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Both the metal and mining industries have announced job losses which taken together will total in the tens of thousands. Working class families and even entire communities face devastation. In both the gold and coal mining sectors the bosses are once again refusing to agree to pay rises that could lift the mineworkers and their families out of grinding poverty. To hammer home the point, the gold bosses’ ‘planning scenarios’ have been timeously announced predicting 52,000 job losses in the sector in the coming decade. Capitalism is again demonstrating its complete inability to overcome mass unemployment and poverty with big business at the forefront of worsening the already dire situation facing the working class.
The ANC government is posturing against the metal and mining bosses demanding they save jobs. They know they will pay a heavy price if they are seen to stand by and do nothing in the face of worsening unemployment and poverty. But their crocodile tears are sheer hypocrisy. Minerals and Energy Minister, Ngoako Ramothlodi, suspended the license of job-shedding miner Glencore, only to lift it a few days later. The Minister’s objection was not to the retrenchments but how the company went about them! Wedded to neo-liberal economic policies, the ANC government in reality refuses to do anything but sit on its hands in the face of these job losses.
For example, via the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), the government owns a controlling 74% stake in SCAW metals, who have issued notice of up to 1,000 retrenchments. They also own a major share in steel maker ArcelorMittal SA (AMSA) who are threatening to close their Vereenijing plant. Elsewhere, the ANC government has allowed Telkom to retrench over 2,000 workers despite owning 40% of that company and at South African Airways, repeatedly bailed out by the government, R900 million will be ‘saved’ by retrenching workers over the next three years. Whilst ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe play-acts at rattling the sabre at the mining bosses, the Davies tax commission pacifies them with reassurances that they will not be subjected to any additional taxes and in fact their tax ‘burden’ will be lightened!
Organise united struggle
The working class must urgently respond with determined and militant struggle to turn back these assaults and defend our jobs and living conditions. Lodged in the situation is the potential for the metal and mining industries to organise and coordinate sector-wide general strikes in defence of jobs. The metalworkers and mineworkers must unite in struggle upon the principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all” and seek support from the wider working class in the workplaces and the communities.
But so far the response of workers’ leaders has been muted and vague. NUMSA has said it will organise demonstrations and pickets to “highlight the plight faced by workers in the [steel] industry”. But the threat of strike action must also be placed firmly on the table. The march to Union Buildings against corruption, planned for 23 September, which NUMSA is backing, should become a march for jobs that demands the nationalisation of the metal and mining industries under democratic working class control.
This would not require jettisoning the anti-corruption theme of the march. But it would require linking corruption’s impact to the day-to-day lives of the working class far more directly than has been the case until now. For example, miner Lonmin has announced 6,000 job cuts. Their ‘transfer pricing’ racket, whereby hundreds of millions of Rands in profits were moved out of the country untaxed, counts as corruption just as surely as Nkandla. This is money that could have been used to fund wage increases and create jobs.
Unfortunately, no clear lead to struggle is being given in the mining industry either. In the gold and coal sectors AMCU and NUM have declared disputes but are waiting for mediation. The NUM leadership had made vague noises about a Section 77 application. Joseph Mathunjwa, president of AMCU, has stated that the union is “preparing all our members for the mother of all struggles”. But so far he has only repeated his regular call to march to Union Buildings. If Mathunjwa is serious about leading the “mother of all struggles” against job losses, he should immediately commit AMCU to participate in the 23 September march as a step toward building a broad working class alliance to struggle against job cuts. Unfortunately, it appears his paranoia about NUMSA stepping into the mining industry is causing him to ignore efforts of the march organisers to engage AMCU.
WASP calls on all mineworkers to mobilise for the 23 September march and use it as a platform to raise the burning issues of jobs, a living wage and the nationalisation of the mining industry in unity with workers and poor communities from across South Africa. Mobilising committees could be used to reach out to and unite with metalworkers and other workers facing the same threat of job cuts, regardless of union affiliation. We also call on workers to urgently prepare to occupy any plants, mines or workplaces threatened with closure.
The hesitation of workers’ leaders to organise a determined struggle against these attacks reflects their lack of a clear alternative to capitalism. Some leaders have clearly accepted the idea, repeated endlessly in the media as ‘common sense’, that strikes and struggle will only accelerate and increase job losses. Nationalisation is portrayed as equivalent to detonating a nuclear bomb under the economy. Mathunjwa’s claim that the retrenchments are aimed at victimising AMCU betrays a complete misunderstanding of the class motives of the bosses – to guarantee their profits by placing the burden of the capitalist crisis onto workers’ shoulders through maintaining low wages and throwing workers onto the scrapheap of unemployment. Mathunjwa’s approach can also promote division instead of solidarity amongst workers. This is not an attack on AMCU alone. Irrespective of union affiliation all workers face a common class enemy that is launching a co-ordinated onslaught on them.
