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Mine occupations in South Africa

category southern africa | workplace struggles | other libertarian press author Thursday February 04, 2010 13:43author by Shawn Hattingh Report this post to the editors

The artcile looks at two recent mine occupations in South Africa and the challenges that the workers involved faced. Indeed, during the occupations the workers were not only confronted by the bosses, but also by bureaucrats within their own unions. The article, therefore, argues that the struggle for workers' self-emancipation will not only need to confront the economic and political elite, but also a brueaucratic class within unions.

Anyone aware of South Africa's history will know that the mining industry was founded upon the extreme exploitation of black workers. It was on the mines that the notorious apartheid pass system had its origins; while the ghettoes that became known as townships had their forerunners in the infamous mine compound systems. Even today, racist attitudes permeate through mining institutions. Indeed, the fact that South African mines continue to have some of the worst working conditions and safety records in the world is telling. After all, for the mining bosses it is only insignificant ‘others' dying underground.

Of course the mining sector in South Africa merely reflects the attitudes and practices of the broader society. The elite as a whole in the country treat the majority of people with utter disdain or, at best, with condescending paternalism. For bosses and politicians, workers and the poor in South Africa are simply human fodder for the country's mines, factories and electoral machine. Naturally, being subjected to such a dehumanising system has led to a seething anger amongst workers and the poor and rightfully so. It is also this anger that often bursts into struggle and direct action - whether in the form of community protests or wildcat strikes.

In mid January, the anger that people are feeling towards the system and the exploiting elite once again erupted: this time in the form of two workplace occupations at the Two Rivers and Bokoni Platinum Mines. On the 20th of January, about 150 workers at these mines began their shifts by embarking on a wildcat strike [1]. In a co-ordinated effort they also refused to leave the mines and staged an occupation. The demands of the workers were simple: they wanted their overtime payments, which had not been paid for December, and they wanted a racist manager to be fired [2].

The workers involved in the action had also undertaken the occupation independently of their unions. As such, the workers actions were based on self-initiative and self organisation. When the bureaucrats from the workers' unions - in the form of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers Union (AMCU) - learnt of the occupations, instead of supporting them, they condemned them. In fact, both unions called for the occupations to end immediately and the NUM bureaucracy even went as far as accusing the workers involved in the occupations of kidnapping their members. They also called for the police to intervene and end the occupations [3]. As it turned out, the NUM members that were supposedly kidnapped were in fact willingly involved in the occupations.

The owners of the two mines - African Rainbow Minerals and Impala Platinum -immediately embarked on an intimidation campaign to try and get the workers to surface. Traditional leaders were called in by the companies to instruct the workers to end the occupations [4]. When this failed, the two companies obtained court orders to evict the workers [5]. The workers, however, simply ignored the court orders and continued with the occupations.

Nonetheless, on the 22nd of January a large police contingent was sent down the Bokoni Mine with the intention of forcing the workers out. Under the threat of violence, the workers eventually elected to end the occupation [6]. Hearing of their comrades' fate, the workers at Two Rivers Mine also decided to resurface. While the NUM said that they would engage with the workers and management to tackle the reasons why the workers embarked on the occupations, an NUM spokesman also said the union was pleased that the occupations were over and that production would soon be back to normal [7].

Despite the defeat, the actions of the workers were inspiring and promising - most notably the direct action, self-initiative and self-organisation that accompanied the occupations. What was not inspiring, however, was the actions of the union bureaucrats, who not only abandoned their members, but actively worked against them. Thus, the two occupations once again revealed that workers in South Africa not only face the bosses and politicians as an enemy, but they also often face an enemy in the form of union bureaucrats. As such, if workers are going to emancipate themselves they are not only going to have to struggle against bosses and politicians, but also a union bureaucracy.

