About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

20 Aug 1989: Burrows, Phil and McCrea, Tony

Click here for more information on the Interviewee - Burrows

Click here for more information on the Interviewee - McCrea

Click here for Overview of the year

POM. You might just identify yourselves. Phil Burrows.

PB. Yes, Labour Relations Manager at Volkswagen.

TM. Tony McCrea, Labour Relations Supervisor at Volkswagen.

POM. I had just been giving you an outline of what we're interested in. Just to start with the specific, could you tell us about the nature of the strike or the lock-out? Depending upon who one talks to, the NUMSA people say, we talked to them last night, they said it was a lock-out, and how that situation developed, what the different perception about it was and how it has been settled and how the process that both sides went through is a paradigm or whether it is a paradigm for the way in which labour/management relationships generally work?

PB. Maybe we should just go back in our history a little bit just to give you an idea of our relationship with our union. We've been negotiating with the black trade unions since the mid seventies, 1975 I think. 1973 to 1975 was the first time where we recognised a black trade union prior to their being legal in this country. Some of those union substitutes are apparently still in the system, John Gomomo being the most prominent. He's been there ever since we started. So we've built up a relationship with what was then NAAWU (National Automobile & Allied Workers' Union) in the eighties, they're currently NUMSA (National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa). We've been sitting around the table with them. The recent developments in our relationship, let's go back to maybe three months ago.

. We believe that there are two factors influencing our current situation; the one being the September 6th general election in the country which will obviously involve certain political pressures being exerted on the work force as well as on the company. And then our current round of wage negotiations. We've had a certain amount of disruptions starting with lunch time demonstrations which were initially wage negotiation or substantive issue related, the placards being carried were generally work related but then developed into a more political thing. But no, they were very well controlled, very orderly, just the overtones in the groups became far more politicised to the extent that a recent or former State President was depicted in a coffin.

POM. Well that's where De Klerk put him.

PB. But you know, he hasn't reared his head yet. You know, we could understand what happened, certain political factions took over the demonstrations, but even so there was no violence, there were no signs of physical intimidation at all. The guys used their lunch time to run around the plant singing, chanting, carrying ANC flags and banners. It's Communist Party things and the odd wooden AK47, that sort of thing. But the issue is resolved through negotiation. We in fact sat here one Friday afternoon until quite late discussing what had happened and the union went back to their members saying that it's not in the interest of the company and in the interest of the work force for us to allow this to carry on and it stopped. [Where it said again we discussed again and ... where now we don't have any of that.] We're quite happy to allow demonstrations to take place, more in the line of picketing regarding wage negotiations. But it got out of hand and the union agreed and, as I said, no major problems. The wage negotiations, up until this year, we used to negotiate on a regional basis, at a local industrial council, on wages and benefits.

. The union, NUMSA, which is part of the COSATU strategy of one-industry one-union, placed the demand on the table that we bargain or negotiate nationally in the industry. We have seven motor manufacturers in the country and after a lengthy process where Volkswagen was very prominent we managed to get six of the seven together at the negotiating forum where we negotiated with NUMSA and with Iron and Steel, which is your minority white based union. The process has been ongoing since. I'm not sure when we first started, negotiations started early July, but on the national level only on the 29th of July. And we've subsequently had, I think this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week is about the fifth or sixth meeting, which has been scheduled, of which one did not take place because of the strike last week. The only motor company not participating is Delta Motor Corporation. The strike of last week ...

TM. Well you said the two major factors that occurred here in July which impinged upon the so-called lockout and the strike and those were that we had incredibly high absenteeism during the month of July where for various reasons, one being the pension payout, that workers did not come to work. And at various stages we had to close down certain sections of the plant because of that reason.

POM. I'm not sure, Tony, on the reason being pension.

