Social conflict in post-apartheid South Africa : a case study of the conflict at Volkswagen South Africa Ltd. between 1999 and 2000

Cramer, Josef Wilhelm Peter Maria (2002-12)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2002.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The thesis is an analysis of the strikes at Volkswagen SA during the period 1999-2000 and its social and political outcomes. Seen from a broader perspective, it is a case study of social conflict in a young democracy after the formal demise of apartheid in 1994. By the time (i.e. early in 2000) events reached a climax, the company had lost millions of Rand in revenue and more than 1300 workers their jobs. The thesis wants to explain how this came to be - despite attempts by the company to establish a pluralistic industrial relations culture that go back to the early 1990s and after, ostensibly, gaining the consent of the shop stewards committee at the factory and the NUMSA leadership for a lucrative ("A4") export agreement. After studying the literature and the press, interviewing key actors in the "drama", and closely following the proceedings of the CCMA and the Labour Court, the thesis comes up with an explanation more complex than the "conventional" ones offered during and after the strike. The immediate cause of the strike action was the nonacceptance of the terms of the export agreement by 13 shop stewards and their supporters. These shop stewards had been elected onto the VW shop steward council after their union (i.e. NUMSA) and the company had concluded the agreement. When they came out in open defiance of the agreement, they were suspended by the union for their unconstitutional action. They subsequently tried to rally their followers for their own reinstatement. However, the thesis shows that the strikes of 1999 and 2000 were merely two more outbursts of shop floor tension and conflict that had been dormant for a long time. Before and after 1994, there existed informal structures and factions at the shop floor level which refused to tow the official NUMSA "line" - a policy which increasingly started to embrace the ethos of "reconstruction" and economic competitiveness. Neither the union leadership, nor company management were able to deal with these informal structures and bring the dissident faction under control. Although the potential for more cooperation and trust did exist, both the union leadership and management failed to turn this into "social capital". The thesis suggest that this may have been possible, if there had been more direct forms of worker participation (over and above the shop stewards committee). Also, the haemorraging of the union leadership after 1994, and the increasing bureaucratisation of industrial relations did nothing to improve the situation. To make matters worse, the thesis argues, the terms ofthe export agreement were not properly communicated to the union rank and file. To top it all, the thesis provides ample evidence that the VW workers could not record any extra material gains in exchange for more flexible working arrangements in the wake of the shift from "Fordism" to "Lean Production" at the Uitenhage factory. Here, "wealth creative" industrial relations did not accompany the shift to lean production, as post-Fordist theory would like to suggest. When the 13 shop stewards and a certain percentage of the VW workforce came out in protest against this arrangement, no special efforts were made to mediate the conflict. The "fallout" of the conflict includes hundreds of millions of Rand in lost company revenue, more unemployment in one of the poorest regions of South Africa, a drawn out legal process and political divisions in worker ranks and in the Uitenhage community. Although NUMSA admits to a "wakeup call", the relationship between the COSA TU affiliated union and the state is as close as ever. In the eyes of the thesis, however, the case of the VW strike, including the direct intervention of the head of state, is proof that the young, post-settlement democracy is not yet able to deal with social conflict in a mature way.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die tesis is 'n analise van die stakings by Volkswagen SA tydens die periode 1999- 2000 en sy sosiale en politieke gevolge. Gesien vanuit 'n breer perspektief, is dit 'n gevallestudie van sosiale konflik in 'n jong demokrasie na die formele be'indiging van apartheid in 1994. Teen die tyd (vroeg in 2000) wat gebeure 'n hoogtepunt bereik het, het die maatskappy honderde miljoene Rande in inkomste verloor en meer as 1300 werkers hul werk. Die tesis wil verklaar waarom dit gebeur het - ten spyte van die pogings deur die firma sedert die vroee 1990s om 'n pluralistiese arbeidsverhoudingskultuur te skep en nadat die "shop stewards" komitee by die fabriek en die NUMSA leirskap oenskynlik sy instemming gegee het tot 'n lonende ("A4") uitvoerkontrak. Na 'n studie van die literatuur en die pers, onderhoude met sleutel akteurs in die "drama" en 'n noukeurige monitering van die verrigtinge by die CCMA en die arbeidshof, kom die tesis na vore met 'n verklaring wat meer kompleks is as die wat tydens die staking en daama aangebied is. Die onmidellike oorsaak van die staking was die nie-aanvaarding van die uitvoer ooreenkoms deur 13 "shop stewards" en hul ondersteuners. Hierdie "shop stewards" is verkies tot die VW "shop steward" komitee midat die unie (d.w.s. NUMSA) en die maatskappy die ooreenkoms gesluit het. Toe hulle openlike opposisie teen die ooreenkoms gewys het, is hulle deur die unie geskors vir hul onkonstitusionele optrede. Hulle het daama hul ondersteuners probeer mobiliseer vir die herstel van hul posisies. Die tesis wys egter dat die stakings van 1999 en 2000 bloot nog twee uitbarstings was van 'n smeulende fabrieksvloer konflik en spanning wat vir 'n lank tyd reeds sluimerend was. V oor en mi 1994 het daar informele strukture en faksies op die fabrieksvloer bestaan wat geweier het om die amptelike beleid van NUMSA te volg - 'n beleid wat toenemend die etos van "rekonstruksie" en ekonomiese mededingendheid aangeneem het. Nog die unie leierskap, nog die maatskappy bestuur was instaat om die informele strukture te hanteer en die afwykende faksie onder beheer te bring. Alhoewel die potensiaal vir meer samewerking en vertroue bestaan het, het beide die unie leierskap en die bestuur daarin gefaal om dit te omvorm tot "sosiale kapitaal". Die tesis suggereer dat dit moontlik sou gewees het as daar 'n meer direkte vorm van werkers deelname (bo en behalwe die "shop stewards" komitee) bestaan het. Die verlies aan kwaliteit leiers mi 1994, sowel as die toenemende burokratisering van arbeidsverhoudings het ook nie gehelp om die situasie te beredder me. Om dinge te vererger, redeneer die tesis, is die klousules van die uitvoer ooreenkoms nie behoorlik aan die gewone unie lede verduidelik nie. Om alles te kroon, voorsien die tesis genoeg bewyse dat die VW werkers nie enige ekstra materiele voordele kon aanteken in ruil vir meer buigsame werksreelings as deel van die skuif vanaf "Fordisme" na "Lean Production" by die fabriek in Uitenhage nie. Hier het "welvaartskeppende" arbeidsverhoudings nie hand-aan-hand gegaan met die skuif na "lean production, soos post-Fordistiese teorie wil suggereer nie. Toe die 13 "shop stewards" en 'n sekere persentasie van die VW arbeidsmag openlik daarteen geprotesteer het, is geen spesiale poging aangewend om die konflik te besleg nie. Die skade van die konflik sluit honderde miljoene Rande aan verlore maatskappy inkomste, meer werkloosheid in een van Suid-Afrika se armste streke, 'n uitgerekte regsproses en politieke verdeeldheid onder werkers en in die Uitenhage gemeenskap in. Alhoewel NUMSA erken dat hulle "wakkergeskrik" het, is die verhouding tussen die COSA TU geaffilieerde vakunie en die staat so eng soos vantevore. In die oe van· die tesis egter, is die geval van die VW staking, insluitende die direkte ingryping deur die staatshoof, 'n bewys daarvan dat die jong, post-skikking demokrasie nog nie gereed is om sosiale konflik op 'n ryp manier te hanteer nie.

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