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Lockout Continues at Kraft South Africa/Talks Break Down over Kraft's Insistence on Disciplining Union Leaders

Posted to the IUF website 05-Sep-2006

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The vicious lockout of 314 workers at Kraft Foods' Elandsfontein plant in South Africa continues as talks which resulted in a satisfactory resolution of the economic issues in dispute broke down over the company's insistence on disciplinary action as a condition for signing an agreement. The South African Food And Allied Wrokers' Union (FAWU) are now into their 15th week of struggle against the transnational food giant. Kraft's parent company Altria just raised its quarterly dividend by 7.5 percent, and is now surpassed in its dividend yield by only two other companies in the Dow Jones industrial average. Yet Kraft has embarked on a global plan to eliminate 8,000 jobs in order to further boost short-term financial results. The company's determination to weaken the union to implement this strategy in South Africa is at the heart of the conflict.

z_VIDCAM01.GIF To view a 7 minute IUF video on the struggle, click here. Warning: download requires broadband access!

Alternately, you can view the same video in a smaller format (loads faster) by clicking here.

Plant management had agreed to a series of compromise proposals submitted by FAWU, only to sabotage the negotiations by announcing that they had compiled a list of employees they intended to discipline once normal work had resumed. The list included all the union shop stewards. FAWU attempted to change management's position, but the company's only response was to threaten legal action if the union refused to sign the agreement.

In response to nearly two thousand protest messages sent by unions and individuals around the world urging Kraft to lift the lockout and negotiate in good faith, the company has sent out a standard message from CEO Irene Rosenfeld. The letter asserts that "There is no intention by Kraft Foods to weaken the union organization…" - an assertion contradicted by Kraft's insistence on retaliating against union leaders and militants. Kraft has also obtained a court order to remove pickets from the plant gates, and given the 180 scabs working at the plant a rest by temporarily closing the plant - something which regular employees have never enjoyed.

CEO Rosenfeld claims that its "current wages and severance arrangements are on or above South African market average." FAWU has negotiated better severance agreements with Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Distell, SABMiller and Cadbury, among other major food companies, and agreed to significantly scale down its demand for parity. FAWU also accepted a 6.5 percent wage increase, despite the fact that food price inflation is running much higher. The company then withdrew the offer!

While Kraft claims to be committed to "bring this long standing dispute to an end as soon as possible" through "reasonable compromise", the only movement during the dispute has been from FAWU, who are now being threatened with possible suspensions and redundancies packaged as disciplinary proceedings against its shop floor leaders.

Kraft is not only attempting to undermine South African workers' support for their union and their workplace organization. It is peddling disinformation to undermine international support for their struggle. The history of negotiations in this dispute shows that a settlement is possible - but Kraft must abandon its quest to break the union as the price for an agreement.

Three hundred and fourteen workers and their families need your support now more than ever.

  • Click here to send a message to Kraft, telling them what you think of union-busting in the service of redundancies in a country where unemployment is currently 43 percent. Copies will automatically be sent to the IUF and to FAWU.

    We thank you in advance for your solidarity and support.