SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 163 November 2012

National coordination for South African strikers

ON 13 October, over 120 mineworkers representing strike committees from across the industry met to assess the strike and map a way forward. With delegations for the first time from outside the North West province, a significant step forward was taken when the Rustenburg Strike Coordinating Committee expanded into a National Strike Coordinating Committee, with representation from gold mines in Gauteng province and platinum mines in Limpopo.

The Coordinating Committee has received calls from coal mines in Mpumalanga, gold mines in Free State, and even diamond mines in the Northern Cape. Significantly, there was a delegation from the Lonmin mine attending in solidarity despite the settlement of the strike there. Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM – CWI South Africa) member and Gauteng provincial secretary of the Pan African Student Movement of Azania, Elmond Maredi, brought greetings and support from the student movement.

Against a background of continued state repression, arbitrary dispersal of meetings and marches, as well as killings by police in what continues to be an unofficial state of emergency in Rustenburg, news of the meeting generated enormous interest. This came not only from miners but also from workers in other sectors, including the media, with a large contingent of journalists and photographers present and the proceedings aired on national television networks and radio.

On 15 October, the pro-ANC New Age daily, in an article headlined ‘New Movement Threatens Mines’, gave a brief history of the DSM. It reported that the DSM was not affiliated to, and had distanced itself from, Julius Malema and his ‘Economic Freedom Fighters’. New Age continued by quoting DSM member, Mametlwe Sebei’s call for nationalisation under workers’ control and management to achieve greater equality, in contrast to Malema’s call for nationalisation to enrich the aspirant black capitalist class.

Police repression has deepened anger within the community. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) claims that 13 of its shop stewards have been killed but even the NUM has had to retreat from accusations that the killings were carried out by AMCU (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union). The feeling within the Rustenburg community is that the new spate of killings is being deliberately orchestrated to provide the state with the pretext for intensified repression. Reports came through as the meeting ended that one of 22 arrested following the torching of a mini-bus had died after being tortured by the police.

The meeting’s opening address was given by Alec Thraves of the Socialist Party (CWI, England and Wales) who brought greetings from the 45 sections of the Committee for a Workers’ International. His call for the formation of a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme was greeted with enthusiasm. His speech, which included references to the 1984-85 British miners’ strike and the pressure the National Shop Stewards Network had exerted on the TUC to agree to consider calling the first general strike in Britain since 1926, was punctuated with repeated applause.

There then followed discussion and questions after which all regions gave reports from their areas. In reaction to threats to close mines, workers made the point that on the wages they were earning, it made no difference whether they worked or not: they might as well shut the mines down if they do not meet workers’ demands. In response to concerns that contract workers’ grievances were not receiving proper attention, it was agreed that the Coordinating Committee – now being constituted on the basis of regional reps – will increase their representation, as well as for women. The Coordinating Committee will also elect an executive.

The Coordinating Committee issued a call for a general strike, and a march on Union Buildings, the seat of government in Pretoria, on 3 November. The demand will be for a R12,500 (£894) a month minimum wage, the amount the Lonmin workers went on strike for.

Mametlwe Sebei appealed to workers across all sectors of industry, including agriculture, to form workplace strike committees in preparation. His call for the nationalisation of the mines under workers’ control and management, as well as his support for the call for a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme, was greeted with applause. Gaddafi Mdoda, a Coordinating Committee member, explained that without the DSM this strike would long have been over. He concluded by shouting ‘Viva DSM! Viva!’

The NUM, whose t-shirts were burned and buried in a coffin, and to whose regional office in Rustenburg hundreds of workers marched to demand the immediate cancellation of their subscriptions – they were dispersed by police – was repeatedly condemned. As was Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) and the ANC (African National Congress) government. To Cosatu’s eternal disgrace, despite the widespread anger, there has been no action proposed to condemn the Marikana massacre, nor any plans for solidarity action with the mineworkers, even though a strike wave is sweeping the country.

The Cosatu leadership has instead attempted to regain control of the mineworkers’ action by hypocritically supporting the demand for R12,500, criticising the NUM for attempting to persuade workers to end a strike it did not call, and putting pressure on the Chamber of Mines to reopen negotiations.

The Cosatu leadership’s strategy is to restore the credibility of the NUM and the existing collective bargaining process in order to bring the strike to an end. But negotiations ended in deadlock after management made the derisory offer to abolish salary level one (the lowest) but offered nothing on the main demand.

With workers remaining defiant in the face of threats of mass dismissals and mine closures, the expansion of the Coordinating Committee into a national body has laid the basis to unite the action of over 100,000 mineworkers currently on strike. Beyond the mines, despite the settlement of the truck drivers’ strike, other workers are preparing to join the wave of militancy – with 1.6 million days lost through strike action so far. These include the police, as well as municipal workers who are balloting over the duration of the action they are committed to: a one-day or an indefinite national strike.

In the face of Cosatu’s cowardice, the Coordinating Committee has been obliged to give leadership, channelling the widespread anger and determination to unite in battle against the bosses. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi’s tactic of bending with the gale-force winds of workers’ anger has gone beyond supporting the wage demand and criticising the NUM. He has also put out feelers to the Coordinating Committee. But, while it has agreed to a meeting in principle, the Coordinating Committee will demand that Cosatu supports the general strike and the march to the Union Buildings.

The Coordinating Committee also agreed that, while it is not a substitute for existing unions, it will to continue to function beyond the strike and help rebuild a democratic and combative trade union movement. The necessity for this was demonstrated by the angry refusal of workers at the Amandel Bult platinum mine near Rustenburg, to be addressed by Vavi, who had turned up at the mine with a media contingent. When Vavi pleaded that he was there to represent Cosatu not the NUM, the workers retorted that they are one and the same thing. Vavi’s further pleading was met with a barrage of stones forcing him into a rather undignified retreat.

The nightmare for the NUM, Cosatu and the ANC ruling elite, referred to in a Business Day editorial on 17 August (the day after the Marikana massacre), is that "there is a power building in the land over which they have little or no influence, and which itself has little or no respect for the powers that be".

The fate that has befallen the NUM is an anticipation of what may happen to Cosatu and, almost certainly, the ANC even in the medium term as its presidential succession battle plunges it into full-scale political civil war. The National Strike Coordinating Committee will play a vital role in the formation of a mass workers’ party which the DSM is coming under increasing pressure to call into being.

Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI South Africa)

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