Workers’ Struggle: South African Style

14 September 2012, 18:48  

Thousands of striking miners in South Africa have refused a minor salary increase offer and have vowed to continue their strike against UK based Lonmin PLC. Workers at other platinum mines are said to be striking as well amid fears that the strikes may spread to the gold mining industry. It is a classic struggle between the workers and the bosses, yet the level of violence from both sides is alarming and continues to grow.

The wildcat strike by miners working for the London-based Lomnin PLC in Marikana South Africa continues to worsen with mine management continuing to refuse to make concessions to the miners and the miners refusing a minimal pay increase offer by management.

Almost a month ago workers at the Marikana mine and one at Karee, south of Johannesburg launched a wildcat strike in protest of low wages. The strike led to what is now known as the "Marikana Massacre" the single most lethal use of force by the South African security forces since 1960 and the end of apartheid. On August 16th the security forces killed 34 miners and wounded at least 78 more.

According to reports from the scene of the massacre the strikers were cordoned into a small area when police opened fire and were far from police lines when the massacre occurred. People at the scene claimed, and the evidence shows that the police hunted down the miners, cornered them, and instead of arresting them, opened fire.

Several thousand miners at Anglo American Platinum, another key supplier of platinum, also have gone on strike and the company has had to close its four Rustenburg mines.

The two companies make billions of dollars and account for a large share of the world’s platinum supplies with 80% of the world’s know platinum reserves located in South Africa which also accounts for close to a fourth of the world’s mined gold. Lonmin itself reportedly accounts for 12% of the world’s supply of platinum. There are fears that the strikes may lead to unrest in the gold sector as well.

The managers and owners of the company make millions and the company could well afford to raise wages but they are not concerned with the conditions that the workers face and are afraid an increase in salaries would cut their bottom line. Reflecting the days of Apartheid is the fact that the management of the mines is almost exclusively white, with the miners being almost exclusively black.

Although the miners are only asking for a pay raise there are many other conditions at the mines and in their living arrangements that are well below accepted norms.

Claims that the miners already earn more than the average are hollow as their living conditions, ones of poverty and squalor, in no way reflect the “affluence” that officials try to portray they possess. The workers currently want approximately $1,500 a month, three times more than they are making now which is about $500.

Most of the miners come from other areas so they do not have homes near Marikana. Many of them also have families back home, who they are trying to support and send money to, while living with friends or in extremely bad conditions. The mines do provide some minimal support but it is not enough to allow for a normal existence.

The Bench Marks Foundation  which calls itself: “…a unique organization in the area of corporate social responsibility”, says that despite all of the billions being made in the mining operations the benefits are not being shared by the miners and the surrounding communities.

The organization claims there are no employment opportunities for local youth, people live in sub-human conditions, there is high unemployment and there are conditions of growing inequality in the surrounding communities. In short the workers are exploited and the conditions under which they live and work do not reflect the huge profits that are being made.

According to International Labor Organization, a specialized agency of the UN for the miners the conditions are appalling and dangerous. The organization reported that the miners “… are exposed to a variety of safety hazards including falling rocks, exposure to dust, intensive noise, fumes and high temperatures, among others.” Yet the miners are only demanding a salary increase.

The strike has also brought to the forefront the internal struggle of the ANC and their close connections to the mining elite with some saying the strikes may affect President Jacob Zuma’s chance of being re-elected in an internal ANC election coming up in December.

The strikes also serve to underline growing worldwide displeasure by the working and the middle class with the power elites and big business who are not looking after the interests of the people but are only interested in making themselves rich.


Last Update: 11/19/2023 19:59 -0000


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