Towards an analysis of the historic Platinum workers’ strike

International background

We live in a world period where the historic apparatus of traditional leaderships that monopoly capitalism depends on to maintain control of the masses, has been severely exposed and weakened. Revolts have broken out in many countries. Some have toppled governments but left the repressive apparatus intact (such as Egypt). Some have broken out into civil war such as Libya and Syria. In the heart of the imperialist centres such as the US, Britain and France, the masses have also begun resisting their own regimes.   Of all the imperialist centres, this resistance is the highest in the USA - to such an extent that only 19% of the population have faith in the US Congress and Senate; the US army is split and many veterans are marching against their own regime. Such is the resistance against the US regime from within, that the US regime is heavily constrained from launching direct full invasions anywhere in the world. The rise of drone technology and increased use of mercenary and proxy forces are a direct consequence of the increasing resistance of the US working class to be being used as cannon fodder for the 1%.

While the masses are breaking from their traditional leaderships, the new emerging leaderships, in all cases, have shown that they are still too inexperienced and not yet sufficiently well organised. The key factor is the lack of a sufficiently well organised and experienced revolutionary working class party. In many cases the inexperience of the newly emerging leadership of the masses has allowed imperialism to implant or attempt to implant a layer of counter-revolutionaries from within the masses to divert their drive for revolutionary overthrow of the entire regime. Imperialism is desperate to make use of any factor to retain control, even using forces that are not on their side but who self-limit the struggle to within the capitalist system.

In South Africa

In South Africa the same revolutionary process is unfolding. In 2012 to 2013 at least 400 000 of the most militant workers have broken from the iron grip of the ANC-SACP alliance which has been the main instrument through which monopoly capital has maintained control over the past 20 years. Further, the survey of the Foundation for Public Dialogue, on Cosatu members, shows that more than 60% , which is more than 1.2 million of them, support a break with the ANC and SACP and would support the formation of a new workers’ party at the minimum. At least 100 000 mineworkers, left Cosatu and joined AMCU- their allegiance to AMCU was more a rejection of the NUM leaders than support of the AMCU leaders.  There are similar trends of chemical and mine workers leaving Cosatu to join Giwusa; thousands of transport workers left Satawu to join the NTM (National Transport Movement). The strongest and most advanced trend, however, has been the break by Numsa from the ANC and SACP, while remaining in Cosatu to campaign for the rest of its base to join the path of class independence.

For the past 20 years imperialism has tolerated the existence of Cosatu as the leadership kept a huge part of the organised vanguard chained to the ANC and SACP and thereby to the capitalist class. If Cosatu broke from the ANC and SACP, it would become the greatest threat to capitalist relations  and the cheap labour system. Big capital will work with all the state agencies and its agents within the Cosatu, ANC and SACP leadership to prevent this.

Now that Numsa has oriented to spearhead the break of Cosatu from the ANC and SACP and its stranglehold, the capitalist class would do everything it could to neutralise the revolution of Numsa, from within it and also, if Numsa were to make any significant advances in achieving a wider break from the ANC and SACP, the capitalist class would rather promote the shattering of Cosatu into pieces than allow its instrument of control to really fall into working class hands.

Marikana and the latest Platinum strike

The Marikana massacre has proven a turning point where greater and greater  sections of the masses have come to realize that the ANC govt is prepared to kill the masses to maintain control by monopoly capital, just as the old apartheid regime did.

The reason why the Farlam Commission has dragged out so long is that imperialism fears the consequences of their de facto not guilty decision on the police and political leaders responsible for the 16th Aug 2012 Marikana massacre. Imperialism has moved in stages, first they have amended the terms of reference to exclude any cabinet minister from being called before the Commission (thereby giving amnesty to Ramaphosa, Mthethwa and Zuma).Now the introduction of ‘Mr X’ as a calculated effort to discredit the revolutionary mineworkers and provide a cover for the amnesty for the police who carried out the massacre. Imperialism has to give the police amnesty – this is what the TRC, Truth and Reconciliation Commission was really all about too, as hundreds, if not thousands of the police, who kill workers every day, would be in prison. The repressive apparatus required by imperialism capitalism, by Anglo American, to maintain control, would then be severely weakened. Capitalist institutions around the world, From the UN, the International Criminal Court, the various ‘Human Rights’ tribunals set up by the capitalists, work on the same principle, namely to make token rulings against a handful, while the real perpetrators of capitalist massacres, get off lightly or get total amnesty. These mock trials are necessary to maintain the capitalist lie that ‘justice’ comes through the courts and through the institutions of capitalist society, thus the message from the capitalists is that there is no need for self-organization by the masses.

The intensity of the 23rd January 2014 strike by 70 000 Platinum workers caught us (WIVP) off guard and we were slow to campaign in support of the strikers. The demand of R12 500 showed that the Amcu leaders had not succeeded in turning the mineworkers’ struggle into a purely economic one- the strike was political from the start, in the sense that it was a direct challenge to the cheap labour foundation that capitalist relations in the whole of Africa is based on. The point is that the Platinum workers’ strike is not just a strike but is part of the generalised revolt of the masses against the system. Whether the workers’ are forced to retreat for a while under a ‘wage agreement’, a generalised revolt against the capitalist relations has broken out.

