by John Bell
After more than a month on wildcat strike, platinum miners have won a 22 per cent raise plus a $245 (US) bonus to cover lost wages–said to be the largest wage increase in South African history.
The cost was high. Last month police massacred 34 strikers and injured another 78. Right up to the eve of the settlement miners stood up against brutal police repression as their mass meetings and marches were met with rubber bullets and armoured cars, and their homes were ransacked by armed company guards.
The strike began against British mining corporation Lonmin, but spread to other platinum mining companies, and to the gold mining sector. As we go to press, Forbes magazine reports that up 39 per cent of South Africa’s gold mining sector remains idled, and strikes have spread to 20,000 road freight workers demanding a 12 per cent wage increase.
As the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union said, “We intend to ignite further sympathy and solidarity strikes from our members in sectors such as maritime and freight rail in an effort to ensure that no goods and parcels move till the road freight workers’ demands are fully met.”
The corporate world is rattled. “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,” a columnist for Business Day wrote.
That “contagion” couldn’t come at a better time, as international corporate powers are scrambling to gobble up Africa’s resource extraction sector.
The South African miners were not just taking on their own bosses. Their struggle reveals a huge rift between workers and the ANC government led by president Jacob Zuma.
As well they are breaking from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which is too closely associated with the governing ANC. NUM leaders have tried to end the strikes all along, driving more and more angry miners to turn to independent organization the really represents their interests.
In a recent British Socialist Worker, Ken Olende writes: “Some 15,000 gold miners are still on unofficial strike at KDC West mine. The NUM sent officials to try to convince them to return to work.
“As they approached a workers’ mass meeting, union officials were met with cries of ‘Voetsek! Fokof!’ (Go! Fuck off!)”