Indeed, what is perhaps really needed in South Africa is for workers to reclaim their unions back from a bureaucratic class and to transform them into self-managed, radically democratic, non-hierarchical and decentralised unions. In other words, unions that are controlled from the bottom up by the members themselves and not the bureaucrats. It is in this struggle that anarchists can make a huge contribution with our knowledge of anarcho-syndicalist unionism and ideas of self-management, self-organisation and opposition to hierarchies. Of course, the challenges in trying to transform the existing unions into participatory organizations are immense. It has not been unknown for the unions to send officials from their head offices to intervene in, and in some cases even block, meetings that discuss the need for bottom up participatory unions. Linked to this, some union bureaucrats have resorted to sidelining and even expelling members who raise difficult questions about the growing centralization within unions. Despite this, the struggle to try and bring about self-managed, non-hierarchical, revolutionary and radically democratic unions is vital - whether through transforming existing unions and/or beginning to organize new ones. The reason for this is that without such unions it is going to be difficult for any workplace occupation to succeed or for workers to move towards a truly free society in a process of self-emancipation.


Notes

[1] www.af.reuters.com/article/inestingNews/idAFJOE60JOBZ20100120 20th January 2010
[2] www.sowetan.co.za/News/Article.aspx?id=1106390 20th January 2010
[3] www.af.reuters.com/article/inestingNews/idAFJOE60JOBZ20100120 22th January 2010
[4] www.news24.com/Content/SouthAfrica/News/1059/45c260d650164982a987b3b1622e7512/21-01-2010-06-13/Cops_end_Limpopo_mine_sit-in 21st January 2010
[5] Lydenburg Mines Refuse to Surface. South African Press Association 21st January 2010
[6] www.af.reuters.com/article/investingNews/idAFJOE60L07G20100122 22nd January 2010
[7] www.af.reuters.com/article/investingNews/idAFJOE60L07G20100122 22nd January 2010

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Issue #3 of the Newsletter of the Tokologo African Anarchist Collective

Southern Africa | Workplace struggles | en

Wed 01 Oct, 06:03

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textStatement by the Anti-Government-in-Exile of Wits University 16:49 Thu 08 Sep by Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, James Pendlebury, Komnas Poriazis 0 comments

Beginning on Sunday 28 August, Wits students have been littering parts of campus in solidarity with the cleaners’ strike. Cleaners throughout South Africa are demanding a living wage of R4 200 per month: this compares with less than R2 000 paid to cleaners at Wits, who are employed by outsourcing companies such as Supercare. The strike has been undermined, at Wits and elsewhere, by the presence of scab labour; Wits management and the outsourcing companies are striving for “business as usual”. This undermines the entire purpose of the strike, which is to compel exploiter-managers to meet workers’ demands by withdrawing their labour, by preventing the job from getting done – by making sure the campus is not clean.

textSupport S. African public sector strike 19:56 Wed 20 Jun by Melbourne Anarchist Commounist Group 0 comments

A Melbourne Anarchist Commounist Group Statement in support of South African public sector strike

textOAE – Greece supports the strikers in S.Africa 20:54 Wed 13 Jun by OAE-Greece 0 comments

The Federation of Anarchists of Greece (OAE) is calling for a further action in terms of unity and organisation.

textZACF Statement of Support for Public Sector Strike 18:53 Wed 13 Jun by Jonathan 7 comments

The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (southern Africa) supports the public sector strikers, not just in their demand for a wage increase of 12%, which has now been reduced to 10%, but also in their struggle to improve the standard of all public sector services.

textAnti-Privatisation Forum May Day Rally 19:29 Tue 01 May by Dale McKinley 0 comments

The APF will be hosting a May Day Workers Rally in the community of Residensia (Sebokeng – Vaal Triangle) at Tshepo Themba School at 10h00 tomorrow in support of all the working class struggles in the country.

textConditions for Workers in South Africa 17:44 Tue 31 May by Phillip Nyalungu 0 comments

t is common amongst bosses to prefer workers coming from countries that are torn by civil wars or famine. This is because they do away with any responsibilities to cover for workers' health if exposed to health risk scenarios while working. Because these people are not citizens, the country's labour laws do not count for them. That way the bosses don't have to worry about precautionary equipment and measures expected by governmental labour standards

imageAlternative Needed to Nationalisation and Privatisation Feb 28 by Tina Sizovuka and Lucien van der Walt 1 comments

