stabilise out. For the immediate, I know we talk short-term and micro at the moment, but for the immediate I think it wasn't helpful for the President of South Africa, who is well known and respected, to come out in favour of the right to strike on this issue. I mean the right to strike, yes, but we all know it's not about whether you can strike or not, it's whether it's really worth it or it's important enough to strike on the issues that one is striking on days before the constitution is settled, and keeping in mind that there are people handling this, the political parties, they are busy finalising the constitution. So the President, I think, should maybe have just kept a neutral stance. Outside people can view it as being in favour of the strike, one party being the government. I know there's an alliance but never mind that, that's a problem. The further thing is which also counts against us is the fact that a lot of outside world view the Libyan and the Cuban relations which South Africa stands out supporting, all those factors contributed, helped to contribute to the uncertainty and investors being unsure and holding back. So the foreign reserves, as I've said, I think you shouldn't use it up to protect the currency.

POM     You work with COSATU and NACTU both of which would regard themselves as, I suppose, radical labour federations for the most part representing black workers and workers who were previously disenfranchised. What's the nature of your relationship with them and how did you come together to forge a common document on how labour saw the way forward?

DVM     That's an interesting question. I think the normalisation of the situation helped us, I mean the 1994 situation, to work together better; it's mainly because of national tripartite bodies. The National Manpower Commission, as it was known, the three parties, business, government and labour, so labour consists of different departments but labour is one group. And NEDLAC recently, the National Economic Forum, they are all parts where labour is one group. I think that played an important role to help forge the relationship. And also NACTU, NACTU has been very helpful in the fact that NACTU refused to nominate candidates for the PAC and that's one good click that we have with them. We also don't believe in party political involvement directly, and NACTU focuses on smaller groups, it is smaller than COSATU, so we work together on those two issues. As far as COSATU is concerned, COSATU is a mixture, they also have very knowledgeable people as far as labour relations are concerned, so on those issues we work together closely.

     Coming to the social equity document, I can give you copies of some exchange of information afterwards. FEDSAL is not happy with the document as it is. It is a strategic decision that we had to take at short notice, there were problems that the document might leak to the press and it was a relatively quick decision on releasing the document because firstly there was the government broad view, very vague kind of thing, but there was a document on government six percent growth envisaged, 500,000 jobs, etc., then the group of business released their document so labour was under pressure to release theirs and that was when we released it. The understanding was that after that you will get a lot of feedback and proper mandating, it's just a discussion document. Our meeting was held this week and there is a lot of unhappiness, the principles, a lot of principles there that we don't agree with, but it's a discussion document. Our thing there was unity, labour unity. I think it's our role to help make the country a unified country so we try to have labour unity as far as possible for strategic decisions. It's our role to bend backwards, not to be seen to be the spoilers and the ones who don't want to be part of the labour group. Ideology-wise there are definitely disagreements.

POM     What parts of it ideology-wise do you have the largest difference with?

DVM     It's difficult to really try and be very dogmatic but let's put it crudely, there are elements which some people would view as very strong socialist or even communist ideas there and that trend there people are not happy with. Furthermore there are some selective uses of facts and that's a bit disturbing. I'll also give you a copy afterwards. We don't think, for example, where the document continuously refers to the whites and blacks have this, etc., the racial reference even now is not very helpful. We think if that document is about equity we should rather refer to, well not the haves or the have-nots, but the economic inequalities. I know the reality is that you have mainly white people having more resources per capital than black people but by just continuing to mention it that way it's not helpful. I think one should concentrate on the economic diversities, economic differences and not throw race in all the way. That's an element of disagreement. The call, for example, to lower the wage gap.

POM     The apartheid wage gap?

DVM     That's it, but there is one element where it says some people in top management must have their salaries lowered. Now I mean it's like taking away from what you have and that we don't agree with so that's one element. And the wage gap we think the best way to close it would be to favour some groups much more than others. Those who haven't had the opportunity to be trained before, pump training into that. You can imagine there will be large wage gap if there's someone who is paid the lowest who cannot read, cannot write, hasn't had the opportunity, to just pay such a person more and the top person less just to get the gap closer. It's not the way to address it. One should, yes, increase the wages a bit but training is the important thing for us. So there are quite a few elements. A small example is where there's a personal attack, not a personal attack but it's viewed that we say the conglomerates control the whole place and people talk about the Oppenheimers, that connection. We think it's getting personal. That part of the document we don't like, by getting personal. FEDSAL also thinks the country needs big corporations, we need powerful corporations too, it's a global economy. The last example, on VAT, value added tax, where there's the focus on the regressiveness of VAT, meaning lower earning people are paying more than higher earning. Now only that is put, we say give the whole picture. Yes a person earning below R15,000 a year pays only VAT and obviously his biggest portion would be VAT of his taxes that he pays. But the document fails to show that someone earning R50,000 or R40,000, which teachers and people like that earn, they pay VAT plus 20% or so tax. Our social equity document chose one angle, it's not always very open in showing both parts, so the VAT is a good issue.

