After a five month long strike, South African platinum miners are celebrating a momentous victory. Not only did the workers extract a sizeable pay rise from mining bosses; they have demonstrated workers’ extraordinary political power to shake South African capitalism.
Lead by AMCU (the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) the 70,000 platinum mine workers shut down shafts in January. The entire South African economy shrank by 0.6 per cent in the first quarter, widely blamed on the strike. The bosses had stockpiles of platinum to see them through a few months without a workforce. But the fierce determination of the strikers, assisted by solidarity from within South Africa and internationally meant the workers outlasted the stockpiles. In late June the employers had to offer 20 per cent increases in the first year for the lowest paid workers, the highest increase ever achieved. In the following two years these salaries will go up by another 10 per cent per annum.
The victory is a shot in the arm for the entire South African working class, and the metal workers, represented by the union NUMSA, have now opened an even bigger front in the battle.
On 5 June, 220,000 metal workers across the country went out on indefinite strike for a 12 per cent wage increase across the board, an increase to housing allowance and the scrapping of labour brokers.
The striking workers are facing down legal threats and mass dismissals. Bosses are complaining that they can’t afford the wage rise—but as every South African knows, platinum workers stood up to the same threats.
For now the momentum is with the workers who want to settle accounts with the ruling class running South Africa since the end of apartheid. It was the brutal repression of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), with the massacre of 34 striking miners at Marikana two years ago, that has sparked the upturn in workers’ struggle.
The ANC has spent the last 20 years using its anti-apartheid credentials and the unions it controls to restrain the (mostly black) working class, stalling on the promises of freedom from repression and poverty that the struggle against apartheid birthed. It pitted itself against the platinum strikers, pathetically suggesting the workers were puppets of white foreigners. The muscle of the anti-apartheid struggle was always the industrial force of the black working class. With workers on the rise, the ANC and the ruling class they represent are now on the back foot.
By Lucy Honan