Anc To Talk To Amcu As Declining Real Wages Drive Forward Strike Wave


THE African National Congress (ANC) has denied that its fear of losing large numbers of votes in next year’s election has made it reconsider its position of not talking to the Amcu (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union).

Amcu, after the Marikana struggle which saw 34 miners killed, has replaced the NUM as the majority union in a large number of mines.

The NUM and Cosatu, have attacked Amcu as a ‘vigilante organisation’.

Now the ANC government, out of fear of losing masses of votes, is willing to talk to it and through it to the hundreds of thousands of mineworkers that it represents.

ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte said on Monday there was ‘no reason why’ the party should not talk to the Amcu.

Her approach is in marked contrast to the attitude fellow Cosatu leaders have taken towards the Amcu, with Blade Nzimande having called it a ‘vigilante union’, while Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu and ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa also criticised it.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said on Monday he was not aware of any talks with the ANC, nor were there any plans to enter into any interaction with it.

Amcu has emerged as a key force along the platinum belt in the mining sector, dethroning the ANC-aligned National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

The NUM has lost thousands of members along the platinum belt, prompting fears that this could corrode the ANC’s support in the area.

Centre for the Study of Democracy analyst Steven Friedman said Duarte’s comments ‘most definitely marked a shift from the ANC’s earlier position’.

Until now, the party had maintained that an attack on the NUM was an attack on the ANC.

Friedman said this could mean the party had realised that closing its eyes to the problems in the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) would not make them disappear, and that it had to begin a dialogue with other players in the mining sector.

Duarte said Cosatu played a ‘enormous role’ in ‘energising’ workers to vote ANC.

The mood on the ground, gleaned from door-to-door interaction with workers, was that the infighting in Cosatu was a ‘separate issue’ to workers supporting the party next year.

Duarte said the ANC would continue to assist Cosatu to overcome its problems, but that the party was also talking to other federations and unions whose members also formed part of the party.

She said even though workers may not be within the Cosatu fold, it did not mean they would not vote for the ANC.

The ANC was treating the 2014 polls as it did the first democratic election, in 1994.

‘We’re looking at it as if this is 1994. We’re starting again. We plan to touch every voter four or five times,’ Duarte said.

She believed the ANC’s base remained strong and that the party would win ‘decisively’.

Its base was strongest among women, she claimed. Pundits anticipating a drop in the party’s share of the vote were merely indulging in ‘wishful thinking’, she added.

Threats from new parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters and Agang SA were appearing only in the media. The parties were not visible on the ground, where it mattered most, Duarte said.

Even in Seshego, Limpopo, the home base of Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, people had not even heard about the party, she said.

She added, however, that the party viewed all opposition parties as a threat. ‘It’s no holds barred … If you put yourself out there like a toffee, expect to be chewed.’

The ANC’s election manifesto will be the culmination of widespread consultation with all sectors of society.

The manifesto would be released next year but before that the ANC would consult citizens in the 45 major municipal areas.

In a bid to wrest the Western Cape from the Democratic Alliance, while also attracting the youth vote, the ANC is targeting about nine million mostly young people, to ensure that they have identity documents and are registered to vote.

The party had identified that many people had not registered to vote, particularly in the Western Cape, because they did not have identity documents.

The party was currently ‘looking for’ nine million voters between the age of 18 and 35.

While many in the Western Cape did not have identity documents, in other parts of the country those who had them had not yet registered to vote.

Party elections chief Amos Masondo said voter turnout was a worry for the ANC and it was ‘working hard’ to turn the situation around, particularly in ANC strongholds.

• Two decades of declining real wages despite increases in productivity and crippling debt burdens were some of the reasons behind the heightened tensions in the current bargaining season, labour analysts said at a seminar last week.

In recent weeks, media headlines have been dominated by reports of workers making ‘reckless’ demands in wage negotiations and of strikes and pending strikes.

Another major story of recent weeks has focused on the disappointing results from JSE-listed retailers, who are struggling to grow profits in the face of weak consumer demand.

Workers are demanding above-inflation increases because they are unable to survive on their current wages – they have run out of cash and increasingly they are running out of the ability to access even the extremely expensive debt provided by unsecured lenders.

The evidence, as investors in the retail sector will confirm, is that they have run out of money for consumer goods, even for the most basic of goods such as food.

At a seminar convened by the Progressive Economics Network to discuss labour productivity and the need for higher wages, Niall Reddy, a researcher with the Alternative Information Development Centre, dismissed the charge that high wage demands were ‘greedy’ or ‘reckless’.

Reddy said they represented ‘a rebellion against two decades of declining livelihoods and a challenge to the economic structures of unequal, profit-led growth’.

He pointed out that Statistics SA’s household survey revealed that most workers experienced virtually no improvement in real wages from 1997 to 2011.

The median real salary for a formal sector worker in 2011 was R3,800 a month, the same as it was in 1997.

However, real wages of the top 10 per cent of earners increased from R11 670 to R15 500 over this period.

‘The data show that the 22.7 per cent increase in the formal sector average wage over the last 15 years was entirely due to increases for the top earners, which is confirmed by numerous firm-level studies that show the “high wage” distortion to be largely due to bloated salaries for managerial staff.’

Reddy pointed out that the insistence by corporate executives that companies could not afford decent wages should be seen in the context of reports that South African firms were now among the most profitable in the world.

He said trade unions would have to align themselves with the social anger that has been caused by the lack of decent wages ‘or fall victim to it, as the example of the National Union of Mineworkers shows’.

Roger Etkind of the Learning Company told the conference that workers consistently lost out by bargaining for pay increases linked to the consumer price index (CPI) because the inflation rate experienced by workers, which had a much higher proportion of items such as food and transport, was considerably higher than the official CPI inflation rate.

As was evident from last year’s tragic events in Marikana, heavy debt burdens and the crippling impact of garnishee orders was also referred to as a factor behind the high wage demands.

The audience, which included trade unionists and labour advisers, questioned why Cosatu had not made sufficient effort to push the issue of garnishee orders (court orders controlling debtors’ bank accounts).

Requiring employers to audit garnishee orders was an issue that should be placed on the bargaining table, one delegate suggested.

Trenton Elsley of the Labour Research Service told the delegates that despite the adversarial nature of the current bargaining season, workers did not want to strike.

‘There is a specific dynamic playing out in the mining sector and it’s not just inter-union rivalry,’ Elsley told Business Report, adding: ‘In other sectors workers don’t really want to strike, they are too stretched but they have expectations and want results from their unions.’

Elsley said the media had focused on a few high-profile strikes.

Neil Coleman, the strategies co-ordinator at Cosatu, told the seminar a national minimum wage should be a key element of a ‘coherent wage and incomes policy’.

The union movement was calling for ‘legislated comprehensive sectoral bargaining to improve on the national minimum wage floor’.

A national minimum wage would create a basic wage floor below which no one could fall, said Coleman, pointing out that having one national minimum wage was preferable to having many sectoral minimum wages.

One of the many advantages was that because of its simplicity every worker would be aware of his or her rights.

Coleman said the current bargaining was happening ‘in the context of unprecedented attacks on the bargaining system by employers and free market ideologues and the fightback against the increase in the farmworkers minimum wage’.

Coleman argued that the ‘apartheid wage structure’ had not been fundamentally altered, with the majority of black workers, particularly in the private sector, ‘continuing to live in poverty’.