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Vol. 76/No. 41      November 12, 2012

(front page)
S. Africa: platinum strikers stay out,
gold, chrome miners return for now
Platinum miners Oct. 30 place blockade outside Anglo American mine near Rustenburg, South Africa, after rejecting company’s latest demand to return to work without pay raise.

Thousands of striking platinum miners in South Africa announced Oct. 29 that they are not ending their strike until Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) “puts something on the table.” At the same time, most gold and chrome miners have returned to work. They say their fight for higher wages and better working and living conditions has been strengthened .

More than 100,000 gold, platinum, chrome, iron and coal miners have been involved in strikes that swept South Africa over the last two months. In many mines, workers have selected their own strike committees independent of government-allied trade unions.

Workers at Amplats, the world’s largest platinum company, have been on strike since Sept. 12 demanding that their wages, less than $1,000 a month, be doubled.

On Oct. 5 the company fired 12,000 of its 26,000 workers and refused to talk with the strike committee. Instead, the company met with officers of the government-allied National Union of Mineworkers. NUM officials and the African National Congress-led government have insisted that workers wait until contracts expire before raising wage demands.

The South African press widely reported Oct. 26 that the strikers had agreed to return to work after Amplats offered a 2,000 rand ($230) one-off payment and rescinded the dismissal notices. Amplats also said they would pay the same amount as a “loyalty allowance” to workers who were not part of the strike. South Africa’s Business Day Live reports that Amplats has lost more than $115 million in production since the strike began.

Platinum miners reject offer

Contrary to press reports, striking platinum miners rejected the offer.

“They only want to talk about going back to work, they don’t want to talk about wages,” winch operator Evans Ramokga, a member of the strike committee, told the Militant by phone after a negotiating session Oct. 29. “How can we go back to work without touching the central demands?”

The company had been holding separate meetings with the official unions and the strike committee, he said.

The strikers are not fighting just for the permanent employees of the company, Ramokga added, but for thousands of lower-paid contract workers from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique. “We always include them when we raise our demands,” he said. “They do the same work we do.”

In an Oct. 27 press release, Amplats said that if workers did not return to work by Oct. 30 they will be dismissed. Amplats has not replied to repeated requests for comment.

Strikers at AngloGold Ashanti were all back at work by Oct. 25 after a four-week strike. Under a deal from the Chamber of Mines on behalf of three gold companies, including AngloGold—the third largest gold company in the world—workers will receive wage increases of up to 10.8 percent, largely through moving miners up to a higher pay grade.

“Even though we didn’t really get what we wanted, and most of the workers are not really happy with the whole process, we now see that we are more empowered and we learned some lessons,” underground AngloGold miner Tshepo Moloi said by phone. “The fear that many workers had going all the way back to the time of apartheid has disappeared.”

One-day sit-in at chrome mine

Miners at Samancor’s western chrome mine returned to work Oct. 23 after a three-week strike. About 400 workers held a one-day sit-in underground Sept. 27. The following day officials of the NUM and other unions signed a new contract. On Oct. 2 workers went on strike.

When this reporter called the Samancor press office Oct. 29 to ask for comment, the person answering the phone said, “We’ve read what the Militant has said and it’s not true. There was no strike; the workers were on leave.” She said to talk with Gillian Findlay, Samancor’s communications manager.

“The strike itself was very short,” Findlay said. “On Oct. 3 we put everyone on compulsory annual leave [usually in December] and then extended this until Oct. 19.” According to Findlay this means the workers will get paid.

The miners returned to work without a pay increase on condition that wage negotiations would take place with the strike committee, miner Solomon Putuk said by phone.

When asked if the company has negotiated with the committee, Findlay said, “Samancor has met with various stakeholders.”

Unlike Amplats and AngloGold, which were completely shut down by the strike, workers at Samancor’s western mine went on strike, but miners at the eastern mine did not.

“We tried our best to convince them to join us,” said Putuk, “But they already have some of the things that we are trying to get in regards to housing and transport.”

“It’s not like we lost confidence in the strike,” Putuk said. “If management does not engage in the negotiation process that has begun we can go on strike again. And whatever we get, contract workers must get too.”

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the National Union of Mineworkers and the South African Communist Party organized a rally Oct. 27 in Rustenburg, in the heart of the mining areas in the North West province. The rally called for rescinding the firing of dismissed workers and for better wages and working conditions. An earlier COSATU statement, however, said the rally would call on miners to go back to work and to “retake the Rustenburg area from the counterrevolution.”

That statement was directed at strike leaders and at the Democratic Socialist Movement, a Trotskyist group. The DSM and many strike leaders are encouraging workers to disaffiliate from the NUM and join a competing union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

Hundreds of strike supporters arrived at the Olympia stadium to oppose the rally, including Amplats strikers and area miners. Amplats strike committee member Ramokga said the miners felt they had to respond to COSATU’s statement that they “were going to clean up Rustenburg.” Some clashed with COSATU members. Strike supporters were dispersed in a hail of rubber bullets and tear gas fired by police before the rally started.
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