Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/751/16076
South Africa: Battle for control of mining sector
Weizmann Hamilton, Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM - CWI, South Africa)
The threat by mining giant Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) to close four shafts, sell one mine and lay off 14,000 mineworkers in their Rustenburg operations is an open challenge to the entire working class. It would be the largest retrenchment by a single company in the history of South Africa.
A 60-day moratorium on their retrenchments cannot be trusted.
The real motive of the mining bosses is to crush the militancy that rocked the mining industry after the Marikana uprising (see socialistworld.net). It is a desperate attempt to restore the balance of power in the mining industry which, for the latter half of 2012, had shifted in favour of the workers.
It follows the earlier decision by Harmony Gold to illegally lock out 6,000 workers from the Kusasalethu Mine in Carletonville. A similar announcement of retrenchment left workers who had travelled thousands of kilometres from as far as Lesotho, Mozambique and the Eastern Cape, stranded in the rain without food or shelter.
Emboldened by the muted response to the Carletonville offensive, the mining bosses have opened up a second front in Rustenburg. Hostilities have resumed after the festive period and the working class must respond accordingly.
The significance of the capitulation of the Lonmin bosses last year went far beyond the salary increases. They were compelled to condone the collapse of the authority of their 'baas boy' union [ie a bosses' union], the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), to sign an agreement outside of the provision of the collective bargaining system for the first time, and, worst of all from their point of view, to bestow recognition on the strike committees set up by the workers independently of all the unions.
This is why it was greeted with such hysteria and condemned by big business as well as the NUM. The NUM leadership's initial reaction to the threat of retrenchment was to echo management's threats. They continue to swallow the argument that the retrenchments are being forced on management due to a combination of circumstances out of their control and the unreasonable demands of the workers.
Instead of exposing management's hypocrisy and mobilising for mass action to defend jobs, they are using the moratorium to peddle the illusion that the differences between the bosses and workers can be resolved by negotiations.
In fact they are disarming the workers. It is ruled out that any alternative jobs created through management's proposals would absorb 14,000 workers.
The real attitude of the mining bosses is revealed by Harmony Gold Chief Executive, Graham Briggs. Quoted in Business Day (15/1/13) he said: "The tables have turned. It is us the company, which has demands on the tables now, not the unions".
This is an orchestrated strategy to break the defiance of the workers, re-establish the authority, especially of the NUM, as a collaborator in the maintenance of "discipline" over the workers, to co-opt Amcu [an independent miners' union] and to break the back of the independent strike committees, and to restore the pre-Marikana dictatorship on the mines.
Despite the decline in demand for platinum, fabulous profits have been made across the mining industry in this period. According to the Labour Research Service, in 2011, the nine mining houses made a combined profit of R39 billion.
This would have enabled Lonmin to pay each worker R88,000 and still make a profit and explains why despite widespread denunciation of the workers' demand for the an increase of R12,500 (£890), management signed an agreement very close to it.
Mining bosses profit - workers suffer
- Harmony made R2.5 billion profit for the year ending 31 March 2012. It increased its net operating profit by 80% from R3.3 billion to R5.9 billion for the period 2011/2012.
- According to Amplats' own figures, in the first half of 2012, the four shafts earmarked for closure achieved increases in labour productivity and output of 20% and 30% respectively.
- Chief Executive, Chris Briggs, earns R7.3 million a year even after being forced to forego his bonus of 50% of his salary (because the company failed to prevent fatal accidents).
- The wage gap in the mining industry is 390 to one, and the average worker would have to work 325 years to earn what a CEO earns in one year.
Building a party to represent the working class
After 19 years of bending the knee to big business, the mining bosses rightly see the African National Congress (ANC) government as their stooges.
Mining managements derived great comfort from the ANC's Mangaung conference in December 2012. In a pitiful attempt to appease international capitalist investors, ANC delegates not only finally shut down the nationalisation debate, even the word "nationalisation" was erased from the economic policy documents.
From the reaffirmation of the youth wage subsidy, the endorsement of road e-tolling and, and the adoption of the neoliberal National Development Plan, to the election, with an overwhelming majority, of the butchers of Marikana - Zuma, Mthethwa and Ramaphosa, the bosses had every reason to celebrate.
But the bosses have misread the situation. In the eyes of the mineworkers, Marikana had exposed the role of the ANC (and indeed of the whole Tripartite Alliance ie the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions - Cosatu - and the Communist Party) as a strike-breaking conspiracy.
From the Marikana experience the mineworkers had drawn profound political conclusions. Determined to reclaim their class and political independence, jointly with the Democratic Socialist Movement, mine workers' strike committees from several mines founded the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) on 15 December 2012 at Bokoni Mine in Limpopo.
The latest action by the mining bosses again exposes the role of the ANC as a tool of the mining bosses to the entire working class. It will reinforce the political process that commenced as early as during the ANC's very first term in office (as revealed in Cosatu's 1998 survey which found that at that time already 30% of shop stewards wanted Cosatu to form a workers' party and to contest the elections) - the steady erosion of electoral support.
Over the past few years this process has accelerated with the ANC's 66% parliamentary majority masking the decline in its electoral support in the overall population to 34% of the eligible voting population in 2009.
The warmth that the Zuma faction feels following its overwhelming majority inside the halls of Manguang, will be replaced by the icy cold wind of an alienated working class determined to find its own voice, its own programme, its own party in the WASP.
WASP will be built through struggle. In the lead up to its launch on Sharpeville Day, 21 March 2013, it will lead a campaign to fight threatened retrenchments on the mines by calling for a general strike.
As part of the mobilisation WASP has initiated a million-signature campaign. Disillusioned with the ANC, but not offered an alternative by any of the other pro-capitalist parties in parliament, 12 million people did not vote in the last election.
WASP will offer these voters the radical anti-capitalist fighting alternative by attempting to unite all the struggles of workers on farms for better wages, in communities against corruption and for better services, and among students against financial and academic exclusion and for free education in a general strike in solidarity with the mine workers.
- For a general strike to defend jobs
- Nationalise the mines under democratic control and management of the working class
- For national minimum wage of R12,500 a month
- Recognise the independent strike committees
- Build the Workers and Socialist Party into a mass militant fighting socialist party
In The Socialist 6 February 2013:
Socialist Party NHS campaigning
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party reviews and comments
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis