/ 22 January 2014

Amcu strike playing into ANC’s hands, says Wasp

Amcu shop stewards from left to right: Julius Mralathia
Amcu shop stewards from left to right: Julius Mralathia

The Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp) spokesperson Mametlwe Sebei on Tuesday accused Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa of "playing into the hands" of the ANC, saying the union going on strike on Thursday would give the ruling party what it wanted – another violent strike.

He was referring to 2012's violent industrial action that swept the platinum belt, climaxing with the Marikana massacre, during which police shot and killed 34 miners. Wasp's predecessor, the Democratic and Socialist Movement, played an advisory role to the independent workers at the time. Towards the end of the violence, Wasp was formed.

Amcu is demanding an entry-level earning of R12 500. Some members fear that the planned strike could turn violent due to fractures within Amcu and Mathunjwa's alleged authoritarian leadership style that workers say stifles debate. This week, several Amcu shop stewards expressed dissatisfaction about the way consensus for the strike was canvassed, sparking fears that it could turn violent.

"They [the ANC] want [the situation] to get violent again. And he is playing right into their hands," he said, referring to widely held perceptions of Amcu being a violent union.

Since Marikana, the ANC and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have portrayed Amcu as aggressive. The NUM is a Cosatu affiliate, which in turn forms part of the tripartite alliance.

Platinum mine workers, as well as parts of the gold sector, moved from the NUM to Amcu in the wake of the Marikana killings, stripping the Cosatu affiliate of its title as the federation's largest union and pitting the two against each other for membership.

"Mathunjwa is using other mines because he feels like he owes Lonmin workers R12 500," said Julius Mralathi, an Impala mine shop steward. He said Mathunjwa was pushing for the strike in the hope that the other mines would achieve that end.

Worrying decisions
Sebei said Amcu's decision to go ahead with the strike on Thursday was worrying. Some Amcu members have been at odds with Mathunjwa, saying he was not acting in the interests of the members anymore.

"There have been mixed feelings among the members on the situation in the union. Some are saying 'we don't want the strike, we don't want the union'," he said.

But he said there were members "loyal to the union, but who are critical of its leadership" and wanted to debate the decision to strike.

On Tuesday, shop stewards who have since fallen foul of Amcu structures planned a rally for those concerned about Thursday's strike, particularly at Rustenburg's platinum mines. But the event was cancelled at the last minute after news that the venue, Olympia Centre Stadium, had been double-booked by the municipality. A smattering of the NUM members were sitting at the entrance of the venue, but strangely, no meeting between them took place.

Sebei said the cancellation could have been an act of sabotage, but was firm that the shop stewards would try again.

"We can't rule [sabotage] out. The people who granted us permission to use the stadium only told us now [Tuesday afternoon] that it was double-booked. We told them [on Monday], and this is not a play. This is the lives of people," Sebei said.

Legal issues
Sebei said workers in the gold sector and some in the platinum industry already benefited from last year's wage negotiation settlements with other unions, such as Uasa, Solidarity and the NUM, so there were legal issues and concerns about going on strike.

“We fear that if the strike goes on in the gold industry, they [the mines] will fire everybody. Gold mining is decreasing, those mines are too deep for human labour," he said. "It is the responsibility of the leader to inform the members of these things."

The Chamber of Mines warned on Tuesday that Amcu's strike would remain unprotected. The NUM already negotiated a two-tier wage settlement in the gold sector. While it is not the main union in the platinum industry, the NUM holds the title in the gold sector.

The chamber took the union to court on Tuesday because of a peace clause that was signed in September last year when the wage agreement was made.

The strikes are meant to take place at all AngloGold Ashanti's South African operations, Sibanye Gold's Driefontein mine and Harmony Gold's Kusasalethu and Masimong mines.