Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

South Africa miners demand 100% wage increase

Press TV – January 23, 2014

Thousands of platinum miners in South Africa have embarked on a strike demanding their entry-level pay be doubled to nearly 1,200 dollars a month.

Workers at Impala Platinum, Anglo American Platinum, and Lonmin mines embarked on an indefinite strike on Thursday, crippling output at the world’s three biggest platinum producers.

Striking miners chanted slogans as they marched to Wonderkop Stadium near the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana.

The protest, organized by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, is the biggest industrial action in South Africa’s platinum sector since 2012, when police shot and killed 34 striking miners in Marikana.

South Africa’s mining companies have been rejecting calls for a wage increase, pointing to weaker profits and rising costs.

South Africa’s mining sector has been paralyzed by a series of wildcat strikes over miners’ low pay since August, 2012. The strikes have also damaged South Africa’s reputation as an investment destination.

The three top platinum companies operating in the African country say strikes cost the industry a total loss of output amounting to about USD 1.2 billion in 2012 and 2013.

South Africa possesses nearly 80 percent of the world’s known platinum reserves. The country’s mining sector directly employs around 500,000 people and accounts for nearly one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

South Africa gold mine fires 8,500 striking workers

Press TV – October 23, 2012

South African miner Gold Fields has sacked over 8000 of striking workers after they refused to return to work at the KDC East mine near the city of Johannesburg, a spokesman says.

“All 8,500 people who were on strike did not come back. They did not return to work, so we have issued dismissal letters to all of them,” spokesman Sven Lunsche announced on Tuesday.

“We have now reached a stage where we can’t hold off anymore. Our hands were forced and we have now done it.”

Lunsche further stated that the workers have 24 hours to appeal their dismissal.

Workers at the last striking mine of the world’s fourth gold producer in Carletonville, southwest of Johannesburg, ignored a final deadline set for 4:00 pm (14:00 GMT).

Tens of thousands working in South African mines –mostly located near the commercial hub of Johannesburg– have been on strike for more than a month.

The strikes have paralyzed production in the country, which accounts for around seven percent of global mine products.

In August, clashes between striking miners and police left 46 miners dead at Lonmin platinum mine in the South African North West Province.

The strikes have damaged South Africa’s reputation as an investment destination.

South Africa possesses nearly 80 percent of the world’s known platinum reserves. The country’s mining sector directly employs around 500,000 people and accounts for nearly one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product.

October 23, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , | Comments Off on South Africa gold mine fires 8,500 striking workers

Lonmin platinum mine workers end strike in South Africa

Press TV – September 19, 2012

Mineworkers of Lonmin platinum mine have ended their five-week strike and returned to work after the company increased their salaries, South African media says.

The Lonmin strike was marked by violent clashes in August, where police forces killed 34 striking miners at the platinum mine which is reportedly the world’s third-largest platinum producer with approximately 28,000 employees. In all, 45 people have died in violence related to the unrest.

“The end of the Lonmin strike is something we should all cheer, but how the dispute has been settled may provide a template for workers to use elsewhere. That’s the contagion threat,” wrote a columnist for Business Day (South Africa) on Wednesday.

Meanwhile,South African mining strikes spread to the chrome sector, after miners in gold and platinum mines halted work across the country.

Reports on Monday said that some miners at Samancor chrome mine located near Mooinooi, northwest of Johannesburg stopped work, demanding a minimum pay of 12,500 rand ($1,560).

According to an article published in Business Daily on Tuesday, “What started as a wage dispute… has morphed into something much bigger, posing a number of questions about the future of the mining industry and SA as an investment case… Workers at other mines may be encouraged to adopt the same tactics as the Lonmin workers, especially as they managed to winkle out extra pay from a struggling company.”

The Star newspaper also reported “this [end of the Lonmin strike] could be bad news for the biggest miners’ union in the country, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)…. There is a strong feeling that NUM members will decamp and move to join the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), the NUM’s new rival.”

Earlier on September 10, some 15,000 mine workers staged a demonstration at Gold Fields mine to voice their anger over pay and working conditions, after four people injured in a shooting at the same mine.

South Africa is home to nearly 80 percent of the world’s known platinum reserves. Mining accounts for about 20 percent of the country’s national output.

