Full Support to the Motor Manufacturing Workers!

The Workers and Socialist Party fully supports the strike of the workers in the motor manufacturing sector. Given the reported R18bn profits made in the sector last year the workers’ demands for a 14% increase is reasonable, even modest.

An avalanche of predictable propaganda has been unleashed against the strike with workers accused of damaging the economy, chasing away investors and exposing the country to the risk of another sovereign rating downgrade.

But relentless increases in fuel, transport, electricity and food, have left workers with no alternative but to reject the employer’s offer of 10%, which will do little to arrest the decline in the real value of our wages.

The strike must be used not only to reverse the erosion of the purchasing power of our wages, but to correct other anomalies the bosses have created over the duration of the three-year agreement that has now expired and to restore wage parity across all companies in the sector. The media have not reported on these focussing exclusively on the wage demands in the deadlocked negotiations.

In 2010, for example, Toyota bosses deviated from agreements signed in the National Bargaining Forum (NBF) and unilaterally increased team leader pay rates by R3.22 per hour creating a disparity. Toyota workers demanded that this anomaly be corrected by raising all pay rates in line with that of the team leaders. The bosses ignored the workers’ demands. Unfortunately the Numsa leadership failed to address this anomaly, declared no dispute and organised no action allowing the bosses to think they could get away with dividing workers and violating collective agreements.

Accordingly, in September 2012, Toyota workers took matters into their own hands, set up a strike committee and downed tools.  Despite being “unprocedural” the strike ended in a partial victory. The bosses conceded to the demand for a R3.22 increase. But, instead of integrating it into the basic pay rate, they added it onto the existing basic wage as an allowance to be paid until June 2012. The integration of the R3.22 into the basic pay would be phased in over a three-year period commencing July 2012, at the rate of R1.07 per hour per year, with the difference between this amount and the R3.22 being paid as an diminishing allowance until it is completely phased out after three years.

But this is applicable to Toyota only. In response to the demand by workers in other companies, the bosses have instead offered a one-off payment of R2 225.00 over the three-year duration of the agreement. Apart from being very much less than the earnings of the Toyota workers, the bosses’ offer widens the gap between the earnings of workers in other companies and even  more so those of Toyota team leaders into whose basic pay the R3.22 increase was integrated in 2010 already. The bosses offer prolongs and widens the disparities and amounts to a demand for the union to retrospectively condone the bosses’ violation of a collective agreement. The bosses’ action is nothing less than the utilisation of the oldest trick in the book – divided and rule. We must not allow this attempt to weaken us to succeed. We must strengthen solidarity by putting forward uniform demands on the principle of equal pay for work of equal value across all companies in the sector.

From the standpoint of workers, the centralisation of collective bargaining has always been aimed at preventing the bosses from playing workers in one company off against others on the basis of differences in company performance in the market. The government has been dancing to the tune of the motor manufacturing bosses since the introduction of Gear in 1996 with massive subsidies as part of the plan to make SA an export platform to the world market especially in the advanced capitalist countries.

The drive to make SA a “competitive” manufacturer for export can only in the final analysis be achieved by driving down wages and conditions, playing workers in one company off against others, one sector off against others, and workers in SA against our class brothers and sisters in other countries.

Apart from the obvious benefits to the bosses in the form of fabulous profits, the economic benefits of government subsidies to the motor manufacturers are dubious to say the least. It is increasingly recognised that imports of spare parts is having a significant effect on the deficit on the current account – the difference between earnings from exports and imports. The consequent weakening of the currency poses a threat to the ability of SA to continue attracting the investment of currency speculators whose hot money is keeping the balance of payment in the black. This forces the Reserve bank to keep interest rates at their present level. Interest rates may be at their lowest level in over thirty years, but household debt as a percentage of annual income remains at 75%.

The leadership of the trade unions must recognise the reality of these ruthless calculations behind the stance taken by the bosses in the wage negotiations. We must forge solidarity between companies, between sectors and ultimately across the economy as a whole. With workers in a number sectors involved in wage negotiations – in mining, aviation, construction — and still more to come, the opportunity is there now to unite all these struggles and to link them especially to the struggle against retrenchments in the mining industry – the frontline of the class struggle now – through a general strike for a national minimum wage of R12 500 per month, no retrenchments, and the nationalisation of the mines under worker control and management.

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