South Africa labor union declares: ‘Enough is enough! We want change!’

Miners’ strikes continue

Strike unrest continues in South Africa’s platinum, gold, coal, diamond and iron ore mining sectors. Company owners are threatening massive layoffs if work stoppages — protected and unprotected — proceed.

Labor unrest has hit Anglo-American Platinum (Amplats) for the past several months. Amplats offered to reinstate 12,000 workers, but the strike is moving forward due to ongoing disputes over salaries and benefits. Atlasta workers are still striking in the platinum industry, where 1,500 employees have been fired.

Workers held a sit-in on Nov. 1 against AngloGold Ashanti about safety and ­bonus issues.

Goldfields mining corporation terminated 8,100 workers for strike activity; most are appealing management’s ­decision.

On Nov. 5, South African Coal Mining announced that a two-week strike ended at its Umlabu Collieri location.

Class struggle deepens

These strike actions are agitating mining industry owners. Mark Cutifani, AngloGold Ashanti chief executive, said, “We are all on a knife edge. … I’m not going to start threatening capital, but clearly if we don’t resolve the issue, then how do I justify to shareholders that I should continue to invest in South Africa?” (Financial Times, Nov. 5)

This company, the world’s third-largest gold producer, halted its operations in South Africa after 35,000 workers walked out in late September. Although AngloGold Ashanti has resumed operations with employees returning to work, the situation in other mines remain volatile. Low salaries and poor working conditions continue to stir unrest.

The Financial Times reports, “Even if all miners resume work, the root causes of the strife — including the poor living conditions of workers in squatter camps and broader frustrations about poverty and gaping inequalities in one of the world’s most unequal societies — are likely to continue to fester. Even before the unrest, the sector — still among the 10 most important in the world — was struggling to attract investment because of policy uncertainty, infrastructural bottlenecks and rising costs.”

Nonetheless, all over Africa the rising consciousness of workers and governments is causing movement toward greater control of mining interests. The situation in South Africa is leading capitalists to increase production in other nations. AngloGold also has mining interests in Ghana, Guinea, Tanzania, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

However, in the platinum sector, there are few other options. South Africa contains 80 percent of this strategic mineral; another large portion is located in neighboring Zimbabwe.

Even the Financial Times noted, “The Zimbabwean government has been pushing a controversial indigenization program under which it wants foreign companies to be 51 percent owned by locals. Others, including Ghana, Guinea, and Zambia, have implemented or plan to implement changes to their mining regimes as a trend of resource nationalism gains momentum.”

NUMSA declares: ‘Enough is enough’

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the National Union of Metalworkers in South Africa (NUMSA) issued a profound statement on Oct. 29-30. It asserts the root cause of the problems in the mining industry: the foreign ownership of capital that was inherited from the apartheid system of settler-colonialism.

NUMSA’s document opens with a quote from the 1989 South African Communist Party program: “The South African capitalist state did not emerge as a result of an internal popular anti-feudal revolution. It was imposed from above and from without. From its birth through to the present, South African capitalism has depended heavily on imperialist centers.”

The statement points at the source of the economic contradictions within South African society: “The NEC noted the worsening crisis of global capitalism. It is clear that the United States, Western Europe and the big economies of Asia are still in deep crisis. This crisis … is affecting the rest of the world. … [T]here are glaring manifestations of the inherent chronic failures of capitalism in our country and everywhere in the world. These signs of disastrous failure are now firmly anchored in the heartland of capitalism itself — in the United States and Western Europe.”

NUMSA puts forward economic and political demands on the treatment of miners and other workers. It rejects the notion that the government’s primary concern should be evaluations issued by bond rating agencies, which have recently lowered the country’s credit worthiness.

NUMSA calls for a political re-orientation within the ruling African National Congress, in which they are allied as affiliates of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country’s largest labor federation. The metalworkers’ union calls for a program to advance workers’ interests within the ANC congress at Mangaung in December.

On the ANC’s class character, NUMSA says, “We want to caution those who, 18 years after 1994 — with the massive evidence of failed neoliberal policies and an untransformed Apartheid capitalist economy, both of which continue to deepen and worsen mass unemployment, extreme poverty and Olympic Gold Medal levels in inequality in South Africa — still want to be leaders of the ANC in Mangaung in order to continue to take us along this disastrous path: they should not seek re-election!”

NUMSA declares, “We, the working class of South Africa, the low, colonial wage sufferers have declared that enough is enough. We want change, real and fundamental change in our lives!”

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