POM     Do you have any idea or know studies that have been done that compare, say, the wages of a white foreman with 25 years experience in the job with that of a black foreman with 25 years experience on the job, qualifications the same? What are the wage differentials within occupations? Do they exist and must they be addressed and if so how?

DVM     Yes I think they do exist. I don't know of any studies which are well respected or wide studies. There have been spots that are done I'm sure but I don't know about the exact effects there. One thing is true though, that even now there are women who are discriminated against, the same job, being paid less, and black people and other people, than white people too. Maybe mainly black. If you want to be very crude and look at the example of black, coloured, Indian, etc., if you look at the so-called Indian people as a percentage of the population and percentage of leadership jobs, I think they fare the best by far taking into account reflecting the society, the make up. And that's one example also where one always makes it a black and white issue. If you really want to do racial groups there are four groups if you want to do it like that. We say don't do any of it. Inequities one has to address, but one thing is true though, you talked about managers, top managers specifically and the new group of managers appointed. Because of affirmative action I don't have proof of that but it's a known general fact that there is a premium to be paid on black managers, so you do find that a lot of black people might earn more than their white counterparts in the same position recently, because of affirmative action, because it's supply and demand, because of many reasons including the fact that black people didn't have the opportunities to study before and own property, there are not as many of them at this stage being qualified. So the few that there are, are doing very good for themselves. It's a fact. But taking a few years ago, even a few months maybe, yes it's true that black people might have been paid less or were paid less, and women as well in the workplace, for the same job. It's interesting, it's twisting and turning around now especially at management level.

POM     How about at lower levels, just factory floor level?

DVM     At the lower levels I think there's quite a balanced situation. The unbalance is the following, if you talk about 25 years experience, let's take 25 years, you might find then that the white person doing the same job with 25 years experience might have had the chance to be qualified as a trained technician or something like that, so he's trained and he's got experience so he will be paid more than a person that hasn't been trained but has got the experience. That's why that's addressed now by the focus on competency versus skills-based, so that the question now is: are you competent to do the job? And if the answer is yes, it doesn't mean you have to have a certificate to prove that you're competent so that's a way to change it around, the new training strategy, competency based. So 25 years experience, one has a certificate, one doesn't. Why has the one got a certificate? Because they had a chance to do it. Why doesn't the other one have? He was maybe denied the chance to obtain it. So there's a trying to rectify that. Now, of course, you do also find those who have qualifications saying, but you cannot pay us the same, I've got proof here, I've studied for four years, I've done this apprenticeship, why are we paid the same? But as I'm explaining to you there are definitely efforts to balance the situation.

POM     One of the charges levelled against South African labour in general is that its wages are too high with regard to its level of development and that productivity is low and as a result unit wage costs are high and there are any number of studies that have now been done that show that on the world market South Africa is uncompetitive both sector by sector and overall. Yet the history of the labour movement has been a history of it being a militant labour movement and the demands for wages in the public sector dominated the agenda last year. This year it looks as though its demands for wage increases are in the private sector. Many observers would say all you're doing is making the country more uncompetitive and diminishing rather than creating opportunities for creating more jobs.

DVM     There are arguments about it. Number one is we will be less competitive as far as wages are concerned if you compare with some of the Asian countries where they use prison labour and they also would use child labour, etc. That's a fact. Number two is there are studies to prove there are certain industries or workplaces where South African workers are actually very competitive, even labour costs and labour cost base. But generally speaking, I am sure it's correct that you will be able to find cheaper labour in neighbouring countries, but the training level of skills is often better in South Africa than those countries, for example. The difficulty being if a union is to say, yes, our members are being paid too much. I think the way to rectify that would be rather to improve productivity and produce more and produce better, but that's a joint responsibility of management and of labour. We know the studies show that, yes, some places in South African labour are being paid too much.

     Once again I'm speaking from a  FEDSAL perspective now. We don't agree with all of that but looking in the broader labour movement I am sure there are places where we might be paid too much but it's not always our fault, it's because other countries offer labour at a cheaper rate. But the same argument accounts for America and maybe for South Africa especially if you look at exchange rates. If you can produce a Mercedes car here and produce a Mercedes in America, just by comparing the dollar and the rand you might then find that South African labour is now cheap and American labour is expensive by way of example. I think generally speaking unions have to admit where there are cases where we are being paid too high, but there shouldn't be a decrease to rectify that, it should be a group effort to produce more, increase productivity and have a group effort. This country is our country, it's for the best of all of us if we make it a winning nation and not blame it on each other, labour and management, all the time.

POM     Is there a history of confrontation, like Britain where the labour for so many years, even now though it's less now than it was maybe 15 or 20 years ago, but there was a history of confrontation between management and labour, whereas in Germany there was a history of co-operation between the two, or in Japan a history of co-operation. But here the tradition seems to be a history of deep and very often a bitter and antagonistic and mistrustful relationship. How do you get over that? How do you start rectifying it?

DVM     I wanted to agree with you but you've put it as it is. The one unfortunate thing about South Africa is it's such a nice country, beautiful country, but the racial thing always creeps in every now and then. So the reason for the fight in South Africa was not really so much because of the haves and have-nots but it happened to be that the haves were business, being white employers, and the have-nots were blacks, they didn't have power, they didn't have economic rights, they didn't have a right to vote, etc. So that's true, so you've got a mixture of opposition because of economic haves and have-nots but also because of political haves and have-nots. How to rectify it? I think one of the excellent things happening is the fact that you have big business, black business conglomerates also. I talk about race but I refer to it constantly, it's unfortunate but that's a reality of South Africa. One thing is that, yes, giving powerful black big organisations where we could get away from the fight between labour and business, to have the added problem of race.

     As far as FEDSAL is concerned, of course, we have a lot of white members as well, much more than COSATU and NACTU, they are going to have many more black members than us but we don't refer to it, that's not the issue. So as labour I think a challenge for the South African labour movement is really to know that this cake that we're building is a cake that belongs to all of us. It's not management cake, it's not the cake belonging to the capitalists and those kind of people; it's a cake for South Africa. You've got to take care of it and make it grow that each one can get his cut. The way forward is to have that vision. We're hurting ourselves, this strike of next week, workers will have no work, no pay, employers will lose production, the whole country.

POM     It reinforces the signal you send abroad of the South African labour force being unruly, unpredictable and, therefore, it adds to the climate of uncertainty when it comes to investment.

DVM     I think that's where FEDSAL also might have been at fault because, as you probably know, we're not part of the strike but for the sake of labour unity and togetherness and those kinds of things, we didn't make a headline of our press release 'COSATU STRIKE IS RIDICULOUS' or something like that, or 'FEDSAL OPPOSES COSATU STRIKE'. We merely mentioned we can only agree with one of the issues which is the lock out that, yes, the right to strike should be a stronger right than the right to lock out and some members of some affiliates might participate. So FEDSAL put it very diplomatically. So labour in South Africa is unruly for some parts but the moderate labour, it's moderate labour's own fault that they are not heard because FEDSAL has 230,000, the same as NACTU. In fact there are about a million, just less than a million other unionised workers that don't belong to a federation which if one could get all of them into a group it would be a better balance of the labour forces.

POM     Is there also, again, what you refer to as the racial factor there when it comes to mounting criticism, that if you are perhaps seen as a predominantly white federation that criticises a predominantly black federation and you don't do it?

DVM     There are definitely elements of truth in it but as I mentioned we don't like to refer to the difference as racial difference but it's more on skill. There are more skilled workers in the one federation than the other. But what you said is true, it might be perceived as that because the majority of FEDSAL's members are white but much more of a majority of NACTU and COSATU are black so if they want to refer - a lot of journalists write about the majority white federation, FEDSAL, and I challenge them and say why don't you then write the majority black federation COSATU. Don't write black and white. You hit it on the head when you said, yes, it could be perceived whites taking blacks but in our case our President is a black woman, FEDSAL's President. But once again you don't want - COSATU is very clever, they mix political issues and labour issues because they are still an alliance movement and if you look at that it makes it dangerous to disagree because some of our members who vote for the same political party as COSATU might see political messages in this. So that's what made the strike difficult too because of their political mix of it and that's why it's even easier for us not to participate because they specifically targeted some political parties and business. If they had only targeted government or only business in actions it would have been a point of discussion and, number two, the question would be: is the issue worth enough, important enough, worth a national strike?

