|The militancy of South African workers is growing by the day, and the ruling class is struggling to contain it|
It is nearly a month since I reported on the fears of top South African trade union bureaucrat Zwelinzima Vavi. Following the victory of self-organised and armed miners at Marikana, which had been paid for in the blood of thirty-four comrades executed by police, he fretted that:
“If those workers forced the hand of the company in that fashion through an unprotected strike, what stops Driefontein [a gold mine in the West Witwatersrand Basin] in doing the same? […] We are not saying that workers do not deserve their money, but if we are not careful this may mean an end of the central bargaining system in the country. […] Workers will just embark on wildcat strikes and steam ahead and force us to follow them.”
Vavi’s worst nightmare is rapidly coming true, and threatening not only his comfortable lifestyle, but also the African National Congress’ grip on power. The following disputes are currently taking place, not only in the mining industry shaken by Marikana, but across many sectors:
- Miners at the country’s three largest gold mines are refusing to return to work despite a sacking ultimatum from the Chamber of Mines – which represents the mining elite.
- More than 100,000 miners are currently striking, affecting the extraction of gold, platinum and iron ore.
- On Friday, police used tear gas and rubber bullets against miners and their supporters at Rustenburg, and arrested miners attempting a sit-in at Westonaria.
- On Saturday, hundreds of miners marched on Johannesburg to present their grievances.
- Miners occupied the Sishen Kumba Iron Ore mine, controlling $380 million worth of equipment.
- 3,800 garment workers struck in Newcastle, demanding a “living wage”.
- 3,000 municipal workers in North West Province struck against “rampant corruption”, and unions say a nationwide strike is possible.
“Well over 100 000 mine workers are on strike across the country for demands that have key common denominators – workers are all fighting for a R12 500 basic salary, for equal pay for equal work, an end to sub-contracting, and in protest against the deadly lack of safety underground and the sub-human living conditions in mining communities. On Saturday October 13, 2012, the Rustenburg Joint Strike Coordinating Committee, which co-ordinates the strikes of the wider Rustenburg mines, including Anglo Platinum, Samancor and Royal Bafokeng Platinum, will host a first national strike committee meeting in Marikana.”
However, there is a growing sense that even these committees – which prominently feature members of ‘socialist’ parties – are not radical enough to satisfy the rank and file workforce. Evans Ramokga, a young winch operator at Anglo American Platinum’s Khuseleka Mine, admitted that the committee’s attempts to “calm down workers seem to be falling on deaf ears”. “They’re very angry and the situation has gone out of control”, he added.
Post-apartheid South African capitalism’s safety buffers – the official trade unions and the South African Communist Party – have been caught totally off guard by this developing grassroots insurgency, and can offer no answers beyond appeals for state repression. If the situation is now “out of control” for the ruling class, it means the question of workers’ control must now be raised.