Grumpy Old Man’s Guide to Social Cohesion in the Time Of Strikes
- Grumpy Old Man
- 10 Oct 2013 (South Africa)
Wow, another union is threatening another strike and another company is muttering unhappily about packing its bags and leaving this abusive relationship with the South African economy. It must be another working day in South Africa (and I mean ‘working day’ in the broadest possible terms). In other countries you’d call a strike only after every other avenue had been exhausted. Here, striking is what you do in between ironing your Cosatu shirt and polishing your knobkerrie.
Striking is even more popular than having sex with your colleagues on company time, which should tell you all you need to know about what a joyless bunch the average union collective is. What nobody seems to realise is that most of the big South African industries have been built on the apartheid-era economics of cheap labour and crap living conditions. Everybody pretends that things are healthy in the mining and manufacturing industries and every year a few more of the slowest buffaloes are culled from the herd.
What are you supposed to do, if you are a company that mines platinum? The price of the stuff is currently around $1,400 which is at the bottom of the $1,400 - $1,700 range of the last four years. The old grey metal ain’t what she used to be. You can recite all the incantations from Das Kapital or make your supplications at Lenin’s tomb and you won’t shift the price by one dollar. (By all means, try and prove me wrong. Send me a postcard from the Red Square.)
Meanwhile, all your input costs have risen over the last four years, particularly electricity and labour costs. Electricity costs have more than doubled for everybody that’s not a mine, because the government thinks that the Electricity Fairy is a safer bet than the open market.
If you’re a mine you might have some sweet deal with Eskom and maybe you dodged the worst of the price hikes. But you’ve been asked to cut back on your power usage and your costs have risen.
What are you going to do? Take away the bonuses and even the salaries of the white monopoly capital running-dog anti-worker management and redistribute them to the guys working below ground?
Amplats has - had - about 50,000 workers until recently. Let’s assume that there’s R100 million in bonuses and share options sloshing around every year. That’s an extra R2,000 per worker per year, or about an extra R170 per worker per month. You could barely convince a worker to get out of bed and chant ‘Phantsi bosses phantsi’ for that amount.
The maths for the automotive industry are similarly depressing. The government spends billions a year just to subsidise the industry and convince the Germans and Japanese to stay invested in our country. It’s a bit like giving the big kid in your class your tuck-shop money every day so that he’ll hang out with you on the playground and you can feel a bit better about yourself. As far as foundations for sustainable relationships go, it’s a pretty iffy strategy.
This subsidisation has been going on for years, with the industry and government fooling themselves and each other that eventually they’ll outgrow the need for support and stand on their own two feet. It’s a bit like your idiot child pleading for a bit more pocket money and free medical aid until their costume jewellery business takes off and they can pay you back. Like that’s ever going to happen.
You’d think that Numsa and its heavily-subsidised workers would take this into account when it comes to wage negotiations. You’d be wrong, as usual.
Not that South African business is exactly covering itself with glory during this whole mess - far from it. The mining bosses seem to think that their great contribution to their industry is limited to letting fewer workers die on the job and the business model for BMW, Ford SA, and the others is calculated in terms of 40% import duties on the competition’s cars. It’s hardly the stuff of Forbes magazine best-practice case studies.
I mean, look at how Vodacom management has taken the news of lower termination rates as decreed by Icasa. They’re threatening to disinvest from the country unless they are given the oversized bowls of ice-cream they’ve come to see as their due. Most of their physical infrastructure was built up under Telkom with the help of taxpayers’ money over decades. Now they’re whining about having to share this free gift with other companies. And we wonder why nationalisation is so popular with so many people.
This whole sorry economy of ours is nothing more than a handful of well-placed executives, union bosses and politicians greasing each other’s palms and squirting baby oil over each other’s backs, with all of them pretending that they’re the indispensable, magical cog in the machinery. And each special interest group has its own fanboys and sworn enemies mouthbreathing all over the internet and crying out for more special favours and retribution for the other side. None of you would know an unsubsidised, honest day’s work if it donned a red beret and threw organic cabbages at your head.
I really don’t know why I bother trying, but at least I do. Nobody’s paying me to tell you the hard truth. Maybe I should also go on strike or threaten disinvestment. Idiots. DM
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