Socialist Worker

Platinum miners’ victory is shaking South Africa

The nightmare is not over for South Africa’s ruling class as more workers now plan to walk out after the success of the miners’ strike, reports Ken Olende

Issue No. 2410

Numa members on a protest

Numa members on a protest (Pic: Clare Fermont)


After striking for five months, 70,000 platinum miners in South Africa have forced greedy mine bosses into retreat and won a victory.

Salaries for the lowest paid will rise by 1,000 rand (£55) in the first two years and by 950 rand in the third. 

The strike, which was led by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), brought the industry to a standstill. Shafts were shut down and the strike cost three mining firms £1.3 billion in lost revenue. 

The strike and its victory is a very significant event for the future of South Africa, as more workers are empowered to take a stand.

Some 220,000 members of  the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) are set for an all out strike from Tuesday of this week. The country’s biggest union is demanding a 12 percent pay increase. The strike will affect lucrative car manufacturing, engineering and construction.

The government and the bosses have rushed to say the economy can’t afford to pay the increase, just as they did with the miners. 

This is precisely the argument the ruling ANC government has used over the past 20 years to say workers must wait, while bosses raked in profits.

Basics 

Numsa have issued a statement saying the lesson of the miners’ victory is that unions “go back to basics” and fight for their members. 

This is as opposed to being “used by politicians to garner electoral support and parliamentary seats”. Numsa’s 11,000 members at South Africa’s state owned power company, Eskom, have been told it is illegal for them to join the strike as they work in an essential service. 

Numsa general secretary Karl Cloete said, “We are not intimidated by threats of the illegality of our actions in Eskom or the threat of mass dismissals.”

On the same day that 20,000 platinum miners held their victory rally a court ruled that a planned strike by Amcu in gold mines could not go ahead. 

Currently Amcu represents 17 percent of gold miners. The mine owners agreed a two-year deal with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and two smaller unions in the gold mines.

Amcu said it was not bound by this and would bring its members out in mines where it was in the majority, but the court has ruled against this.

But the union could still choose to take action. After the miners’ victory Amcu is more popular than ever. The strike shifted public opinion in favour of militant action. 

And the fallout from the substantial victory means that the ruling class are on the back foot and face a huge battle ahead. 


Workers have beaten back state repression to win

It was an unofficial strike led by Amcu  two years ago that opened up politics in South Africa. 

Most people were unaware of the union before the strike at Marikana in 2012.

It was there that police opened fire on strikers at the Lonmin platinum mine hitting 112 people and killing 34. 

Shock at this massacre put the union on the map. Despite this repression the strike went on to win, and sparked a wave of unofficial strikes.

Now Amcu is the officially recognised union in the platinum mines. It had split from the NUM which it said no longer represented the interests of workers. 

The NUM had been the most radical union. But after the victory over apartheid it became conservative, tied to its alliance with the ANC government. 

The strike of 70,000 workers which began in January this year was Amcu’s first official national action. Peter Alexander, whose investigation was central to exposing the truth about the massacre at Marikana, said, “The companies had stockpiled enormous amounts of platinum, and assumed the workers would only keep going for a month, maybe two, so they were confident of victory. 

“But the workers proved them wrong. They remained on strike until the companies ran out of platinum and were forced to settle.”

Workers met regularly for mass meetings to discuss how to keep going. 

Networks of solidarity, both in South Africa and internationally, kept the workers going.

Shipments of trucks brought parcels of food donated by socialists in Britain to striking miners’ families and communities.

Rehad Desai, director of the film Miners Shot Down about the Marikana massacre said, “This is how we can build an inclusive society in South Africa, through our action.”


Pure greed of platinum boss 

Chris Griffith, chief executive at platinum firm Amplats, got paid around £1 million last year—plus an extra £220,000 through a bonus share plan.

This is in stark contrast to platinum mine workers, who before the strike took home only about £330 a month.


ANC tries to create division 

The ANC has tried to suggest the miners’ struggle is the product of the agenda of white foreigners, who have little interest in the real interests of black workers and the poor.     

South African activist and director Rehad Desai rubbished these claims.

He said, “The ANC has often resorted to deflecting real issues by holding up third-force bogeymen.”


Mining still a key sector

South Africa’s economy was built on mining, particularly gold and diamonds. 

And although it has become less important, it still represents almost 60 percent of exports.

South Africa has 77 percent of the world’s platinum reserves. 

 


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