Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Strikes and Firings in South African Mines Impacts Deepening Crisis

Strikes and Firings in South African Mines Impacts Deepening Crisis

NUMSA issues statement calling for fundamental change in the liberation alliance

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

In the platinum, gold, diamonds, coal and iron ore sectors of mining, the strike unrest continues in South Africa. Mine owners are threatening that if both the protected and unprotected work stoppages proceed there will be massive lay-offs.

Anglo-American Platinum (Amplats) has offered 12,000 workers their jobs back but due to ongoing disputes surrounding salaries and benefits, the strike is moving forward. Amplats has been the scene of labor unrest for several months.

AngloGold Ashanti was hit with a sit-in by workers on November 1 in a disagreement related to safety and bonus issues. Atlasta workers are still striking in the platinum industry where 1,500 employees have been terminated.

Goldfields mining corporation has terminated 8,100 workers for strike activity and most of them are appealing the management decision. South African Coal Mining announced on November 5 that a two-week long strike at its Umlabu Colliery has ended.

Class Struggle Intensifies Over Working Conditions and Ownership

All of these strike actions are proving worrisome to the owners of the mining industry. Mark Cutifani, the chief executive of AngloGold Ashanti has said that “We are all on a knife edge.” (Financial Times, November 5)

Cutifani went on to stress that “I’m not going to start threatening capital, but clearly if we don’t resolve the issue, then how do I justify to shareholders that I should continue to invest in South Africa?” This executive of the world’s third largest gold producer had halted its operations inside the country after 35,000 workers walked off the job in late September. (Financial Times, November 5)

Although AngloGold Ashanti has resumed operations with employees returning to work, the situation in other mines remain volatile. The low salaries and poor working conditions will continue to be a source of unrest in South Africa.

According to the Financial Times, “Even if all miners resume work, the root causes of the strife—including the poor living conditions of workers in squatter camps and broader frustrations about poverty and gaping inequalities in one of the world’s most unequal societies—are likely to continue to fester. Even before the unrest, the sector—still among the 10 most important in the world—was struggling to attract investment because of policy uncertainty, infrastructural bottlenecks and rising costs.”

Nonetheless, all over Africa the consciousness of workers and governments are moving more towards greater control of mining interests inside various states. AngloGold also has mining interests in Ghana, Guinea, Tanzania, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the situation in South Africa is leading the capitalists to increase production in other nations.

However, in the platinum sector, there are few other options. South Africa contains 80 percent of this strategic mineral with a large portion of the remainder located in neighboring Zimbabwe.

Even the Financial Times noted that “The Zimbabwean government has been pushing a controversial indigenization program under which it wants foreign companies to be 51 percent owned by locals. Others, including Ghana, Guinea, and Zambia, have implemented or plan to implement changes to their mining regimes as a trend of resource nationalism gains momentum.”

In a profound statement issued by the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the National Union of Metalworkers in South Africa (NUMSA) on October 29-30, it points out that the root cause of the problems within mining is the foreign ownership of capital that has been inherited from the apartheid system of settler-colonialism of a special type. The opening quotation in the document is taken directly from the South African Communist Party (SACP) program of 1989.

The SACP program at the time stressed that “The South African Capitalist state did not emerge as a result of an internal popular anti-feudal revolution. It was imposed from above and from without. From its birth through to the present, South African capitalism has depended heavily on imperialist centers.” (NUMSA Statement)

This statement goes on later to point to the current source of the economic contradictions within South African society. “The NEC noted the worsening crisis of global capitalism. It is clear that the United States, Western Europe and the big economies of Asia are still in deep crisis. This crisis of course is affecting the rest of the world.”

The NUMSA statement then goes on to point out “Everywhere we look today there are glaring manifestations of the inherent chronic failures of capitalism in our country and everywhere in the world. These signs of disastrous failure are now firmly anchored in the heartland of capitalism itself—in the United States and Western Europe.”

NUMSA puts forward a series of economic and political demands related to the treatment of miners and other workers. It rejects the notion that the primary concern of the government should be related to the evaluations issued by bond rating agencies, who have lowered the country’s credit worthiness in recent weeks.

In closing the NUMSA statement calls for a political re-orientation within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in which they are allied as affiliates of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the largest labor federation in the country. The statement calls for a program to advance the interests of workers within the upcoming ANC congress at Mangaung in December.

In relationship to the class character of the ANC, NUMSA says “We want to caution those who, 18 years after 1994, with the massive evidence of failed neoliberal policies and an untransformed Apartheid capitalist economy, both of which continue to deepen and worsen mass unemployment, extreme poverty and Olympic Gold Medal levels in inequality in South Africa still want to be leaders of the ANC in Mangaung in order to continue to take us along this disastrous path: they should not seek re-election!”

The last sentence declares “We, the working class of South Africa, the low, colonial wage sufferers have declared that enough is enough. We want change, real and fundamental change in our lives!”

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