Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, speaking at the Dr. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on April 5, 2008. The event commemorated the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
South African Truckers End Three Week Strike While Labor Actions Spread
Public sector workers threaten to strike while rating agencies downgrade outlook
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
A strike carried out by 43,000 truckers ended in South Africa on October 11. An agreement between the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU), an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), resulted in pay increases of 27 percent over a three year period.
Three smaller unions claiming to represent 15,000 workers had already reached an agreement with the Road Freight Employers’ Association on October 11. SATAWU, said to represent 28,000 workers, denied any responsibility for the violence that took place during the strike which resulted several injuries and one death. (Mail & Guardian, October 12)
The Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA) said in a statement that it was elated the strike had concluded. Dennis George, the general secretary of FEDUSA noted “While we are mindful of the cost to the economy and the lives lost in this strike, we are convinced that the sector will now rebuild itself to the advantage of the greater South African economy.”
Meanwhile labor unrest is continuing in various sectors of the workforce. The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) has already initiated a planned national strike in two provinces inside the country.
SAMWU spokesperson Tahir Sema said that “The congress and the central executive committee have agreed on a strike. We are waiting for the provinces to decide on a date and a strategy to be used during the strike.” (thenewage.co.za, October 15)
The North West Province began the strike on October 12 when 3,000 workers took to the streets in the Bonjala Region. Limpopo municipal workers have also walked off the job.
Municipal employees are striking against what they say is widespread corruption in local government. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the nation’s largest labor federation which SAMWU is affiliated, issued a statement on October 12 laying out charges of “unacceptable favoritism, nepotism, political interference in administrative matters and rampant corruption taking place on a daily basis in municipalities in the North West Province.” (cosatu.org.za)
In addition to the provinces of Limpopo and North West, Guateng, the largest, is considering similar actions. Sema said that “Guateng is preparing a meeting. It will come out last because of its sheer size.”
SAMWU wants the employer body, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) to implement a wage curve that would result in more equitable salaries for all workers.
In the North West Province the union is demanding that several political appointees and municipal managers resign from their posts. They are also requesting that some managers be prosecuted for corruption.
SAMWU says that all together up to 300,000 workers could be involved in the national strike. Such actions would paralyze municipal services throughout the country, Africa’s largest and most industrialized economy.
Strikes and Terminations Continue in the Mining Sector
South African bullion owners Gold Fields halted all production on October 15 when 8,500 workers refused to go into the mines. The corporation reported that nearly 20,000 of its 26,700 employees at the KDC West and East mines were now part of a series of wildcat strikes throughout the industry. (Reuters, October 15)
According to Swiss News, “Since August, 75,000 miners have downed tools in often illegal and violent walkouts that are hitting economic growth and investor confidence and raising questions about President Jacob Zuma’s leadership shortly before a leadership election in the ruling African National Congress (ANC).” (swissinfo.ch, October 15) Bosses within the industry have loss tremendous amounts of gold production with Gold Field KDC being down 65,000 ounces.
AngloGold reported losses of 32,000 ounces each week and Harmony said it is losing 20-25kg of gold each day at its Kusasalethu mine. These reports come amid the rejection by striking workers of another pay increase offer by the mine owners.
In retaliation for the wildcat strikes, the Anglo American Platinum firm dismissed 12,000 workers earlier in October. Also the Gold One, Atlatsa Resources and Anglo Platinum has dismissed 15,500 employees for involvement in what is known as “unprotected strike actions,” that is strikes not authorized by the officially recognized labor organizations.
The bond rating agencies such as Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have cut South Africa’s credit worthiness in recent weeks. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan indicated that the ratings downgrade came as a surprise since the strikes have yet to have a major influence on the government’s revenue and budget plans.
“There is no evidence that this will throw us off course,” Gordhan said while participating in an interview over Talk Radio 702.
Despite independent worker actions outside of COSATU and other unions, the Mpumalanga branch of the trade union federation issued a joint statement with the National Union of Mineworkers, its largest affiliate, defending the gains of the movement over the last thirty years. The statement read in part that there was a “well planned, highly funded campaign by some mine bosses and counter-revolutionaries to destabilize and reverse all the revolutionary gains achieved by NUM and COSATU over the past thirty years.” (cosatu.org.za, October 12)
The statement continued pointing out that “NUM has brought unity, defeated apartheid laws, and tribalism in the mining, construction and energy sector. The NUM has improved the working conditions of workers in the industry from conditions close to slavery to conditions where workers have the power to bargain through their unions.”