South African Mine Strike Spreads; Another Cablevision Victory; & NFL Refs Lockout Goes Unnoticed

Mike Elk

South African mine entrance

Every weekend, we round up the top labor news that we missed. Email suggestions to mike@​inthesetimes.​com.

In the reaction to the police massacre of 34 striking miners at Lonmin, work stoppages and union activity have increased at mines across South Africa.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Miners at the world’s biggest platinum producer, Anglo-American Platinum Ltd., or Amplats, and Royal Bafokeng Platinum Ltd. echoed the Lonmin workers in calling for better pay and working conditions.

Amplats said a group of workers submitted demands including a wage increase at its Thembelenmi mine. The company said there was no strike yet.

On Tuesday night, Royal Bafokeng Platinum said about 500 rock drillers embarked on an illegal strike. They blocked the entrance to its North shaft, which accounts for 40% of its production, preventing other miners from work.

The wage protests and disruption to the Marikana mine’s production briefly lifted platinum prices to their highest level in four months as investors took in the possibility of a production halt at Amplats, which accounts for 40% of global platinum supply.

Another group of Cablevision contractors in Brooklyn has elected to join Communication Workers of America (CWA). (In These Times covered CWA’s organizing success there earlier this summer). Cablevision contractors employed by Vision Pro voted 43-to‑3 for union membership. From CWA:

When we won one election, they called it a fluke. When we won two, they said it was a coincidence. But after three elections for union rights at Cablevision and its contractors, this is a movement that is not going away,” said Chris Shelton, Vice President of the Communications Workers of America, District 1. Workers across the city are demanding fair wages, better conditions and above all: respect.”

This latest Brooklyn effort is a victory in the larger struggle for workers in the cable TV industry – and especially at Cablevision – to gain better working conditions. Only two to four percent of eligible cable TV workers are members of a union, compared to 90% in the traditional telecommunications industry

In May, In These Times reported on 780 workers in Joliet, Ill., going on strike to protest Caterpillar’s demands for concessions. After three and a half months, the strike has now ended with the workers settling for a deal they don’t really like. From Steven Greenhouse at the New York Times:

The fight between Caterpillar and the International Association of Machinists was considered a test case in American labor relations, in part because Caterpillar was driving such a hard bargain when its business was thriving.

The strike by 780 members of the machinists began on May 1 as workers rejected Caterpillar’s demand for a six-year wage freeze for two-thirds of the factory’s workers — those hired before May 2005 — at a time when the company was reporting record profits. Caterpillar argued that wages for the higher-paid workers exceeded market levels.

The deal the workers ratified contained far-reaching concessions, including the wage freeze, a pension freeze for the more senior two-thirds of the workers and a steep increase in what the workers pay toward their health care insurance. It also called for a $3,100 ratification bonus, which union officials said Caterpillar agreed on Thursday to increase from $1,000.

It’s a win for Caterpillar — they achieved their bargaining objectives,” said Michael LeRoy, a labor relations professor at the University of Illinois. There’s very little good news in this for the union — they have managed to maintain the bargaining relationship. I wouldn’t say it’s a disaster, but it sure is a step back.”

A compelling op-ed from ESPN asks why so few middle-class Americans are paying attention to the fact that NFL has locked out its referees while games continue. From ESPN:

Just remember this isn’t a strike. It’s a lockout. The owners are trying to teach the officials a lesson. For a league with revenues far north of $8 billion a year, the petty cash in dispute is laughable. Especially when you consider there are only 119 NFL officials. And that they’re employed part time.

If Roger Goodell and the NFL and the NFL owners were serious about player safety and player conduct, for $50 million a year – less than 1 percent of total revenue – they could hire 200 well-trained full-time officials at $250,000 each.

But the NFL and the NFL owners and Roger Goodell are not serious about those things. They’re only serious about looking serious about those things. With the simple application of cash and backbone, they could make the game safer overnight. Instead, they’ll nickel and dime the officials union just because they can. And because we live in a moment when capital openly carries a nightstick in every debate over money or politics, you’ll let them get away with it.

Iraqi unions are still suffering under a set of Hussein-era anti-labor laws left in place by the U.S.-backed government. From Labor Notes’ review of Greg Muttitt’s Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq:

As British investigative journalist Greg Muttitt reports in Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq, the CPA never rescinded Hussein’s 1987 law prohibiting unions and collective bargaining in the public sector — a ban which applied to the entire oil industry and more than 80 percent of the nation’s economy.

This decision was not unrelated to U.S. policymakers’ fear that a resurgent Iraqi union movement would oppose their plans for privatization of state-owned enterprises and resulting foreign control of Iraq’s oil resources.

Under the U.S.-backed governments that took over from the occupation authority, union treasuries and offices have been seized, Iraqi troops have been deployed against strikers, and key union leaders have been prosecuted on trumped-up charges.

Finally, a group of Minnesota politicians, including U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, and Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz, are calling on American Crystal Sugar to end a yearlong lockout. The politicians write to American Crystal Sugar CEO Dave Berg:

The area’s farmers, union members and American Crystal Sugar have all suffered from this lockout. The Red River Valley’s small towns and communities have felt the impact. We acknowledge that there is understandable frustration on both sides but the bottom line is that it is time to work together and settle these issues.

It is our understanding that the proposal on the table is nothing new while the union has made many concessions. Some progress has been made but, again, it is imperative for both sides to come together and negotiate in good faith to find a solution. Perhaps it is time to bring in a new high level mediator.

Each day the lockout continues only makes a resolution more difficult. Families move away from the region and farmers may choose not to re-invest their reduced earnings into the local community. Our region has a history of working together during difficult times. It is time to do just that and settle this contract.

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Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.
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