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Update on VWSA dismissed workers struggle [22.6.00]

Recently the struggle of the 1386 dismissed workers at VWSA took another turn when soon after each other 2 of these workers died. The first was Cde Sipho Nqirana who died after being discharged from hospital even though he was still sick. The reason given for the discharge was that his Medical Aid had expired and the hospital in Uitenhage could not afford to keep him hospitalised. Cde Sipho was 35 years old.

Secondly, Cde Themba Vusani passed away on this past Saturday the 17th June 2000. His sudden death was a shock to all as he had last attended a general meeting of workers on the 13th June and had shown no signs of illness. On both occasions workers’ families had approached the company for assistance with the funeral arrangements - this was refused. Workers’ families had to depend on payouts from the provident fund to cover part of the costs.

On June the 16th commemoration, the workers new union held a rally, the largest in Uitenhage for the day, at an indoor hall. The Theme of the rally was "June 16th - the struggle continues". There were several worker speakers who all spoke on the significance of the day and the need to build independent working class organisation to continue the fight for Socialism. The actions of the Education and Police departments were condemned for the threats they made against 6 schools which had marched to the gates of VWSA to demand the reinstatement of their fathers. The SRC[Student Representative Council] speakers committed themselves to continue to support the struggle of the dismissed workers for reinstatement. If the bosses can act in this way then they as the youth have no future as they would be condemned to a life of permanent unemployment or be permanent casuals. It is a basic right to have shopstewards to represent workers’ interests. The union OCGAWU and the Uitenhage Crisis Committee promised to defend the youth- their victimisation, the absence of free schooling and the absence of job creation showed that the struggle of the youth in general for a meaningful life was still continuing and was inextricably bound up with the struggle of the broader working class. There was an ex- Mercedes Benz worker speaker who spoke about their long struggle since 1990 for reinstatement of over 500 workers. Almost 3000 workers had participated in the strike but some 550 were targeted selectively. They had been misled by their union officials, in Numsa, into believing that there would be plant level bargaining as well as central bargaining. Their demand for increases after a period of a wage freeze led them into conflict with their own employer and the union. They had been on a hunger strike for over 100 days and some workers had died in this process. They had been to many levels of government to seek a political solution - but in vain. Their initial case had dragged on for 3 years before an outcome was finally given. The same lawyer which assisted Mercedes Benz bosses to dismiss the workers, one Chris Baker, is the VWSA legal counsel. They have been the legal counsel of the company for some years now. They are also assisted by one Malcolm Wallace, who is also defending the ex-SA cricket captain, Hanse Cronje, currently charged for alleged match-fixing.

Eventually after months of battles, by this week, all dismissed VWSA workers would have received their first Unemployment Insurance payments.

There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of creditors to unduly pressurise workers and several repossessions of furniture has taken place and attempts at repossession of houses. Thusfar all attempted repossessions of houses have been successfully warded off. The local municipality is now threatening to cut off electricity supplies for arrear water payments. This is despite the residents having pre-paid meters for electricity and that the supply of electricity has been part-privatised. The local civic and Ocgawu are currently challenging these attacks. We have also uncovered an attempt by VWSA bosses to manipulate the financial pressure of the workers by asking them to sign forms that they will give up on their case at arbitration in exchange for receiving their provident fund money. After pressure from Ocgawu, these attempts of the company have been declared null and void by Old Mutual, who have been managing the provident funds.

In a further development, Numsa has threatened to sue Ocgawu for alleged defamation. Ocgawu’s legal counsel has responded by saying that their defence is the defence of truth and pointing out the occasions when Numsa discredited the workers and their new union.

In the bid for recognition at VWSA, Ocgawu have submitted over 1234 forms and are about to submit a further 50. The company has returned 319 forms saying that these are from the dismissed workers or they have no record of them. Ocgawu is in the process of verifying the company’s claim. The VWSA bosses are also shifting the goalposts - at first they said that Ocgawu needs to get 30% of 4000 of the hourly paid workforce to qualify for recognition, now they say that the total hourly paid employees are 4300. While Ocgawu does not accept the minimum threshold of the company, they are recruiting more members day by day. Ocgawu has also reached majority membership at one of the contractor firms at VWSA, called Nadrox, but despite this, the VWSA management is still refusing access to the officials to meet with their members on the plant premises. This is yet another indication that the VWSA bosses are determined to keep out the union of the workers’ own choice.

Finally, it has been agreed that the next round of the arbitration will be held at the Indoor sports Centre in Uitenhage from the 31st July -11th August. This venue is substantially bigger than the previous venue and concerned members of the public and broader international working class are invited to send representatives to hear for themselves. The estimated transport costs are expected to be R40 000 for the 2 weeks and all progressive forces are asked to contribute towards this. Once again we thank all the various groups and workers who have helped us up to now [from the solidarity group of IG Metall Berlin, to the VW and other workers in Germany and other parts of the world and the local groups and workers.]

for further information contact
Uitenhage Crisis Committee
WM Ndandani
ph 0826265298
or ph [27] 41 9925489
fax: [27] 41 9220309

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