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
“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
“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]
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