The wave of strikes in South Africa demonstrates the need for class organization!
(«Proletarian»;Nr. 9; Winter 2012-2013)
For several months South Africa has been experiencing a major wave of unrest and strikes, fueled by the deteriorating situation of the workers and exploited masses.
Miners are often in the forefront of struggles; and it must be said that if the mining industry is the most important economic sector in the country, enriching international companies and local bourgeois, the living and working conditions of the miners remain deplorable, despite a long history of struggles that have allowed them to gain some improvements. Lonmin miners live in wretched huts which do little to protect them from the punishing heat, with exterior latrines expected to service 50 men with a miserable trickle of water, etc... A third of the miners are temporary, with lower wages than the others and no social protection, retirement benefits or medical care. «Better to die than work for this shit!» said a striking miner at Lonmin (1).
South Africa is the worlds’ largest producer of platinum and its importance in the South African mining industry has replaced gold, but the economic crisis has resulted in lower prices on the world market, pushing capitalists to increase the exploitation of the proletariat in order to save their profits.
Lead by the Lonmin miners, other wildcat strikes have erupted in the mining sector for the same demands for wage increases, notably a wildcat strike in Anglo American Platinum (AMPLATS) of Rustenburg, a town near Lonmin where the strikers barricaded all access routes. Early in September the police attacked with rubber bullets against strikers at a gold mine near Johannesburg. In late September the production of the AngloGold Ashanti gold mines employing 35,000 workers was completely paralyzed across the country by the strike. Strikes hit the chromium mines, again in Rustenburg, where hundreds of miners decided on an underground sit-in to demand an increase of 12,500 rands. Early in October the Toyota plant in Durban was hit by a wildcat strike while it was estimated that 80,000 miners were on strike at various mines in the country.
After the savage repression at Marikana, the government decided to open a formal investigation to calm outrage over the massacre; however there is no doubt about the causes and the facts: there is evidence that the killing was premeditated and the official union, the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers) and the South African CP called for the repression of the strikers and collaborated with the police. The attitude of the authorities vis-à-vis other strikes confirms, if confirmation were needed, which side the government and the official unions are on.
Thus, in Rustenburg, the NUM called for an end to the strike after signing an agreement with the bosses, but the miners continued their action and accused the NUM of being «liars». The police intervened against strikers with rubber bullets, killing one. However, the strike wave appeared to extend to other sectors: 20,000 transport truck drivers, Dunlop workers in Howick where 14 strikers were injured by rubber bullets fired by the employers militia, etc. Meanwhile the government of Jacob Zuma, which had pretended to be moved by the Lonmin massacre, has sent the army into Marakana until the end of the year «to maintain calm.»
On October 2, Goldfields expelled 5000 strikers from the dormitories they had occupied, after that, still early in the month wildcat strikes extended to another of its mines, Bokoni, hundreds of kilometers from the epicenter of strikes constituted by the cities of Marikana and Rustenburg. AMPLATS decided in the same period to terminate 12,000 strikers in Rustenburg, while AngloGold Ashanti also threatened to dismiss strikers.
After negotiations with the NUM, AMPLATS agreed to take back the dismissed miners, but it seems that the struggle has not stopped.
After COSATU (which with the South African CP and the ANC of Mandela and Zuma, is part of the anti-proletarian «Triple Alliance» in power) had repeatedly denounced the wildcat strikes at its convention at the end of September, it stated its support for workers, notably for striking truck drivers (a declaration which commits itself to nothing), while entreating them to refrain from acts of violence;the truck drivers union, stated baldly that the violent actions of strikers (attacks upon and the setting ablaze of trucks which tried to break the strike), were the work of «thugs»! For his part, President Zuma came to the Congress to affirm, with a straight face: «unionism is the only shield to protect and defend the workers» (2)! Lonmin strikers who have seen NUM (the main COSATU union) functionaries lend a hand to the police against them, will enjoy this...
