Support the mineworkers’ strikes!
But ordinary mineworkers must have full democratic control of all aspects of the strike.
On the eve of strike action in the platinum belt, there are genuine concerns amongst mineworkers about AMCU’s preparedness to fight for a R12 500 per month minimum wage. Despite this WASP supports the commencement of AMCU’s platinum wage strike on Thursday. However, we are supporting the call of the rank-and-file Rustenburg leadership for the immediate resurrection of the independent strike committees to lead that strike and place it firmly under the control of ordinary mineworkers.
WASP has consistently argued that winning R12 500 will require drawing in every section of the mineworkers through a programme of rolling mass action. In the first instance this means pursuing a strategy to win over the remaining NUM membership. It will also require mobilising the mining communities and youth in all mining areas in support of the strike. This will require linking the mining communities’ demands around service delivery to the mineworkers’ wage demands. The mineworkers will need to call for the formation of support groups across the country in all workplaces and working class communities and call for the working class as a whole to come to their aid in national demonstrations, solidarity strikes and ultimately a general strike to force the mine bosses to concede. Linking up with Numsa and their planned Section 77 mass actions will be crucial in the aftermath of Numsa’s SNC. To our knowledge the AMCU leadership has done none of this. However from the platform of the strike, the mineworkers can rapidly make up the ground that the AMCU leadership has abandoned and broaden their action and adopt a strategy that will maximise the chances of victory.
Unfortunately, the AMCU leadership has taken a sectarian approach to sections of the mineworkers not under their banner. This includes the condemnation of the NUM led strike in the gold sector in September and the call by the AMCU leadership for AMCU members not to support this strike. In contrast WASP called on AMCU to throw its weight behind the strike to expose and undermine the treacherous NUM leadership and win mineworkers away from them at the same time as maximising the pressure on the gold mining bosses for the best possible wage deal for all mineworkers regardless of union affiliation. At the mass meeting yesterday, Numsa president Andrew Chirwa was invited by a local AMCU branch, with the expressed consent of the national AMCU leadership, to address the meeting on the basis of Numsa’s recent special national congress where Numsa extended the hand of friendship and solidarity to all mineworkers. The AMCU leadership intervened to prevent him speaking despite Chirwa being present on the platform.
On 20 January, the Workers and Socialist Party hosted a press conference to give a platform to rank-and-file AMCU leaders from Rustenburg voicing the concerns of key organisers and AMCU members at Impala, Amplats and Lonmin. We gave these workers’ leaders a platform to respond to the accusations levelled against them by AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa, without a right to reply, at a mass meeting of mineworkers in the Rustenburg platinum belt on Sunday 19 January. At the mass meeting, Mathunjwa named eight rank-and-file AMCU leaders he accuses of seeking to ‘destroy’ AMCU, ‘having tea with Zuma’ and taking money from government, demanding and taking bribes, starting a new union and bearing responsibility for the defeat of the Amplats strike against retrenchments early last year. One of the workers named by Mathunjwa was immediately assaulted by a group of workers prompting the police to intervene.
There is no credibility to the accusations Mathunjwa has hurled at these workers’ leaders. The real reason for the witch-hunt is that these comrades have been at the forefront of calling for the democratisation of AMCU and the accountability of its leadership, including Mathunjwa. This has been interpreted by Mathunjwa and his inner circle as a threat to their power and position within AMCU. Amongst the complaints is the AMCU leadership’s failure to organise even basic democratic structures in Rustenburg that would give workers a genuine voice within their own union. WASP has been drawing attention to these problems for several months. This includes the failure to set up a regional office with elected regional office bearers. The democratic structures that do exist – shop stewards committees and branches – are frequently side-lined on the issues that are most fundamental to the labour movement: the calling and control of industrial action especially strike action.
On the surface, the mass meetings called by the AMCU leadership, at which votes are taken, can seem democratic. But in reality these meetings amount to a ‘rule by referendum’ passed down from the top for approval rather than a genuine democratic discussion and debate where elected and accountable workers’ representatives pass mandates up to the leadership.
The eight named by Mathunjwa are amongst those mineworkers who led the independent strike committees that coordinated the strikes in the wake of the Marikana massacre in the latter half of 2012. AMCU in fact owes its entire position in the platinum belt to these comrades amongst others. They took workers into AMCU expecting and demanding an entirely different regime to the one they abandoned in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) along which the majority of the mineworkers in the platinum belt in the face of sustained betrayals, not least of all Marikana itself. Such is Mathunjwa’s ingratitude for their role and his suspicion of the workers’ independent initiative and their desire to control their own destinies through genuine democratic trade unions that he is prepared to incite workers to attack these comrades who have always heroically defended the interests of the mineworkers and the working class in general. Any responsibility for new divisions amongst the mineworkers lies squarely with Mathunjwa and his clique.
There are rumours that a new union has been founded in the mining industry out of the differences in AMCU described above. If this is the case, then it is a confirmation of the erosion of support for the AMCU leadership in the short space of time they have ‘led’ in the platinum belt. Those workers’ leaders at the WASP hosted press conference remain AMCU members and are not part of this initiative. But they did not lift AMCU out of obscurity only to capitulate to Mathunjwa’s clique. Out of the strike these comrades and WASP will demand the democratisation of AMCU and its reorganisation as a democratic and worker-led trade union.
The R12 500 demand was first raised by the independent strike committees in the course of the 2012 struggle. The R12 500 wage demand is entirely justified and entirely possible despite the mine bosses protests of its unaffordability. It is also a winnable demand but only on the basis of careful preparation by the mineworkers and the working class as a whole. The platinum bosses have prepared for a long strike, stockpiling platinum for the world market. The share prices of the three main platinum producers actually increased on news of the strike! This is a vote of confidence by the vulture capitalists in the platinum bosses. The strike at Northam Platinum in Limpopo, conducted under the banner of NUM, continued for 77 days before securing a wage rise of 7.5% – 9.5% (according to our latest reports at the time of writing). This is well below the amount necessary to realise the R12 500 demand and shows the determination of the mine bosses to resist the legitimate wage demands of the mineworkers.
The Workers and Socialist Party was formed out of the industry-wide strike wave that followed the Marikana massacre in August 2012, by several independent mineworkers’ strike committees together with the Democratic Socialist Movement, an organisation which played a leading role in coordinating and guiding the strikes. We have consistently and determinedly argued for the unity of the mineworkers and rejected the use of violence, the sectarianism of the AMCU leadership and the treachery of the NUM leadership. This championing of all mineworkers, rather than just the section organised under AMCU’s banner, has led AMCU leaders to slander us. One example is the regularly used lie that WASP (and the Democratic Socialist Movement) are enemies of the mineworkers and want them to return to NUM for the reason that some of our members wear red t-shirts. The same colour as t-shirts that NUM wears!
The R12 500 will be a central demand in WASP’s 2014 election campaign and WASP invites the independent workers’ committees to nominate candidates to stand for election under the WASP umbrella and take the mineworkers demands on wages and other issues into the National Assembly as an ancillary to the struggles that will be waged in the coming days, weeks and months.
Viva the mineworkers, viva!
For a more detailed analysis of the situation in the mines, AMCU and the history of the strike committees read “After Marikana: the way forward for the mineworkers” written by the Democratic Socialist Movement and endorsed by WASP.
This statement was originally posted under the title “AMCU divisions: struggle for democratic trade unions”. The title and the order of the paragraphs has been changed to make WASP’s support for the mineworkers’ strikes even clearer than in the original in light of sections of the media’s poor reporting of our position.