* Union signals strike to rumble on
* Two sides have polarised world views
* AMCU speaks of "super-exploitation"
By Ed Stoddard and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo
JOHANNESBURG, Feb 20 South Africa's Association
of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) vowed on Thursday
to continue a strike against the world's top three platinum
producers, a move its president described as a "fight for
survival" by workers.
AMCU's intention to dig in for the long haul dashes any hope
for the stoppage to end soon. The strike, already a month old,
has hit over 40 percent of global platinum production and dealt
a blow to investor confidence in Africa's largest economy.
"We are prepared to see it through," AMCU President Joseph
Mathunjwa told a news briefing.
AMCU members downed tools four weeks ago in a wage dispute
at Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum
Asked how long they would strike, Mathunjwa replied, "until
we achieve a settlement that is accommodative of our 12,500 rand
($1,100) a month demand".
AMCU's battle cry has been for a more than doubling of the
basic entry wage to 12,500 rand a month, which companies have
said they cannot afford.
The chief executives of the three companies drew their own
line in the sand on Wednesday, saying their latest offer of pay
hikes of up to 9 percent was final and pushed the boundaries of
what they could bear given depressed prices and rising costs.
Companies say that if bonuses, housing and other allowances
are also taken into account, their latest offer would guarantee
minimum pay of at least 9,390 rand to entry-level miners.
But Mathunjwa said workers were prepared to stick it out.
"This is not about time, it's about the cause," said
Mathunjwa, flanked by about 30 AMCU shop stewards clad in the
union's trade-mark green shirts.
"Ours is a fight for survival."
WORLD VIEWS APART
It is hardly surprising that the two sides remained so
polarised as they see the world through radically different
lenses and use a different vocabulary.
The companies look at their income statements, cash flows
and balance sheets, a point driven home on Wednesday by their
chief executives, who spoke of an "affordable, achievable and
sustainable resolution" to the strike.
AMCU - if taken at its word - takes the long view of history
and sees the showdown as the natural outcome of a long and
bloody conflict between capital and labour, and white colonial
powers and Africans.
Mathunjwa, in a long and at times rambling monologue, spoke
on Thursday of a "cancerous relationship" marked by
"profiteering ... through many centuries with significant
benefits to the Anglo-Saxon world and the Americans".
The companies talk about the "current weak state of the
Mathunjwa evokes "super-exploitative mechanisms" and said on
Thursday that "the mining sector for many centuries has been
feeding off the sweat and blood of black workers".
In many parts of the world, unions and management take very
different stances on issues of equity and economics, especially
when negotiating pay and benefits.
But in few places are the differences so stark and the
stakes so high, as AMCU has emerged as the top union on South
Africa's platinum belt - a trillion-dollar resource by some
estimates - after poaching tens of thousands of members from the
once-unrivalled National Union of Mineworkers.
Mathunjwa also said when it comes to executive pay,
"captains of industry don't complain as it benefits capital.
When it is workers who are demanding a genuine living wage, we
are told that this is unaffordable and will affect investor
confidence in the country".
There was a moment of levity when Mathunjwa, a Salvation
Army lay preacher, suggested the companies were "demonically
possessed" and would require a "laying of hands" to drive out
Earlier, the shop stewards had danced and sung praise songs
- a tradition in some African cultures - to Mathunjwa, another
marked difference from the staid press conference given by the
executives on Wednesday.