By on May 25, 2013

Rubber bullets South Africa - Picture courtesy saudigazette.com.sa

South Africa’s main auto union threatened to “halt production” at a Volkswagen after union members were fired, Reuters says.

“We call on the Volkswagen South Africa oligarchy to immediately stop these dismissals of workers. If VWSA fails to adhere to this demand, we will be forced to halt production until this impasse is resolved,” the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa told the wire.

Tensions in South Africa are high. On Tuesday, ten striking South African miners were hit by rubber bullets, as labor strife spread ahead of mid-year pay negotiations. A Mercedes-Benz plant in the country was shut for two days when workers walked out after they were asked to remove their overalls when going outside, and not to wear them when returning..

Metal workers in South Africa demand a 20 percent industry-wide salary hike.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

22 Comments on “Labor Unrest In South Africa...”


  • avatar
    Ron B.

    it’s ironic, the founding of the South African Communist party by one of my cousins ,which eventually became the ANC is one of the reasons labour unions wield so much power in South Africa. Yet the lower rung workers are still treated like rubbish and after being in South Africa for 60 plus years it’s high time VW and Daimler Ag took a different approach to labour/boss relations. I for one,would hate to see South Africas car industry end up like the UK’s and Australia’s when unions were given too many concesions which in turn led to a misguided belief that the ‘principle’ was all that mattered. The UK and now Australian unions now realize that you cant eat’the principle’.

    • 0 avatar
      mshenzi

      The ANC was founded around the turn of the 20th century by mission-educated Africans who most definitely were not communists– they aimed for English-style liberal respectability, on the idea that those who demonstrate their civilized qualities should be treated as civilized (and therefore equal). The communists in S Africa came from a very different tradition, (and mostly had a white leadership at first). The ANC moved into more militant hands in the 1920s-30s, and into an alliance with S African communists after the start of apartheid, post-48. This allowed the Apartheid govt to describe them as communist terrorists, and to use the Suppression of Communism Act to effectively call any African protest vs white rule communism.

      The 50s is when the sort of links that Ron B is describing got forged btwn the ANC (which by then had a huge popular base, even after it was declared illegal) and the S. African Communist party, (which until the link-up was pretty small).

    • 0 avatar
      Bluto

      I’ll say it again, I really want to visit the Australia you keep describing, because I’m pretty sure it does not exist. Also I love how every post you make, you manage to fit in some glaring inaccuracy. “The ANC are all communists!”, “Australia’s minimum wage is 28 dollars!” (it’s actually 15 dollars). Let’s all sit back and enjoy how much of a tremendous fabrication that last one is. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      The ANC is not an outgrowth of the SACP. It was founded long before the SACP, and evolved into an umbrella organization that brought together organizations of widely varying ideologies who were only united in their opposition to apartheid.

      It is remarkable that it has survived in this form since taking office in 1994. This is perhaps testimony to the benefit of incumbency, and the largesse that incumbent governments can dispense.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Absolutely on target comment, Ron B. The extreme positions on both sides are the wrong place to begin negotiations. The best interests of the business as a whole need to be addressed. They need to remember that they need profitability, and productivity is the best method to accomplish that goal. The workforce needs to be properly compensated, be it white or blue collar. In my personal experience, a pay plan that rewards quality and production results in common ground. These targets need to be reasonable and clearly stated while also having a mechanism to address any threat to imbalance from either party, remembering human dignity can produce satisfaction without conflict. Seems clear to me but has been viewed as heresy by elements of both union and management. Obviously Santayana was correct – the lessons of Harry Bennett and Jimmy Hoffa have been sadly forgotten, and the cycle of distrust goes on.

  • avatar

    When I see the police using weapons against workers, I think to myself:

    “When will the USAF’s Active denial System become available?”

  • avatar
    Summicron

    Only one of those guys shows a proper stance and shouldering of his weapon.

    The others look like gangstas handed a long gun for the first time.

  • avatar
    Neuromancer

    The ANC was founded in 1912. The SACP was founded in 1921. So how exactly did the SACP ‘become’ the ANC?

    And as far as the auto industry surviving in SA, the only reason vehicles were ,and continue to be, manufactured in SA is because of the massive incentives paid by governments past and present to keep the manufacturers here.
    The local market is tiny, production costs here are astronomical, and the only sane thing to do would be to cease burning taxpayer’s money in a misguided attempt to keep local jobs. Which also results in ludicrous pricing of vehicles locally.

    So stop giving the manufacturers tax money, let the market decide if manufacturing here makes sense, and import whatever vehicles the local market requires and let the prices drop.

  • avatar
    onyxtape

    I remember reading somewhere that the Roslyn BMW plant had the highest quality output in the entire company – even higher than its plants in Germany.

    When I was planning my trip to South Africa (which ultimately got cancelled), I remembered it was dirt-cheap to rent a 3-series or a C-class. I’m guessing there’s a lot of overproduction that eventually went into rental fleets there.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      South Africa has a huge degree of income disparity. In the apartheid era, German and Japanese companies largely ignored international sanctions against the regime, and so came to dominate many markets. BMW and Mercedes established local assembly plants, and became the favoured rides of the company car set.