TM. That is one factor that had a part in the rate of high absenteeism. Would you like me to explain the pension? The union representing the workers came with the demand that they wanted their pension paid out, workers who were currently employed in the company, the money that had accumulated in the pension fund. After quite a few hours of negotiations, the company agreed that those employees who wished to withdraw their pension money could do so. I would say the majority of highly rated employees withdrew their pension money. So there was a lot of money around. And this influenced the guys, was a factor in influencing them not to come to work because they had this money. That was one factor. The other factor was we had unprocedural industrial action intermittently right through July where employees, highly rated employees, generally, I would say all the time, NUMSA members or NAAWU members, would take unprocedural industrial actions, for example, walking off the line to attend a mass meeting without requesting the meeting, without approaching management to hold such a meeting. Another example is on the kombi line in the assembly hall, we had workers before start-up gathering there, refusing to commence work until they had completed their meetings which would stretch on for hours. That kind of unprocedural action.

POM. Did you, were you able to get from the records of the union any specific reasons why they wanted pension payouts?

TM. OK, this goes back quite a way.

PB. It's almost become an historical issue. In 1981 we took a strike of a week or two, I wasn't here then, where the workers demanded their contributions to the pension scheme. Part of the issue is that the workers, belief amongst the workers, is that the pension scheme is not beneficial. They see their money being deducted and they don't see any benefits in the short term. And then they reach - that is when we took our first strike, and we paid out. 1985 a similar situation, four years later a strike occurred, we paid out. 1989 four years later the same story but we are currently being, or we had an agreement signed on a provident fund towards the end of last year with the union. The agreement was signed, a meeting was called early this year to catch up from where they'd left off on the implementation, and the union then said the agreement signed last year they don't accept and they demand - basically they placed three demands on the conditions of the provident fund, one being that where it had been agreed that the trustees of the fund would be 50% management 50% worker elected, they demanded that all ten trustees are appointed or elected by the union, or by the members of the union. The second issue was that nobody be allowed to join the pension fund, we were saying that we won't force current employees to belong to the provident fund there but they can have a choice of provident. Do you want to go pension or provident? The union said no, nobody must have a choice, everyone must go to the provident fund. We couldn't agree on that. They then said work, any new employees have to join the provident fund and we said we can't agree on that either because that ultimately means that we'll end up with no pension fund and there are certain benefits which are better than the provident fund and it's like two medical aid schemes, you've got benefits on both sides.

. The third one was that they could liquidate the provident fund without involving management. And we were saying we are contributing 50% plus to that fund, therefore we have a right to have a say in any payout or liquidation and the trustees who will administer the fund. So currently we have a situation that has become a political issue, well it has been for some time. They see it as a management state controlled fund and they are opposed to that. They also believe there are no real benefits. The black culture is one that their family will provide at retirement, not I must provide for myself. I must have six children who will look after me when I go in retirement. So there are a lot of factors, political, economical as well as social.

TM. I would say education factors as well in their long term thinking. You know, education in this country regarding the blacks is really shocking and I think that plays a major role for most of the people here. Most of the employees, are uneducated and generally unskilled and as long as this foresight, this future planning is lacking, that factors in terms of their demands for a pension now.

POM. So they are striking specifically because of the strike last week?

PB. As Tony was saying, with a payout of the pension these chaps, the majority were sitting with some money in their pockets which they are not used to. And we encountered very high absenteeism, in some instances 23%-25% in certain pockets on the production line. We therefore had to close the line because we couldn't run. When you close the line in the assembly hall it's, as one director calls it, a sausage machine, it clogs up the iron and everything comes to a stop. Things got so bad that we eventually, in some instances, we had the whole plant closed. We couldn't run any of the lines which aggravated the situation. People who were prepared to come to work were getting here and we pay them the first half hour irrespective of whether we run the line or not, in an attempt to get the line running. We then extended that to even eight o'clock which is an hour where no work took place, but we paid them in an attempt that some people would arrive and we could let them carry on. We even slowed the production lines down. But the quality was compromised. And we were in continual negotiations with the union, either the shop stewards of the particular area concerned or, when it was a more general thing, shops stewards throughout the plant in an attempt to resolve the problem.

