‘Striking workers are never the winners’

Published Jun 24, 2014


Johannesburg - One of the country’s longest strikes reached a conclusion on Monday – exactly five months to the day.

Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) leader Joseph Mathunjwa was quick to claim victory on Monday, even though analysts warned it may be a Pyrrhic victory for workers, who will take a long time to recover financially from the strike.

Mathunjwa, who said the agreement was a milestone in the history of mineworkers, asked members whether the union should sign the wage agreement. They chanted “Yes! Yes!”, pointing their fingers upwards.

Among them was Bele Dlunga, 34, who narrowly escaped death when police gunned down 34 striking miners atop Marikana in 2012.

Dlunga, who is from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, was among those who were at the forefront of the strike over the wage demand for R12 500 a month then as well as in this year’s strike.

On Monday, he and other miners in Marikana heaved a collective sigh of relief, excited that their R12 500 demand looked within reach.

Mathunjwa tabled a revised wage agreement that will see employees’ salaries in the platinum mine sector increasing by R1 000 in the first two years and by R950 in the third.

Artisans’ salaries would increase by 8 percent in the first year and by 7.5 percent in the second and third years.

The living-out allowance would also increase over the three-year period. Other benefits would increase annually, based on the consumer price index.

The agreement meant that the drawn-out, crippling strike in the three giant platinum producers – Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin – had finally come to an end.

“I am so relieved it has ended. We may not have got R12 500 this year, but at least there is a firm promise that we will get it in 2017,” said Dlunga.

The father-of-five was among the estimated 20 000 miners who were at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace in Phokeng, near Rustenburg, to listen as Mathunjwa presented the revised deal.

Workers were expected to report for duty on Wednesday, after Amcu accepted the employers’ revised offer.

“We are signing the agreement tomorrow (on Wednesday). That means the strike has come to an end officially.”

At Lonmin, the deal would be backdated to last October until January 22. This meant miners would not be paid for the months they were on strike.

Mathunjwa told the crowd they had made history.

“Amcu makes a difference – you made history with the strike. Your strike is ranked the third-longest strike in the world,” he said.

But analysts said there had been no winners in the strike.

Political analyst Dr Somadoda Fikeni said while Amcu appeared to be victorious, the strike had left labour divided. He said the strike had had a negative effect on the country’s economy.

It had also heralded a new era for the country’s labour relations and collective bargaining. “One of the things (that the strike did) was the fact that it would forever raise the contentious issue of salaries of mining executives compared to their workers,” Fikeni said.

He added that the strike had changed the notion of how mining companies dealt with the living conditions of communities around them.

“The strike would force government and mining bosses to relook their relationship with these communities,” Fikeni said.

Labour economist Loane Sharp, of Adcorp, agreed. He said while the mining companies had suffered R24 billion losses in production, the workers were the biggest losers.

“Striking workers are never the winners of strike actions… The mining companies, in this case, have not fallen into a debt trap,” Sharp said.

Amcu members in the platinum sector went on strike on January 23, demanding a basic monthly salary of R12 500, among other demands.

Mathunjwa said “some of the workers would receive R12 500 before the end of the agreement”.

Earlier, he hailed the workers for their resilience by not giving up on their demands for a wage increase, despite their dire conditions and poverty.

“(The) platinum (mine sector) will never be the same again… What other unions could not do in more than 20 years, you could do in five months,” he said, in a veiled reference to the rival National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which is aligned to the ANC.

He mocked NUM for waging a three-day strike in the gold-mining sector. “In 2012 we asked for R12 500 and people died… and left us with a challenge to keep fighting,” Mathunjwa said.

Before reading out the statement detailing the deal, he had asked all miners to stand up and have a moment of silence for “fallen comrades”.

He added that the strike had been one of the most peaceful in South African history. – Additional reporting by Sapa

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