      In late 1994, I took my family there on vacation. I recall that one of the guests (Afrikaner) at a game reserve we stayed at was startled to see that I was loading my camera with Kodak film, rather than Fuji. He stated simply (and without any guile) that “we like to support the companies that supported us”.

      As counterpoint, a year earlier we received business visitors from a South African company we were negotiating a JV with. Over post-dinner drinks one evening, I got involved with a couple of colleagues in a brief discussion of the difference between a regular and a business passport. Out of the blue, one of the South Africans (Anglo, not Afrikaner) quietly observed “it must be nice to carry a passport you can be proud of”.

      • 0 avatar
        Beerboy12

        Ford and Opel both had manufacturing plants and strong sales there during the aparthiet years. Both companies are ultimately American. Opel’s where sold by a South African company called Delta and the Ford business went through Ford UK but I’ll bet neither GM nor Ford US turned the profits away.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Ford and Opel both had manufacturing plants and strong sales there during the aparthiet years. Both companies are ultimately American. Opel’s where sold by a South African company called Delta and the Ford business went through Ford UK but I’ll bet neither GM nor Ford US turned the profits away.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    There has been some unrest of late in all sectors. Mining and services have been hard hit. Strikes that lead to violent protests are fairly common and cyclical, very often it’s political. There are elections coming up soon and that always brings out ugliness.
    The motor industry is very strong there and it’s highly unlikely it will fail from these last protests. It has endured much bigger challenges.
    I believe the South African motor industry as a whole treat their workers better than most. Reasonable pay and good training are part of the reason much of the products produced are exported and are world class.

  • avatar
    Neuromancer

    @Beerboy….if by strong you mean well subsidized and protected by the powers that be in government, then I guess you could call it strong. How ‘strong’ would it be without the protectionism and tax payer support?

    Not very.

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      Was protected… (past tense), not so much any more. The ridiculous import taxes were mostly dropped over 15 years ago. Witness the profusion of imported brands available today. As to tax payer support, there is none as far as I know unless you mean consumers paying about 50 to 100% more for cars than anywhere else in the world but that is not government regulated, that is the industry. The industry blames past history but we all know that’s BS. The Government gleefully sucks up the taxes but absolutely does not put that money back into the industry.
      With a rapidly growing middle class, high profit margins and a strong export market (R9 to the $) puts them in a good place. So, yes, the industry is strong there by an standards and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  • avatar
    mshenzi

    History in South Africa makes getting to a ‘let the market decide’ policy daunting. For roughly a century, the government created the framework that rejected free market logic in order to maintain White Supremacy and coercive exploitation of Africans. The pro-segregration /apartheid system relied heavily on government to make the economy work, starting in the very early 20th century by creating artificially cheap African labor through the Native Reserve system– essentially forcing black South Africans, the vast majority of the population, into tiny amounts of land, then taxing them enough to ensure that they would have to become migrant workers. This massive manipulation of supply and demand kept wages for most jobs very cheap, but to protect WHITE workers, various classes of jobs were reserved as white only, and paid much higher wages. Maintaining this system required a massive and brutal police state, but with diamonds and gold as the main exports, the government was able to fly in the face of free market logic for a very long time.

    On the anti-segregation/apartheid side, protest against wage, labor, or living conditions inescapably became protest against the government. From the early 20th century right through to the early 1990s, labor militancy developed into one of the two main routes through which popular protest vs the system was channeled (the other main channel of activism was church groups). Union organizing and labor militancy was typically aimed, either directly or indirectly, at least as much at government as at employers. As an earlier poster said, Ford and BMW wouldn’t have been there if the government didn’t make it very worth their while.

    In post-apartheid times, a de-politicized version of labor relations, one in which the issues between employers and employees aren’t weighed down with so much governmental baggage, is envisionable in principle, but it’s going to be hard to get there. When apartheid fell, a big flip happened: who depends on government, and who is the government, both changed. Many, many people who were for so long oppressed by the old government now expect new government to support efforts make their lives better– an eminently understandable outlook. The ANC government and organized labor, having developed such long and deep ties through many hideous decades, and having finally prevailed, aren’t likely to easily let go of their local positions of power/leverage and start reading Thomas Friedman on what it takes to be globally competitive. That’s fraught with wider dangers, of course; case of the Australian auto industry is a big red flag about the risks of continued labor militancy and slowness to grasp the implications of today’s global economy.

    • 0 avatar
      Neuromancer

      That’s a decent synopsis of the situation here.

      In essence everything has changed…..and very little has changed. The players in government have changed, but the old policies remain in place. There is only one factor that dictates policy: money.

      And the man in the street gets the shaft.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Authors

  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • J & J Sutherland, Canada
  • Tycho de Feyter, China
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Faisal Ali Khan, India