’Workers First’ – NUNW’s New President Ismael Kasuto [interview]

FOR the first time in three years the National Union for Namibian Workers (NUNW) has a president.

Ismael Kasuto was elected during a stormy congress held in Swakopmund last week. Kasuto, who has risen through the ranks of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) to become president of that union before his NUNW ‘promotion’ is not a man of many words.

The Roumlssing employee knows the plight of workers and intends to make sure his fellow workers’ needs are addressed, using consultative means to unite the various unions in the country to be more effective in their roles as servants to their members.

The Namibian spoke to him.

Give us a little overview of your involvement in unionism your entry, the various roles and your rise to where you are now.

I clearly remember in 2003 to have been brought to the Mineworkers Union of Namibia’s (MUN) isolated office at the Roumlssing mine by my ex-colleague Ben Uiseb after having numerous arguments as colleagues. He just got fed up and said, “You know what, I’m tired of you. Let me take you to the union office for a potential role and perhaps you can put your energy to good use”. Once there, I was put in the care of the principal mentor David Amupolo as the full-time shop steward and Erich Beukes as the branch chairperson at the time with an intent to ‘rehabilitate’ me through branch leadership activities.

Did you dream of becoming the president of NUNW? If so, why?

I never dreamed of being a branch chairperson or MUN president or NUNW president as I was taught by my mentors not to compete but to let your work compete for you. This is why I worked tirelessly on workers’ issues and focussed on current structural deliverance instead of focusing on potential ‘promotion’ to a higher structural role.

What are the greatest traitscharacteristics of a unionist, and why are these important?

It all starts from within you as an individual by wanting to make a change, to value time, value the organisation being served, discipline, understanding the purpose of the structures, respect, consult, accept criticism, listen, to prepare for meetings and not to comment at forums for the sake of commenting, but for value addition and having measurable deliverables.

Many allege that unionism is a form of politics. Do you agree?

We should take cognisance that the electorate that elect the trade union leadership is the same electorate that elect politicians that run the government of the day.

It is only logical that these two structures serve different purposes and the electorate’s desire is to have these two structures to collaborate and come up with joint solutions on issues faced by the workers, especially in this case as they’re all elected by the same electorate. So, how do you expect that to be achieved if one structure is insulting the other (in this case the trade union)? The electorate wants structural cohesion.

We, the workers, are also aware of the defectors and disgruntled leadership that want to cross-pollinate the intent and purpose of the two structures in order to confuse and mislead those who need to be represented. Workers’ interests should not be compromised nor mixed with politics. There should be a clear separation of structural functions.

How are you going to change this perception?

Through structural consultations to ensure that we address the workers’ aspirations.

What is the role of a union?

We first need to understand what it is – its structure – to make decisions within those structures and only then can we claim that we represent the interests of those at the shop floor level.

What is the specific role of the NUNW compared to other unions?

It’s a federation with the aim of securing social and economic justice for all workers in conjunction with its affiliates.

What is your role as the president of the union?

The roles are intertwined and one role cannot do without the other. It’s all about collective process in whatever we do.

What was the NUNW’s biggest problem to date?

Again, the NUNW as an institution is a structure consisting of affiliates and its affiliates consist of their own structures. One should understand that the fundamentals of structural alignment do not separate the NUNW from its affiliates and also do not separate its affiliates from its members. The core of the problem is to first understand the level of engagement of the general membership involvement in holding their leadership accountable by taking part in their trade union activities from the branch level to the region and from the region to the national level.

Are there any realtangible successes that NUNW can be proud of? Which are those?

We should not detach the history from the current status of events being the initiation of the workers to form the political party that led the liberation struggle which led the fight that resulted in the independence of our beloved country.

What is the biggest challenge of the union?

Understanding the structural objective and to make it work as the solutions lie within the set structure and not outside the structure.

What are you going to be specifically focusing on during your term?

Consulting as wide as possible and implementing the aice given as well as discovering unity of purpose.

How are you going to address leadership issues and squabbles versus the needs of the workersunions?

There are no leadership squabbles in trade unions. We see that as normal natural phenomena for the structure to purge itself, to align the leadership thinking and to reposition itself.

The natural process could only be curbed if we start to get the membership involved from the lowest possible level.

Any other comments?

The struggle continues.

Source : The Namibian