BY SETH GALINSKY
While more than 100,000 striking miners in South Africa continue to press their fight for higher wages, 28,000 truck drivers approved a three-year contract after a two-week strike.
Striking gold miners rejected a deal Oct. 10, negotiated by officials of the National Union of Mineworkers and three gold mining companies that fell short of workers’ demands for a substantial wage hike.
The proposal included moving up the lowest paid miners to the next highest pay grade and giving an additional allowance to rock drillers.
The African National Congress-led government, mining companies and NUM officials have been trying to end the strikes that since August have swept platinum, gold, chrome and coal mines across the country. They say the strikes are illegal because union contracts covering the mines have not expired.
More than 40 percent of the country’s gold production has been shut down by some 50,000 gold miners, including the entire South African operation of London-based AngloGold Ashanti, the world’s third-largest gold producer.
“We keep on trying to persuade the workers to accept the current offer,” Kenneth Buda, National Union of Mineworkers coordinator at Gold Fields, told the Militant in a phone interview Oct. 15. “Whether or not management can offer the 16,000 rand a month [$1,800] the workers want, there will be repercussions.
“This is an illegal strike,” Buda said. “We tell the workers it will be a different story altogether next year when the two-year contract expires and we will try by all means to meet their expectations.”
Miners have disregarded the officials’ pleas and promises. On Oct. 15, 8,500 workers at Gold Fields’ KC East mine joined the strike.
Some 21,000 miners at Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), on strike since Sept. 12, are demanding that the company negotiate with delegates selected by the strikers, not with officials of the NUM or other mine unions. The company sent text messages firing 12,000 strikers Oct. 5.
Most of the workers live in informal settlements without electricity, running water or toilets.
The Amplats strike, while centered on wage demands, is also fueled by anger over the company’s treatment of workers who are injured on the job. “Safety rules are used not to ensure safety, but as an excuse to fire workers,” Gaddafi Mdoda, an underground miner widely quoted in the South African press as a spokesperson for the strike, told the Militant by phone Oct. 15. “Some who are injured never get a single payment from the company.”
Mdoda said that the police and company security have attacked the strikers, noting that miner Mtshunquleni Qakama was killed last week when cops fired rubber bullets to break up a strike gathering. “They are making it hard to meet with the workers,” he said.
Cops dispersed an Oct. 10 demonstration by hundreds of Amplats workers at the NUM regional office who said they wanted to cancel their membership in the union.
The Johannesburg Star reports that Amplats had been sending text messages to some workers, encouraging them to secretly report to work. Two workers who attempted to go to work were killed Oct. 11, allegedly by strike supporters.
Amplats has met with officials from the NUM and other unions in the mine to discuss the strike, but has rebuffed requests to meet with the committee selected by the striking miners.
“We are calling on the managers to engage us, to put something on the table,” Mdoda said. “We would discuss it and see what will happen next.”
Neither Amplats nor Gold Fields has responded to requests for comment.
Mine bosses, with the backing of the government, are also taking a hard line at other mines. Police and company security guards raided the Kumba Iron Ore mine in the Northern Cape Oct. 16 and arrested 40 strikers, who had ignored a court order instructing them to leave the mine premises. Some 300 workers had gone on strike there Oct. 3.
Chinese-owned Gold One fired more than 1,400 strikers at its Ezulwini uranium mine Oct. 9.
There are some 523,000 mine workers in South Africa today, down from 839,000 in the late 1980s. The Chamber of Mines says that the workers’ wage demands are “unaffordable” and that as a result of the strikes they will close down more mines, reported Business Day Live Oct. 16.
A two-week strike by 28,000 truck drivers ended Oct. 12. The drivers, who demanded a 12 percent yearly increase, agreed to a three-year deal with a 10 percent wage increase the first year, 8 percent the second and 9 percent the third.
“The members are not fully happy,” Vincent Masoga, a spokesperson for the drivers’ South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, told the Militant. “But they were willing to compromise.”
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