Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/796/18076
New mineworkers' strikes in South Africa
Workers and Socialist Party calls for democratic control of the action
The ongoing struggle of mineworkers in South Africa for a R12,500 (£900) a month minimum wage has exploded into strikes in the platinum mines once more - called by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).
It was while striking for this same demand in 2012 that 34 miners were killed by police at Marikana. Out of the anger and political discussions that followed emerged the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP), also involving the Democratic Socialist Movement (sister organisation of the Socialist Party).
This is an edited version of WASP's statement on the latest strikes.
WASP supports the platinum wage strike. However, we are supporting the call of the rank-and-file Rustenburg leadership for the immediate resurrection of the independent strike committees to lead the strike and place it firmly under the control of ordinary mineworkers.
WASP has consistently argued that winning R12,500 will require drawing in every section of the mineworkers through a programme of rolling mass action.
In the first instance this means pursuing a strategy to win over the remaining National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) membership.
It will also require mobilising the mining communities and youth in support of the strike. The mining communities' demands around service delivery have to be linked to the mineworkers' wage demands.
The mineworkers will need to call for the formation of support groups across the country and for national demonstrations, solidarity strikes and ultimately a general strike to force the mine bosses to concede.
Linking up with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) will be crucial in the aftermath of Numsa's special conference which took the decision to cut ties with the governing party, the African National Congress (ANC).
To our knowledge the Amcu leadership has done none of this. But the mineworkers can rapidly make up the ground that the Amcu leadership has abandoned and adopt a strategy that will maximise the chances of victory.
Unfortunately, the Amcu leadership has taken a sectarian approach to sections of the mineworkers not under their banner.
This includes the condemnation of the NUM-led strike in the gold mines in September and the call by the Amcu leadership for Amcu members not to support this strike.
In contrast WASP called on Amcu to throw its weight behind the strike to expose and undermine the treacherous NUM leadership and win mineworkers away from them.
This would also have maximised the pressure on the gold mining bosses for the best possible wage deal for all mineworkers, regardless of union affiliation.
Numsa president Andrew Chirwa was invited to address an Amcu mass meeting before the strike by a local Amcu branch, with the expressed consent of the national Amcu leadership. But the same Amcu leadership then intervened to prevent him speaking.
On 20 January, WASP hosted a press conference to give a platform to rank-and-file Amcu leaders from Rustenburg voicing the concerns of key organisers and members at the Impala, Amplats and Lonmin mines.
We gave these workers' leaders a platform to respond to the accusations levelled against them by Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa at a mass meeting of mineworkers in the Rustenburg platinum belt.
Mathunjwa named eight rank-and-file Amcu leaders he accuses of seeking to "destroy" the union, "having tea with [South African president] Zuma", taking money from government, demanding and taking bribes, starting a new union and bearing responsibility for the defeat of the Amplats strike against retrenchments early last year. One of the workers named was immediately assaulted by a group of workers.
Need for structures
There is no credibility to these accusations. The real reason for the witch-hunt is that these workers have been at the forefront of calling for the democratisation of Amcu and the accountability of its leadership, including Mathunjwa.
Among the complaints is the Amcu leadership's failure to organise even basic democratic structures in Rustenburg that would give workers a genuine voice within their own union.
WASP has been drawing attention to these problems for several months. The democratic structures that do exist - shop stewards committees and branches - are frequently side-lined on the issues that are most fundamental to the labour movement: the calling and control of industrial action.
On the surface, the mass meetings called by the Amcu leadership, at which votes are taken, can seem democratic.
But these meetings amount to a 'rule by referendum' passed down from the top for approval rather than a genuine democratic discussion and debate where elected and accountable workers' representatives pass mandates up to the leadership.
The eight named by Mathunjwa are among those who led the independent strike committees that coordinated the strikes in the wake of the Marikana massacre.
In fact Amcu owes its entire position in the platinum belt to these comrades and others like them. The majority of the mineworkers in the platinum belt had sustained betrayals at the hands of the NUM, not least in Marikana itself.
These leaders took workers into Amcu, expecting and demanding an entirely different regime to the one they abandoned in the NUM.
Such is Mathunjwa's ingratitude for their role and suspicion of the workers' desire to control their own destinies, that he is prepared to incite workers to attack those who have always heroically defended the interests of the mineworkers and the working class in general.
Any responsibility for new divisions among the mineworkers lies squarely with the Amcu leadership.
There are rumours that a new union has been founded in the mining industry out of the differences in Amcu described above.
If this is the case, then it is a confirmation of the erosion of support for the Amcu leadership in the short space of time they have 'led' in the platinum belt.
Those workers' leaders at the WASP-hosted press conference remain Amcu members and are not part of this initiative.
But they did not lift Amcu out of obscurity only to capitulate to Mathunjwa's clique. Out of the strike they and WASP will demand the democratisation of Amcu and its reorganisation as a democratic and worker-led trade union.
The R12,500 demand was first raised by the independent strike committees in the course of the 2012 struggle.
It is entirely justified and entirely possible, despite the mine bosses' protests of its unaffordability.
It is winnable only on the basis of careful preparation by the mineworkers and the working class as a whole.
The platinum bosses have prepared for a long strike, stockpiling platinum for the world market. The share prices of the three main platinum producers actually increased on news of the strike! This is a vote of confidence by the vulture capitalists in the platinum bosses.
WASP has consistently and determinedly argued for the unity of the mineworkers and rejected the use of violence, the sectarianism of the Amcu leadership and the treachery of the NUM leadership.
This championing of all mineworkers, rather than just the section organised under Amcu's banner, has led Amcu leaders to slander WASP.
For example they regularly assert that some of our members wear red tshirts, the same colour as the NUM wears, because WASP (and DSM) are enemies of the mineworkers and want them to return to NUM!
The R12,500 will be a central demand in WASP's 2014 election campaign and WASP invites the independent workers' committees to nominate candidates to stand for election under the WASP umbrella.
Viva the mineworkers, viva!
Donate to the Workers and Socialist Party
WASP is appealing for international labour movement support. Messages of support and the publicising of the campaign will be vital.
But what is most crucial is the funding necessary to wage an effective election campaign. The money for the election deposits alone is R605,000 (£38,000). In total we need to raise R2 million (£125,000).
Please write cheques to "South African Miners Fund" and post to South African Miners' Solidarity, PO Box 66682, London E11 9ER or transfer funds to the account details below.
Name of account: Wasp
Branch: Gandhi Square
Bank address: 180 Commissioner Street, Johannesburg, 2001
Branch code: 632005
Account number: 4081935745
Swift code: ABSAZAJJ
If asked for a Clearing Code please use: 632005
If asked for Recipient's Address please use: 33 Yster Crescent, Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, 1812
For the reference please put: your country + the name of your organisation. Please send an email to email@example.com to notify us to expect the donation and so we can send confirmation of receipt and a message of thanks.
In The Socialist 29 January 2014:
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