Last month’s strike and massacre at the Lonmin mine at Marikana marked the start of a series of strikes within the mining sector. A month later, and the strikes are really beginning to gain momentum. It’s hard to keep up one which mines are striking, and for how long, but it seems like the Lonmin strike (which is still going strong) may have been the spark to set the fire burning. Here’s a quick recap of the strikes in the mining industry that I’ve been able to keep track of.
-The Lonmin mine is still striking, a month after the massacre that killed 34 and injured 78. Only 6% of the 28,000 workers are reporting to work currently, and the mine hasn’t produced a speck of platinum since the start of the strike. A peace deal was signed between two of the three parties, to no apparent success. Miners have marched through the streets, threatened to kill management, and are currently forcing their way into the mine to stop workers from going to work. Lonmin is the world’s third largest platinum mine. The strikers are holding out for a wage increase, from about R4500 to R12500 per month. The mine has missed out of a staggering $75 million (USD) in lost production in the past month, and is struggling to defer debt payments and avoid a closure of the mine, affecting some 40,000 jobs total.
-The Impala Platinum mine workers, about 15,000 of them, are demanding a 10% pay increase, for the second time this year. Earlier in the year, the mine was closed for 6 weeks, and one worker was shot and injured. The workers are currently still working, and not actively striking (yet). Implats is the world’s second largest platinum mine.
-The Gold Fields mine KDC West location has seen some 15,000 workers striking. Gold Fields is the world’s number 4 bullion mine, a third of the mine’s workers are involved in the strike, and production was halted.
-The Gold Fields mine KDC East was striking last week, with 12,000 workers involved, but have since returned to work.
-The Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) mine saw a small strike, when about 100 of their 4,100 workers refused to go underground in late August.
-Royal Bafokeng Platinum also saw a small s trike, of about 500 workers, following the Marikana Massacre.
There have likely been other, small scale strikes that I haven’t heard about. To put this in perspective, these mines employ more workers than there are people in my village (there are about 3,000 people in my village). These are large-scale operations that employ tens of thousands of people, for the most part.
These strikes are all illegal, wildcat strikes, which means the workers are risking their jobs for higher pay. In a country with a 24% unemployment rate, that’s serious dedication. All of these miners are striking for pay increases of various amounts, and the strikes are fuelled by two competing mining unions: The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
Mining accounts for 1/6 of South Africa’s GDP, and if these mining strikes continue to spread (and all indicators say they will), the South African economy is headed to an ugly place. South Africa holds 80% of the world’s platinum reserves, and supplies 75% of the world’s demand. You will see the effects of these strikes on the global market, if you haven’t already. Furthermore, these strikes are anything but peaceful. While the Lonmin mine is the only one that had any deaths (to my knowledge), miners are staging armed strikes, or making death threats to management and fellow workers who attempt to go to work.
The South African election season will be kicking into gear late this year, and I’m sure these strikes will be a topic for debate. Some blame the ANC and President Zuma for the inequality and conditions in the mining communities. Some blame the mine companies. Others are calling for nationalization of all mining operations. Though the miners are striking for higher wages, politics are deeply involved in the spreading unrest. Some are even speculating that the conditions are right for a “Miner Spring” (think Arab Spring). And really, the conditions are spot on for widespread striking and unrest. Look for an upcoming post on inequality in South Africa to understand why I say this.
Check out these articles:
How these strikes may lead to a Miner Spring