Wildcat strikes have broken out across South Africa following the victory of platinum miners at the Lonmin mine in Marikana.
The police massacre of 36 miners at Marikana in August solidified the resolve of workers to fight on. They won wage increases of up to 22 per cent and improved conditions. Their victory has burst a dam of workers’ discontent.
Strikes have spread across the platinum sector and into gold, coal, diamond, chrome, and iron ore. Fuel supplies are being threatened by strikes in the transport sector while strikes have also spread into the car industry. All are demanding similar increases to what the Marikana miners won.
There is deep frustration in South Africa with living conditions that haven’t improved since the fall of apartheid. The ruling ANC’s strategy of improving living conditions within the framework of capitalism has completely failed and today South Africa is the most unequal society in the world.
The ANC has used its special relationship with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) to manage the economy. Vibrant unions that were the once the backbone of the struggle against apartheid have become increasingly bureaucratised and tame cat.
The Marikana strike was led by the workers themselves, and supported by the breakaway Association of Mineworkers and Construction Unions. Now many of the strikes are out of control of union officials and are often run by strike committees.
“Miners have been ignoring their traditional unions” laments the British Financial Times, “exacerbating tensions and complicating resolution efforts”.
COSATU and its main affiliate, the Nation Union of Mineworkers (NUM) are scrambling to bring the movement under control. To stay relevant they’ve begged employers to reopen negotiations, even when they have legally binding agreements. Some employers, however, have resorted to mass dismissals as way of disciplining the movement.
This is happening in a very volatile climate and could well explode in their faces. Not only are there fractures within the union movement, but also within the ruling ANC.
These fractures are opening up the potential for workers to organise independently and for new parties to form and give expression to workers’ demands.
By Mark Gillespie