MKHUSELI Jack’s article, “Strike hitting economy hard” (June 23), raises some interesting points, but he also disregards the most important ones. Based on work by Roger Fischer and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project, Jack outlines “four cardinal points” which, he feels, should inform negotiations: separate people from the problem, focus on common interests not positions, generate a variety of positions before deciding what to do and insist the result being based on some objective standard.
This principle could be usefully employed to resolve socio-political disputes, but its value in industrial disputes is doubtful. Wage negotiations are by their very nature personal and positional.
There cannot be a variety of positions. The issue is straightforward and there can be no objective standard – employers want to extract maximum profits while workers fight to get a fair price for their labour and time.
The strike must be viewed in its historical perspective and political context. In his seminal work, A History of In Inequality in South Africa, Prof Sampie Terreblanche succinctly sums up the historical background on page 16: “It is nonetheless beyond dispute that the white colonial powers and local white establishments that ruled South Africa from the mid-17th to the late 20th centuries used their monopoly over political, military, economic and ideological power not only to advance themselves but also to plunder indigenous people, disrupt their social structures and turn them into exploited workers”.
He continues on page 260: “The Land Act was extraordinarily successful in proletarianising the great majority of Africans and creating large reservoirs of cheap and docile African labour for white farmers and mining industry. It was truly the rock on which not only the political alliance between a section of the Afrikaner farming and the British English business was built, also on which ultra exploitative system of racial capitalism was built and maintained until the 1970s”.
The situation has not changed under the ANC rule.
In his book, Architects of Poverty, Moeletsi Mbeki writes: “African political elites today sustain and reproduce themselves by perpetuating the neo-colonial state and its attendant socio-economic systems of exploitation, devised by the colonialists”.
It is against this background the tenacity of the Amcu strike should be understood.
When workers put forward their demands to the employers they expect the employer to respond in good faith and state why they can’t afford the workers’ demands. The mine bosses did not create the impression that they were negotiating in good faith.
The Farlam Commission commissioned the Alternative Information Development Centre to investigate whether employers could afford to pay miners R12500 per month and unearthed a can of worms. It found, among other things, that mine bosses had been selling platinum at below market rates to their overseas subsidiaries to avoid paying taxes.
The study also found that it was difficult to ascertain sales figures because raw products were extracted from the mines and carted off to be processed and sold abroad in dollars, by overseas subsidiaries.
These shocking facts taken together with the fact that the employers went over the heads of union leaders and resorted to apartheid era tactics of divide and rule in an unsuccessful attempt to bust the strike, do not create among workers and interested observers the impression that the mine bosses were negotiating in good faith.
The strike may be over for now, but their actions will come back to haunt them.
Vuyisile Oliphant Makhe, New Brighton, Port Elizabeth