Do unto others…

16 November 2012
Author   J.W. ASHEEKE

SANITY needs to be returned to the current trade union/labour unrest situation. Much has already been written and said on this topic. But, I’d like to address it from another point of view.


My grandmomma told me: “Treat people right; because the people you meet on your climb up the ladder are the same people you will meet when you have to climb down.”

Malcolm X reminded the world that “chickens come home to roost.” He said this regarding the assassination of John F. Kennedy when addressing the issue of America as a violent society. He got into big trouble for making this point, so the lesson should not be lost.

Some wrong-headed people in leadership positions feel happy when they make hurtful decisions which make things more difficult than they need to be; these people never seek win-win solutions and have no clue about how to negotiate fairly. These folks need to “do unto others…” Today they cheerfully preside over someone’s demise. Tomorrow, someone else will celebrate theirs.

Case in point:
I firmly assert that to have an ELECTED president of NUNW go into a meeting he believed he was chairing only to be told that the agenda he had was a fake, is humiliating and unjust. Worse, he was ambushed with the news that his removal and that of the secretary-general of the union was the actual agenda. How can leaders take such a serious action in this sneaky way?

As a parent, the main thought that slowed my hand when it came to deciding whether or not to give my kids a spanking was because I believe that resorting to violence to make my point, meant that I had failed to find any other way. In the same vein, I believe that the use of trickery, humiliation and character assassination is a kind of emotional/social ‘violence.’ If this is the only way leaders could think of to make their points, then, that signals the weakness and failure of those behind this plan.

Humiliation of any human being is like a far-off earthquake that causes a Tsunami on the other side of the world. I believe that ridicule and embarrassment are hurtful tools that could be called social terrorism. Whatever goals were intended to be achieved could be eclipsed by the inevitable backlash from the tactics used. The debate shifts to HOW the firing was done rather than substantive issues around WHY it was done.

Whatever the end-game at NUNW, humiliation and denigration will never get them there. Rather than sit down together, confront the differences and work HARD to find a compromise that addresses institutional priorities, a sneak attack was the limit of what that board could think to do.

If those with termination authority believe in their actions and have laws, policies and regulations on their side, then why use sly methods? Just lay it on the table and deal with it.

The very idea that a trade union can fire someone from their own staff without allowing that person a hearing of the charges and an opportunity to respond is strange. Who then is supposed to be teaching us about the Labour Act, if not the labour unions? Not surprisingly, the matter is now with the courts.

Having lived and worked in different countries, a blitzkrieg termination could be understandable in specific contexts. Long good-byes disrupt office morale and stability. In corporate America, when some companies hire a new CEO and he/she signs their undated letter of resignation at the same time as they sign their employment contract. If certain mutually agreed-upon benchmarks are not met, the date is inserted by the Board and the letter is in effect.

I have a friend in the States who went through a corporate dismissal during the recent economic downturn. She arrived at work as normal. Then, she went to the normal staff meeting only to have it become her termination meeting. The company had armed security guards waiting to escort her to her work space to ‘clear her personal belongings’ and physically put her out of the building. Yo’! That’s some cold-hearted, ruthless sh*t in my book. I have to say it in ‘hood language; because people who handle severance in this way are acting gansta’, so those terms are called for to describe it.

I don’t easily justify violence, but I’m not surprised to see global media reports of people who go totally off after they are humiliated on the job. They return with machine guns and start shootin.’ Being treated in a dehumanizing way can push people over the edge.

I don’t know what actually happened in that NUNW board room on that fateful day and I stand corrected if the media reports are faulty. But, the two gentlemen concerned are human beings who have spent a lifetime building their professional reputations the best way they know how. Reasonable people can agree or disagree with their messages and actions, but the fact is that they did not drop into those high posts from nowhere.

They were elected/hired by their members and that must mean something or NUNW has no credibility.

Here is the message that has been sent by NUNW: “Caution to anyone in leadership at our organization, what happened to your predecessors, will likely happen to you, so watch your back.” Is that the right priority for an effective, professionally-run national union body?

DO UNTO OTHERS. That is the solution I wish were in play. Manage the conflict with that in mind and solutions will come to light; there are always options. Cowardly people only look for the easy way; effective leaders work to find the right way.

Unions must ensure that workers’ rights are enforced and that the capitalist mentality doesn’t reduce employees to units instead of human beings. But, unions themselves need to use the same methods in their internal business that they demand from employers.

Workers are screaming out that their unions are not representative of their points of view; there are constant demands for new unions to be formed; SMS messages in newspapers call for members to quit their unions; union leaders are squabbling in public forums; strikes are the only tool used in labour union ‘negotiations.’ Therefore, I must ask: Who is safeguarding the workers and defending employee priorities? Due to the current ‘noise’, I am no longer sure.

I remember my mother taking me onto the picket lines with her back in the day when black teachers went on strike for equal pay with white teachers. I remember the rowdy meetings with the school board as I sat quietly at the back of the room waiting for my Mom. Though I was a young child, I felt the air of anger sizzle in the room. Later in my life, after I thought about it more, I realized the effectiveness of having disciplined, organized and informed workers who share common goals.

Recently we all read news reports of angry teachers saying that court rulings of the Republic of Namibia do not apply to them! Coming from a family of teachers, I am sympathetic with educators’ demand for better pay and improved classroom conditions. But, it is wrong for any person to willfully defy just laws. Namibia has a great thing going on; shall we now become a country ruled by whoever shouts the loudest or camps out the longest?

‘DO UNTO OTHERS’ should be the driving force behind what we say and do to one another. It could help guide us towards solutions. Why not choose to sit down together, talking and listening, with the greater good as the priority?


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