Political lessons of the first 7 weeks of independent working class mass action

Mineworkers know that each time when you are going underground, you may never live to see the light again. Each time when coming up after a shift and breathing the fresh air, workers give thanks to have survived another shift. Yet when we get sick from the mine dust or from the sewage water that is splashed around when workers are drilling, the mine bosses deny they are responsible. When workers are dying from silicosis, the mine bosses deny they are responsible. Prices of food go up every day but the NUM leadership tell us we must wait for another year before we get another increase. We cannot survive the month so we are forced to take out loans. Many mineworkers have loans with U-bank, which is controlled by the NUM leadership and the Chamber of Mines. So the NUM leadership makes a profit out of loans to workers. Instead of fighting for higher wages for us, the NUM leadership has become a loan shark. For many years, the NUM leadership has signed for low wages for workers. The SACP, instead of championing mineworkers rights, is in partnership with the bosses of Impala Platinum, jointly owning Tomboti Platinum. The Cosatu investment company Kopano Ke Matla, has shares in various mines. The NUM SACP and Cosatu leadership and the mine bosses are on the same team against the workers. ANC executive members run labour brokers and security companies on the mines.

On the 9th August, this year, the pain had become too much for the mineworkers at Lonmin. A group of workers, including rock drillers approached management with demands for a better pay. As it was a public holiday, the workers were told to come back the next day. On the 10th August at 7am the group of workers gathered at the stadium before going to the LDP. Their message to management was going to be that NUM did not represent them as they were coming as workers to put their demands. The mine security, who were armed with guns, stopped the workers. They told the workers to wait for 15 minutes while they as mine security went to speak to management. After about 30 minutes the workers tried again to get to management. Again the mine security blocked them. Then the shaft manager said he would go and see management. The workers were told to wait for another 15 minutes. After about 20 minutes, the workers again tried to go and see management. One of the NUM officials sent a message that workers will not get anything without NUM. The security directed the workers to go to the NUM office. As the workers came to the NUM office, about 20 NUM shopstewards and office bearers and people wearing NUM T-shirts came out of the office, carrying guns and chased the workers. Two workers were shot dead, one next to the hostel and one next to the bus stop. The workers regrouped at the stadium but it was locked. Comrade Mambush advised workers that it was not safe to meet there, they should go to the koppie. This was how the Lonmin strike started.

In 2011 the Lonmin bosses had dismissed 6000 workers for an ‘illegal’ strike. The NUM leaders did not defend the workers. This year, after the 10th August the NUM leadership condemned the strikers and supported the company ultimatum to dismiss them. Just before the massacre, the Lonmin management had a meeting with the police. The General Secretary of NUM, Baleni, encouraged the police to shoot strikers. The workers, who were gathering at the koppie, which is on public land 3 km away from the company gates, were surrounded by the police. A special police unit was gathered together from around the country, they were armed with semi-automatic rifles. Workers were chased by helicopters and hippos. Workers were running away; some ran to a gap in a razor wire. The police started shooting; even those who were trying to surrender were shot dead. The police even posed for pictures next to the dead bodies of strikers before calling the ambulance. Most of the dead were shot in the back.  270 strikers who survived the massacre were arrested and charged with murder of those who were shot by the police. The special police unit could not have gathered in Marikana without having received an instruction from the Minister of Police and higher up. Cyril Ramaphosa, who is a director of Lonmin, is also on the National Executive of the ANC. The leaders of AMCU, NUM, Cosatu, the churches, the traditional leaders, the CCMA, parliamentary parties,Malema, all tried to get the workers to go back to work without a single demand being won. The workers were united. On the 16th August, many of the strike leaders were killed; the strikers elected a new committee. Since the 16th August the ANC government has imposed a state of emergency in all mining areas. There are roadblocks everywhere; the police attack workers every day. Eventually the company was forced to start negotiating because the workers remained united. International protests and the spread of strikes to neighbouring mines all strengthened the workers. The strikers decided to take a step back because they had been on strike for 6 weeks and at that stage it was uncertain when other workers would come out in support of them. Still, they went back with 11-22% increase, something which they only achieved because they as workers united, acted independently and broke from the alliance with the capitalist ANC and counter-revolutionary SACP. The workers only achieved this victory because they broke from the Cosatu leadership.

The way forward

Workers, take control over the negotiations, take control of our unions

The first step is that all mineworkers, at every mine, should hold general meetings to elect a strike committee. From these strike committees, delegates should be chosen to go to the meetings with the Chamber of Mines to negotiate. The current team of Cosatu and NUM leaders who are meeting with the bosses, do not have any mandate to negotiate. We know that the many (not all) of the shopstewards are the voice of the bosses. This is what the Marikana massacre shows; even many (not all) of the delegates to the Cosatu Congress were voices of the bosses- why did they turn away the widows and orphans of the Marikana victims?  They should be replaced. The basic principle of workers control and workers independence from the bosses must apply. Each mine shaft should elect delegates for the negotiations such as the Tuesday 9th October meeting. All the mine bosses should come to the same meeting, not only Gold and Coal. But Platinum, Chrome, Manganese, Iron ore, diamonds, etc are all controlled by the same Anglo American. By calling only a meeting for Gold and Coal the Cosatu leaders are again trying to divide workers. They want to quickly settle wages in Gold and Coal so that the Platinum mineworkers are left isolated. The same American banks, such as JP Morgan Chase, control all the mines. Why should we be divided sector by sector? The Cosatu and NUM leaders know that the mine bosses have been stealing trillions of Rands over the past 50 years. They and the SACP and ANC turn a blind eye to this. The first thing the Cosatu and NUM leaders will say is that workers must lower their demands, that it is give and take. Workers have been giving for too long and the bosses have been taking for too long. Enough! The Lonmin workers at Marikana only achieved a step forward because they broke from the ANC-SACP-Cosatu leaders, and acted independently. Workers, take control over the negotiations with the bosses. Any worker delegate to the negotiations must be subject to instant recall by the strikers. No delegate should earn more than the wage of an average skilled mineworker. We need one negotiations for the entire mining sector. Workers need to take over our unions- no more should unions be run by small cliques of shopstewards- unions should be run by committees of workers that watch over every step that the union representatives take. Only if workers take over NUM will the billions of workers money become available to support the strikes. Any company that dares dismiss workers should be immediately expropriated, without compensation and run by the workers.

