The South African Federation of Trade Unions pledges its full support for the more than 600 NUMSA members who are on strike at the South 32 aluminum smelter in Richards Bay, Kwa-Zulu Natal.
These workers are confronted by a multi-national mining company whose managers clearly believe they can operate as in the days of apartheid. As NUMSA says, “They do not value the life of Black and African workers. Instead they view workers and our members in particular, as nothing more than cheap labour which must be exploited, to satisfy their unending greed. Like typical exploiters, they want to squeeze them like cranberry juice.”
The company has made a staggering $1.23 billion U.S., but they refuse to share any of this with the workers whose labour created those profits. As NUMSA says: “Workers are directly responsible for the success of the company. It is their sweat and toil which contributed to the massive profits that the company made. Our members simply cannot afford to carry these costs on their own whilst this company continues to maximize profits that amount to billions of rands”.
SAFTU totally agrees that the union’s demands are absolutely justifiable:
A 7.5% increase across the board, (but for the lowest earning, that increase must be 8.2%)
A one-year wage deal
Employer to contribute towards medical aid
Equal work for equal pay. Close the salary gap between workers doing the same work. In some cases the gap is as wide as R200 000!
A performance bonus of 20% for all employees,
Abolition of the different levels of performance bonuses.
Housing allowance of R5000
NUMSA’s collective agreement should be extended as a collective agreement to all trade unions as we are in the majority.
The fact that a wealthy employer is refusing to concede to such basic demands, and to bring scab labour from Mozambique to try to break the strike, is yet another sign that employers are on the offensive, determined to roll back the gains which the unions have fought for and won over many years of struggle.
These strikers are battling not only for their own interests but as part of a broader campaign against a concerted drive by all employers to break the resistance of workers. They are trying to bypass collective bargaining processes so that they can force down wages and working conditions to the very lowest possible level and use the threat of retrenchment and the high levels of unemployment to blackmail workers into submission.
SAFTU also joins NUMSA in condemning the brutality of the SA police who, without warning, opened fire with rubber bullets on South 32 workers who were peacefully picketing at the company’s offices. At least three of them had to be treated for injuries related to the shooting. Is it a coincidence that this happened just three days after Police Minister, Fikile Mbalula, urged police officers to “return fire with fire” and “break the law progressively”?
NUMSA is rightly outraged that “the police continue to be used to unleash violence on members of the working class, especially when they are exercising their democratic right to protest. It is the role of the SAPS to protect protestors and to create an enabling environment for them to express their just demands for better working conditions… In spite of the attempt to silence and intimidate us, our members remain resolute. We will not return to work until all our demands are met. Workers’ rights are human rights!”
SAFTU urges all other unions to support the South 32 workers, send messages of support and be ready to respond to calls for solidarity action. This is a struggle for all workers’ fundamental right not to be exploited, to be paid a living wage and to be treated with respect. An injury to one is an injury to all!
This dispute also confirms how necessary it is for workers to join SAFTU’s planned general strike in November to trigger a fight-back against employers like South 32 and hundreds of others and to demand a fundamental transformation of the economy to one in which wealth and power is transferred from the greedy, white monopoly capitalists, to the people of South Africa, through the nationalization, under democratic workers’ and community control ,of the key mineral, industrial and financial sectors of the economy.