NUM Keeps Recruiting as Lonmin Shuts Bullet-Marked OfficePaul Burkhardt
The National Union of Mineworkers won’t stop recruiting at Lonmin Plc, where today it ceases to be the majority labor group and must vacate bullet-marked offices after a pact with the third-biggest platinum producer expires.
“There’s no way we can stop what we already started,” Luphert Chilwane, a spokesman for NUM recruitment, said yesterday. He stood outside Lonmin’s Rowland shaft, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Johannesburg, as workers wearing coveralls and mining helmets finished their shift, walking past a truck with a stack of free red NUM T-shirts on the tailgate.
The 30 year-old NUM has been on a monthlong push to regain members at the company, where the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union has grown to represent about 70 percent of underground workers. The NUM fought against the expiration of its official majority in a labor court, which found the union was entitled to keep associated privileges, including a main office, through a contract ending July 16. The court yesterday dismissed the NUM’s bid to have this extended.
Members of both unions have been killed since May, adding to mine violence that led to at least 44 deaths last year, including 34 protesters killed by police on Aug. 16 at a hill within sight of the Rowland shaft. Some of the others who died were killed in fighting between members of the two unions.
Mining strikes in 2012 caused almost 15 billion rand ($1.5 billion) in lost output in South Africa and shaved about 0.5 percentage point off gross domestic product, according to the National Treasury.
The NUM will be able to relocate to a central office with other minority membership unions, Sue Vey, a Lonmin spokeswoman, said by phone yesterday.
“If we start talking about 50 percent plus one, that’s an unrealistic goal,” Chilwane said of the membership threshold it would need to reach to maintain previous privileges. The NUM held such a majority of Lonmin labor until the AMCU’s rolls rose in the last year. Workers have been “confused” and “shocked” and most of them are just defending their lives by following along the safest path, he said.
The NUM has referred claims about the validity of AMCU membership forms to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration in Johannesburg, which will hold a hearing on the question on July 17, Lesiba Seshoka, a spokesman for the union, said after the labor court’s decision on July 14.
“We need young people to further recruit other young people,” said Peterson Siyaya, 27, national deputy secretary of the NUM’s youth forum. He opened his track-suit jacket to show a red T-shirt with “Defend and Advance” printed in an arch of black letters. “It’s not violent,” he said.
In the late afternoon, about three dozen NUM recruiters returned to their office for possibly their last meeting at the location. It is clearly marked with signs showing the union’s logo and the African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party.
Chilwane pointed out a bullet hole in a window and a corner a few feet where a NUM official was shot dead in June.
The office floor-plan is identical to the AMCU’s office next door, which was quiet.
“We want members to feel our presence; most of them are confused, they are intimidated,” he said.