Efforts by South Africa’s government, led by the African National Congress, to initiate mediation between the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union and the mine owners failed, leaving no end in sight to the platinum mining strike. The recent strike, after nearly two years of conflict in the platinum sector, have cost the bosses $1 billion, the companies claim.
A meeting chaired by Deputy South African President Kgalema Montlanthe on March 27 brought together representatives of labor, mine owners and government, but not the striking AMCU. The same day AMCU demonstrated at the Impala headquarters and delivered a memorandum demanding that the mine owners grant salary increases and end the strike.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the largest trade union federation in South Africa — from which AMCU split — called for the strike to end and labeled AMCU irresponsible for keeping its members out without having any program to win the strike. The COSATU affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers, attended the March 27 meeting.
“The two main challenges discussed pertained to AMCU’s absence at key talks and ongoing strike-related violence and intimidation,” said Solidarity Trade 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. (March 27)
Another issue discussed during the talks was the escalation of violence in the platinum-producing areas since the 10-week 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.
Mine owners threaten restructuring, layoffs
Lonmin, Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), and Impala mine bosses are using the extended strike and reported losses to threaten large-scale restructuring policies that would slash the workforce. These threats have been advanced by platinum mining executives for over a year.
Over the last two decades there have been substantial layoffs in the gold-producing sector. Mines were closed and South Africa is no longer the world’s largest producer of gold.
According to an article published in the March 31 New Age, “Amplats CEO Chris Griffith says job cuts are a certainty and that the company would be considering moving toward mechanization at some of its operations,” so that 2,000 to 3,000 people would be employed as against 10,000 at non-mechanized mines.
The same article notes that 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, claim 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 March 31 on CEO Griffith’s threat: “Ultimately, the final solution for the mining industry must be more mechanized, productive work,” leading to more layoffs.
Although the ANC-led government has sought to curtail layoffs 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 on 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 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, as do the production centers and the natural resources of the country.