POM     In the event of the strike happening your workers will follow, will not go to work? Or are you saying it's up to each individual member to do what he or she wishes to do?

DVM     Yes, but the bottom line is the federation, FEDSAL organisation, doesn't support the strike. You will see it in the letter, it's clear. I made it clear, but to the media we didn't attack our fellow employees and practice shows that the vast majority of FEDSAL members will go to work. No doubt about that. But where we assist well is that it works both ways, we refuse to do the work of those who are on strike. So it's got two benefits. The one is your own members who are at work are not forced to do double or triple their work for the same pay but more importantly even if that we cannot be accused by those workers who are on strike that our members are doing their work and therefore making their absence less felt. So those two ways. But the principle, reality, is that FEDSAL members will go to work.

POM     Now I read some place recently, and I was very surprised by the figure, that in the last year this membership of unions in South Africa had declined by about 15%.

DVM     I'm not sure if it's that much but it has got to a level, levelled off and declined a bit yes, but our statistics on unions are not exactly as good as they should be. As I mentioned, a lot of unions do not belong to federations, but union membership has had its peak, it's declining.

POM     Why do you think that, with such a low proportion still of the overall work force unionised, one would think of there being lots of opportunities for the growth of the labour union rather than it already following trends in more developed countries which is the trend of declining membership. What do you think would account here, particularly in South Africa, for declining membership?

DVM     I think South Africa usually follows the world. I think if you look at, maybe behind, maybe ahead, look at the unification of Europe, South Africa is unifying and now, again, you've got Russia, people wanting independence again. A while ago South Africa was on the level of each one should have his own little homeland. So as far as union rates are concerned we also seem to be behind. Unionisation is declining, South Africa is declining too, it's a world trend. Globalisation, people feel they don't need unions as much but in South Africa one big factor is the fact that we see it often that people say, "Oh, no unions, not for me", because the image they have of unions is COSATU and NACTU. COSATU and NACTU are the biggest, especially COSATU, they have got 60% - 70% of the employees belong to COSATU, of the federation employees. So COSATU, there have been violent strikes, a lot of violent strikes, there have even been deaths in strikes a few years ago and that image, unions are seen to be strikers, people who are radical, etc. and that makes people say, "No, I would rather not join a union", whereas a union's role should really change to be a service organisation at the broad front, deals on banks, deals on credit cards, discounts at shops, a service on job seeking, etc. That's one of the reasons in South Africa people say, "No, unions no, they are tough lot in South Africa, I would rather not join a union." On the other hand you have some people joining unions, those who join out of uncertainty, job loss, privatisation, they again join unions, but it's not all industries that face privatisation.

POM     Now do the three federations have a joint approach towards the issue of privatisation or, as it's more fashionably called now, the restructuring of state assets?

DVM     Yes, let me also give you a copy of that. We have a joint document signed with government on restructure of state assets. Once again that's where our job is very difficult. FEDSAL is very inhibited often - for the sake of unity we don't often speak out but try to influence the process from within. You will see the privatisation document. It's relatively balanced I think. People might say it doesn't say too much, the national framework agreement on that. There we had a joint position but it happened typically as happened to the labour bill. Privatisation is a challenge. Each federation has it's own caucus and then you go to a joint caucus and jointly try and develop and there we really patch and change the document until it suits all of us. In many of these cases FEDSAL has been able to have some of its views in there and have it changed a bit. Generally speaking we are not as opposed as COSATU or NACTU and the reality of privatisation, we rather say it's a fact, it's reality, let's handle it to the best benefit of our members. That's why I say throughout you will see FEDSAL being named the moderate federation, etc. It's what our members happen to think, the vast majority. So there's a joint document on that, a bit watered down I think from what some elements in COSATU might like.

POM     You mentioned there being one million workers out there who did not belong to any federation.

DVM     That's right.

POM     What do you think accounts for such a high proportion of workers being unwilling to join any federation?

