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16 August 2001

Strikes – At what cost?


For close on two weeks now approximately twenty-two thousand motor industry workers have been on strike. Once again because of a wage dispute. The motor industry offered an across the board increase of seven and a half percent, which they later upped to eight percent. The unions are demanding a minimum of twelve percent. Unresolved the unions called for a national strike at all manufacturing plants until this dispute is resolved.

The company I work for supply the major motorvehicle manufacturers with core engine components, manufactured at our plant in Alrode. We feel the results of this strike in diminished orders, blanket orders being put on hold and orders being cancelled totally. The impact of this strike must be felt across the board as far as all other contractors and suppliers are concerned. Varying in degree of severity of course.

Consider that we employ about four-hundred permanent staff. A ten percent drop in revenue earnings will see us with no profit at all. Yes, that's how competitive and depressed the market is these days. If we didn't have a major company like Anglo (of which we are probably the last non-core business company on their books) to back us, we probably would've shut down after the last major strike about two years ago. What about the smaller companies who don't have the necessary backing and support? What about their workers?

The African black has never been a giver. This is a statement that has been true for generations. It is only during the past year that I saw the odd report on a black man giving back to his community more than what he's received. The black man here has always demanded, but never given in return. I have yet to see orphans being adopted by black people the way white people do. Point made.

Daimler-Chrysler have invested millions in this country. So did Renault (by taking the majority stake in the local ailing Nissan manufacturers), and Volkswagen (always considered here as a true 'people's car'). Ford made a major comeback with the buy-out of Samcor (the joint Ford/Mazda manufacturers) and also poured a lot of money into the country. This meant job creation. And the majority of these jobs were created for blacks. The so-called disadvantaged now had jobs, a regular income and (maybe for the first time) direction and security in life. Through hard and dedicated work with the right guidance from their management, Volkswagen was the first to secure a major export order. The first major strike at their plant, nearly put an end to this. Millions were lost and trust in the capabilities of our country dropped faster than a 747 without wings. The Rand tumbled and the economy suffered.

Through their globalisation program, BMW got to make the 3-series cars here. All of them. Are they hurting? You bet.

The first strike saw Daimler-Chrysler threatening to pull the plug in South Africa. This obviously didn't happen. Too much was at stake, but the pure threat of it probably made some union bosses re-think their strategy and demands. Now we're back there again. DC this time confirmed their commitment to the country and it's workers. How honest their statement was, is hard to say. Considering that limited models are actually manufactured here, with the bulk being imported, one can only speculate on the most cost effective plan in order to survive. What is going to stop DC from closing their manufacturing plant and concentrate purely on importation, distribution and maintenance of it's customers vehicles?

The others have too much to loose. Volkswagen made plans for emergencies like this. Dunno how, but they're still building cars. Maybe not the quantities that they're normally capable of or maybe they're just concentrating on their export orders. Ford and Nissan has major obligations regarding their export initiatives and responsibilities.

The Rand is down to 8.22 to the Dollar, 11.83 to the Pound and 7.45 to the Euro. Does that tell us something? How much longer are big international corporates going to stick it out in this strike ridden country? How can the locals confince any prospective investor of a stable and reliable workforce when the unions rule the roost? Try and explain the economics of this country to any black man. He might nod and eventually agree that what's happening is bad for all of us. Tonight he'll go his local shebeen (informal tavern normally located at someone's house) and over a couple of beers shake his head with some 'comrades' at how stupid the white man is.

An organisation cannot prohibit the joining of a union. One thing the blacks got right though (and it's the white man's fault), and that is to stick together. Though as soon as that is said, he will turn on you in the blink of an eye.

I doubt that there is any trust in the reliability and stability of the South African workforce internationally. If you haven't seen a group of marchers toy-toying down a city street as yet, ou ain't see nothing yet. A fair comparison would be the soccer hooligans that get so much CNN time. When things go wrong, no-one is going to argue with tens of thousands of angry black people.

There will be a major shortage of new cars in the months to come. Vehicles arent' cheap, but in this country it's a necessity. Public transport is non-existant and you're risking your life catching trains or mini-busses (taxis). Damn, people get killed for a ring on their finger!