September 19, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | Comments Off on Lonmin platinum mine workers end strike in South Africa

South African police crack down on mine protesters

Press TV – September 15, 2012

South African police forces have fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters at the strike-hit Marikana platinum mine after raiding hostels and seizing weapons amid growing unrest.

Hundreds of protesters in the shantytown threw stones at officers and burned tires on Saturday.

About 500 officers took part in an early-morning raids on worker hostels around the platinum mine, west of the capital Pretoria, taking machetes, spears and arresting five people.

The government had threatened to clamp down on unrest which had been spreading in gold and platinum mines.

The long-month mining unrest that hit the northwest town of Rustenburg’s platinum belt over a wage battle has seen hundreds of protesting workers brandishing sticks and machetes march from mine to mine around Marikana and other areas, threatening anyone reporting for work.

The strike has been marked by violent clashes, including the shooting dead of 34 striking miners by police in August. In all, 45 people have died in violence related to the unrest.

The world’s top platinum producer Anglo American Platinum has been forced to close five of its mines over safety fears after intimidation and threats of violence on staff trying to go to work.

South Africa’s mining sector directly employs around 500,000 people and accounts for nearly one-fifth of gross domestic product of the country.

September 15, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | Comments Off on South African police crack down on mine protesters

South African miners charged with murder of 34 colleagues killed by police

RT | August 30, 2012

South African workers arrested after a shooting at a platinum mine have been charged with killing 34 of their colleagues, despite confirmation that police committed the murders. The officers, who did not deny using guns, face no charges.

­The Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, in the country’s North West province, made headlines on August 16, when protesters, who demanded their wages be raised to over $1,000 a month, clashed with police. The crackdown claimed the lives of 36 people – miners and two policemen, and left 78 injured.

All of the 270 arrested miners, including the six hospitalized, were previously said to be charged with attempted murder or public violence. But state prosecutor Nigel Carpenter increased the charges against them.

The miners are to be tried under the “common purpose” doctrine, which implies that all participants in a criminal activity can be charged for its consequences.

“This is under common law, where people are charged with common purpose in a situation where there are suspects with guns or any weapons and they confront or attack the police and a shooting takes place, and there are fatalities,”Frank Lesenyego, spokesman for South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority, said.

The lawyers representing the Marikana strikers are expected to challenge the charges. A prior application for bail was rejected, and the hearing was delayed till September 6. Until then, the miners will remain in custody in three area police stations.

At the same time, the policemen involved in the deadly clashes at the Marikana mine will undergo a Commission of Inquiry investigation separately.

That is despite police commissioner Riah Phiyega’s confirmation a few days after the tragedy that the 34 people were killed by police. However, police officers insist that they opened fire to defend themselves against a wave of strikers armed with machetes, who allegedly charged barricades. Prior to gunshots, the police used tear gas and water cannons.

However, leaked findings of victims’ autopsies were published by the South African Star newspaper, and showed that the miners were shot in the back while running away.

The post-mortem results suggested that the strikers posed no danger to law enforcement at the time of the shooting.

An official spokesman refused to confirm or deny the accusations on what’s already being dubbed the Marikana Massacre – the most violent episode in South Africa’s history since the 1994 end of apartheid.

August 31, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , | 1 Comment

Echoes of the Past: Marikana, Cheap Labour and the 1946 Miners Strike

By Chris Webb | The Bullet | August 21, 2012

On August 4, 1946 over one thousand miners assembled in Market Square in Johannesburg, South Africa. No hall in the town was big enough to hold them, and no one would have rented one to them anyway. The miners were members of the African Mine Worker’s Union (AMWU), a non-European union which was formed five years earlier in order to address the 12 to 1 pay differential between white and black mineworkers. The gathering carried forward just one unanimous resolution: African miners would demand a minimum wage of ten shillings (about 1 Rand) per day. If the Transvaal Chamber of Mines did not meet this demand, all African mine workers would embark on a general strike immediately. Workers mounted the platform one after the other to testify: “When I think of how we left our homes in the reserves, our children naked and starving, we have nothing more to say. Every man must agree to strike on 12 August. It is better to die than go back with empty hands.” The progressive Guardian newspaper reported an old miner getting to his feet and addressing his comrades: “We on the mines are dead men already!”[1]