. Then as Tony also mentioned, we had instances where workers, for no rhyme or reason, without prior consultation or request, just walked off the line, and when the supervision management looked again the line was standing, there were no workers. We looked for them we found them in their rest area holding a meeting. In an attempt to get groups back to work we went through the process of speaking to the union, setting deadlines; they weren't met and we ultimately had to shut because the other areas, departments in the process were working, oblivious to what was going on up front. So they were pushing units into the system, but they weren't clearing them at the other end so we had to ultimately close which brought us into a bit of conflict with the union, but again the process of negotiation, I think that the fact that we're all back together this week and running fairly smoothly is an indication.

. But then, in the first week or second week of July, we were looking at it just now, no the 31st of July sorry, the end of July, the 31st of July we were scheduled for normal production and we went again at eight o'clock, the whole plant just converged on the grass outside of Mr. Sorell's office, Mr. Sorell being our MD. And we said, "What's going on?" And they said, "Now we want to report back on the negotiations." Now in the past we've always been approached, "May we have a meeting", or "We would like to have a meeting to give a report back", and we weren't approached, we weren't consulted, in fact some of the union representatives when approached said they knew nothing about it. So the result is we closed the plant. Things had reached this level and we then decided that we can't carry on like this any more. It's not economical to start up a paint shop, heat up the ovens, get the paint going and then half an hour later we close. So we said we're closing the plant until such time as we get a commitment from the union that their members are prepared to work according to their contract of employment. That was possibly considered a lock out.

TM. There was no demand from the company side. We just requested a commitment. The workers would go back to work, follow the laid down procedures which were agreed to between the company and the union, and that was a request.

PB. And also we didn't close the gates. We left it that anybody who wanted to work could come to work. And those who did, where there was work, like in our press shop, we've got a fairly large press shop, we've got certain projects on the go that should we lose those we're going to lose jobs, and those people who worked with supervising the lines that had been sent home or weren't working, they could go and work in the press shop and do manual labour. We then also stated that should the situation not be normal in terms of our relationship, the action taken by the workers is in bad faith and we're not prepared to negotiate under those circumstances. Should they return to work we'll be happy to go back. They came back to us on the Wednesday after we'd allowed them meetings on the premises. Because of the state of emergency they can't meet outside. And they said, "Our members will come back to work." "Fine", we said we were ourselves at the gates at quarter to six in the morning dishing out pamphlets to the workers coming in saying we're running at seven o'clock, the plant's running, no problem. We couldn't start the plant. We had excessively high absenteeism again. But we complied with the terms of our agreement and we went to negotiations for the Thursday and Friday. But the Thursday and Friday we never ran the plant. There was no go. The Monday morning, same thing.

TM. We started up, we were open for production on the Monday morning.

PB. Yes, we were running at seven o'clock.

TM. On the one line, I don't know exactly which line but there was also a high absenteeism. At approximately eight o'clock the workers all left the lines and converged on the grass once again to have a mass meeting. And thereafter the shop stewards came back to management with a wage demand. The workers would not return to work until such time as the wage demand was met. So that was an illegal strike, so to speak.

POM. They had not been engaged in a specific process that is designed to ...?

TM. Settle disputes. They didn't follow the procedures, the laid down procedures which we have in the settlement of disputes.

PB. Neither in terms of the Act or in terms of the agreement in our Industrial Council. In fact we were aware that we weren't that close to the demand of one rand fifty across the board. But that was the first indication, the very first time that they actually came out and said that is the issue.

POM. So when you look at this, there obviously are three or four factors riding one on top of the other that led to the ultimate demand about wage increases, but many of their actions seem symptomatic of something deeper. Do you try to look and isolate what those factors are, to really see what's going on underneath the surface?

