Tuesday, November 20, 2012

South African Miners Strikes End While Farm Workers Begin Stoppages

South African Miners Strikes End While Agricultural Workers Begin Work Stoppages

Farm employees demand raise in minium wage

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

South African miners' strikes have ended after months of unrest that took the lives of over 50 workers. The Anglo-American Platinum (Amplats) firm settled with the remaining miners to return workers to their jobs.

As a result of these industrial actions, production has been reduced by over 20 percent for the year. South Africa has 80 percent of the known reserves of platinum, a strategic mineral which is utilized in the automotive industry.

During the course of the mining strikes, over 100,000 workers in the platinum, gold, iron ore and chrome sectors took to the picket lines shuting down large sections of the number one industry inside the African continent's largest economy.

The most violent period in the history of South African labor since the fall of apartheid, the massacre of 34 workers at Marikana where Lonmin Platinum PLC had refused to settle with miners seeking a 22 percent pay increase, sent shockwaves throughout the country and the world.

Mineowners have threatened large-scale downsizing and re-structuring in order to weaken the militancy of the labor movement. Many of the strikes during this period were so-called "unprotected" actions, meaning they fell outside the legal negotiating process between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and other labor organizations.

These efforts by workers in the mining industry has set off a political debate inside the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) which the NUM is affiliated. COSATU is aligned with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party and the South African Communist Party (SACP) which welds significant influence inside NUM.

The ANC will be holding its congress in December to elect the party leadership for the five years. Speculation exists that President Jacob Zuma could face a challenge for his position from various elements within the organization that is also commemorating the 100th year of its founding.

Strikes Spread to Agricultural Industry

In the Western Cape where farm workers produce fruits and particularly wines that are sold both domestically and internationally, employees in 16 towns and farming communities have been engaging in strike actions since November 6. The workers are demanding an increase in the minimum wage from approximately $8 per day to $20.

Many of the workers are members of the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU), an affiliate of COSATU. Nonetheless, the strikes have taken on a similar character as those in mining where workers have engaged in unproctected actions.

During the course of the strike the situation has turned violent where in Wolseley crates of fruit were set alight. 42 people were arrested in the unrest, one person was killed and five others were wounded.

Police in the region say that the situation in largely under control although violence flared again on November 16.

Workers in the Hex River Valley torched businesses and looted shops. Additional reports indicated that roads were blocked with burning tires and rocks to prevent the transport of commercial goods.

In DeDoorns, a farming town outside Cape Town, workers set the vineyards on fire.

Also on November 16, 300 workers were said to have returned to the job in Wolseley. This suspension of strike activity for two weeks was designed to foster negotiations around key demands.

In a statement issued by SACCAWU on November 16, its said that "SACCAWU fully supports the striking farmworkers, their demands and the leadership role played by COSATU to defend these extremely vulnerable and low earning workers. Like the mine workers earlier this year, farm workers are hidden behind the fences of farms, they work under horrendous conditions, they live in appalling conditions in a sector notorious for the brutality workers experience at the hand of employers. These farm workers have signalled, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! This is a strike for higher wages, for better living conditions, for improved benefits and above all for DIGINTY!"

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