The demand for nationalisation of the metal and the mining industries under democratic working class control is crucial to arm the working class for the struggle to defend jobs. It answers the sham partial-nationalisation of the ANC government who use their ownership stakes in industry to further the interests of the capitalist class. It also rejects the idea that the job losses are the result of an unstoppable natural disaster but points to their real cause in the competition for profits under capitalism that has created a global race to the bottom.
The continuing malaise of the South African economy is linked to the ongoing world crisis of capitalism. To protect their profits in the face of this crisis of world capitalism, the metal and mining bosses are passing on the cost to the working class. The slowdown in China, SA’s largest trading partner, is of critical importance. Growth in the Chinese economy is at its lowest in 25 years. To try and prevent their economy going over the cliff, the Chinese dictatorship has implemented an unprecedented series of currency devaluations. These developments have had a major impact on the SA economy. The currency devaluation will worsen the impact of Chinese steel imports whose prices are already lower than that of steel produced in SA. The slow-down of the Chinese economy also means lower demand for SA commodity exports.
The working class needs a programme of action based on socialist ideas to respond to the failures of the capitalist system. We do not want to struggle merely to prop up a diseased system when its wholesale replacement is needed. There is more than enough use for all the steel, iron ore and platinum produced in SA in the development of infrastructure, housing, schools, hospitals etc. But this can only be done if these industries are nationalised under democratic working class control.
Unfortunately, alongside other unions organising in the steel industry, NUMSA has demanded government action in the form of ‘preferential pricing’ and trade tariffs on imported steel. These demands recognise that upon the basis of capitalist competition the industry faces ruin. But they do not go far enough in offering an alternative to capitalism. If they are not linked to the demand for the nationalisation of the steel industry they amount to demands for the working class to subsidise the profits of the capitalists. In fact this is exactly what AMSA is demanding – that the government impose the maximum 15% tariff allowed under World Trade Organisation rules.
It is by no means certain that the government will agree to impose tariffs on Chinese steel imports. So seduced is the ANC with the performance of the Chinese economy, and hypnotised by the political power of the Chinese dictatorship, that Zuma wants to make the teaching of Mandarin compulsory in SA schools! With China now having overtaken the EU as SA’s biggest trading partner, the ANC will not easily take measures that could attract economic retaliation.
But even if they acceded to AMSA’s demands, what effect will keeping out Chinese imports have? It would mean the working class and middle class subsidising the profits of the bosses. In the case of steel used in government infrastructure projects this subsidy would come via tax revenue being diverted to the steel bosses to support the import parity prices AMSA has long been criticised for. In the case of steel used by the private sector this subsidy would come via passing on the increased cost through higher prices for goods and services.
Further, if the steel industry is left in the hands of the capitalists, the demand for trade tariffs amounts to rallying behind ‘our own’ capitalist class in their competition with foreign capitalists instead of reaching out to our foreign working class brothers and sisters. Such picking of sides in the squabbles of our class enemies undermines the working class principle of internationalism and solidarity.
But even if fully implemented, these measures are no guarantee against job losses. In fact they risk setting a dangerous precedent. If NUMSA and the other unions adopt a position that the capitalists have a ‘right’ to a certain profit margin against ‘unfair’ foreign competition, then why does this ‘right’ not hold good in wage negotiations? If left unchallenged this position leads down the path of class collaboration that has wrecked unions in industry after industry.
The only way to avoid this trap is to demand the nationalisation of the metal industry and the mines under the democratic control of the workers and poor communities. Upon the basis of nationalisation, that portion of wealth created by the working class that currently goes to the capitalists in the form of profits would become what Marx termed a “social fund”. Placed under working class control, democratic decisions could be taken about how to spend that fund – higher wages, re-investment in the industry, the subsidisation of other sectors via lower prices or a combination of all of these would become possible. Socialism would end job insecurity, mass unemployment and the false scarcity of education and training under capitalism. Upon the basis of socialism the working class would be able to advance society by developing and mobilising the talents of all.
- Struggle against all job losses! Struggle for a living wage for all workers!
- Nationalise the mines and the steel industry under workers control and management
- Open the books of big business
- Nationalise job-shedding and so-called ‘uncompetitive’ industries to save jobs
- Create jobs – share out the work. For an immediate reduction in the working week without loss of pay.
- Massive investment in social services such as education, health, social welfare, sport, art and recreation as part of job creation based on living wage and security of employment.
- Introduce a state monopoly of foreign trade and capital controls under the democratic control of the working class based on a policy of international solidarity with all workers – workers of the world unite!
- Campaign for the abolition of the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organisation – for a worldwide democratic plan of production