Zumapartheid
Mike Constable union-art.com

The massacre of 45 people, including 34 miners, at Marikana in the North West province is an inevitable outcome of a system of production and exploitation that has historically treated human life as cheap and disposable. If there is a central core – a stem in relation to which so many other events are branches – that runs through South African history, it is the demand for cheap labour for South Africa’s mines. “There is no industry of the size and prosperity of this that has managed its cheap labour policy so successfully,” wrote Ruth First in reference to the Chamber of Mines ability to pressure the government for policies that displaced Africans from their land and put them under the boot of mining bosses.[2]

Masters and Servants

Mechanisms such as poll and hut taxes, pass laws, Masters and Servants Acts and grinding rural poverty were all integral in ensuring a cheap and uninterrupted supply of labour for the mines. Pass laws were created in order to forge a society in which farm work or mining were the only viable employment options for the black population. And yet the low wages and dangerous work conditions kept many within the country away, forcing the Chamber of Mines to recruit labour from as far afield as Malawi and China throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Sordid deals between Portuguese East Africa and Apartheid South Africa ensured forced labour to be recruited for the mines and by 1929 there were 115,000 Mozambicans working underground. “It has been said,” wrote First in her study of migrant Mozambican miners, “that the wealth of Reef gold mines lies not in the richness of the strike but in the low costs of production kept down by cheap labour.”[3]

When AMWU was formed in 1941 black miners earned 70 Rand a year while white workers received 848 Rand. White miners had been organized for many years, but there was little solidarity between the two groups as evidenced by the 1922 Rand Rebellion led by the whites-only Mine Workers Union. White miners went on strike against management’s attempt at weakening the colour bar in order to facilitate the entry of cheaper black labour into skilled positions. Supported by the Communist Party of South Africa under the banner of “Unite and Fight for a White South Africa!” the rebellion was viciously crushed by the state leaving over 200 dead. The growth of non-European unions in the 1940s was dramatic and for the very first time the interests of African mineworkers were on the table. Their demands threatened the very foundations of the cheap labour system, and so in 1944 Prime Minister Jan Smuts tabled the War Measure 1425 preventing a gathering of 20 or more on mine property. Despite these difficulties the union pressed on and in 1946 they approached the Chamber of Mines with their demand for wage increases. A letter calling for last minute negotiations with the Chamber of Mines was, as usual, ignored.

By August 12th tens-of-thousands of black miners were on strike from the East to the West Rand. The state showed the utmost brutality, chasing workers down mineshafts with live ammunition and cracking down on potential sympathy strikes in the city of Johannesburg. By August 16th the state had bludgeoned 100,000 miners back to work and nine lay dead. Throughout the four-day strike hundreds of trade union leaders were arrested, with the central committee of the Communist Party and local ANC leaders arrested and tried for treason and sedition. The violence came on the cusp of the 1948 elections, which would see further repression and the beginning of the country’s anti-communist hysteria.


National Union of Mineworkers Poster on Fortieth Anniversary of 1946 Strike

While it did not succeed in its immediate aims, the strike was a watershed moment in South African politics and would forever change the consciousness of the labour movement. Thirty years later Monty Naicker, one of the leading figures in the South African Indian Congress, argued that the strike “transformed African politics overnight. It spelt the end of the compromising, concession-begging tendencies that dominated African politics. The timid opportunism and begging for favours disappeared.”[4] The Native Representative Council, formed by the state in 1937 to address the age old ‘native question,’ disbanded on August 15th and ANC president Dr. A.B. Xuma reiterated the demand for “recognition of African trade unions and adequate wages for African workers including mineworkers.”[5]

The 1946 mineworkers strike was the spark that ignited the anti-apartheid movement. The ANC Youth League’s 1949 Program of Action owes much to the militancy of these workers as does the Defiance Campaign of the 1950s and the emergence of the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) in the 1960s. It is too early to say what sort of impact the current Lonmin strike will have on South African politics, but it seems unlikely that it will be as transformative as those of the past. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), arguably the heirs to the 1946 strike are currently engaged in a series of territorial disputes with the breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Meanwhile COSATU’s muted response has echoed the ANC’s line of equal-culpability and half-mast public mourning. The increasingly incoherent South African Communist Party has called for the arrest of AMCU leaders with some of its so-called cadres defending the police action. Former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s plea for miners to hold the line and form a more militant union reek of political opportunism.

