Last week we covered the latest ‘most American car’ ranking topped by the Ford F-150 pickup truck. We signaled how the ranking is a strong indicator of nostalgia for the hey-days of ‘pure’ American car industry. Car makers increasingly spread production overseas and South Africa is an important destination for the car industry capital. Amid prolonged union strikes, General Motors halts production at the Port Elisabeth plant because it faces a lack of access to components. The mass strike comes shortly after a five months strike carried by 70.000 South African platinum workers.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) had talks with the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA). SEIFSA proposed a 10 percent wage increase, but NUMSA will not settle for less than 12 to 15 percent. As a consequence, more than 220.000 workers went on strike on Tuesday. The strike turned violent as police officers fired rubber bullets into protesters.
General Motors Halts Production in the midst of social unrest
“We undertook contingency planning to minimise disruption of supply to our plant and also to ensure sufficient inventory of finished vehicles,” company spokesperson Gishma Johnson stated. GM said they will cover the market demand for another two weeks.
NUMSA Secretary General Irvin Jim declared they will continue fighting to obtain massive changes in the low-wage sector, according to Nasdaq.com.
Another large scale strike took place last year and it involved 30.000 NUMSA workers from the car industry, leading to losses of $2 billion dollars and a 75 decrease of car exports, BBC reminds us. This year’s protests might lead to a 0.6 percent contraction of the South African economy, according to economists. Sadly, the mainstream media hastens to blame the protesters for economic downturns, when they are striving for a better life.
“The ongoing labour disruptions are harming the South African economy and are affecting the country’s image around the globe”. Sure they do, but low wages are affecting the South African workers’ lives. The modest difference between SEIFSA’s offer of ten percent and NUMSA’s request for 12 is not just a story about numbers. Even if demands include housing allowances too, the reaction is probably against a last drop and NUMSA is trying to make itself clear that its claims cannot be overridden anymore. It remains to be seen how the display of power will influence the social dialog while General Motors halts production.