We were forced down, claim miners on strike below ground

The president of the National Union of Mineworkers, James Motlatsi, yesterday alleged mineworkers who were staging an underground sit-in at the Western Deep Level's No 3 shaft were forced down the shaft at gunpoint by mine security on Wednesday night. "Several people were injured when mine security fired rubber bullets and teargas to force the workers down the shaft," Motlatsi said.

Anglo representative John Kingsley-Jones confirmed the workers were continuing their sit-in but denied they had been forced down the shaft at gunpoint. He said Anglo's policy has always been to allow workers who want to go on shin to do so. Those who refused to work were expected to do so peacefully. In a statement, Anglo said only 3 000 workers were involved in the sit-in.

Motlatsi said last night several workers who were injured in the alleged mine security action were on the way to NUM head office for medical treatment. He said he had been informed by mine management that the workers have vowed to continue their sit-in until he is allowed down the shaft to address them.

He said he could not confirm that information, and had also received information that his life "might be at stake if I venture anywhere near the mind. He had not been party to the alleged decision to force the workers to go underground and getting the workers out of the shaft would only be in management's interest, he said. "There is no guarantee that the workers will not be further assaulted if they come on surface."

According to the NUM the workers were locked out last Friday and given until Monday this week to return to work or face dismissal. This week Anglo started paying out some of the workers but did not involve the union in negotiations on the payout. The NUM yesterday expressed concern that the workers involved in the sit-in have no food. Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions is expected to mount a campaign to force the Chamber of Mines-back to the negotiating table with NUM, Cosatu's biggest affiliate.

Cosatu's actions in supporting the strike are likely to include a national solidarity strike, a national stayaway and "blacking action", which amounts to a refusal by Cosatu-affiliated unions to handle any products destined for the mines. The South African Railways and Harbours Workers Union and the Transport and General Workers Union handle the bulk of the raw and finished product from gold and coalmines. The chamber affiliates, Anglo, Gencor GoId Fields Rand Mines, JCI and Anglo Vaal have diverse interests in other fields, including the chemical, beverage, milling, metal and super market industries.

Cosatu did not rule out the possibility of sympathy strikes in several of these industries. Already five chrome mines and refineries, Tubatse, Winterveld, Groothoek, Tweefontein and Veref, have come out on strike in legal sympathy strikes. Strikes at the five concerns, however, all based on the Eastern Transvaal, also involve disputes the workers have with the companies. The governments of neighbouring countries are expected to put pressure on both NUM and the Chamber to end the strike which has cost them dearly in lost revenue from mineworkers' wages.

In impoverished Lesotho, 52 percent of the gross domestic product is derived from revenue from Lesotho nationals working on South African mines. Cosatu has already made contact with heads of state in Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland as well as with national trade union centres in neighbouring countries, the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity and the Organisation of African Unity and the Southern African Development Co-ordinating Conference to enlist their active support in preventing the recruitment of replacement labour.

NUM said the chamber's refusal to address the wage issue was no longer an economic decision. Since the strike the chamber had lost considerably more than the union demanded and the decision was now purely a political one. At a meeting this week the chamber made an improved offer on holiday leave allowances and death benefits which, in monetary terms, would have amounted to 1,32 percent.

The NUM "sought clarification on whether the monetary improvements" on the two offers could be converted into wage increases. The union also dropped its demand on wage increases from 30 percent to 27 percent "in a bid to induce the chamber to address the wage issue". Both proposals were rejected by the chamber. "It confirms the union's belief that the Chamber of Mines is bent on destroying the NUM with the assistance of the state," Golding said.

The allegation was denied by chamber representative Peter Bunkell, who described them as "pure rhetoric". Cosatu's secretary general Jay Naidoo said yesterday "We believe the chamber's hardline stand against the reasonable and legitimate demands of the miners is intensifying the conflict ." 

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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