The Spatial Basis of Labour Agency: The Case of a Strike at a South African Open Cast Mine in 2012

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Hörsaal 31 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
John MASHAYAMOMBE, University of Pretoria, South Africa
The last seven years has witnessed a spike in industrial unrest and conflict across most sectors of the South African economy. The mining sector for instance experienced a lot of labour conflict which often culminated itself in different forms of violence as epitomised by the Marikana shooting. Low wages, poor working conditions and confrontational wage negotiations have been cited as the causes and drivers of this violence. But how do we explain and provide reasons for the use of such violence from a labour geography standpoint? This paper presents findings from a commissioned study carried out for an open cast mine from December 2012 to March 2013 in South Africa. Survey questionnaires were administered to selected mineworkers together with in-depth and focus group interviews in collecting worker responses on why they had gone on a wildcat strike among other issues. It is argued that labour uses agency by drawing from different sources of power in articulating its demands and interests with varied levels of success and failure. In other words, workers in times of conflict make use of structural, associational, logistical and symbolic power in making their claims. However, when these methods fail to bring positive results, they resort to use of different forms of violence. Furthermore, the use of violence by South African mining labour force is not a new phenomenon but one that is historically entrenched in society and its intensification is due to changing micro and macro socio-political and economic conditions stressing South Africa’s industrial relations system.