Amcu would be wary about handling the strikes against lay-offs at Anglo American Platinum because it may determine its validity as a union.
Striking Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) workers nailed their colours to the mast on Wednesday night, saying they would only return to work once management was forced into a position of "zero forced retrenchments". And given the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union's (Amcu's) complicated nature as a union – in that it is fighting rumours of internal friction in the Rustenburg region, stemming, in part, from an ideologically heterogeneous workforce and its aversion of elective conferences – how it handles this round of retrenchments may be more important to its cohesion than meets the eye.
Amcu members speaking to the Mail & Guardian said there were only a few things to discuss since the strike to protest against 3 300 job losses began on Friday, but stressed that one of the conditions they were putting on the table was that management open up the voluntary severance package option for 14 more days as part of an agreement stemming from the start of the section 189a deliberations earlier this year. Amplats first announced plans to cut down over 14 000 in January, a figure it has been pressured to significantly reduce.
The job cuts will affect, specifically, the Khomanani and Khuseleka operations that collectively employ around 8 000 workers. According to its own figures for last year, Amplats employs about 25 500 workers in the North West. Rustenburg's Khomanani and Khuseleka shafts were among the first to join last year's epochal post-Marikana strike, leaving a lingering feeling in some workers' minds that the shafts are being targeted for job cuts primarily for that reason.
George Tyobeka, an Amplats employee participating in the negotiations, said: "The company is opening up opportunities like training to people to run their own businesses. But we are not in favour of that, at least not before exhausting agreements we had at the start of section 189a. We had agreed that there would be no retrenchments before exhausting all options, which included voluntary severance packages for everybody, early retirement, redeployment and natural attrition. The packages have not been exhausted properly. Some workers were not given the opportunity and some were denied."
'Take the issue to court'
Workers and Socialist Party spokesperson Mametlwe Sebei said workers were showing the determination and the will to fight, which could no longer be doubted as they had shown it "over and over again" before the strike.
"What is disturbing is the lack of a strategy and clear fighting programme in the demands being put forward by the unions," he said. "For the [National Union of Mineworkers] to say they will take the issue to court to force the employer to consult when consultations have been taking place over six months and then saying you'll convince a court over technicalities, for me, displays a lack of will to fight. The problems that have led us here are the problems of capitalism itself, such as over-production, which has to do with the depression of the worldwide market."
Turning to Amcu, Sebei said: "If the companies are not making sufficient profit from oversupply, what solution are they [Amcu] putting forward? You can't just protest retrenchments because Anglo is doing what's logical from a capitalist perspective. They want to reconcile supply at the expense of workers."
Sebei said his organisation, which has close ties with some quarters of Amplats-based workers, would fight to put worker-controlled nationalisation on the agenda as well as a reduced work week as workers were working six and even seven-day weeks and then "being punished for being productive".
Right now, the Amcu has to deal with more than just Amplats's chief executive Chris Griffiths's tough talk about the expendability of the company's platinum operations. The union's lack of political clout and its shop-floor vulnerabilities are giving it plenty to worry about.