The National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa (NUMSA) has submitted a report to public protector Thuli Madonsela, claiming that a R50-billion locomotives deal of “arms deal” proportions has been structured by Transnet. This is the latest event in the relatively long-running series of recent disputes between trade unions and the business environment, both in the public and the private sector.
Transnet’s NUMSA members have been on strike since April 25th “as a last organisational resort to pressure Transnet management to respond to our genuine demands,” according to a statement on the organisation’s website.
Last week, a striking NUMSA member was arrested by police after 35 violent attacks, including “bombings, arson, and thuggery,” took place against non-striking Transnet employees in the Eastern Cape. Transnet offered a reward of R100 000 to anyone who could provide information leading to the arrest and successful prosecution of the other perpetrators.
In response, NUMSA released the following statement:
“Regrettably, not a single shred of evidence exists or shows that our members are responsible for acts of violence or intimidation… We view such allegations as engineered by Transnet as part of their strategy to de-legitimise our strike.”
The balance of the equation is interesting: On the one hand, striking employees don’t naturally want to hurt anyone and non-striking workers don’t want to strike or be hurt. On the other hand, what good has come to any of the employees before violence?
Also of interest is the general public discourse (orchestrated by the media) that makes exclusive use of the employers’ perspective of relative privilege. Perhaps this adds fuel to the fire in that it helps the average striker to realise that they are the only ones who truly have their interests at heart.
We all want a stop to any violence, but what does nonviolence mean to the otherwise voiceless, ignored, disgruntled members of the working class?
The general nonchalance at the lamentations of the miners — at least from the private sector — is perhaps illustrated by the following quote from a Transnet statement on Friday:
“Numsa, which represents less than half a percent of Transnet’s over 60 000 employees, called its few members at the Ngqura Container Terminal in the Eastern Cape to strike in April 2014. Now in its seventh week, the strike has had minimal impact on our operations and that the labour court has ordered NUMSA to end the violence.”
NUMSA expressed concern at how some workers are divided around genuine concerns. They leveled serious criticism at the leadership of other unions like South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU), Solidarity Union, and United Transport and Allied Trade Union (UTATU) who have condemned strike action and called on non-striking workers to unite with workers who are on strike.
Transnet exercised their right to introduce a no-work, no-pay policy to “blackmail workers to return to work,” but NUMSA reassures us that the strikers are still united in their move to have their demands met and will not cease until their demands are met.
Last week’s emergence of the information that mines in the North West province’s platinum belt had lied about the affordability of pay increases for striking workers would only have served to fuel the fire. A new research paper by the University of the Witwatersrand and Manchester University concluded that the mines had given huge payouts to investors before the recession while the workers benefited little:
“The South African regulatory system allowed them [mining companies] to capture the lion’s share of the benefits, extracting enormous resource rents which were distributed to shareholders,” the report said.
The research also showed that alleging the “unaffordabilty” of pay increases due to the mining sector being “cash-strapped” was an exercise in being economical with the truth, because it was only in relation to the period of the recession. Therefore, the report concludes:
“The public debate needs to take greater cognisance of all the facts, with a long-term view in mind, and deal with the broader issue of how best to manage our mineral resources to ensure all enjoy in the benefits they bring.”
Those workers embarked on their ongoing five-month strike on January 23 demanding a minimum wage of R12500 but AMCU technical advisor Brian Ashely told the AFP, “I think one can be confident that the strike will come to an end by the end of this week,” and that the strikers would have returned to work “by next Monday at the latest,” he said.
Meanwhile, the general public discourse has been that the strikes have dragged on for far too long and the effects on the economy are not worth it. This has been the case in previous strikes.
But the socioeconomics of the miners mean that life on their current wages is becoming increasingly less feasible.
With new social and political movements like the Economic Freedom Fighters as well as increasing access to information on the economy, workers in all sectors are likely to become even more disgruntled with the way things stand and thus become more active against liberalist powers.
One supposes that the most-frustrating thing here is the realisation that compromise, especially from the side of the employee, means that there will be more strikes in the future as disappointment with social and economic positions makes itself plain again on a daily basis and new workers come to feel it.
Also, liberalist democracy requires the exploitation of labour so it cannot co-exist with the full economic liberation of labourers so what is the point and what/who will give?
But NUMSA promises that “until (our) demands are met by Transnet, we shall escalate the strike and shut down its operations. Lastly, we remain committed to find a lasting solution and an immediate end of the strike.”
It’s all a familiar muddle. What is exciting to watch, though, is the increasing involvement of the working class in their struggle for economic liberation.
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