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Struggle vs. General Motors

South African workers fight for jobs

Published Jul 3, 2009 10:16 PM

In just eight months, over 20,000 South African autoworkers have been “retrenched.” In response to these and other layoffs in manufacturing, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa has launched a “fight for jobs” campaign. NUMSA won a major victory on June 17 in the Johannesburg Labor Court against General Motors South Africa.

South Africa’s labor law requires a company to consult with the workers’ union before laying them off. Displaying the same arrogant contempt for law and contract that autoworkers here are familiar with, in April GMSA unilaterally laid off 280 workers, followed soon after by another 130. NUMSA sued and won a court ruling that the retrenchments (South African term for layoffs) were illegal.

In a news release issued on the day of the court victory, NUMSA stated: “The Labor Court in Johannesburg has today found that the retrenchments initiated by GMSA during April this year were procedurally unfair. Following this the Labor Court shall determine the amount of compensation to which the retrenched workers are entitled. GMSA has further been ordered to consult with NUMSA in order to reach consensus should it contemplate any other retrenchments. This order means that the letters of retrenchments that GMSA issued in April to 130 workers who are still in its employ are null and void.

“NUMSA welcomes the Labor Court judgment and shall zealously continue defending and advancing the interests of all its members.

“The union will further study the judgment to determine whether to challenge the substantive fairness of GMSA’s April 2009 notorious retrenchments. We shall also leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the retrenched workers receive a fair compensation in terms of the wages that they would have earned had they not been illegally and unlawfully retrenched as well as in terms of other losses that they have incurred as a result of GMSA’s barbaric retrenchments.

“We hope that today’s Labor Court ruling and NUMSA’s determination in defending workers against unscrupulous employers such as GMSA provide a future lesson to other employers across sectors that South Africa is not a banana republic.

“Otherwise we shall also unleash mass strikes if and when we find it necessary in defense of workers.”

This fight with GMSA is in line with resolutions passed by NUMSA’s Job Security Conference held in Gauteng April 23-26. “The time of endless talks is over,” the chairperson of the union’s Wits Central region, Motsamai Ponya, stated at that event. “We need concrete steps on the part of employers and government to save our jobs.” NUMSA’s Job Security program also included a call “to agitate for worker and state takeovers of companies that are on the verge of liquidation.”

It was the determination to take the struggle to the streets that won the workers’ victory in court. These South African autoworkers are demonstrating to the world that through militant class struggle jobs can in fact be saved. All who work in this ruthless industry must follow their example and declare a halt to “endless talks.”

Martha Grevatt has worked 22 years at the Chrysler plant in Twinsburg, Ohio. Email: [email protected]