Platinum Strike Takes Toll On South African Economy
There is still no end in sight to the platinum mining strike led by Association of Mineworkers and Construction (AMCU) in South Africa. Efforts by the ANC-led government to initiate mediation talks between AMCU and the mine owners failed to materialize.
A meeting chaired by Deputy South African President Kgalema Montlanthe on March 27 brought together representatives of labor, mine owners and government to hold dialogue around the crisis in the industry. As a result of the recent strike and nearly two years of unrest in the platinum sector the bosses are claiming that they have loss R10 billion (One billion U.S. dollars).
The meeting on March 27 did not enjoy the participation of the striking AMCU. On the same day AMCU was holding a demonstration at the Impala headquarters handing over a memorandum demanding that the mine owners grant salary increases and end the strike.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the largest trade union federation in South Africa, which AMCU split from, is calling for the strike to end labeling AMCU as irresponsible for keeping their members out absent of any program aimed at winning the labor dispute. COSATU affiliate the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) attended the meeting convened by Montlanthe on resolving issues within the industry.
“The two main challenges discussed pertained to AMCU's absence at key talks and ongoing strike-related violence and intimidation,” said Solidarity union secretary-general Gideon du Plessis in a post-meeting press release. Some labor leaders are saying that AMCU members are tiring of the strike and want to leave the union.
"We have had guys lining up at our offices at Lonmin saying they want to leave AMCU to join us because they are tired of the strike," du Plessis of Solidarity said, which represents mostly skilled workers. "But we have told them that won't end the stoppage and they need to go to their leaders in AMCU and give them a different mandate," he told Reuters. (March 26)
Another issue discussed during the talks was the escalation of violence in the platinum-producing areas since the 10 week-old strike began in January. (miningweekly.com, March 27) NUM has lost a number of organizers due to clashes with the rival AMCU, which is now the majority union in the platinum sector in the North West Province.
In an article published by an industry website it notes that “The who's who of mining, outside of AMCU, heard further on Thursday (March 27) that the mine crime combating forum, launched to keep peace in mine areas, was receiving the full cooperation of the South African Police Service and that violence-linked case-processing in the mining areas had been speeded up. “There is improved cooperation between stakeholders in the mining communities and authorities regarding the provision of evidence for cases of violence, intimidation, murder and malicious damage to property,” the Deputy President's spokesperson Thabo Masebe said in a media release. (miningweekly.com, March 27)
Mine Owners Threaten Massive Restructuring, Lay-offs
Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) and Impala mine bosses are using the extended strike and reported losses to threaten the implementation of large-scale restructuring policies that would considerably lower the volume of the workforce. These are not new or idle threats but have been advanced by platinum mining executives for over a year.
Over the last two decades there have been substantial lay-offs in the gold-producing sector. Mines have been closed as South Africa is no longer the world's largest producer of gold.
According to an article published in New Age, “Amplats CEO Chris Griffith says job cuts are a certainty and that the company would be considering moving towards mechanization at some of its operations. This would result in scenarios where 2,000 to 3,000 people would be employed as against 10,000 at non-mechanized mines.” (March 31)
This same article continues saying “Amplats' Rustenburg operations, which account for close to 20% of group production, would not make a profit this year, and would likely be the first in line for retrenchments. On a more positive note, the impact of the strike has yet to bite in the automobile industry, but industry players warned that if it dragged on much longer, the strike could have devastating effects on that industry too.”
These industry bosses, including Amplats, are saying they may have to shut down mines in the platinum sector. If such measures are taken, the impact will be enormous for the South African working class as it could drive down the value of the rand even further and prompt job losses in other sectors of the economy.
Business Day Live reported on March 31 that "Ultimately, the final solution for the mining industry must be more mechanized, productive work. For us to settle at AMCU's demands we might just as well shut down Rustenburg and Union now. Giving that settlement, getting everyone back and then having to shut the mines down is lying to people," Griffith said.
Although the ANC-led government has sought to curtail lay-offs in the mining industry, the ownership of these corporations remains in private hands. Any solution to the problems of the mine workers cannot be viewed outside the question of who actually controls production and the utilization of profits from the industry.
The entire capitalist system in South Africa has been based in the profitability of the mining industry for over a century. With the rise of the militant trade union movement allied with the national liberation struggle, workers did make advances in salaries and representation through their unions.
Nonetheless, until the workers and the government of South Africa can seize control of the mines and stop the flight of capital, the burgeoning crisis of a discontented low-wage workforce seeking better conditions of employment will be met by corporations with greater attacks on workers and their jobs. The profits accrued from the mining industry are derived from the production of the workers and consequently belong to them along with the production centers and the natural resources of the country.
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