On Saturday 13 October, over 120 mineworkers representing strike committees from across the mining industry met to assess the state of the strike and to map a way forward. With delegations for the first time from outside the North West province, a significant step forward was taken when the Rustenburg Strike Coordinating Committee expanded into a National Strike Coordinating Committee, with representation from the gold mines in Gauteng province and platinum mines in Limpopo. The Coordinating Committee has received calls from the coal mines in the province of Mpumalanga, gold mines in the Free State province and even the diamond mines in the Northern Cape. Significantly, there was a delegation from the Lonmin mine which attended in solidarity despite the settlement of the strike in that mine. DSM member and Gauteng provincial secretary of the Pan African Student Movement of Azania (Pasma) Elmond Maredi brought greetings from the student movement and pledged support for the strike.
Against a background of continued state repression, arbitrary dispersal of meetings and marches and killings by police in what continues to be an unofficial state of emergency in Rustenburg, news of the meeting had generated enormous interest not only amongst mineworkers but from workers in other sectors as well as the media with a large contingent of journalists and photographers present and the proceedings aired on national television networks and radio that evening. On Monday, the pro-ANC New Age daily (www.thenewage.co.za) , in an article headlined “New movement threatens mines” and which gave a brief history of the DSM, reported that the DSM was not affiliated to and had distanced itself from Julius Malema and his “Economic Freedom Fighters” Whereas, New Age continued quoting Mametlwe Sebei, Malema’s call for nationalisation was aimed at enriching the aspirant black capitalist class, the DSM favoured nationalisation under workers’ control and management to achieve greater equality.
Police repression has deepened anger within the community. The NUM claims that 13 of its shop stewards have been killed and that they have had to move some of them to safe houses. But even the NUM has had to retreat from accusations that the killings were being carried out by Amcu. The feeling within the Rustenburg community is that the new spate of killings is being deliberately orchestrated to provide the state with the pretext for intensified repression. Dozens have been arrested and as the meeting ended, reports came through that one of 22 arrested during the week following the torching of a mini-bus, had died after being been tortured by the police.
Chaired by the DSM’s comrade Mametlwe Sebei, the opening address was given by comrade Alec Thraves of the Socialist Party of England and Wales who brought greetings from the 45 sections of the Committee for a Workers’ International. His call for the formation of a mass workers’ party on a socialist programme was greeted with enthusiasm and his speech, which included references to the 1985 British miners’ strike and the pressure the National Shop Stewards Network had exerted on the TUC to agree to consider calling the first general strike in Britain since 1926, punctuated with repeated applause afterwards.
As a demonstration of their fighting spirit and defiance, the 12,000 sacked Anglo Platinum workers rejected management’s 3-day ultimatum to appeal their dismissals, the last day of which expired on the very day of the meeting itself. Comrade Alec’s speech was then followed by discussion and questions after which all regions gave reports of the situation in the different regions. In reaction to threats to close mines, workers made the point that on the wages they were earning, it made no difference whether they worked or not and whether the mines were operating; they might as well shut them down if they do not meet workers’ demands.
In response to concerns that the grievances of the contract workers were not receiving proper attention, it was agreed that the coordinating committee which will now be constituted on the basis of regional representation, with provision to be made for one of the three to be a contract worker, as well as representation for women. The Coordinating Committee will also elect a smaller body - an executive committee.
The Coordinating Committee issued a call for a general strike and a march, to take place on 3rd November, on Union Buildings - the seat of government in Pretoria. The demand of the general strike will be for a R12,500 a month minimum wage – the amount the Lonmin workers went on strike for. Comrade Sebei appealed to workers across all sectors of industry including agriculture, to form strike committees in their workplaces in preparation. Comrade Sebei’s call for nationalisation of the mines under workers’ control and management as well as his support for Comrade Alec’s call for a mass workers party on a socialist programme was greeted with applause. Gaddafi Mdoda, a coordinating committee member, reserved special praise for the DSM. He explained that without the DSM, this strike would long have been over and concluded by shouting “Viva DSM! Viva!”
The NUM, whose t—shirts were burned and buried in a coffin, and to whose regional office in Rustenburg hundreds of workers marched – dispersed by police - to demand the immediate cancellation of their subscriptions, was repeatedly condemned, as were Cosatu and the ANC government. To Cosatu ‘s eternal disgrace, despite the widespread anger, there has been no action proposed to condemn the Marikana massacre, nor, given the strike wave sweeping the country, any plans for solidarity action with the mineworkers. The Cosatu leadership has instead attempted to regain control of the mineworkers’ action by hypocritically supporting the demand for R12,500, criticising the NUM for attempting to persuade workers to end a strike it did not call, and putting pressure on the Chamber of Mines (CoM) to re-open negotiations.
The Cosatu leadership’s strategy is to restore the credibility of the NUM and the existing collective bargaining process in order to bring the strike to an end. Not only has this failed, with the CoM negotiations ending in deadlock after management made the derisory offer to abolish salary level one, the lowest, but offering nothing on the main demand.
With workers remaining defiant in the face of threats of mass dismissals and the closure of mines, through the expansion of the coordinating committee into a national body, the basis has now been laid to unite the action of over 100,000 mine workers currently out on strike. Workers in other sectors, including the coal mines, are contemplating action. Beyond the mines, despite the settlement of the truck drivers strike, workers in other sectors are preparing to join the wave of workers militancy sweeping through the country with 1.6million days lost through strike action so far. These include the police as well as the municipal workers who are balloting over the duration of the action they are committed to – a one day or an indefinite national strike.
In the face of Cosatu’s cowardice, it is the Coordinating Committee that has been obliged to give leadership - to channel the widespread anger and determination to unite in battle against the bosses. The bosses’ strategy appears to be incoherent at best, if not in complete disarray. On the very day that the Anglo Platinum bosses announced the dismissal of the 12,000, they suggested a meeting with the strike committee.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi’s tactic of bending with the gale force winds of workers’ anger has gone beyond supporting the wage demand and criticising the NUM, he has also put out feelers to the Coordinating Committee. But the Committee is clear about his underlying objective, to regain credibility and to secure an end to the strike. Thus whilst it has agreed to a meeting in principle, the Committee will demand that Cosatu supports the general strike and the march to the Union Buildings.
The Coordinating Committee also agreed that whilst it is not a substitute for existing unions, it will to continue to function beyond the strike and help to rebuild a democratic and combative trade union movement. The necessity for this was demonstrated by the angry refusal of workers at Amandel Bult platinum mine near Rustenburg, to be addressed by Vavi, who had turned up at the mine with a media contingent. When Vavi pleaded that he was there to represent Cosatu not the NUM, the workers retorted that they are one and the same thing. Vavi’s further pleading was met with barrage of stones forcing him and his contingent into a rather undignified retreat.
The nightmare for the NUM, Cosatu and the ANC ruling elite which the Business Day editorial of 17th August, 2012 – the day after the Marikana massacre – referred to as it outlined the full implications of the mineworkers uprising is that “there is a power building in the land over which they have little or no influence, and which itself has little or no respect for the powers that be” is now unfolding. The fate has befallen the NUM is an anticipation of what may happen to Cosatu and almost certainly the ANC even in the medium term as its presidential succession battle plunges it into full scale political civil war. The National Strike Coordinating will play a vital role in the formation of a mass workers’ party which the DSM is coming under increasing pressure to call into being.