This is an outreach project to address capacity and support problems in the labour movement and poor communities. As mentioned before in this report, many trade unions have neglected basic shop steward training and development. This has a real impact on our effectiveness, because it reduces the pool of empowered and capable activists we can engage with.
In addition, because of the lack of properly trained shop stewards, many trade unions are failing to adequately service their members, for instance with legal advice. Despite some misgivings, we felt it was necessary to provide structured institutional support where unions are failing to do so directly.
To address this deficit we developed two media, education and advice centres- LAMECs. These are physical hubs which act like social centres in the townships of Khayelitsha (outside Cape Town), and Alexandria (outside Johannesburg). We have worked with a very wide range of organisations to develop the capacity of the centres. These have included trade unions and labour service organisations, community organisations, environmental campaign groups, paralegal advice NGOs and others like unemployed youth who have gravitated to the centres.
The centres are run by full-time staff and volunteers from the community. The volunteers are trained by us to be able to provide advice, support and organise educational activities. We use a Case Management System to ensure that we are able to provide consistent support. So far we have supported several hundred cases with much success in resolving many with unorganised, marginalised workers or underserviced union members. In doing so, we have tried connecting these workers with relevant trade unions. We also ensure that they are kept on our database and informed of activities with the view towards them playing a more meaningful role in the life of the centres.
One of the most important aspects of the advice provided is paralegal support. This has been particularly effective, especially the support in labour law. However, this needs ongoing support and development, as some of the labour law cases are complex.
The hubs are also being used for study circles, and a young workers’ forum. We are advertising the services of the hubs through community radio stations. However we are cautious about advertising too widely and raising expectations, as we would struggle to meet the need generated.
In the near future and as per our recent board meeting’s decision, we intend to open three more centres, in Port Elizabeth, East London and Rustenburg.