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GM ‘job bloodbath’

South African workers fight back

Published Jun 19, 2009 11:47 PM

In Britain and Ireland it’s called a redundancy and in South Africa it’s called a retrenchment, but a layoff by any other name is still a layoff. On June 11 the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa issued a statement announcing a court action and possible strike over what they call a “jobs bloodbath.”

“General Motors South Africa (GMSA) destroyed over 1,300 jobs since 2007,” the union charged, “through retrenchments and worthless separation packages. This worst employer in the South African automobile assembly industry has found its jobs bloodbath not enough. It enhanced this by adopting George W. Bush’s style of unilateralism. Without consulting with the union, GMSA issued more workers with letters of unemployment creation, instructing them that they have been retrenched.

“GMSA had also insincerely assured the South African public that the bankruptcy protection processes in its headquarters, the United States of America (USA), will not affect the South African-based production operations. But this company has since shut down the production lines of Hummer in Port Elizabeth, thereby forcing more retrenchments without regard to alternatives. It is a widely publicized fact that the Hummer brand is part of those being sold consequent from GM’s global management failure.”

Hummer production is being consolidated under one roof in Shreveport, La.

“GMSA cannot be left continuing its psychopathic attitude to workers and taking the public of South Africa for granted,” continued Alex Mashilo, NUMSA spokesperson. “It needs help before worsening the harm it had been causing. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) is determined to execute this task until the company is completely healed. As part of this the union is preparing for a strike that GMSA will never forget after recovery.

“Reasonably, we are starting in the Labor Court of Johannesburg today, Thursday, June 11, 2009, to seek relief.

“NUMSA is demanding that GMSA must reinstate all the workers that it wrongfully retrenched since April 2009, place a moratorium on retrenchments and consult in good faith so alternatives to retrenchments can be adopted.

“The union would also like to issue an early warning to other employers like Ford and Volkswagen which are seeking to join GMSA in implanting a culture of unilateralism. We will not tolerate any unilateral behavior and changes to terms and conditions of employment. We therefore call upon these and other like-minded companies to reverse any such changes and practices with immediate effect. Failure to heed this call shall lead to NUMSA adopting drastic measures in the interest of order.”

Over 100,000 South Africans work for U.S., European and Asian auto companies, which, as in other countries, have received government assistance. Earlier this year, NUMSA took the position that any firm taking bailout money should be barred from laying off workers, and that cuts in executive bonuses should be used to offset the cost of assisting workers who are laid off.

NUMSA was formed in 1987, eight years before the fall of apartheid, through the merger of four formerly segregated unions. On its web site the union states its commitment “to close the apartheid wage gap between the skilled and the unskilled” and that “NUMSA is not an office. It is an organization where each and every member does their bit to make NUMSA into the giant that it is.”

Autoworkers everywhere should be inspired by the “giant” African union that refuses to be pushed around by another giant, one now crumbling: General Motors.

Martha Grevatt has been a UAW Chrysler worker for 22 years. Email her at [email protected]