DVM     The number of one million is also a guesstimate so it's not more than that, it's about one million, as I mentioned, if you look broadly. The reasons are, and a ridiculous one but one of the reasons is in FEDSAL's case personalities. You have a few strong unions who are old, who are rich, who are structured, the Public Service, the biggest union in the public service, they, for example, feel they are strong enough, they are old enough, they can look after themselves. But they're missing the point and missing the boat too because union level and federation level are two different ways of mentioning, of attacking the problems that face you. Other reasons are some unions don't see the benefit of belonging to a federation. They look at the amount that you pay per year instead of looking at the amount that you pay per member which is much smaller. You can say it's R1000 a month or you can say it's ten cents a member. OK. Another reason is there are members out there, there's one group specifically who are for white employees only, whites only, and they really try to pinch FEDSAL's members as far as they can.

POM     Who are they?

DVM     That's called the Mineworkers' Union. We have a lot of unions, in the mines I think there are seven. But they are organised in all industries. They try to organise this super white union, that's their view. So they are not welcome in FEDSAL as long as they have the racial exclusion in their constitution and they see FEDSAL as not being able to protect their white employees. You've got one group which were aligned to the Inkatha Party before who are battling to really fit in. It's much smaller now but that exists. And then you have a small grouping who feel that COSATU, NACTU and FEDSAL are too mild and too moderate and too meek. They think we're just sell-outs so they really think we should do it in a much different way. And then there is one group, the teachers for example, who dissociate, they join a teacher organisation and they bargain for their members and wages but they think it's important to belong to unions. They fail to see the professionalism that there could be in unions. The Teachers' Union, for example, where they would argue that they are a professional organisation whereas they wear two hats, teachers as a professional body and as a body to bargain for better conditions, and FEDSAL usually points out to them we also have accountants as members, we also have lecturers at universities as members, so it's no use to say I'm so different. There's a doctors' group as well for doctors, and a nurses' group, whereas we also have doctors and nurses as members. Those are some of the reasons and I think the negative connection to unions is a good reason.

POM     I want to turn for a minute to the impact of trade liberalisation. You reduce tariffs, more imports come into the country, they're cheaper, so instead of creating jobs you start losing jobs. The textile industry already is in trouble, it's closed down plants in Port Elizabeth, it's moved some of its operations to lower cost producers, to Zimbabwe. What kind of challenge does this face unions with and how are they reacting to it? Are they reacting in a reactionary way of saying, no don't lower the tariffs, protect the workers, or do they understand the inevitability if you want to participate in the global economy of tariffs having to go and there having to be a rationalisation of both industry and job structure?

DVM     Once again macro issues. But number one, the union is there to protect the jobs of its members, so the members expect of you when they say you're going to lose your job of course you must protect them as far as you can. But unions are involved in discussions in this issue so there is a realisation, I think amongst some unions at least, that this has got to happen, but one argument is why make it happen faster than it should and is it always worth it? So if you look at the South African package, that's why I come back to the economy in broad terms, I think if you look at restructuring of state assets, the privatisation and liberalisation and all those as a package, South Africa should have more of a clear direction where we're heading because now I think liberalisation has been the one issue pushed quite hard by the previous Minister of Trade & Industry. There are pros and cons to it, yes, but now you rightfully have the textile workers asking, "But why should we be the point of the spear? We carry the brunt of job loss and you say other jobs are going to be created for the country but we don't see them being created." So I don't think all the painful changes happen at once, some are being pushed too hard. There's no coherent drive to really restructure and have a package which, like a Christmas tree, branches out with new job opportunities, new things happening. That's one problem. So globalisation is talked about, the unions try to be as co-operative as possible but reality in the end touches on to all of us, the fact that it is a fact of life, it is happening. But I think we would say don't make it happen too fast and misuse the 'favourite of the world' status that South Africa has had, I can almost say nowadays, I think it's getting to an end now, use it to get a special deal for you to have maybe ten years before you need to get to your targets instead of doing it in five years. That's a valid point I think unions have but we should have quicker decisions and things happening more quickly. Government has a role to play in that. I don't say harsher, I say quicker - decide and get a deal, do it in ten years not in five, but there's some uncertainty and where there is a deal to do it in ten don't lower your tariffs in seven years, use the full ten, try and protect jobs as far as you can. But those are macro things which really come to you in the end and we've got to handle it to the best benefit of our members.

POM     OK. Thank you for the time and I will see you again but if there's that documentation you're talking about?

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.