Emboldened 'five madoda' issue fresh wage demands
The "five madoda" (men), as the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union-aligned interim workers' committee at Impala Platinum in Rustenburg is known, has achieved a fearsome reputation for the way it orchestrated the demise of the National Union of Mineworkers at the mine during a six-week strike earlier this year.
The machismo with which the committee carries itself can be seen, for instance, in how workers caution me to approach it with respect as I head in the wrong direction in the vicinity of Number Eight hostel, where Amcu's southern branch office is situated.
The members themselves aren't big on hiding how the West was won, either. "Watsh' umuzi ka Zokwana ([NUM president Senzeni] Zokwana's house is burning)" is now a refrain used to denote the continued downward slide of the NUM at the mine.
In unguarded moments the organised violence committed by the striking workers against strike breakers is now glamorised, having been replicated to chilling effect by their counterparts at Lonmin.
In June, a few months after the violent strike left at least three people dead and scores injured, Amcu proudly announced that it had practically eroded the NUM's turf, netting, it claimed, a cool three-quarters of the 20 000-strong unionised workforce at Implats.
A complaint was launched with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) after the union accused Implats of dragging its feet with the verification process. Closer to the truth, though, is that Amcu had jumped the gun, as several of those who joined the union were subcontracted workers whom the union could not represent at Implats, and others still belonged to the NUM. At that point, however, the NUM's eradication on the ground was already complete. Confirmation was only a formality.
Amcu's subsequent about-turn, which saw it withdraw its CCMA complaint, apparently to lubricate the normalisation of the situation across the mining industry post-Marikana, raises other questions about its motives.
Could the union actually prefer the more informal structure of the interim committee to pursue its agenda at Implats with a degree of impunity, or is it genuinely concerned about turning down the temperature in the wake of Marikana? If so, how can such an innocuous gesture achieve this?
"At Impala, Amcu got 'recognition' through the use of force," said Crispen Chinguno, a labour specialist and PhD candidate at the University of the Witwatersrand. "They got it through the back door. So there is no need for them to formalise. If they do formalise, then they become bound by the bargaining process, become co-opted by the system and become another NUM. Formal recognition is not a priority for them."
Although it was the Implats management that initially dragged its feet with the verification process, the passage of time, which has revealed no spirited clawback campaign from NUM, points to the fact that worker-orchestrated violence only hastened a project that was already unfolding involuntarily. The anger at the NUM seems genuine, after all.
Although a power-sharing agreement (as opposed to the winner-takes-all scenario) has been hinted at by Implats management, its delaying of the process could very well be a tactic to hasten the NUM's demise in the hope of eventually co-opting Amcu.
Though the verification standoff at Implats is set to drag on for months, what is one to make of the interim workers' committee's fresh wage demands, considering that negotiations, as part of the existing two-year agreement, only begin next year? Is it an empty show of boldness stemming from the February strike that set the mining industry on a new, volatile course, or is it a continuation of unfinished business?
A rock drill operator at Implats now earns a net wage of about R6 700, up from about R4 000, according to the workers. Investor relations manager Bob Gilmour told Miningmx.com that, with the new wage demands, the miners are asking for what amounts to a double wage increase in the space of six months.
For interim committee member Mfundiso Waca, however, it's a case of business that never finishes. "Management had said to us we would see what our increases were in the payslips," he said.
"Today, winch drivers are still earning R5 000 and equipment helpers are earning R4 500, which is why even now we are still negotiating an increase." He would not divulge the specifics of their current demands.
According to salary breakdowns provided by Implats earlier this year, equipment helpers earn a basic wage of R5 200.