The Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in South Africa), is engaged in a battle to defend 102 workers at automotive suspension springs factory, Supreme Spring, on the East Rand outside Johannesburg and is appealing to organised labour activists and socialists across the world to express their solidarity with these workers and their union, the Metal and Electrical Workers Union of South Africa (MEWUSA), in which the DSM plays a leading role, as a matter of urgency.
Supreme Springs produces parts not only for the South African automotive manufacturing industry but also exports across the world, supplying car manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Toyota, Ford, Nissan and Isuzu.
Nine workers were dismissed on spurious charges following a nationwide motor industry strike in September, including three MEWUSA shop stewards. When workers embarked on a spontaneous and peaceful mass action to defend their unfairly dismissed comrades and reinforce their demands for improved wages and conditions, which had for a long time been ignored by management, another 93 MEWUSA members were suspended. Their disciplinary hearing will be held on Thursday 4 November. MEWUSA will be organising a solidarity march outside the hearings.
While the workers are threatened with losing their jobs, MEWUSA leaders are also being threatened with jail sentences for “contempt of court” after refusing to show contempt for their members whose spontaneous strike has been labeled “illegal” by management. These are very serious attacks on workers’ hard-won workplace democratic rights which need to be met with furious resistance, not only from MEWUSA workers, but from the organised labour movement across SA as well as internationally. In particular, activists organising in companies importing Supreme Spring parts could play a crucial role in assisting this struggle.
“The real cause for the dismissals is that the management does not want anyone who is fighting for workers rights. Our management thinks they can operate the company as Robert Mugabe runs Zimbabwe”, says dismissed MEWUSA shop steward, Joseph Nhlapo.
The victimisation of these union activists is part of a campaign on part of management to sabotage and undermine the work of MEWUSA, which has been fighting tirelessly to expose and combat Supreme Spring’s unfair labour practices and has refused to be bribed by the bosses.
The strike action for which the 93 workers have been suspended was itself directly provoked by management, which refused to accept the petition delivered by the workers, as well as to meet with MEWUSA’s representatives.
Since the beginning of 2009, 1.1 million South African workers lost their jobs. In a one-sided war waged by the capitalists against the working class, they are trying to force workers to pay for the crisis of their system. If the organised working class allows the Supreme Spring bosses and the court to set what would be very dangerous precedent of jailing worker leaders simply for defending their members, it will be inviting the capitalist class to unleash another offensive in this war, threatening even workers’ democratic rights
Letters of protest (see model letter below) should be faxed to: Mr. A J Becker, Managing Director of Supreme Spring, nr: +27 11 814 7262
Supreme Spring workers testify to the conditions that led to their strike action:
“We have no lunch break, but the law says we are supposed to have one hour. We only get a 15 minute morning break during an 8-hour shift”
“Racism is a big problem: Management turns a blind eye to racist name-calling, such as “kaffir”, by some white employees. White managers do not even speak to our faces, says dismissed MEWUSA shop steward Joseph Nhlapo.”
“Our most important demand is that, while the company has a turnover of R350 million it pays all workers only R16 per hour regardless of years of service. So we have skilled metal workers having worked in the company for 20 years or more still receiving the same R16”, explains Joseph Nhlapo. “We are graded as ‘petrol attendants’ within the Motor Industry, which claims the industry has no grading corresponding to the work that we do. We are being sent from pillar to post between the Motor- and Metal Industry bargaining councils.”
Model protest letter
To: Mr. A J Becker, Managing Director, Supreme Spring, Fax: +27 11 814 7262
I/ We ………………………………………………………………………………. Have been informed of the scandalous victimisation of union activists that your company is undertaking and hereby express our deepest concern over Supreme Spring’s lack of respect for workers’ basic democratic rights which by now should be guaranteed in the new South Africa.
The conditions and wages at your company are, firstly, a disgrace in themselves: skilled workers are paid a flat rate of around R16/hour regardless of how many years they may have spent in your service; workers are not allowed any lunch break in contradiction of the law which guarantees a one-hour lunch break; your management is furthermore not paying sufficient attention to the health and safety of the staff; and racism remains a major problem with your management in effect silently condoning blatant racism against black workers by their white colleagues. It has become clear to us a that your company has attempted to avoid the setting of decent wages and conditions by affiliating to the Motor Industry Bargaining council rather than the Metal Industry Bargaining Council, taking advantage of the facts that the SA motor industry increasingly has become established as a low wage export platform and that the Motor Industry has no salary grading specific to the work performed by your employees who are therefore graded at the lowest possible level. These facts on their own would qualify Supreme Spring as an unsuitable supplier to any multinational company interested in protecting its reputation.
Secondly, when workers naturally have sought to redress these unbearable conditions, they have been met with the most blatant victimisation. Nine workers, including three elected MEWUSA shop stewards, have already been dismissed for participating in solidarity with NUMSA-affiliated workers in September’s nationwide motor industry strike. When workers spontaneously and peacefully protested against these unfair dismissals you labeled their pickets an “illegal strike” and sought the assistance of the police and court to repress the workers, while you had refused to take impression from the petition workers handed to you prior to the protest action, as well as to meet with the union officials.
Thirdly, you have taken unprecedented steps in using the court to threaten the union office bearers with jail by holding them responsible for the spontaneous protest action which was provoked by your own hard-line attitude towards the workers and your deliberate undermining of their union MEWUSA.
We (if you are a union) undertake to embark on solidarity action at our workplaces to put pressure on ……………… (company with ties to Supreme Spring, eg Volkswagen) to cut any ties with Supreme Spring as a known union-busting company, unless you comply with our MEWUSA comrades’ demands:
- That you re-instate the nine dismissed MEWUSA members with immediate effect and no loss of pay
- That you drop the disciplinary action against the other 93 MEWUSA members
- That you immediately drop the court action against MEWUSA members and office bearers
- That you immediately agree to review the main agreement to enable MEWUSA to negotiate issues such as lunch breaks, grading etc on behalf of its members