NUMSA BATTLES FOR PLASTIC WORKERS – while Marikana victims demand compensation

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STRIKING members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) members in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) held a mass demonstration on Tuesday to hand over a list of demands to employers in the plastics sector. The union demonstrated in KZN because the majority of plastic companies are situated in that province.

About 10,000 workers affiliated to the union are on an indefinite strike which started on Monday over wage increases and working conditions. The union increased the pressure against the employers by holding a mass march on the offices of the Plastic Convertors Association of South Africa (PCA) and the National Employers’ Association of South Africa on Tuesday.

Thousands of South African plastics sector workers began the strike on Monday over pay and benefits, halting operations at several major companies. The workers are demanding the same rights as those in the engineering sector represented by the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC).

NUMSA’s spokeswoman Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said the grievances include a reduction in the minimum wage from 40 rand ($3) to 20 rand per hour and lack of bonuses, as well as increased working hours without overtime pay. Five unions, including NUMSA and the United Association of South Africa, collectively represent about 30,000 workers in the plastics sector, with NUMSA representing 10,000 of the workers. The South African plastics industry employs roughly 60,000 workers in companies across different sectors including paper and packaging as well as textiles.

Meanwhile, last week’s appointment of former Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni as finance minister spells doom and gloom for the country’s working class, NUMSA President, Andrew Chirwa, has warned. Chirwa said NUMSA is disappointed by the decision by President Cyril Ramaphosa to appoint Mboweni to the position of finance minister, as the appointment will result in the working class’s continued suffering under crippling poverty and unemployment.

Chirwa said the union had celebrated when Mboweni’s tenure as Reserve Bank governor came to an end. ‘This was because Mboweni was hostile to the working class majority. During his tenure as governor of the Reserve Bank, he bent over backwards to champion neo-liberal macro-economic policies, of the governing party, the ANC,’ said the NUMSA president.

‘These disastrous policies have entrenched and empowered a small minority of White Monopoly Capitalists in the economy. ‘In the last two decades of ANC rule, the African working class majority continues to suffer crippling poverty and unemployment, just like they did under apartheid.

‘They have not tasted genuine freedom and equality,’ said Chirwa.

NUMSA KwaZulu-Natal Regional Secretary, Mbuso Ngubane, concurred, saying: ‘His appointment to this strategic portfolio represents the consolidation of the neo-liberal accumulation agenda and retention of the status quo.

‘This should serve as a wake-up call to the working class and the poor, that the “New Dawn” is not about championing a revolutionary agenda that transfers the wealth of our country to the people as a whole.’

Ngubane added that Mboweni’s appointment – made in response to the scandal surrounding former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, who fell on his own sword after he revealed that he had lied about his interactions with the Gupta family – was a sign that the ANC is lacking credible leaders and resorting to recycling the old guard.

‘It is clear that the fast fading ANC is not only short of capable cadres to advance its revolutionary agenda, but it has run out of revolutionary ideas to act in the interests of the working class, rural poor, disenfranchised youth and marginalised urban poor. ‘The Thuma Mina mantra is an ideological fog to send the working class into slumber, whilst White Monopoly Capital remains firmly in charge of the economy and policy formulation,’ alleged Ngubane.

The NUMSA officials accused Mboweni of actively promoting and maintaining high interest rates when he was Reserve Bank governor, which had a negative impact on the economy and resulted in massive job losses after hundreds of manufacturing companies closed down as a result of these policies. ‘This crisis caused our members to march to his office in May 2009 to hand over a memorandum on these and other issues.

‘He displayed extreme arrogance when he refused to accept the memorandum of demands from our members, who were picketing peacefully about the effects of the extreme social and economic difficulties that they were experiencing at that time,’ said Chirwa. The unionists also accused Mboweni of ‘displaying a wilful ignorance of the dire economic hardships faced by the working class majority’.

This was a reference to Mboweni’s statement on 22 October 2009, when he made ‘disturbing remarks’ about the impact of the 2008 global recession. Mboweni had then said: ‘We are experiencing a mild recession; it is not severe. If it was severe we wouldn’t have so many cars on the roads and people buying these large houses. Though spending patterns have come down … (they did not fall to levels) of a severe recession.’

Chirwa characterised Mboweni’s world-view as ‘consistent with the 1996 Class Project: co-option by White monopoly capital to weaken the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) and reverse the gains of the 1994 democratic breakthrough’. The NUMSA president cautioned working class South Africans to be vigilant of Mboweni, saying his appointment to the position of finance minister could only mean more suffering is on the horizon for workers and their families.

• More than 250 people who were shot and arrested during the Marikana massacre in 2012 are angered by the department of justice’s failure to make payments to them for their losses. They have been in discussion with the state for more than six years.

It is understood that the state made a settlement offer, which the wounded and arrested miners accepted on August 29 this year.

Two weeks later, in a leaked letter, state attorney Gosiame Seleka confirms the number of claimants and the amounts to be paid to each of them. There are 253 claimants and ‘the total amount payable therefore is R97,685,00’, reads the letter. But, to date, no payments have been made.

Andries Nkome, the lawyer for the wounded and arrested miners, said he has been in communication with the state attorney’s office. ‘It looks like the department of justice has not instructed the SAPS (South African Police Service) to make payments to the wounded and arrested and we don’t know the reason why. ‘To date they have not given us one,’ he told the M&G.

Nkome added that his clients say they only receive information on the payments through the media. ‘These people have not had direct correspondence (from the department of justice) as to where their payments are and have been hearing about it in the media and this is how justice has continued to treat them,’ Nkome said. ‘The miners keep calling us and asking if we are sure that we have not received the payments. They clearly do not believe us when we say there has been no payment.’

In August, the M&G reported that the Marikana widows had accepted the offer, for loss of support, made by the state even though it was not the offer they had hoped for. The M&G understands that their payments have been made. The Department of Justice was asked two weeks ago when it would fulfil the agreement to pay the miners.