On Wednesday 20 October, the workers of the Mine Line/TAP Engineering factory in Krugersdorp, just outside Soweto, started an occupation of their workplace to stop the former owner from stripping the factory of machinery and other assets and to fight to save their jobs. The workers are organised by the Metal and Electrical Workers Union of South Africa (MEWUSA) in which the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM – CWI in South Africa)), plays a leading role. They are occupying the plant and mobilising a mass solidarity campaign, demanding state takeover of the factory, so that it can be reopened as a democratically run workers’ co-operative.
Mine Line/Tap Engineering, which produces valves, locomotives etc for the mining industry, was shut down in August as the owner, Mr. Mulder, was trying to escape responsibility for the deaths of three workers in a 4 August accident, caused by his gross disregard for workers’ health and safety. Despite the economic crisis, Mine Line has remained a viable business. The insolvency is the direct result of Mulder’s criminal looting, fraud and theft. He took R15m in cash from the company account, in addition to the fleet of luxury cars and helicopters he had bought himself with company money, and filed for bankruptcy the following day. While he has since been colluding with the liquidator, Commonwealth Trust, to loot the company, stealing its funds to set up business elsewhere, the 107 workers and the families of the workers who were killed are left with nothing to show for, in most cases, over 25 years of service.
Workers decided on Wednesday 20 October to guard the premises to stop the ex-owner and the liquidator from stealing any more machinery or other assets from the factory. Workers are fighting to save jobs, pensions and benefits, but also to show that production and society in general can be run without the capitalist bosses. The workers are demanding that the state should transfer ownership to the workers and inject capital to revive the business, and are forming a co-operative to run the factory, as a step towards the nationalisation of the company under workers’ control and management.
The occupation of Mine Line is the first action of this kind by workers in SA to defend jobs since the onset of the recession in 2008. Over 1 million jobs have been lost in SA since the recession set in – according to the IMF this is the world’s highest rate, relative to growth rates. 55% of SA’s working age population is not economically active (although the official unemployment rate is “only” 25%).
Regrettably, the trade union movement’s leaders have reacted to the recession as if it is a natural phenomenon for which no-one can be blamed. Instead of coordinating a united mass action campaign to push back the bosses’ offensive and defend jobs, they have focused on signing deals with the bosses and government for the “common good” – in effect, bailing out the bosses. The Mine Line workers are refusing to pay for the crisis caused by their boss and are sending a loud and clear message to workers everywhere to do the same. The economic crisis has exposed to millions that the capitalist system is unable to take society forward and this struggle will provide important lessons for organised workers, struggling working class communities and youth organisations in SA and internationally on how to fight for a socialist alternative.
The workers are mobilising and appealing for the support of other workers and their communities. Already, the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in SA), COPAC and the wider Conference of the Democratic Left, a new united left initiative, are taking an active part in support for the occupation. There is now an urgent need to unite the weight of the entire labour movement and the mass struggles of communities and youth into a mass solidarity campaign. Pressure also needs to be put on the company’s main creditors: ABSA (bank) to pursue the ex-owner, not the company, to recover what is owed to it (he borrowed R35m on false pretenses and never invested it in the company). The same applies to the R15m owed to the South African Revenue Services (SARS).
The workers are inspired by the courageous examples set by workers at e.g. INNSE in Italy, the Vestas and Visteon occupations in Britain, etc. We appeal to all working class political organisations, trade unions, or individuals to send brief messages of solidarity to MEWUSA and the Mine Line Workers Committee as well as letters of protest to the liquidating company (model letter of protest and details below).
To: Mr. Lebogang Michael Moloto
CC: ABSA Capital; SARS Head Office
I/ we ………………………….. have been made aware that your company, Commonwealth Trust, is currently engaged in the liquidation process of Mine Line/ TAP Engineering in Krugersdorp, South Africa. As you must be aware, despite the economic crisis, the company’s insolvency is the direct result of the owner’s Mr. W. Mulder’s, criminal looting, fraud and theft: having obtained a R35 loan from ABSA on false pretenses he failed to invest these funds in the company. He owes SARS R15m after failing to pay taxes. He has not contributed to the workers provident funds since 2007. His filing for voluntary surrender appears to have been an attempt to also escape responsibility for the deaths of three employees on August 4, 2010, in a workplace accident caused by his gross disregard for workers’ health and safety. Following this horrific accident, Mr. Mulder took out R15m in cash from the company’s account, illegally as the company was already technically insolvent, only to file for bankruptcy the very next day. The workforce, many of whom have worked for Mr. Mulder for over 25 years or for several generations, stand left with nothing.
It has become clear to the workers, their union MEWUSA and their comrades around South Africa and the world, that your representative, Mr. Gordon Nokhanda, has failed to take all this into account and has instead been colluding with the ex-owner to enable him to further loot the company. Your company is supposed to safeguard the assets of Mine Line on behalf of workers and other creditors, but while workers have not even been allowed to take out their personal belongings from their lockers, you have assisted Mr. Mulder in grabbing almost every single remaining useful asset of the company, presumably with the aim of continuing business elsewhere in a scandalous fraud. On Wednesday October 20 workers therefore decided that because they could have no confidence in your representative, they should start guarding the premises themselves. Already the workers on guard – not your staff – have stopped several attempts by Mr. Mulder to remove further company assets. That this criminal activity has been allowed is an indictment on your company and if not corrected we will expose and condemn it widely through all available channels.
The collusion with a boss that should obviously be behind bars is particularly breathtaking as your company has presented itself as one sympathetic to the labour movement – instead it is now playing an instrumental role in condemning workers to the massive pool of the unemployed.
We therefore urge you to:
- Immediately open all the books and inventory for perusal and verification of company assets by the workers.
- Lay criminal charges against the previous owner Mr. Mulder, laying claim to all the monies and assets unlawfully he has taken from the company
- Stop the attempts to sell the company or its assets off without the consent of the workers
- Transfer full control over the workplace and all its assets to the workers’ co-operative.