Let other workers and worker communities join the negotiations

Further, the same American banks like JP Morgan Chase control the Reserve bank and most of industry, including transport and manufacturing. What is necessary is for every factory, farm, mineworker community, every workplace, every school and university, every working class community to elect committees, based on the same principle of accountability to a general meeting and subject to instant recall and being subject to earning not more than the average skilled worker in that sector. Let each sector and working class community send delegates to the negotiations with the Chamber of Mines. Why? The mine bosses are stealing trillions of Rands. This is enough to give everyone work at a living wage, decent integrated housing could be built for all and the ghettoes could be abolished; free quality health care for all, abolishing of all casual work and labour broking could be achieved overnight. This prepares the way for a general strike to end this system of starvation in the land of plenty, capitalism.

Mineworkers support other struggles

The mineworkers, in every general meeting needs to adopt a resolution in support of the home textile workers, saying that 6.5% is not enough, you deserve R12500 as a minimum, to the truck drivers and assistants, you deserve a minimum of R12 500 and more drivers need to be employed so that you can work less overtime so that you can spend more time with your family, to the municipal worker, you have been lied to and kicked in the teeth too long by the ANC government who falsified the documents around the wage curves, you too deserve R12500 as a minimum whether in rural or urban area. Mineworkers need to declare that if the bosses and the ANC government do not meet the demands of the other sector workers, then the mineworkers will take solidarity action. Why? Because the bosses of the mines and all industries are the same bosses. They have been stealing for more than 50 years. Here is the money for us all.

Break with the ANC and SACP leaders to go forward

But the Lonmin strike shows us that if we do not break with the ANC and SACP leaders, our struggles will always be betrayed and defeated. We will not be able to take one step forward. NUM and Cosatu do not belong to the ANC and SACP, they belong to the workers. Workers, form rank and file committees, take control of NUM and every affiliate in Cosatu. In 1996 when Gear was adopted, Mandela came to the Cosatu Congress to threaten workers, that if we objected to it, the ANC would go it alone, the workers would be nothing without the ANC. The Lonmin strike showed that without the workers, the ANC and SACP are nothing. Collective bargaining under leadership of SACP and ANC is collective starvation and collective begging. Form independent workers committees!

Mineworkers, support the struggles of workers in the rest of Africa and the world

Workers at every mine should declare that every mineworker in Africa should stand up, that we as workers should stand united against Anglo American and the American and European banks. If any worker is trampled on by any of the mine bosses or militias in the DRC ,Namibia or anywhere else, then the mineworkers in South Africa will take action. To the workers in Botswana, how shameful that the government has given only a 3% increase. We should call on the mineworkers at Debswana to defend the working class- as workers in South Africa, we should declare that we are ready to defend the working class in Botswana, the working class in Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia and wherever Anglo American is exploiting the working class; even in Chile or Russia, we stand with the workers.

Workers committees for a workers’ government

But we should not stop at only committees controlling the unions; why can’t we get the worker committees in every factory, mine, farm, working class community, every workplace, to elect delegates to regional and national congress of delegates. Why can’t the mineworkers committees take over the mines, the farm worker committees take over the large commercial farms, the factory committees take over the factories, etc. Why cannot the central congress of delegates from all workplaces and working class communities elect an administrative committee to be the government. Thus this government would be based on instant recall and accountability to general meetings of workers, and earn only the wage of an average skilled worker? The same could be for the entire region and Africa. Is this not the way we can stop the mine bosses from stealing and re-organise the entire continent on a basis to meet the needs of the masses. Is this not the way to end unemployment and starvation and homelessness?  Is this not the way to end the slavery regimes of Swaziland and Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Botswana? Is this not the way to end the capitalist slavery throughout Africa and the world?

We need an independent revolutionary working class party

But for workers to take over the mines, the transport, the metal, clothing, textile, and other sectors we need a fighting workers’ organization, uniting the Socialist-minded workers across the country, across the region, across Africa and across the world. We need a revolutionary working class party to lead the way. This means breaking with the SACP, which has shown that it is tied to the bosses. The SACP has a Red October month but ignore the fight of the mineworkers to take control of our unions and the mines. They talk about service delivery but ignore the mass stealing by the mine bosses.

Workers- prepare self-defence against the attacks from the capitalist ANC state

On Thursday night, 4th Oct 2012, news was received of another worker being killed by the police. The Marikana massacre has not stopped, it is continuing. Workers need to prepare self-defence committees to protect themselves from the police and thugs of the capitalists. These committees must be subject to the workers committees and not act on its own.

Mineworkers, take control! Workers of the world unite, we have nothing to lose but our chains! We have a world to win. Forward to Socialism!

Issued by Workers International Vanguard Party ph 021 4476777 ph 0822020617                                         Email: workersinternational@gmail.com website: www.workersinternational.org.za 5th Oct 2012.