Labor actions spread as South African truckers end strike

The 43,000-strong truckers’ strike ended on Oct. 11. An agreement with the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, a Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) affiliate, resulted in 27 percent pay increases over three years. This was announced by the Road Freight Employers’ Association, which had already reached an agreement with three smaller unions, which claimed to represent 15,000 workers.

The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) was elated the strike had concluded. General Secretary Dennis George noted, “While we are mindful of the cost to the economy and the lives lost in this strike, we are convinced that the sector will now rebuild itself to the advantage of the greater South African economy.” (fedusa.org.za, Oct. 12)

Meanwhile, labor unrest is continuing in other sectors of the work force.

Tahir Sema, spokesperson for the South African Municipal Workers Union, said, “The congress and the central executive committee have agreed on a strike. We are waiting for the provinces to decide on a date and a strategy to be used during the strike. … Guateng [Province] is preparing a meeting. It will come out last because of its sheer size.” (thenewage.co.za, Oct. 15)

The national strike began in North West Province, when on Oct. 12, 3,000 workers took to the streets in the Bonjala Region. Municipal workers in Limpopo Province also walked off the job.

In North West Province, SAMWU is demanding the resignation of several political appointees and municipal managers and the prosecution of some managers for corruption. COSATU, the nation’s largest labor federation, with which SAMWU is affiliated, issued a statement charging “unacceptable favoritism, nepotism, political interference in administrative matters and rampant corruption … in municipalities in the North West Province.” (cosatu.org.za, Oct. 12)

SAMWU wants the South African Local Government Association to implement a wage curve that would create salaries more equitable for all workers. The union says that up to 300,000 workers could be involved in the national strike; this would paralyze municipal services throughout the country.

Mining strikes & terminations continue

Gold Fields halted all production on Oct. 15 when 8,500 workers refused to go into the mines. The corporation reported that nearly 20,000 of its 26,700 employees at the KDC West and East gold mines were involved in wildcat strikes throughout the industry. (Reuters, Oct. 15)

Gold Fields says it has lost 65,000 ounces since the strike began, while AngloGold reports weekly losses of 32,000 ounces, and Harmony says it is daily losing 20-25 kg of gold at its Kusasalethu mine.

Meanwhile, striking workers have rejected another pay increase offer by mine owners.

According to Swiss News, “Since August, 75,000 miners have downed tools in often illegal and violent walkouts that are hitting economic growth and investor confidence and raising questions about President Jacob Zuma’s leadership shortly before a leadership election in the ruling African National Congress (ANC).” (swissinfo.ch, Oct. 15)

In retaliation for the wildcat strikes, Anglo American Platinum dismissed 12,000 workers earlier in October. The Gold One, Atlatsa Resources and other mining corporations have also dismissed employees for their involvement in “unprotected strike actions” — those not authorized by officially recognized labor organizations.

Bond rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s cut South Africa’s credit worthiness on Sept. 27 and Oct. 12, respectively. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said that the ratings downgrade came as a “surprise,” since the strikes have yet to strongly influence the government’s revenue and budget plans.

“There is no evidence that this will throw us off course,” Gordhan said on Talk Radio 702.

Despite independent worker actions outside of COSATU and other unions, COSATU’s Mpumalanga branch and the National Union of Mineworkers issued a joint statement on Oct. 12 defending the movement’s many gains. It pointed to a “well planned, highly funded campaign by some mine bosses and counter-revolutionaries to destabilize and reverse all the revolutionary gains achieved by NUM and COSATU over the past thirty years.

“NUM has brought unity, defeated apartheid laws, and tribalism in the mining, construction and energy sector. The NUM has improved the working conditions of workers in the industry from conditions close to slavery to conditions where workers have the power to bargain through their unions.” (cosatu.org.za)