South Africa mine bosses to cut thousands of jobs

South African workers are continuing their struggles against the bosses. Strikes are spreading from the mines, automobile plants and air transport technology stations to construction sites.

On Sept. 3, thousands of members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa are scheduled to march through Pretoria to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa headquarters. They will demand that the trade group pressure car production firms to settle a nearly three-week strike.

Anglo-American Platinum (Amplats) is the largest platinum mining company in what is the most significant industry in the country; it produces 40 percent of international platinum sales. The firm’s most profitable region is located in Rustenberg, where police shot dead 34 miners at the Marikana Lonmin corporation facility on Aug. 16, 2012.

The platinum mining company has announced a restructuring program that could eliminate up to 7,000 jobs. Amplats owners had threatened to fire 14,000 workers but reduced their plan by 50 percent.

Similar developments are taking place throughout the country’s mining industry.

Corporate media reports blame widespread wildcat and official strikes for the job eliminations. Mineworkers are represented by two rival unions: 67 percent belong to the National Union of Mineworkers, and the rest are affiliated with the newer Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union.

NUM representatives say that negotiations between the union and Amplats owners resulted in a compromise of 3,000 job losses and not the 6,900 the company announced. NUM has threatened to strike in response to the layoffs, but AMCU has said it won’t support a strike until the job cuts are final.

“A month’s notice period for affected employees will commence on 1 September,” said Amplats CEO Chris Griffith, concluding plans to trim 6,000 mining and 900 white-collar jobs, supposedly to save $400 million a year. He said other savings would come from “voluntary severance packages, early retirement, redeployments and the filling of internal vacancies.” (AFP, Aug. 19)

Anglo-American, which is also involved in other extractive markets such as gold, has reported a 10 percent decline in value since 2013 began.

In the gold sector, a “war of words” took place between unions and bosses on Sept. 2, when workers threatened to strike the following day. They demanded 60 percent to 150 percent wage increases and better working conditions. Workers were prepared to walk out at AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold and Sibanye Gold.

Mining executives are responding to labor’s demands by blaming the workers for the crisis and threatening to consider a preemptive lockout of the 120,000 workers who have threatened to strike.

AMCU leader Joseph Mathunjwa, whose union is not striking, warned that if the gold mine owners locked out the workers, tensions would rise sharply. Uncertainty over jobs and the decline of the South African currency, the rand, have led to a bleak financial forecast in the continent’s largest economy.

“I have informed the minister of police that the manner in which the gold CEOs want to approach this wage negotiation, through an offensive lockout, will result in violence,” Mathunjwa said. “A strike is not what we are after, we are being pushed into a corner.” (Reuters, Sept. 2)

Large-scale cuts have taken place within the gold mining sector over the last two decades since the African National Congress came to power. South African gold, which previously dominated 80 percent of the global market, now only constitutes 6 percent.

Tripartite Alliance’s economic summit

With these mounting labor struggles, the Tripartite Alliance, the three main pillars of South Africa’s dominant political force, held an economic conference in Johannesburg from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1. This alliance consists of the ruling African National Congress and its two main allies, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party.

The South African National Civic Organizations — a coalition of community organizations in alliance with the ANC — participated, too. These allies are essential in the ANC’s electoral and governing strategy; the loss of support or lack of coordination among the Alliance would be to the ruling party’s disadvantage.

At the summit’s conclusion, a joint statement was issued reaffirming the long-term partnership among the organizations, while differences were downplayed over the country’s future direction. These organizations pledged to carry out the second phase of the National Democratic Revolution initiated when the apartheid system collapsed in 1994 after decades of mass and armed struggle. The summit recognized that if this transition were not to be carried out, the revolution would be destroyed.

COSATU wrote, “Our Summit takes place in the context of the gravest global economic crisis since the 1930s. From 2007 its original epicenter was in the developed economies, notably the U.S. and Europe. … The Alliance Summit agreed that we must correctly understand this global context, and rebut attempts from some quarters to shift the blame for the impact of this crisis on the South African government, or the labor movement. Instead, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to place our economy onto a new growth path that, amongst other things, lessens our exposure to currency and other market volatilities.” (cosatu.org.za, Sept. 1)

Jeremy Cronin of the SACP said, “As we go to the elections, [we need] to communicate among ourselves and [with] South Africans. We need to deepen the relationship and effectiveness of the alliance … working together.” (Times Live, South Africa, Sept. 2)

Nonetheless, in acknowledging that the capitalist economic crisis is worldwide, the Tripartite Alliance must move the South African working class out of the system of exploitation through policies that will lead to the implementation of socialist planning. Outside of such a transformation, the ANC and its allies will not be able to provide job security, land redistribution, the eradication of poverty and the elimination of all vestiges of institutional racism and gender oppression inherited from the apartheid system of settler-colonialism.