The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 76/No. 35      October 1, 2012

(front page)
Miners in S. Africa win wage raise
despite crackdown by government
Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images
Rock drillers at Lonmin platinum mine in South Africa celebrate victory in five-week strike, Sept. 18. Miners showed that they are the union in face of pressure to end their strike.

Striking rock drillers at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa, won an overall 22 percent pay increase Sept. 18, ending their five-week strike. The workers had refused to return to work without a substantial wage hike even after cops mowed down 34 strikers and wounded 78 Aug. 16 and launched subsequent crackdowns.

The strike victory—showing that the miners are the union—is sure to give confidence to workers who have joined strikes at platinum and gold mines in other parts of the country.

South African Justice Minister Jeff Radebe threatened Sept. 14 that “all those who continue to engage in illegal activities are going to be dealt with very swiftly.”

Later that day police fired stun grenades and arrested seven strikers at the Aquarius Platinum mine near Rustenburg. Aquarius is at least the fourth mining company that has halted operations due to strike action since the 3,000 Lonmin rock drillers started their strike Aug. 10.

Miners went on strike at Gold Fields Sept. 9 and at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), the largest platinum producer in the world, Sept. 11.

“We are working for mahala (for free),” Siyabonga Dlamini, one of the 8,000 strikers at Gold Fields, told the Mail & Guardian. “I earn 4,800 rand (US $585) a month and then 4,400 after deductions. I can’t survive on this—it’s nonsense.” Gold Fields strikers demand a wage raise to 12,500 rand.

On Sept. 14, the Lonmin strikers who were demanding more than doubling their base wage to R12,500 a month, rejected an offer by the British-owned company of a R900 increase.

The next day police raided Lonmin-owned hostels at the Karee mine where 6,000 workers live and at the Nkaneng settlement, beating workers and confiscating machetes and spears. Twelve workers were arrested.

“Those arrested have been charged under the Illegal Gathering Act as well as for public violence,” announced regional police spokesperson Thulani Ngubane. “They have been burning tires in the area.”

The 1993 Illegal Gathering Act was passed after the white supremacist regime released Nelson Mandela from jail and repealed apartheid laws, but before Mandela was elected president. The police have also threatened to use the 1968 Dangerous Weapons Act against strikers. The African National Congress, the national liberation movement that led the fight to overturn the regime, is now the ruling party and has left this and other apartheid era laws on the books.

On the eve of the crackdown, South African President Jacob Zuma told the National Assembly that the strikes make the workers “and the country worse off.”

Julius Malema, a well-known bourgeois opponent of President Zuma and a dissident member of the ANC who was expelled from its youth league, sought to capitalize on the miners’ discontent.

He has visited striker assemblies and demagogically called on the workers to make the mines “ungovernable,” called for removal of the NUM leadership, demanded that Zuma resign, attacked the “white” business owners and called for “nationalization” of the mines.

The mine owners have accused the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, which has been competing with the NUM for the allegiance of mine workers, of fomenting the strike at Lonmin and other companies.

“They say we are a militant union,” Joseph Mathunjwa, AMCU president said in a Sept. 15 phone interview. “But we are not behind all these strikes.” He noted that AMCU has no presence at Amplats, which is organized by the NUM.

Mathunjwa said that his union has called on Zuma to convene a meeting of all the unions and mine owners to work out a solution. “Let’s have the beginning of give and take,” he said. “Let’s see what the business world can afford and have everyone go back to work and not lose investors.”

The NUM has proposed a “centralized bargaining council” for the platinum sector that would include all unions and that wage negotiations originally scheduled for June 2013 be opened as soon as possible.

But the miners disregarded the calls by officials of both unions to go back to work before they had won their demands and are unwilling to rely on promises by the bosses and the government to discuss their demands some time in the future.

At the Amplats mine, which is organized by the NUM, workers have chosen an executive committee of six, outside the NUM structure, to bring their demands to the mine owners, reported the Mail Sept. 13.
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