Privatisation – the transfer of functions and industry to the private sector – is widely and correctly rejected on the left and in the working class. Privatisation leads only to higher prices, less and worse jobs, and worse services. Given this, some view nationalisation – the transfer of economic resources (e.g. mines, banks, and factories) to state ownership and control – as a rallying cry for a socialist alternative. This article argues that nationalisation has never removed capitalism, nor led to socialism, and it certainly does not have a demonstrable record of consistently improving wages, jobs, rights and safety. This article appeals to progressive working class forces to look instead to another way:collectivisation from below, where industry is placed under direct workers’ self-management, subject to worker-community participatory democratic planning and control to meet human needs and end oppression, in a universal human community.

imageReaping what you sow: reflections on the Western Cape farm workers strike Feb 09 by Shawn Hattingh 0 comments

The series of strikes and protests that recently took place in and around farms in South Africa’s Western Cape Province was fuelled by the deep-seated anger and frustration that workers feel. On a daily basis, farm workers face not only appalling wages, bad living conditions and precarious work, but also widespread racism, intimidation and humiliation. The extent of the oppressive conditions run deep and it is not uncommon for workers to even be beaten by farm-owners and managers for perceived ‘transgressions’. Indeed, life for workers in the rural areas has always been harsh, but over the last two decades it has in many ways gotten even worse and poverty has in many cases grown.

imageWhat the Marikana Massacre tells us Sep 04 by Shawn Hattingh 0 comments

While any human being with any sense of justice should be appalled by what happened at Marikana it would, however, be a mistake to view it as an isolated incident that emerged out of the blue.

imageCleaning out super-exploitation Sep 14 by James Pendlebury 0 comments

Cleaning workers throughout South Africa have been on strike since Monday 8 August. They are demanding a living wage of R4 200 per month, as well as a 13th cheque and shorter hours.

imageBuild a Better Workers’ Movement: learning from South Africa’s 2010 mass strike Jul 11 by Lucien van der Walt and Ian Bekker 0 comments

The biggest single strike since the 1994 parliamentary transition in South Africa showed the unions’ power. It won some wage gains, but it threw away some precious opportunities. We need to celebrate the strike, while learning some lessons: • the need for more union democracy
• the need to use strikes to link workers and communities
• the need for working class autonomy
• the need to act outside and against the state
• the need to review our positions: against the Tripartite Alliance, for anarcho-syndicalism

more >>

textStatement by the Anti-Government-in-Exile of Wits University Sep 08 Anti-Government-in-Exile of Wits University 0 comments

Beginning on Sunday 28 August, Wits students have been littering parts of campus in solidarity with the cleaners’ strike. Cleaners throughout South Africa are demanding a living wage of R4 200 per month: this compares with less than R2 000 paid to cleaners at Wits, who are employed by outsourcing companies such as Supercare. The strike has been undermined, at Wits and elsewhere, by the presence of scab labour; Wits management and the outsourcing companies are striving for “business as usual”. This undermines the entire purpose of the strike, which is to compel exploiter-managers to meet workers’ demands by withdrawing their labour, by preventing the job from getting done – by making sure the campus is not clean.

textSupport S. African public sector strike Jun 20 0 comments

A Melbourne Anarchist Commounist Group Statement in support of South African public sector strike

textOAE – Greece supports the strikers in S.Africa Jun 13 Anarkismo 0 comments

The Federation of Anarchists of Greece (OAE) is calling for a further action in terms of unity and organisation.

textZACF Statement of Support for Public Sector Strike Jun 13 Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation 7 comments

The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation (southern Africa) supports the public sector strikers, not just in their demand for a wage increase of 12%, which has now been reduced to 10%, but also in their struggle to improve the standard of all public sector services.

textAnti-Privatisation Forum May Day Rally May 01 Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) 0 comments

The APF will be hosting a May Day Workers Rally in the community of Residensia (Sebokeng – Vaal Triangle) at Tshepo Themba School at 10h00 tomorrow in support of all the working class struggles in the country.

more >>
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