PB. I think we are constantly looking at the factors contributing to the problems we experience. And the bottom line is that politics is playing a major role in the worker/employer, or employee/employer relationship. Volkswagen is throughout the country regarded as one of the more progressive companies but to address the underlying causes is a long term process. Tony's touched on the education. That, by nature of the history of this country, is a problem that is going to take generations to resolve. We accept that the majority of our operating work force, our direct work force are uneducated, probably have an education level of about, in South African terms, a Standard Three or Four which is age 11-12 years old. And they've been working here for, in some cases, 30 years. Those guys have probably got Standard Two or less. So from a company point of view, we have got bursary and scholarship schemes. We encourage employees, those who don't participate in the bursary or scholarship schemes to study themselves. And we have a full education and training department that deals with colleges of education and correspondence institutions, as well as Tony did his degree in Industrial Relations at the University at Port Elizabeth, I'm currently doing that now.

POM. What I'm trying to get at in this situation, was this a case where the workers were running the union or was the union really showing that it wasn't in control of its workers, or was a lot of this coming from the unions and if so why at this particular point in time?

TM. It is difficult to say who is really in control. Our dispute specifically on the Audi line, my view and the perception that I get talking to people, is that the workers were in control of that situation and not the union.

POM. This is on the pension?

TM. No there was an Audi strike as well in the month of July. We had a dispute there and they took unprocedural industrial action, an illegal strike for a few days. And they in fact had a worker committee which opposed management with the shop steward. And this worker committee seemed to be in control and not the union. In the broader strike situation, there seems to be a smaller group of workers, activists as the union calls them, who are calling the shots there and influencing the majority who really want to work. And that's not just us saying this, it is the union themselves saying it.

PB. They're fully committed to the process of collective bargaining, negotiating in terms of the conditions of our agreement. But the difficulty they have is that clearly there is a minority element which we noticed last Tuesday, which took control of the masses through intimidation of whatever form, not physical, but the mere presence and the voices was enough to scare the 75% or 80% who had indicated they wanted to go back to work. And it's a young element who do not have the same responsibility as the majority in terms of housing, families, wives and children and that sort of thing, who clearly just want to disrupt whatever they can. And whether that is politically inspired or whether it's a political issue related to the South African context or whether it's black politics like we currently have in the townships where there are two political factions, the school kids are killing each other. It's very difficult, sometime the union don't even know who they are dealing with, which factions are pushing the issue. But I would agree with Tony, the union has not been in control of some of the situations and they've indicated to us that we support, we agree with management on your decision on that issue, or on your action on that.

TM. Obviously they have to tread warily as well, not to fall out of line with the people they represent.

POM. For example, on the pension buyout, it would seem to me that the trade union is in favour of a pension scheme regardless of who runs it because they want to accumulate long term benefits for their workers and one can't see a responsible trade union saying pay out all the money in the pension account to workers. So who ...

PB. They didn't support it, they, together with us, well they requested us to put out a document explaining the disadvantages of withdrawing your contributions from the fund. They didn't support that at all. They're happy to negotiate the provident fund and secure benefits for their members in that way. But certainly the provident fund has certain short term benefits for their members, like funeral coverage, you know. If you belong to the provident fund you can have funeral costs covered by a payout and you don't have to struggle yourself individually. Whereas with the pension fund basically you know there are certain benefits but there are no funeral fund benefits as such to cover the cost of the funeral. And that's very important to them because large families with a lot of dependents other than direct family, with high unemployment that's something that they treasure. So the union was very keen to negotiate, and they still are, that side of it, but the actual payout they were against. But ultimately, the pressure they came under, that was exerted upon them by the work force, was too late for them to go against. So they had to come to us and say ... and the interesting thing is that most of them drew their pension as well.

POM. How many unions do you have?

PB. Two.

POM. That's?

PB. NUMSA, NAAWU and Iron and Steel.

POM. Do they ever do anything collectively together?

TM. I think the reality there is that Iron and Steel, which is an exclusively white union - This is William Magadamasi, he's one of our shop stewards.

POM. Hello, Patrick O'Malley. Tony you were saying?

