On August 16 South African police fired into a crowd of picketing platinum mine workers who had been on strike for six days. They killed at least 35 and injured at least 78. The Marikana mine, in Rustenburg, about 50 miles from the capital, Johannesburg, belongs to Lonmin, a fabulously rich British imperialist company. Lonmin depended on the police force to repress the workers’ struggle for better wages. The police claim that the strikers were advancing on them with guns, but videos show that police vehicles trapped the miners in a confined space before police on foot armed with automatic weapons opened fire. It was cold-blooded murder. Many have noted the resemblance to massacres of black strikers and protesters during the days of white-minority apartheid rule.
The miners perform back-breaking work for long hours deep underground, with frequent on-the-job injuries and deaths, for about 4000 rand (about $480) per month. Platinum currently sells for almost $1500/ounce, and South Africa is its biggest producer. The workers are demanding 12,500 rand, about $1,500.
The workers’ union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), is fairly new but growing rapidly. That’s because the biggest miners’ union in South Africa, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM, member of COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions) collaborates with management and the government and is losing members. The NUM had negotiated a wage with Lonmin management – which the workers overwhelmingly rejected. Then they struck, 3,000-strong.
COSATU and the NUM actually supported the police against the strikers. A COSATU statement said “police tried to disperse striking workers gathered on top of a hill, wielding pangas (machetes) and chanting war songs. It ended in a three-minute shootout between the two groups, after police fired teargas and then used a water cannon to disperse the strikers, who retaliated by firing live ammunition at the police.” NUM spokesperson Lesibo Seshoka declared his contempt for the heroic strikers: “These people said today they want to die on the hilltop. They said they will bring their children to die there. That is why we must say the ringleaders must be arrested.” (British Guardian newspaper, August 16.)
Workers in the U.S. and everywhere must oppose and denounce this treason! We should demand that TWU Local 100 and all unions denounce the massacre and stand publicly against the police attacks and the NUM and COSATU leaders’ betrayal. We must call for Victory to the Striking Platinum Miners! Defend the AMCU! and say: the miners have the right to defend themselves against cops, scabs and pro-boss union goons.
The leaders of the AFL-CIO had to say something about this massacre – and they covered up the crimes of the NUM/COSATU and the bosses! The AFL-CIO statement said in part:
“The AFL-CIO extends deep condolences to the families and friends of all those who have lost their lives in this latest violence. The AFL-CIO also joins global unions International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), IndustriALL and South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in calling for calm to return to the platinum mine and demanding a full and thorough investigation from law enforcement. Lonmin needs to ensure calm and safety is restored so that miners can return to work.”
The AFL-CIO dishonors the memory of the martyred South African miners by not even mentioning the existence of their union, by “calling for calm to return” to the mine, and advising the bloodsucking bosses to “ensure calm and safety ... so that miners can return to work.” This is nothing short of strikebreaking. The AFL-CIO thereby brings shame and disgrace on itself before the U.S. and world working class. We should demand that every union Local, District and other body repudiate the AFL-CIO’s scab declaration.
COSATU top leaders have virtually declared war on independent unions, whom they accuse of “a co-ordinated political strategy to use intimidation and violence, manipulated by disgruntled former union leaders, in a concerted drive to create breakaway ‘unions’ and divide and weaken the trade union movement.” But if COSATU were fighting for the workers’ needs, “breakaway” unions wouldn’t be such a problem.
COSATU, however, is one component of South Africa’s dominant “Tripartite Alliance.” The other two are the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling capitalist party, and the South African Communist Party (SACP). These organizations gained the respect of the masses during the decades their leaders fought, went to jail and died under apartheid. During their own 18 years of power, though, they’ve lost a lot of credibility. They saved South African capitalism from itself: what the apartheid regime couldn’t do with brutal repression alone, the Alliance did with glib promises, limited concessions to the masses – and increasingly brutal repression.
The South African economy – the most advanced capitalist economy in Africa – is largely mining and mineral-based, with a significant manufacturing sector dependent on this extraction. Profitability depends on low wages, backbreaking toil and vast unemployment, 40% or more. Unemployment and inflation have risen, meaning that real wages have gone down, in the world “Great Recession.”
Many South Africans workers already see this and favor socialism. During the liberation struggle, the ANC, SACP and COSATU told the workers that socialism would come, some day... but first it was necessary to win political democracy – the “National Democratic Revolution.” The defeat of apartheid brought important gains, including rights for the black majority to vote, to travel where they wanted, to be eligible for various jobs. But the deepening crushing poverty, and the lack of electricity, running water, jobs and education have exasperated and ultimately enraged the workers and other poor.
Meanwhile, yesterday’s liberation leaders became today’s new rich, with their own companies, stock shares in big white-owned corporations and cushy private sector or government jobs. The ANC is flat-out capitalist, though with some populist rhetoric. The SACP talks militant and makes empty radical noises when workers challenge the ANC, and COSATU’s leaders string the workers along with promises of reforms, while top leaders get big salaries. Some even sit on the boards of companies their members work for. But COSATU, despite its betrayals, remains a real union with hundreds of thousands of militant members, not a company union. The members force COSATU unions to lead some strikes, and some COSATU unions have a radical, combative posture.
There are many revolutionary-minded fighters in South Africa, young and old, who see through the ANC/COSATU/SACP scam. They understand that the “National Democratic Revolution” has not led to socialism. Rather, the negotiated end to apartheid saw the ruling capitalist class co-opt the leaders of the black workers and poor people and use them to keep capitalist interests safe. Meanwhile, the masses of working-class people otherwise face the same lives of grinding poverty and exploitation. To break free of those leaders’ grip, South African’s workers need to find a revolutionary working-class party prepared to lead the way to a struggle for socialism. Key to this is revolutionaries working with the militant and combative masses in united struggles.