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09.09.2013 Feature Article

South African Workers Settle Some Strikes And Embark Upon Others

NUMSA Gains Pay Increases In Auto While NUM Wins In Gold Sector
South African Workers Settle Some Strikes And Embark Upon Others
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Labour unrest continues in South Africa despite the successful resolution to strikes in the automotive and mining industries.

In the auto industry settlements were reached between the National Union of Metalworkers Union of South Africa (NUMSA) and seven producers which are BMW, Nissan, Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota, Mercedes and General Motors. The union negotiators resolved the work stoppage by obtaining an 11.5 percent salary increase in the first year and 10 percent in the following two years.

Issues are still remaining to be resolved between the workers and bosses at two manufacturers. At Toyota in Durban and BMW in Pretoria it was not clear whether employees would accept the contract and return to work as of September 9.

Approximately 30,000 workers were involved in the strike which began on August 19. The affected companies produce 278,000 automobiles annually for export to Europe, the United States and the African continent.

Projections prior to the strike indicated that production levels were to reach 325,000 vehicles. The industry contributes 7 percent to the gross domestic product in South Africa.

Nonetheless, other sectors within auto walked off the job on September 9. These employees include component producers, service station workers, panel beaters and other job categories.

NUMSA has 76,000 members in these sectors and they are demanding double-digit wage hikes as well as better conditions of employment. The absence of these workers can impact production overall and therefore the industry will be crippled until settlements are reached.

Although 300,000 workers are employed in these sectors, NUMSA represents only the 76,000 mentioned above. NUMSA leaders say that the non-represented employees also have the right to participate in the strike.

According to an industry spokesperson in South Africa 'We are in the same value chain so when they stop working we cannot operate,' said Thapelo Molapo, chairman of the Automobile Manufacturers' Employers Organization. 'They supply us with the components we put into our manufacturing processes. If this thing goes on for any more than a week it will be affecting us badly.' (Financial Times, September 9)

Industry bosses hold the view that such labor actions could potentially damage the ongoing existence of jobs inside the country. With unemployment at 25 percent of the work force in South Africa this is utilized as a bargaining chip for the bosses.

Malapo told journalists that 'It is a high settlement, it's a factor of negotiations - we had no option. . . obviously it's going to have an impact, our industry is not competing within itself, its competing on a global scale. There's a lot of capacity elsewhere in the world to manufacture and in most places they can do that a lot more cost efficiently than we can do.' (Financial Times, September 9)

Gold Miners Settle at Harmony
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has settled with the final company in a large-scale strike that impacted gold production throughout the country. Harmony Gold agreed to an 8 percent pay hike opening the way for the resumption of full-scale production in South Africa.

Workers had remained on strike despite settlements at Anglo American and other firms the previous week. Harmony mining sites are located in the central Free State and Northern Cape provinces.

"Members of the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) have accepted the same offer made by other producers in the industry, and have returned to work," Harmony Gold said in a statement.

The rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which did not participate in the strike called by NUM, has rejected the 8 percent wage settlement and is threatening to take its workers out if a larger offer is not made. AMCU represents about 20 percent of workers affected in the strike.

AMCU has been in a competitive struggle with NUM over who will represent mineworkers. Clashes between NUM and AMCU organizers and members have resulted in deaths and injuries in the Rustenburg area of the Northwest Province where in 2012 dozens lost their lives in both internecine conflict and the massacre carried out by police on August 16 of last year when 34 miners were killed.

Joseph Mathunjwa, the president of AMCU, said that "We have confirmed and voted for a strike." He made this statement to a group of workers in Carletonville, located just southwest of Johannesburg. (SABC, September 9)

Struggle Erupts Between NUMSA and other Alliance Partners in the ANC and SACP

A struggle over the status of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Secretary General Zwelinzimi Vavi has erupted in the public sphere. Vavi was suspended over alleged misconduct involving a subordinate staff member within the country's largest labor federation.

NUMSA has accused both the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) of unwarranted interference in its internal affairs as a labor organization. NUMSA has said that COSATU should not be the 'labor desk' of the ruling party.

In a sharp response to this crisis which escalated as a result of a report issued in the aftermath of the Tripartite Alliance economic summit that was held recently, the Provincial Council of the SACP in Guateng has accused COSATU of being involved in attempts to undermine the alliance which has insured the continuance of the ANC dominance in South African politics since 1994 when the first non-racial elections were held after the collapse of the racist apartheid system.

The SACP Provincial Council issued a statement on September 8 claiming that 'The Provincial Council noted desperate attempts by the General Secretary of NUMSA, comrade Irvin Jim, to draw leaders of the SACP and ANC into problems facing the labor federation, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). At its Special Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting held mid-August of this year, it suspended its General Secretary, comrade Zwelinzima Vavi following a set of allegations leveled against him.'(sacp.org.za)

This statement goes on to say 'NUMSA General Secretary, comrade Irvin Jim, alleges that senior leaders of the SACP and ANC were involved in what he perceives as divisions in COSATU following decisions of its constitutional structures that led to the suspension of the General Secretary.

These unsubstantiated and incoherent allegations were specifically directed against SACP General Secretary Dr. Blade Nzimande, and comrade Gwede Mantashe, Secretary General of the ANC, also serving as 13th National Congress Central Committee member of the SACP.' (SACP Guateng Provincial Statement)

A report issued in the aftermath of the Alliance economic summit takes on the problems developing inside the coalition of national democratic forces in South Africa. The report was entitled 'State of the Alliance: The Previous Five Years.'

Mantashe says within the document that 'In the bigger part of the five years the alliance has worked well and carried out common programs. However, assessing all the structures of the individual alliance partners, we can now conclude that the alliance is at its weakest at the moment. In most provinces alliance structures are not functional. The alliance partners do not seem to have any obligation to strengthen the alliance.'

Mantashe also blasted the South African National Civic Organization (SANCO), saying it had no presence on the ground. The SANCO organization had played a pivotal role during the struggle against apartheid during the 1980s and early 1990s.

These developments are taking place on the eve of national elections which are scheduled for the early part of 2014. The role of the Alliance will be crucial in the ongoing efforts by the ANC to remain in power.

Abayomi Azikiwe
Abayomi Azikiwe, © 2013

The author has 208 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: AbayomiAzikiwe

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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