TM. Yes, I was going to give you a little information about Iron and Steel. Should I carry on a bit later?

POM. Yes, could you tell us why the recent strike took place?

PAT. Why don't you tell him who we are?

TM. The gentleman and lady are from America and the lady works for the Democratic Party in America and they are just doing a bit of research. And they want one's impressions over this last period where we had that, which was termed by you guys, unprocedural lockout that week, and then the next week the workers demanded one rand fifty and we let you strike. And I think just your impressions on that period where the company closed, we said due to economic reasons, we can't run this plant high absenteeism and then the wage demand came and we had the strike. And we went back to work this Monday. I think your comments on that.

WM. You see I have no problem commenting but the thing is that, since we are a democratic movement, if one of our shop stewards started to be interviewed that must be the decision of the council.


WM. But it's not a secret, in fact the problem really the company is encountering is there is high absenteeism and high absenteeism is caused by different, various things, perhaps. Sometimes as you know that we are living in South Africa, there is a race tendency, and also the problem of transport. Transport is insufficient because of the buses that were banned when there was unrest in the townships when the students were against this education, inferior education that has been imposed by the government or given by the government. Now we are encountering that problem and also now there are these black taxis that are also transporting people to work. Also those taxis must not overload because they are being stopped by the police, by the traffic cops, you see, there is that problem. And another thing that we see could be a problem is that there is no place where people can, during the weekend, can go to do some exercises or to go, I mean people just resort to go and drink and enjoy themselves by drinking. Also that could be, it is a problem that could be, by the following day you don't feel OK you see, you just book yourself off. Those are the things that we have assessed and look at it. These are the problems.

TM. And I think those are reasons for the high absenteeism.

WM. Another thing is that there are some people living in shacks. Now when it takes time for them, they are using Primus stoves and all that, I mean then that person must wake up very early so that he must prepare his lunch and everything so that he must come to work. And it takes time to make warm water and wash yourself as quickly as possible so that you can ...

POM. Would most of the workers be transported by bus or in the black taxis? Which will be doing the majority of the transportation now? Are there more buses taking people in than there are black taxis?

WM. You know I can't be sure how many taxis are operating.

POM. Do they carry the bulk of the people or would the buses carry the bulk of the people?

WM. The buses are carrying (the bulk of the people).

POM. And from how far away do the buses come? What is the greatest distance that somebody has to come to work?

WM. From here about 12 kms, from here to KwaNobuhle.

PAT. What time do people have to get up in the morning to come to work, the earliest, like six o'clock, five o'clock?

WM. Yes, they have people that are starting at six o'clock. They could wake up about four or half past three. So they must prepare themselves, everything.

POM. What time would he get home in the evening?

WM. In the evening those who are getting off at half past four, if there are buses here, he can be at home at about quarter past or half past five if he knocks off at half past four.

POM. You're in NUMSA right?

WM. Yes.

POM. Would you regard the relations between the union and the management as generally being co-operative or generally being confrontational?

WM. It depends, yes, but the management in some instances is quite reasonable but there are some times that we do conflict with each other. It varies from time to time.

POM. I'll ask Tony this too, if you had to define the three most serious problems you have with management what will the three issues be?

WM. Serious ones?

POM. Yes.

WM. That's a difficult question. The only serious thing coming from the workers' side is only money I would say because people are just screaming for money. If money is there then things are OK. But the racial conflict, the company is trying to erase that as much as they can because also we do come together and discuss things, to look only on a common goal because we are here in Volkswagen only to produce good production, not, the production should not be, I mean, disrupted because of race division or whatever. But they are trying to do that, there was another guy that, I don't know that the guy requested to come to the company or just joined the workers, that he's come to ...

TM. Yes, we invited him as a consultant.

WM. Yes, a consultant to look at the existing time now, existing circumstances, that how do they see South Africa in the future or at present. I mean so people should pay attention to race, I mean we must come together.

