Platinum strike still on as mining bosses consider workers’ counter-proposals

The AMCU-led strike in the platinum mines is still going on, despite last week’s expectations of an imminent settlement. As mass meetings have been held across the Rustenburg and Thabazimbi shafts over the past few days, workers have formulated conditions which they want met before calling off the strike. These have been presented to the employers, and further moves can only be expected once they respond. The initial reaction has been to repeat the claims that the workers’ demands are ‘unaffordable’ and ‘unrealistic’, which still ring as hollow as they did in January – the major mines made average profits of R39bn in 2011, for example, and have enjoyed profit margins ten times the average on JSE over the past 13 years.

The Workers and Socialist party continues to stand in solidarity with the platinum workers at this critical point of their struggle for a R12 500 living wage. Enduring enormous sacrifices, these workers have done the entire labour movement a service by placing the struggle for a living wage for all on the agenda. What is now posed is whether to take that struggle further through this particular strike or to call it off for now to gather strength for further battles.

As WASP has consistently pointed out, taking the struggle for R12 500 onwards requires that the platinum workers are backed up by workers throughout not only the mining industry but the economy as a whole – what is needed is nothing less than a general strike in support of the struggle for R12 500 and also for the nationalisation under worker- and community control of the mines. Mining communities and other poor communities across South Africa, which desperately need the jobs and the development that publicly owned mines could provide, should also be mobilised. If AMCU is prepared to take this route, more could still be won.

But if the majority of workers feel that the settlement which is currently being negotiated is as far as this battle can be taken for now with workers’ unity and morale maintained, it should be recognised that the increases of about R1000 per year would be quite unprecedented – and that they would represent a victory in itself, and an important platform from which to continue the struggle. The increases on the table range from 13% to 20%.

Since the employer’s new revised offer was placed on the negotiating table, workers have been subjected to unrelenting pressure to accept it and end the strike. Going into overdrive, the capitalist propaganda machine presented as an ‘agreement in principle’ even before workers had had an opportunity to consider it. The mineworkers were accused of inflicting their suffering upon themselves, of being responsible for the destruction of the Rustenburg economy, the dismal performance of the country’s economy and downgrading by rating agencies. The bosses are in a hurry to see an end to the strike because they fear that the enormous sympathy the mineworkers are enjoying could result in WASP’s call for a general strike gaining momentum.

Regardless of which tactic the platinum workers opt for once the bosses respond, this strike points very sharply to the need for workers and working class communities to continue the struggle for a living wage and for taking up the fight for nationalisation.

If these companies, which extract multibillion-rand-profits, are not prepared to break with the poverty wages this industry rests on, ownership should be taken away from them.

Democratic planning of production could allow the mining industry to provide sustainable, decent jobs on living wages as well as the resources that are badly needed for housing, basic services, education and so on.

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