The strikes have not stopped and by mid-November they extended to farm workers in the Cape region. Workers there suffer particularly bad conditions, as was brought to light by a recent report by Human Rights Watch (3). The strike was again spontaneous, but due to the lack of organization of the workers, COSATU tried to take over the leadership of the movement; taking advantage of the fact that the province is led by the opposition, it has accused local politicians of being responsible for these terrible conditions. The strikers are demanding that their daily pay be increased from R69 (7.8 U.S. dollars, i.e. the minimum wage) to R150 (17 dollars). The authorities responded with repression that killed one worker and injured many. COSATU has called for a suspension of the strike after the government had «agreed» to negotiate the increase of the minimum wage. However, at the time of writing, the strike continues ...
This strike wave that is currently shaking South Africa faces not only employer repression and the police, but also the sabotage and strike-breaking scab activity by COSATU and SACP unions, it demonstrates once again the need for an independent class organization to conduct the struggle against the bosses; but also for political organization, for the class party, to ensure that this struggle is not imprisoned in the straight-jacket of class collaboration and so that it can reach the level of a general struggle against capitalism and the bourgeois state.
But this orientation is not the one advocated by the extreme left political groups existing in South Africa...
Spartacist South Africa (section of the Spartacist organization’s International Communist League ) incorporated in its leaflet of 28 August (4) its demand for a «Black-centered Workers’ Government» a typical Trotskyist demand which behind its bombastic appellation is actually purely reformist and parliamentary: if this so called Workers’ government would be an anti-capitalist one, the Spartacists should add that such a government can be obtained only by the violent seizure of power, the destruction of the bourgeois state and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Any other «Workers’» governmentis a fraud, a deception of the workers: a Workers’ government cannot exist in a bourgeois state, anti-proletarian by its very nature!
In the same leaflet, beside the denunciation of the Triple Alliance Government and the NUM, the SSA calls - correctly - for the self-defense of the strikers. But the Spartacists show that actually they remain the same eternal tailists of the anti-proletarian collaborationist apparatuses, by criticizing the workers leaving the NUM:
«The answer to the betrayals by the leaders of the NUM and other COSATU unions cannot be to simply leave and set up separate unions, which tends to weaken and divide the workers».
Thus, it is the organization of workers outside the union which calls on the police to break strikes, which collaborates with the bosses, which would be the factor of division and weakness of the proletariat! How can workers’ self-defense exist within the framework of a union which collaborates with the police to kill them?
The unity of the proletariat, isn’t unity with the collaborationist apparatuses that paralyze, sabotage and openly combat workers struggles; it is unity with the workers of other companies, other sectors, other nationalities, exclusively for the defense of the common interests of the proletarians. It begins with the independent class organization, outside and against these apparatuses (not just a few sellouts at the top) which practice class collaboration to better defend the national capitalism and the bourgeois homeland.
The other South African Trotskyist organizations have adopted the usual reformist positions: nationalization of mines, of course «under workers’ control». The demand for workers’ control of a company run by the bourgeois state is perhaps even more stupid than a workers’ government in that same state.
In any case it is also contrary to the class struggle orientation required by South African proletarians to fight the capitalists defended and supported by the bourgeois state...
Today South African proletarians courageously wage difficult struggles of resistance against a class enemy which hides behind «communist» and union false friends. But they neither can rely on these so-called revolutionary groups which are only a particular variety of reformists, perhaps more dangerous because of their pseudo-revolutionary discourse.
They must rediscover the authentic classical positions of communism in order to organize themselves into a class party to enable themselves, together with the workers of other countries, go on to the attack against global capitalism!
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We reproduce below the leaflet distributed during the massacre of Marikana. The official number of miners killed by the police that day is now 34, but it remains questionable. In spite of this bloody repression and multiple pressures, miners Lonmin have continued the struggle, before finally accepting the agreement with management for wage increases of more than 20,000 workers in the enterprise: rock drill operators (the backbone of the strike Marikana) obtained a 22% increase (11,000 rand) temporary miners 15% and 11% for all other workers. Management have also agreed to cover the cost of food and education for the children of victims.
(1) El Pais, 08/20/12
(2) L’Humanité, 09/20/12
International Communist Party