Fraternal Greetings from all of us here in South Africa. News would have reached you via the media or management of the current struggles we are facing. We apologise profusely for missing the meeting with one of your colleagues a few days ago. The story still needs to be told from our side. Attached find a document which goes into some detail of the factors which led up to the situation today. [ english / deutsch ]
In summary, the union we are members of, Numsa, has been drifting into practices which have meant increased hardship for all workers at VWSA. They have signed agreements drastically changing work conditions, without the mandate of the workers. Many of the previous shopstewards were voted out of office because they were also party to these undemocratic actions. The workers in our plant started in 1996 already to begin to challenge these agreements and practices which have become steadily worse. Myself and 12 of my co-shopstewards have been targeted merely for carrying out the workers mandate. Our broad mandate has been to advance the working conditions and living standards of the workers. We know there are always constraints but the duty of worker representatives is to try and win improved conditions. Our union officials unfortunately have decided to defend the negative terms of the A4 export agreement, among others, instead of assisting us creatively to improve our lives.
Secondly, there has been open collaboration between the VWSA management and the Numsa officials in order to remove us as shopstewards. We stand by the principle that only the worker constituency has the right to say who can be shopsteward, no-one else! On the 17th January 2000 there was an unscheduled quarterly meeting [the previous one had been held in December 1999]. The Managing Director [MD] was absent and the workers resolved not to attend [the MD normally attends]. The Numsa President was there with officials of the union and addressed only 35-50 workers for 3 hours. From there they obtained a mandate to suspend us as shopstewards. The rest of the workers had gone to the machines to start work, but management refused to re-start the machines. At first we did not realise it but later it was clear that VW management worked hand in hand with the Numsa officials to suspend us as shopstewards. The union official did not even inform us of the suspension - the VWSA management and the Sheriff of the Court came to give us notices of suspension. This is unheard of in our union movement that has a proud tradition of workers democracy!
On Thursday 20th January 2000, the workers waited outside the gates and demanded that the union officials come and explain the reasons for the suspension. They never came. The workers have up to today, never received any explanation for the actions of the officials. Worse was still to come.
The company claims it was a group of 350 that started this strike. This is a blatant lie. They have long identified many workers who have been very firm fighters for justice at the plant. Here was an opportunity for them to get rid of troublesome shopstewards and strong workers! If only 350 were involved, why did the company illegally lockout the whole workforce on Monday 24th January 2000?
What shows that the Numsa officials and the VWSA management were working hand in hand, was the fact that the Numsa office did not oppose the illegal lockout. In fact, the management would never have taken that step if they knew that Numsa would oppose them. Instead, from the beginning, the Numsa leadership attacked the workers and sided with management to take disciplinary steps against all of us.
When the VWSA management gave the ultimatum for the workers to return by the 3rd February 2000, the VWSA and Numsa leadership were united in refusing to reverse the undemocratic decision to suspend the shopstewards as well as still insisting on disciplining the 350 troublemakers whom they had identified long ago. Many workers chose not to go back under these conditions. Workers in the many mass meetings held, have said over and over that they could never betray the very ones who had at least fought for them for better conditions.
Finally, we are facing a severe crisis at the moment, VWSA management have said that they have received instructions from their head office in Germany to dismiss all of us and not to negotiate over this. From their reduced production , they cannot do without us but again the Numsa leadership is coming to their rescue. VWSA has often threatened to retrench a number of us. Now Numsa leadership has come to us with a proposal that VWSA wants to take back only half of the 1300 and what is worse, they want to exclude the 13 shopstewards from the negotiations over the return to work. Numsa refuses to challenge the fact that VWSA is forcing the A4 export line to work 2X12 hour shifts, a completely illegal method of work. Numsa allowed the workers who returned before their ultimatum to sign individual contracts giving up their rights- they have to obey any instruction from management. This is just as good as killing the union inside the plant.
Each day that goes by is crucial, any day now the company may start training new workers; we have no strike fund to maintain our activities; the Numsa leadership are plotting for further ways to divide us and sell us out.
Arrange for a delegate from the Works Council to come to visit us in SA and/or someone from this side to be invited to come to Germany to fully inform you about our struggle here. You may consider calling an urgent world VW workers council to convene in Uitenhage to intervene on this matter.
If VW is allowed to use union officials to smash democratically-elected worker representatives in order to assist in lowering the standards of workers, then this method could be used throughout their plants all over the world.
on behalf of the 13 shopstewards at VWSA
ph  41 9771975 for our Chairperson of VWSA shopstewards council DE Ntstunstu
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