POM. Is there much tension between white workers and black workers on the floor? I mean is there an obvious racial divide? Does the white union only operate only in its own interest and does NUMSA always operate in its own interest or do they ever act collectively together against management?

WM. Yes, there are some issues but they are operating on their own, we are operating on our own, the black union I would say. The majority is black. But we are a non-racial organisation. But when we do go together to the company and if we see we do have similar problems with the company than we decide like with the company.

POM. Do you have meetings with your white counterpart, white shop stewards?

WM. No, we don't have that much contact with them. But there are some other members who are now joining us and also we have three white shop stewards in NUMSA.

POM. That's on the floor here in this Volkswagen?

WM. On the floor, yes, on the shop floor, they were democratically elected by the workers. But the majority are the black people. And they were elected because they have been seen as people that really sympathise with them and also to look at the rights and the interests of the workers. That's why they were elected as shop stewards. I mean it's only to certain individuals that racial conflict is ...

POM. Tony I've asked you the same question, how would you characterise in general relations between the company and the unionites? Confrontational or co-operative?

TM. I think we adhere to the pluralist philosophy of industrial relations where we accept the trade unions as fully legitimate and we believe that collective bargaining is the best way of negotiations of coming to agreement. We accept that there is going to be conflict and we maximise our interest and minimise our differences and sort them out through the process of collective bargaining. The whole philosophy is based on a balance of power where management have the power, and the union, to negotiate and honour agreements. And if we have one major concern it is that the workers do not follow procedures, do not always follow procedures, that there is unprocedural industrial action which from a management side I would say is a major concern, that the rules of the game are not stuck to, that agreements are not adhered to what we have periodically with unprocedural action.

POM. So you would take that as being the biggest problem that management had with labour?

TM. Yes. Specifically with NAAWU or NUMSA.

POM. The amendments that were made to the Industrial Relations Act last year put more restrictions on trade unions.

WM. Yes, that the recent attack on us as a union. But also we have been now trying, making a campaign against it. We have been doing some politicking against it. Could be by the 6th September there will be, could be a protest against it whether it's a demonstration or whatever in contradiction with the white elected government. And perhaps the unprocedural work stoppages that are being done by the workers, it is because sometimes the atmosphere or the situations that the black people are finding themselves in that's the way of frustration. It's a frustration that might cause them to do such things. It's the only way that they can show or voice out their opinion by protesting otherwise we don't have any representative on the government structures or whatever.

TM. Yes, I think that the broad picture is that politics, the only forum for political expression is in the labour, through the labour movement in the companies. Outside the blacks do not have a voice in the political sphere. So that we're finding that more and more politics is coming through the company and we expect by the work force and that we accept. And we accept that until such time as the political structures out there change we will be in a situation of increasing conflict, of increasing confrontation within the company and that we accept and we have to manage that, or attempt to manage it.

POM. How did management here regard the amendments to the Labour Relations Act? Did they see them as something that was necessary or something that was trying to restrict the manner in which labour could protest?

TM. We saw it, well management at Volkswagen specifically rejected that Amendment Bill and we have our in company procedures which we utilise and we have stated to the trade unions that we will not utilise that Amendment Bill. Historically we have not utilised the Labour Relations Act at all. The German influence as well, we are influenced by Germany in our industrial relations and so far we believe we've been successful.

PB. We committed that we wouldn't change from a mode of operation that existed at the time of the introduction of the Amendment Bill. We gave that commitment to the union and we've stuck to that.

POM. Do you see worker interests, like wages, benefits, vacation, sick leave, do you see those issues being inseparable from the larger political issues that confront the black community? Well do you see issues such as pay raises, pension funds, sick leave, holiday time, sick time, do you see those issues as separate from the larger political struggle?

WM. Yes, in those days they do have, I mean we as workers that are working, we do have our demands concerning those benefits and they are very important for us as workers. Our problem is that the unemployment is very high and it is increasing. Volkswagen is trying to employ people, for the past months they have tried to employ people slightly, those benefits are there but they are still, they are still insufficient for us.

