A Living Wage: Support the Platinum Strike

Over 70,000 members of mining union AMCU have been on strike since 23 January 2014. The strike is taking place in the three biggest platinum mines, Anglo American Platinum, Lomin and Impala Platinum. This is the longest mining strike in our history.

The strike is for a LIVING WAGE of R12,500. This does not include: the extra allowance miners get for living outside of hostels, pensions, medical and holiday pay.

AMCU is asking for a basic wage for entry-level workers of R12,500 to be reached in four years time. This can happen if R1,800 is added to the monthly wage for the first year, a further R1,800 in the second year and so on.

Throughout the strike, the mining bosses have said they are broke and cannot afford decent increases. They say that their shareholders are suffering in the face of ever increasing wage bills. Their most recent offer to the striking miners was an increase of 8.5% (Amplats), 9% (Implats), 7.7% (Lonmin). This would mean that in four years time, when the cost of living has risen considerably, an entry-level worker would still only earn R9000.

Two recent pieces of research have exposed that mining bosses are lying when they say they cannot afford to pay a living wage. For the past 14 years, they have been making very good profits and their priority has been distributing this to shareholders. The state, under the ANC government, has done nothing to protect the share of profits going back into wages, into taxation or into providing services and better living conditions for mining communities. Instead, we see the terrible living conditions across the platinum belt and big differences in the pay of workers compared to that of management. Mining executives have enjoyed sizable bonuses throughout this period that are tied to share performance. This means that it is not in their interest to divert some of the profits to improving the lives of workers. No wonder there is a high level of militancy in the mines.

The two pieces of research tell us that:

• Between 2000-2008, Anglo, Impala and Lonmin made huge profits, double those of South Africa’s top 40 companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
• The price of platinum rose from $350 per ounce in 1999 to $2100 per ounce in 2008.
• The South African regulatory system has allowed these companies to take the lion’s share of the profits and give it to their shareholders.
• When global platinum prices were hit by recession in 2008/9, profits decreased, but remained impressive.

A 2012 report commissioned by the ANC stated that a mining company’s return on investment should be 15%. But these three companies took much larger shares for themselves between 2000 and 2008, (Amplats 76%, Impala 129%, Lonmin 76%).

At the same time, the companies cry that meeting AMCU’s demand for a living wage in four years time would mean annual wage increases of 30% – 40%. Once more they are lying to get sympathy from the public. The researchers show that the impact on the total wage bill of AMCU’s four-year plan would be between 13% and 15%.

AMCU is right to reject the latest pathetic pay offer. The union is well aware of the massive wealth sitting in the hands of these mining giants. It is not true that they cannot afford to pay decent wages. Their problem is that they want to spend profits on big bonuses for their executives and large dividends for their shareholders who became greedy during the boom years of 2000-2008.

There is no plan to share wealth with the workers, on the back of whose toil and graft these profits were made possible in the first place.

By not fighting for a more equitable share of wealth created by mining during the boom years the leadership of National Union of Mineworkers has proven that its loyalty to the ANC and support for the black mining bosses are more important to it than the interests of the mine workers. This accounts for the exodus of platinum miners from the NUM.

It has been suggested that one reason the state is not intervening to end this strike by forcing the three mining houses to concede to AMCU’s very achievable demand is that the Chamber of Mines lives in fear that the R12,500 demand will spread to gold, to coal and that other state departments are terrified that it will spread to metalworkers, to farmworkers. This is why we cannot expect the state to do its job and regulate in favour of workers during this strike.

This is also why it is vitally important that workers and the oppressed support the platinum strike. Not only can AMCU win, but the outcome of this strike will have a ripple effect on all workers in the coming period – WIN OR LOSE.

Their fight is our fight. An injury to one is an injury to all.

Issued by the Gauteng Strike Support Committee
June 2014


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