THE powerful strike by 220,000 NUMSA members, workers in South Africa’s steel and engineering sectors, entered its fourth week on Monday.
NUMSA members in the metal and engineering industries downed tools on July 1, initially demanding a salary increase of 12 per cent, dropped from their pre-strike demand of 15 per cent.
They also demanded a R1,000 housing allowance, and a total ban on labour brokers.
The union announced on Sunday it had lowered its wage demand to ten per cent.
Last Wednesday, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant met NUMSA and SEIFSA for further talks.
She said this was to spare the economy another protracted strike, following the five-month strike in the platinum industry.
In the first week of the metals strike, she facilitated talks between the parties.
Meanwhile, a prominent bourgeois economist has warned that South Africa might be witnessing the start of a worker revolt against the capitalist structure of the economy.
A director and chief economist of Econometrix, Azar Jammine, said last Friday the duration of the strikes in the platinum sector and now by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (NUMSA) in the steel and engineering industry was a litmus test.
He alleged that these strikes were ideological battles first and foremost and only secondly economic battles.
Expressing a class fear, Jammine said: ‘I’ve been scared of this over a number of years and am wondering if it is now happening before our own eyes.’
He added that the frequency of work stoppages because of strikes was far worse in South Africa than any other country.
He said: ‘The ramifications of the NUMSA strike for the economy are severe and will almost certainly plunge the economy into recession for several months. ‘I have never been as concerned about the South African economy and its outlook as I am now.’
He said it appeared the union movement virtually wanted to bring down the existing capitalist order and the white imperialist and colonial economic structure to its knees and replace it with a new structure where labour would be able to dictate the terms in the future.
Ford unveiled aggressive plans last week to expand its business in Africa and announced it would be launching 25 new vehicles into the Middle East and Africa region by 2016, with 17 of these models launched into sub-Saharan Africa.
Jim Benintende, the president of the new Ford Middle East and Africa, said the region comprised 67 markets and represented ‘the final frontier for growth within the global automotive industry’ with sales expected to grow by 40 per cent to 5.5 million units by 2020.
However, Benintende warned there was a possibility the Ford Motor Company could place a moratorium on further investment in its manufacturing capacity in South Africa because of the labour instability.
He stressed that labour and labour peace was an important factor in any decision about expansion and new investment.
The Renault-Nissan alliance and west African conglomerate Stallion Group announced their intention last year to jointly launch vehicle assembly in Nigeria and indicated there was potential to develop the plant into a major manufacturing hub for Nissan in Africa.
However, Nissan South Africa managing director Mike Whitfield, who is responsible for sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa and Nigeria, said at the time this did not pose any threat to the local South African motor industry.
South Africa’s Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies echoed this view and indicated the launch of vehicle assembly in Nigeria was not something the South African government feared but welcomed.
But Jammine warned that the parent companies of domestic vehicle manufacturers have not fully comprehended the gravity of the situation in South Africa.
He stressed: ‘That is why the NUMSA strike is a litmus test. If it continues for much longer you will get a fundamental sea change to investment in South Africa.’
NUMSA said its National Strike Committee (NSC), held last Tuesday 15 July 2014, at Vincent Mabuyakhulu Conference Centre (VMCC), Newtown, Johannesburg, ‘was emboldened by the massive and growing strength and success of the strike in all corners of the country: in major industrial areas, affluent cities and rural towns, where the toiling Black and African working class sells its labour power for a pittance.’
The NSC added: ‘We appreciate the mounting growth of the strike, and welcome MEWUSA; CEPPWAWU; SEAWA; UASA and GIWUSA who have also joined the picket lines to demand a Living Wage for workers. . . . This is consistent with the worker’s battle cry of “an injury to one; an injury to all”. . .
‘We refuse to be blackmailed by self-anointed spokespersons of the bosses, that our legitimate strike will plunge the economy and the country into a recession.
‘Such blatantly racist insinuations and misguided commentary designed to protect the profits of the bosses and maintain the colonial wage structure are devoid of truth.
‘It is the bosses and the politicians who should be held responsible for the continuing racist colonial wage structure after 1994 and mismanaging the economy, which combined have resulted into high levels of inequality, escalating unemployment rate and mass poverty, amongst the majority Black and African working class.
‘Our members are united and they have resolved that nothing will divide them or weaken their strike for a Living Wage and improved benefits.
‘Furthermore, they remain united on a principled double-digit wage increase; scrapping of Labour Brokers; Housing Allowance of R1000. The workers are adamant that Section 37 of the Main Agreement is fundamental and important, because it will assist to end scrupulous and discriminatory practices by employers to give allowances and other benefits to higher-paid workers.
‘The union has made a public call to all our striking members to be vigilant and guard against agent provocateurs or rotten non-NUMSA elements that want to hijack the strike.
‘We have put in place extra measures to ensure that all our actions and pickets are peaceful. In the same breadth, we remain humbled by high levels of discipline and maturity displayed by our members.
‘The NSC, as duly mandated by the National Executive Committee (NEC), has developed a maximum Programme of Action (PoA) to intensify and accelerate the strike action. The Regional and Local Strike Committee’s will be drawing up details and actions that will be taking place in various areas of our country.
‘Some of the important activities that the union will roll-out immediately include;
‘Report back to members on SEIFSA’s withdrawal of the offer;
‘Inform workers in the plastics companies and labour brokers in Engineering, House Agreement and Eskom plants that they are protected to join the strike; ‘Mobilise for protest marches in selected cities and towns;
‘Convene General Meetings in industrial areas and communities:
‘Hold solidarity lunch-time Pickets & Demonstrations in Sectors linked or affected by Engineering/Metals Motor strike, namely Auto, Tyre & Rubber, Eskom, Mining, and Transnet.
‘We know history is on our side. We shall prevail in our fight against unjust racist and colonial wages!’