Platinum miners strike
in South Africa
Walkouts at two platinum mining companies in South Africa last week showed that after experience gained in last year’s strike wave, miners won’t stop fighting for better wages and work conditions.
Machine operators and maintenance workers began a sit-in May 14 at Anglo American Platinum’s Tumela Mine in Limpopo. Some 169 workers are staying underground while more than 300 are sitting in above ground.
“The workers are not happy that underground workers don’t get the production bonuses,” a double drum operator, who is a shop steward with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Unions, said in a phone interview May 16.
Thousands of miners also halted production at Lonmin Platinum’s 13 shafts in Marikana May 14-15 in a dispute over union rights and representation, but went back to work at the urging of AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa. The Marikana miners sparked a strike wave last September that at its high point involved more than 100,000 platinum, gold, silver and coal miners across the country. After five weeks on strike the Lonmin miners won a 22 percent wage increase.
Meanwhile, workers at Anglo American Platinum’s complex in Rustenburg are considering going on strike if the company moves ahead with plans to lay off some 6,000 of the 45,000 workers there. “They are saying they will close down some shafts,” miner Gaddafi Mdoda said by phone. Anglo American did not return requests for comment.
Until last year most miners belonged to the National Union of Mineworkers, which is affiliated with the ruling African National Congress party. But after NUM officials repeatedly condemned the strikes and violence-baited strikers following the cops’ massacre of 34 Lonmin miners last August, many miners joined AMCU, which now organizes the overwhelming majority in the platinum belt. AMCU was formed in a split from the NUM in 1998.
“You don’t just wake up one morning and say there is an issue with the bonuses and go on strike,” NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said in a May 16 phone interview, referring to the Tumela Mine strike. “There are procedures.”
“South African miners are among the lowest paid in the world,” Mathunjwa told the Militant. “There needs to be a serious engagement with management.”
Australia port workers
protest nonunion hiring
NEWCASTLE, Australia — Some 225 workers at two coal loading terminals here stopped work for four hours May 15 to attend a union meeting to discuss stalled contract negotiations with Port Waratah Coal Services.
The British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, now the major owner of PWCS, is pressing anti-union demands that include expanded hiring of nonunion labor.
Australia is the largest coal exporter in the world and Newcastle, a hundred miles north of Sydney, is one of the main coal export ports.
Previous agreements had been negotiated in “a couple of months,” said Dennis Outram, a representative of the Maritime Union of Australia and chair of the Single Bargaining Unit, which represents the four main unions involved.
Ben Newman, a maintenance worker at Port Waratah for 13 years and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union delegate on the Single Bargaining Unit, said contract negotiations had dragged on since last July. Previously contract workers could only be hired for short-term projects and the unions had some say, he explained.
Now the company is demanding “total flexibility” in the hiring of contract labor, a greater say in work rosters and “the final word” in most disputes instead of the arbitration process, Newman said.
According to Glen Williams, Newcastle secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, the company has tripled productivity in recent years.
Port Waratah announced May 2 that it was shelving plans for a massive new coal-loader as the downturn in the coal industry has delayed projected export increases.
— Joanne Kuniansky
Washington Machinists reject
bosses’ offer, continue strike
AUBURN, Wash. — Members of Machinists Local 79 on strike at Belshaw Adamatic since March 25 voted May 10 to reject 49-0 a proposed agreement by the company. Workers walked off the job at the bakery equipment manufacturer here over the bosses’ demands to make changes to the health care plan during the life of the contract and to hire nonunion contract labor and temporary workers, as well as wage and pension issues.
Chief shop steward Clifton LaPlant, said May 13 the company presented the union with a letter saying it would take back one-third of the strikers now. Replacement workers would continue to fill-in for the other two-thirds, who could be called back according to company needs.
“If we accepted that, the ones going in would train the replacement workers and we would never get back,” LaPlant said. “Our view is 63 went out; all 63 go back with an agreement.” The company said the 18 strikers that can return would not be entitled to unemployment if they stayed out on strike. “No one voted to accept this offer and I am proud to say that we did not let the company divide us,” LaPlant said.
“The list they presented of who could return and who could not was a real threat,” said Louis Saldanha, who has worked at the plant for more than eight years. “I am glad that even those who could return voted unanimously to reject this offer.”
“We’re out here fighting company greed just like others around the country,” said Rick Bekkedahl, who was hired by Belshaw Adamatic about nine months ago.
“I am just happy to see that we are united and not letting the company divide us,” said Chanh Saetern, who has worked at the plant for 14 years.
Belshaw Adamatic did not respond to requests for comment from the Militant.
— Edwin Fruit