Still Dependent on Cheap and Flexible Labour

What no one has dared to say, aside from the miners themselves, is that the mining industry remains dependent on cheap and flexible labour, much of it continuing to come from neighbouring countries. This has historically been the source of most miner’s grievances. A recent Bench Marks Foundation study of platinum mines in the North West province uncovered a number of factors linked to rising worker discontent in the region. Lonmin was singled out as a mine with high levels of fatalities, very poor living conditions for workers and unfulfilled community demands for employment. Perhaps most significant is the fact that almost a third of Lonmin’s workforce is employed through third party contractors.[6] This form of employment is not new in the mining industry. In fact, since minerals were discovered in the 19th century labour recruiters have scoured the southern half of the continent for workers. The continued presence of these ‘labour brokers’ on the mines and the ANC’s unwillingness to ban them – opting instead for a system of increasing regulation – is the bloody truth of South Africa’s so-called ‘regulated flexibility.’

There are a number other findings from the Bench Marks study that are worth mentioning as they illuminate some of the real grievances that have been lost amid photos of waving pangas. The number of fatalities at Lonmin has doubled since January 2011, and the company has consistently ignored community calls for employment, favouring contractors and migrant workers. A visit by the Bench Marks Foundation research team to Marikana revealed:

“A proliferation of shacks and informal settlements, the rapid deterioration of formal infra-structure and housing in Marikana itself, and the fact that a section of the township constructed by Lonmin did not have electricity for more than a month during the time of our last visit. At the RDP Township we found broken down drainage systems spilling directly into the river at three different points.”[7]

In fact, the study predicted further violent protests at Marikana in the coming year. The mass dismissal of 9,000 workers in May last year inflamed already tense relations between the community and the mine as dismissed workers lost their homes in the company’s housing scheme.

Once again, these facts are hardly new in the world of South African mining. Behind the squalid settlements that surround the mine shafts there are immense profits to be made. In recent years the platinum mining industry has prospered like no other thanks to the increased popularity of platinum jewellery and the use of the metal in vehicle exhaust systems in the United State and European countries. Production increased by 60 per cent between 1980 and 1994, while the price soared almost fivefold. The value of sales, almost all exported, thus increased to almost 12 per cent of total sales by the mining industry. The price rose so dramatically throughout the 1990s that it is on par with gold as the country’s leading mineral export.[8] South Africa’s platinum industry is the largest in the world and in 2011 reported total revenues of $13.3-billion, which is expected to increase by 15.8% over the next five years. Lonmin itself is one of the largest producers of platinum in the world, and the bulk of its tonnage comes from the Marikana mine. The company recorded revenues of $1.9-billion in 2011, an increase of 25.7%, the majority of which would come from the Marikana shafts.[9]

For risking mutilation and death underground workers at Marikana made only 4000 Rand, or $480 a month. As one miner told South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper that, “It’s better to die than to work for that shit … I am not going to stop striking. We are going to protest until we get what we want. They have said nothing to us. Police can try and kill us but we won’t move.” These expressions of frustration and anger could be from 1922, 1946 or today. They are scathing indictments of an industry that continues to treat its workers as disposable and a state that upholds apartheid’s cheap labour policies.

Endnotes:

1. Monty Naicker, “The African Miners Strike of 1946,” 1976.

2. Ruth First, “The Gold of Migrant Labour,” Spearhead, 1962.

3. Ruth First, “The Gold of Migrant Labour,” Spearhead, 1962.

4. Monty Naicker, “The African Miners Strike of 1946,” 1976.

5. Dr. A.B. Xuma quoted in Monty Naicker, “The African Miners Strike of 1946.”

6. The Bench Marks Foundation, “Communities in the Platinum Minefields,” 2012.

7. The Bench Marks Foundation, “Communities in the Platinum Minefields,” 2012.

8. Charles Feinstein, “An Economic History of South Africa,” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 211.

9. Marketline Advantage Reports on South Africa’s Platinum Group Metals, 2011.

Chris Webb is a postgraduate student at York University, Toronto where he is researching labour restructuring in South African agriculture. He can be reached at christopherswebb_AT_yahoo.ca.

August 21, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Echoes of the Past: Marikana, Cheap Labour and the 1946 Miners Strike