Every strike or protest, on the farms, in communities against lack of housing, in the Ngqura port for permanent status and better conditions, in the universities against exclusion or the coming strike in the engineering sector, are all part of the same revolt against the cheap labour system, not only in SA or Southern Africa or Africa, but part of the world revolt against the capitalist system.

At times of revolution, often the masses are more advanced than the revolutionary parties, who have to play catch-up in order to play a decisive role. On the other hand, significant sections of the left either opposed the strike or deliberately left it politically isolated (eg the Wasp, Workers and Socialist Party, called a press conference a day before the strike, to oppose it- although they later tried to backtrack on this, the damage had been done; the DLF, for a long time, refused to organise political protest against the regime and the captains of industry, limiting their solidarity to collection of food ( necessary and important as this was).

The Cosatu leaders used Mayday for campaigning for the ANC and against the strike. Numsa members on the affected mines came out for 1 week in solidarity and then returned. Was there a realization among all the trade union leaders, that if they really organised broad-based solidarity, the Platinum strike could have broken out onto a generalised revolt that no one would have been able to stop? What has caused the Platinum workers to pause in their struggle is the lack of broader solidarity. Even the Amcu leaders did not mobilise solidarity strikes among the rest of the workers that they organise.

The use of the Labour Court to broker a deal was to cover the fact that the united workers’ had finally forced the Platinum bosses to concede to some of the demands of the workers; it also had the element of wanting to rebuild credibility in the state structures.

The intervention of the Minister of Minerals and Energy, Ramatlodi, was also to disguise that the workers’ had forced the bosses to concede some of their demands; it was also to attempt to rebuild the credibility of the ANC government in the eyes of the masses.

When the Labour Court and Ministerial intervention failed, the bosses turned directly to the AMCU leaders, to bring an end to the strike. The threat by the bosses to have the strike declared ‘dysfunctional’, ie to outlaw it and by force or arms get workers back to work, has not yet been carried out, as it means the end of unions as a means to control the masses; it also means that the next step when workers rise up for their demands, would be directly against the bosses and their state; the capitalists would have no agency to control the masses from within. This would mark the start of open civil war by the capitalists on the working class.

Even if workers’ accept the R1000 increase per year for the next 3 years for A and B categories and a lesser percentage for other categories, the lesson for the rest of the working class is this:

 That the strikers are demanding, correctly, that the charges be dropped against their leadership, is a growing recognition by the working class that the state, the courts, the prisons, are nothing but the executive arm of big capital.

A comradely debate with Numsa over the nature of the United Front

As Numsa now prepares for a strike of 200 000 engineering sector workers, it is important to realize the central importance of mobilising directly related sectors and broader, in communities and in industrial areas, for support. The demand for 15% and an end to labour brokers strikes also at the heart of cheap labour system. Even though Numsa failed to take up a broad political support of the Platinum strike, it does not mean that it is now incorrect to mobilise broadly in support of the coming engineering strike; in fact the isolation of the Platinum strikers reinforces the need for such errors to be overcome. The engineering strike is in fact a continuation of the revolt represented by the Platinum strike and before that, of the farmworkers and mine workers strike.

Lenin always emphasized the need for a centrally organised revolutionary working class party, with a programme for Socialism, intervening in a united front from time to time on particular issues that face the working class. In What is to be done? Lenin emphasizes the need for a multifaceted approach to building the party, taking up and exposing the system on all fronts, for its inability to meet the needs of the working class and the lower middle class; thus it was important to take up issues on all fronts, not just limiting it to economic issues. The vanguard workers are united in the party based on agreeing to fight for its programme.

The Numsa conception of a United Front is a permanent structure, uniting workers with NGO’s and progressive middle class activists and formations as well as other trade unions. Thus a loose coalition of workers and the masses, each with different programmes, come together; like the UDF of 1983, the danger is that the United Front will be dominated by the middle class and instead of paving the way for a revolutionary working class party, actually becomes an obstacle to prevent its development. [the UDF limited its programme to the Freedom Charter and thus became an instrument to assist the rise of the ANC into govt and thus a limitation of the demands of the masses]. In fact, the Numsa conception of the United Front that again limits itself to the Freedom Charter, at best, lays the basis for the development of a reformist party that, like the Workers’ Party in Brasil, may extend the life of the system by another 20 years.

We want to emphasize that we are not opposing the setting up of broad worker-controlled united front structures; in fact we support it and will do everything we can to promote them. What we are saying is that this is not enough.

Side by side with uniting workers in struggle there needs to be a process of discussion among all working class activists and formations, centred around the Numsa workers, on the basis of a programme for a new revolutionary working class party. Questions that need to be discussed should include how to advance the struggle for the expropriation, without compensation, under workers control, of the mines, commercial farms, etc. Worker activists and Socialist formations across the region and beyond should be invited to participate. A broad process of discussion  in the working class should culminate in a Socialist conference where a new Workers’ Charter is adopted as the basis of the new party. This is how to take the heroic Numsa moment to the next level.