POM. What number of the workers in the plant would belong to NUMSA? What percentage?

TM. As small as about 4,000 or 5,000.

PB. 83% of our highly rated work force are NUMSA members.

POM. And who represents the other workers?

PB. The balance are either non-union members or Iron and Steel. We have almost an 80% unionised workforce irrespective of the two unions. We have, however, a number of non-union members and they - we negotiate with the two unions and the agreement that is reached they conform to under the same conditions. So they really don't have a mouthpiece.

TM. I have to go now.

POM. Thank you. Is there any question that I haven't ask you, an obvious question? Is there a question that you'd say afterwards, well I should have asked this question?

TM. I was going to state the reality of the Iron and Steel situation. They really are a sweetheart union. You know they are really in agreement with whatever management does and we have no problem with them at all. Management has no problem, generally.

PB. We mentioned that we don't comply with the conditions of the Labour Relations Act. In terms of the restrictive clauses, yes, we don't comply. But there are certain clauses, for instance in terms of the unfair labour practices and also the definition of a union, we would be legally on very weak ground if we attempted not to recognise Iron and Steel. Again in the South African context they've made provision for minority unions, minority being mainly white, protecting white unions, and they've been in the plant ever since we negotiated with workers prior to NAAWU but they sit around the same table and there's a fair amount of discussion between the two, not on a formal level but there's no major antagonism between their representatives and the representatives of the two unions.

POM. Are there workers in Iron and Steel who are in comparable positions to workers in NUMSA?

PB. Yes.

POM. And do they both get paid the same?

PB. Exactly the same. We do not discriminate on wages, on wages between female, male, race, colour or creed. That's been one of the advantages that we have.

TM. Also we have a very meaningful situation here in Volkswagen. We have, you know, a conservative white area out here where you have conservative whites working side by side with blacks and coloureds and Asians who come from, for example, KwaNobuhle which is a restless area, it's a militant area. It's an area where a lot of your ANC members come out of, or ANC leadership have come out of this area. And here at Volkswagen these people work together side by side. In my mirror we have not had violent situations. We have not had violence on this plant and I think that is meaningful.

PB. The odd black on white fisticuffs that have taken place, either one of the two unions have attempted to turn it into a racial issue. But really it's purely a worker issue. The irony of our situation is that we have a normal society in the confines of our fences, but then the realities are when the people leave for home, they get onto the buses and to their group areas, which the company doesn't agree with either, and we've become involved in forced removals and the prevention and the attempts to change the thinking of local politicians to the extent that - I don't know at this point where it stands, but we've been the major influence, together with our unions on the free settlement period that they're currently thinking of in Uitenhage. Local politicians, representatives of the company, the union sit around the table with the Chamber of Commerce and they address these. Obviously we've been instrumental in the opening up of facilities and amenities in the Uitenhage town as well. Our concern is that in this coming election the Conservative Party are making a very, very strong drive to take the seat here. If that happens than all hard work could be set back somewhat. But the company's position is that we will fight that as hard as we can. Obviously being a major, the most major employer in this area not only in terms of jobs but we provide secondary jobs through our supply industry. If we have to in any way disappear from this area then Uitenhage will become, I think, like Detroit in America. If you remove or take away the motor industry you have got to start again.

. So yes, it's a very interesting area to be in. We're lucky. We graduated white South Africans we're getting a black guy joining us in January, fortunately we're a little bit more open minded than the guys on the floor. But, as Tony says, the irony of it is that these guys work side by side without any problems, share eating facilities, toilet facilities, rest areas, same job, same grade, same pay and it's just the broader issues, the external.

POM. Would they work alongside one another on the lines?

PB. Yes.

POM. Like white/black, white/black?

PB. Yes, NUMSA have currently got two white shop stewards, or three, one's just resigned. I don't know if William knows about this. But a lot of whites have joined NUMSA.

POM. Thank you.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.