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
“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
“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
Autoworkers everywhere should be inspired by the “giant” African
union that refuses to be pushed around by another giant, one now crumbling:
Martha Grevatt has been a UAW Chrysler worker for 22 years. Email her at
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