The Sibanye-Stillwater strike

by Jul 5, 2022Amandla Issue 82, Articles, Labour

Interview with Amcu President, Joseph Mathunjwa

Amandla!: Amcu has conclude a three-year agreement with Sibanye-Stillwater Gold after a gruelling strike. What were the gains for gold workers and what were the main lessons you take from the strike?

The demonstration outside the Union Building. It was no longer Amcu and Num, but a class mandate.

Joseph Mathunjwa: There were important monetary gains. We have won a R1,000 increase for the first year, R900 for the second year and R750 for the third year. This is important as it will increase the base earnings of workers. That means that the new levels will be the baseline for future increases. You must remember we are dealing with the history of the poor wages paid to mine workers in the gold sector. Since 1994 no one has really been concerned with the situation of mine workers. Instead, we have had BEE which gave a small elite great wealth. But this was at the expense of the majority of mineworkers.

That is why we went on strike in 2018. That was a difficult strike, especially because workers were divided. The greatest gain from this strike that has just ended has been the unity of workers. The strike was jointly undertaken by Amcu and Num. As a result of the strike, no worker will earn less than R12,000 at Sibanye Gold. This is still not as good as we achieved at Harmony Gold, which is the biggest employer of mine workers in the gold sector. There we managed to win a R1,000 increase each year for three years. Harmony has a much better profit-sharing scheme and bonus system than Sibanye. So, we have much still to do at Sibanye.

A!: This strike was historic because it was conducted together with Num. How did that come about?

JM: Many people, media houses and political analysts, without looking deeper, spoke of animosity between Amcu and Num members. But you could see clearly it was not between the members of our unions. Tensions were fuelled by elites, who were the beneficiaries of these mines. The more the workers are divided, the better to cement their position and their influence, i.e. for their own selfish narrow interests. What I can say is that I encouraged our negotiating team that they should talk to the leadership or the chief negotiator of Num at Harmony during the wage negotiations.

The new leadership of Num, through their acting general secretary at the time, comrade William Mabapa, were enthusiastic about forming a labour caucus with all the unions at Harmony. This was a success, which we carried forward to Sibanye- Stillwater. We said, let’s take this to workers at Sibanye. And it was with worke s that our unity was cemented.

This united front was so successful that workers agreed on one set of demands; there was one negotiating mandate. It was no longer Amcu and Num, but a class mandate. Workers coined this united front, NumCU. That is how this spirit of unity was understood by workers. And then we agreed amongst ourselves that if Num leadership addressed a central mass meeting in my absence as the leader of Amcu, that leader will be also representing our office. Likewise, if the Amcu General Secretary is addressing the meeting, the decisions taken there represented both unions, and he would be speaking as NumCU. This level of unity was captured by us having a T-shirt for our demonstration outside the Union Building with both the logos of Amcu and Num, demanding economic emancipation. I thought this was a good way of showing the employer and the government we mean business.

A!: The decisions to camp outside the Union building and demand that President Ramaphosa engage wit you; how was that decided?

JM: The strike was a worker-controlled strike. These decisions were taken by the workers themselves. In Rustenburg, at the Cosatu May Day rally, workers disrupted Ramaphosa’s speech to demand that he address the issues of the strike. What was amazing was that Amcu members went with their Num comrades to the rally. They went in their Amcu t-shirts and they were welcomed on the Num buses. That was something else! The unity there was amazing.

A!: Were there any negatives in terms of this united front approach?

JM: The employer was desperate to divide us. They tried to infiltrate leadership at a branch level, trying to entice leaders into deals, putting forward different scenarios. Solidarity and UWASA pulled out of the strike and signed an agreement. So the Sibanye CEO, Froneman, gave space for these unions to recruit Amcu and Num members, since they were now going back to work. For an Amcu or Num member, by joining these non-striking unions, you could be paid, even though the strike had stopped the operations. I also want to highlight the uselessness of the interventions of the Ministers of Mineral Resources and Energy and Labour. They made some noises during the strike but they were not working towards the benefit of the workers in the strike. They were simply pressurising us to accept what the employer put on the table.

A!: Will you approach the upcoming negotiations in the platinum sector by trying to forge a similar unity?

JM: Like ourselves, the President of Num was very pro this unity and this unity cannot just be for Sibanye. Wherever Amcu and Num exist, we should forge this unity. What we need to take into account is that this unity cannot just be proclaimed. Our respective unions have structures, and they must be enlightened on the gains that can be made when the working class is united. They must be encouraged to build this unity. So, it’s something that we cannot just impose ourselves as leaders; it should be communicated thoroughly to all structures. Of course, each union is independent and will develop their demands and negotiating strategy. However, once we have the first meetings with management, we will reflect and sit down and say,
guys, let’s continue with this.

A!: How do you think the unit forged by Amcu and Num is being greeted in the Tripartite Alliance?

JM: The workers see clearly they are on their own. The unity of progressive and militant unions like Amcu and Num can address many issues. Our members can gain a lot. The quietness or the silence of the Alliance to their affiliate under these difficult times of this strike was too loud. I think the Num realises it is on its own, in particular with its new leadership. So for them, the best way is to unite to be part of us and to establish class consciousness, rather than the political consciousness of the Alliance.

A!: Do you think this spirit of unity between Amcu and Num could even be extended to Amcu and Num commemorating the Marikana massacre together?

JM: Marikana is a very sensitive issue. It is not something we as the leadership can just decide. It can’t be approached from a top-down way. It is the other way around. It is a bottom-up approach whereby we will engage the relevant structures of Amcu, in particular at Lonmin, from shaft to branches to regions, on inviting Num to the commemoration. I can’t see them being anti because it was never personal. It could be a plus for the working class. We are encouraging it. It is just a matter of overcoming the way leaders in the Alliance, have labelled Amcu. Now, with the new leadership of Num, they see through this. We should remember, at the Koppie all workers were sitting side by side, Num, Amcu, everyone.

The presidents and general secretaries of Num and Amcu. This level of unity was captured by us having a T-shirt for our demonstration outside the Union Building with both the logos of Amcu and Num, demanding economic emancipation.

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