Report on the recent 6 week wildcat strike at Impala Platinum's Rustenberg operation, the biggest platinum mine in the world, including a timeline and a bit of background information.
The wildcat strike at Rustenberg, the biggest platinum mine in the world, has ended. Production resumed Monday the 5th. The miners have gained nothing besides bitter experience, and 2000 of them have been left unemployed. This experience, however, makes it unlikely that the bosses, through their stooges the NUM, will be able to numb workers in the platinum sector any further. At the time of writing, LLJ was still trying to contact comrades in the area in order to investigate more precisely the background and day-to-day details of the strike. It is hoped that I will be able to gather sufficient resources to conduct this investigation and release a report within a few months. It is certain that, considering the conditions which produced this eruption remain unchanged (and if anything have only grown more explosive), we have seen the last of such upheavals.
There has been a general tendency towards longer and more intense industrial action in South Africa, as detailed in Dewald van Rensburg's recent report, State of the Unions. The contradictions of the commodity economy, particularly glaring in this country, continue to gnaw away at the false unity conjured up by every parasitic racket in our society. The bourgeois media, for example, uniformly reports the cost of the strike as R2,4 billion. The poor employer, on whom this loss of revenue is inflicted, is implicitly portrayed as the victim. What the cost was in lost wages to the 17 000 miners is of course not worth mentioning. Some simple primary-school arithmetic reveals this figure to be, at the wages they currently recieve (reportedly averaging R3500 a month), a mere R75 million. Had they won the 300% increase they were demanding, this would become R290 million. Even if their wages were trippled, the bosses would still walk away with more than R2 billion in revenue.
In the face of such obvious exploitation, it is therefore not surprising that the proletariat is growing increasingly militant. Last year The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry “expressed concern at the violence, damage to property and intimidation that is being experienced during the current wave of strike action in South Africa.” The desperation of the combatants in the class war are coming to the surface once more. One of the contradictions in the current rising tide is the tendency for this militancy to be contained by the unions. The security worker strike of 2006, for example, although leading to a riot in the central business district, was entirely dominated by the unions, who tried everything to prevent the riot occuring and trecherously condemned the actions of its members after the fact. The uncompromising rejection of the miners during this strike, the self-organisation of their action, and the solidarity between the masses and the most militant section (the rock-drillers) create a complex of exemplary actions from which all future struggles will be able to benefit.
Timeline of the strike:
January 12: Rock drill operators (RDOs) refuse to work at the Impala Rustenburg 14 shaft. They demand that the dispute be settled without the involvement of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).
January 18: RDOs embark on a second illegal work stoppage, once again demanding a salary increase and insisting they will have nothing to do with NUM.
January 20: The RDOs go on an unprotected strike. Implats management arranges a meeting between the RDO spokespeople and the NUM branch committee. The delegation representing the RDOs walks out of the meeting. Management apply for and are given an interdict declaring the work stoppage illegal and unprotected.
January 24: The RDOs who have taken part in the illegal strike are dismissed, but are given the opportunity to reapply for their jobs on January 27.
January 30: The strike has escalated, and most of the workforce fails to report for duty. Management applies for and gets another interdict declaring this second strike to be illegal and unprotected.
February 1: All 17,000 workers are fired.
February 16: One person is killed, and a policewoman and several civilians are injured. Sometime during clashes, the local police station is torched (date uncertain).
February 16: Implats CEO David Brown releases interim results with headline earnings up 67.8%.
February 17: Implats and NUM meet.
February 19: Re-employment appears to be on track with 7762 officially back at work. February 20: SAPS officers confront a group of 150 marching people in the early hours. A standoff ensues. Two former workers and one current worker sustain injuries while a third discharged worker is killed.
February 21:Cosatu Secretary-General Zwelinzima Vavi addresses workers telling them to go back underground; miners shout back that they will not go. About 8368 workers are re-employed, 1074 of which are RDOs.The total mine complement is now 24168.
February 22: Boardroom of Impala Platinum burnt down.
February 24: One man is killed and six others are assaulted.
March 5: 15000 miners, re-employed under old conditions of service, resume operations at the mine.