Workers Vanguard No. 1049
11 July 2014
Victory for South African Platinum Miners
JOHANNESBURG—A bitterly fought, five-month strike by 70,000 platinum miners organised by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has ended in victory for the workers. In what would become the longest strike in the history of South Africa, the miners walked out on January 23 to fight for a living wage and against the “apartheid wage gap” inherited from the former white-supremacist regime. The workers achieved a 1,000 rand ($93) basic monthly wage increase, backdated to July 2013, for the first two years of the contract and R950 for the third year. The combined cost to Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin—the world’s top three platinum producers—is estimated at R24 billion.
As the strike wrapped up, a jubilant AMCU member told the Daily Maverick (23 June): “It was no longer about me and my colleagues, but also about all the mineworkers before and those that will come long after we are gone. We have levelled the pitch for everyone.” Although falling short of the union’s R12,500 demand for entry-level workers, the wage increase, as one miner remarked, was “the highest in the history of the mining industry in South Africa” (Johannesburg Star, 16 June). The lowest-paid workers got the highest percentage increase (13 percent), with 8 percent going to better-paid layers. While South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world, the strike settlement is seen as a significant step in denting the apartheid wage gap, or at least putting it on the agenda again. In his recent state of the nation address, South African president Jacob Zuma of the African National Congress (ANC) acknowledged the need for his government to consider setting a minimum wage.
Starving strikers into submission was the main strategy of the mine bosses, who stockpiled enough platinum to last eight weeks. But showing iron determination, the workers held out longer, at a cost of huge personal suffering. AMCU appealed for unions in Brazil and the U.S. to refuse to handle South African platinum and set up a strike fund to help their members sustain themselves. We noted in “Victory to South African Platinum Miners!” (WV No. 1046, 16 May): “A crucial ally in any fight against the mine owners is the working class in the U.S. and Britain, where most of these mining companies are headquartered, as well as in Germany and other countries where platinum is used in auto production.”
The Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organisation associated with the Spartacist League/U.S.—and other of the ICL’s fraternal defense organisations participated in an international solidarity campaign, raising donations for the strike fund. Countries where unions were approached include the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and Greece. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 6 in San Francisco donated $1,000, as did the Bay Area’s International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, while the Australian Fire Brigade Employees’ Union contributed A$400 ($375).
A May 16 IBEW Local 6 solidarity letter noted that the union has “not forgotten” the cops’ slaughter of 34 striking Lonmin miners at Marikana in August 2012. It also denounced the bosses’ attempt to bypass AMCU and approach the miners directly to end the recent strike. Direct responsibility for the Marikana massacre lies with the Tripartite Alliance government—comprising the bourgeois-nationalist ANC, the Stalinist-derived South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)—which brutally enforces neo-apartheid capitalism 20 years after the end of legal apartheid. Most platinum miners left the COSATU-affiliated National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in 2012 in protest against the betrayals committed by their leaders and joined AMCU.
In the face of AMCU members celebrating their hard-earned victory, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande lashed out, declaring: “The strike was disastrous, and workers will not recover from the five months lost” (The New Age, 3 July). As a spokesman for neo-apartheid capitalist rule, Nzimande’s worry is that the victory of the miners will help spur further class struggle, as in 2012. The week after the AMCU settlement, 220,000 members of the National Union of Metalworkers, a COSATU affiliate, went on strike in the steel and engineering sectors. In the platinum mines, the bosses’ threats of mechanisation to shed jobs, their attempt to get a no-strike guarantee from AMCU for the duration of the contract and their demand for a “productivity agreement” indicate that the fight is far from over.
The aspirations of the mainly black working class, and all the impoverished urban and rural masses, for freedom and equality cannot be fulfilled under capitalism but require workers revolution to overthrow the capitalist state and expropriate the bourgeoisie. The SSA fights to forge a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party to lead the struggle for a black-centred workers government and a socialist federation of Southern Africa. Necessary to this perspective is to link up with workers revolutions in the imperialist centres, laying the basis for a world socialist economy.