THE National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) says it’s considering forming a new independent labour federation. But only as a last resort. NUMSA says there is growing concern over a ‘dysfunctional alliance’ among its members.
The African National Congress (ANC) established a task team to sort out divisions within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) shortly before the elections, but NUMSA says the governing party is biased and supports one specific faction.
NUMSA’s Karl Cloete says the union will engage with the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) and independent registered unions and then assess if it should form a new labour federation.
Cloete said: ‘A democratic organisation like NUMSA and its leadership must carry out the decisions of the organisation. If we fail to do so, our own members will put a vote of no confidence in us.’
NUMSA is still not sure if it will be expelled from COSATU, after supporting the federation’s general secretary during his sex scandal, saying Zwelinzima Vavi was unlawfully expelled. The union has now called for the resignation of COSATU President Sdumo Dlamini, saying he has brought the federation into disrepute.
Meanwhile, as the strike by platinum miners continues, Anglo American Platinum’s (Amplats) CEO Chris Griffith has apologised for comments he made in a daily newspaper last week justifying his multimillion rand salary.
The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has been on strike at Amplats, Lonmin, and Impala Platinum for nearly four months, demanding a basic wage of R12,500.
Business Day reported Griffith, his 11 executives and top management had all been awarded R25.3 million in a bonus-share scheme that would pay out in three years as part of a skills-retention scheme.
The comments, which Griffith himself has since labelled as ‘inappropriate and seemingly insensitive’, have been widely criticised.
Griffith has issued a statement saying his choice of words that earning R6.7 million per year is fair pay was inappropriate.
But Griffith still argues that the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) demand for a minimum R12,500 wage remains unaffordable as it would increase the company’s costs by approximately R4.5 billion per year.
The union has rejected the employers offer of a 10 per cent increase and have vowed to continue with the strike until their demands are met.
The strike has cost mining bosses more than R18 billion in revenue and workers have lost more than R8 billion in earnings since the strike started four months ago.
Amcu President Joseph Mathunjwa on Saturday called on mineworkers to stay strong and continue their strike. The Implats (Impala Platinum) miners’ strike is centred on the platinum belt town of Rustenburg northwest of Johannesburg and Implats said the reopening of its mine there ‘will only be considered when the risk of violence and intimidation can be eliminated’.
Amcu’s regional shaft steward Makhanya Siphamandla says even though they have been suffering since the strike started, the mine workers are willing to continue their fight for a living wage.
Agnus Msiemiela, who works underground at Amplats, said she’s losing her possessions but still has faith in the union. She said: ‘I have been begging for a long time but I can’t go back to work because I need R12,500 per month. I am doing a tough job.’
Some of the miners have resorted to soup kitchens for their daily meals while others say they’re hoping for relief from Amcu’s strike fund. The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) said on Thursday that it is considering a solidarity strike with the thousands of Amcu members.
NUMSA national treasurer Mphumzi Maqungo said: ‘NUMSA’s position is that we shall take this matter to the next COSATU CEC (central executive committee) and the federation should discuss and finalise what form of solidarity we must give to the strikers. But also NUMSA is having serious problems with the role that is played by the state, ANC and mining bosses.’
Tensions ran high in Marikana last week after the police were deployed to the area to protect workers who wanted to return to work, with Amcu President Joseph Mathunjwa last Wednesday describing the move as a ‘recipe for disaster’.
Following NUMSA’s central committee meeting its general secretary, Irvin Jim, referred to last year’s Marikana massacre, when striking miners were shot and killed by ANC police. He said on Thursday that the root cause of the strike in Marikana was the capitalist imperialist ownership of ‘our mineral resources and the persisting structural problem of this sector of the economy, which was still based on the supper exploitation of migrant labour’.
He blamed the ANC government for failing to break down the apartheid capitalist colonial economy, which he said is based on the super exploitation of black labour.
Jim said he did not understand why people are questioning the R12,500 living wage demand by workers while they say nothing about the chief executive of Anglo Platinum and 11 other senior managers who pocketed bloated bonus payments.
Jim said NUMSA was unhappy about President Jacob Zuma’s decision to change the terms of reference for the Farlam commission, which he said protects ministers implicated in the Marikana massacre.
Jim said: ‘The (NUMSA) CC (central committe) strongly condemns the disturbing trends by the state in its attempt to amend the terms of reference of the Farlam commission. Numsa is consulting its lawyers in this regard.’
He said NUMSA categorically held the mining bosses and government responsible for the impact on the economy and the deficit on gross domestic product, for failing to concede to the demands of the mining workers.
The NUMSA president said: ‘We condemn the (mine) bosses for approaching individuals miners with their offers and we further condemn (police commisioner) Riah Piyega for asking bosses to arrange transport for scab labour.’
Earlier Jim said NUMSA resolved to form a political party for workers. ”The working class needs its own political party . . . the working class is leaderless,’ he said in Johannesburg.
For now the party would be referred to as the United Front (UF), and its name would be finalised next year.
Jim was briefing reporters about a four-day meeting of the union’s central committee, which ended on Thursday.