South Africa: Battle for control of mining sector
South Africa: Battle for control of mining sector
Statement on the retrenchment threats by Anglo America n Platinum and Harmony Gold
Weizmann Hamilton, Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI South Africa)
The agreement by Anglo American Platinum to place a moratorium on their retrenchments cannot be trusted. The moratorium is for sixty days only and the conditions they have cited as making retrenchments unavoidable have not changed.
The threat to close four shafts, sell one mine and retrench 14,000 mineworkers in their Rustenburg operations is an open challenge to the entire working class. It would be the largest retrenchment by a single company in the history of South Africa. The real motives of the mining bosses is to crush the militancy that rocked the mining industry after the Marikana uprising. It is a desperate attempt to restore the balance of power in the mining industry which, for the latter half of 2013, had shifted in favour of the workers.
It follows the earlier decision by Harmony Gold to illegally lock out 6,000 workers from the Kusasalethu Mine in Carletonville and a similar announcement of retrenchment, leaving workers who had travelled thousands of kilometres from as far as Lesotho, Mozambique and the Eastern Cape, stranded in the rain without food or shelter.
Emboldened by the muted response to the Carletonville offensive, the mining bosses have opened up a second front in Rustenburg. The truce that set in over the festive period in the class war that had raged across the mining industry for the latter half of 2012 is well and truly over. Hostilities have resumed and the working class must respond accordingly.
Battle for control of the mining sector
The significance of the capitulation of the Lonmim bosses last year went far beyond the salary increases. They were compelled to condone the collapse of the authority of their bass boy union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), to sign an agreement outside of the provision of the collective bargaining system for the first time, and, worst of all, from their point of view, to bestow recognition on the strike committees set up by the workers independently of all the unions.
This is why it was greeted with such hysteria and condemned by big business as well as the NUM. The NUM leadership’s initial reaction to the threat of retrenchment was to echo management’s threats. They continue to swallow the argument that the retrenchments are being forced on management due to a combination of circumstances out of their control and the unreasonable demands of the workers. Instead of exposing management’s hypocrisy and mobilising for mass action to defend jobs, they are using the moratorium to peddle the illusion that the differences between the bosses and workers can be resolved by negotiations. In fact they are disarming the workers. It is ruled out that any alternative jobs created through management’s proposals would absorb 14,000 workers.
The real attitude of the mining bosses is revealed by Harmony Gold Chief Executive, Graham Briggs. In a vengeful but premature comment quoted in Business Day (15.01.13.) he said: “The tables have turned. It is us the company, which has demands on the tables now, not the unions”. Management’s position, Briggs goes on further to state, is to disregard past grievances and to demand that workers return to work on their terms.
This is an orchestrated strategy to break the defiance of the workers, re-establish the authority especially of the NUM as a collaborator in the maintenance of “discipline” over the workers, to co-opt Amcu and to break the back of the independent strike committees and to restore the pre-Marikana dictatorship on the mines. Amplats’ withdrawal from the section 189 process of the Labour Relations Act proves they were cynically using labour law to entrench their power and to break worker resistance.
Capitalists refuse to share fabulous profits
Despite the decline in demand for platinum, fabulous profits have been made across the mining industry in this period. According to the Labour Research Service, in 2011, the nine mining houses made a combined profit of R39 billion (N695bn). This would have enabled Lonmim to pay each worker R88,000 (N1,566,400) and still make a profit and explains why despite widespread denunciation of the workers’ demand for the an increase of R12,500 (N222,500), management signed an agreement very close to it.
Harmony made a profit of R2.5bn (44.5N bn) for the year ending March 31, 2012. Year-on-year, it increased net operating profit by 80% from R3.3bn to R5.9bn (N58.7bn to N105bn) for the period 2011/2012! According to Amplats’ own figures, in the first half of 2012, the four shafts earmarked for closure achieved increases in labour productivity and output of 20% and 30% respectively.
Nor did the strike and its outcome make a serious dent on profits. Net income for the first quarter of 2012/13 increased five-fold (388%) compared to the last quarter of 2011/12. Harmony was the Johannesburg Stock Exchange’s best performer of the last year.
In contrast, lost production resulting from the strike, which lasted from October 2 to 29, 2012, amounted to R325m (N5,785m). Increased wages will cost the company a mere R10m (N178m) a month. Chief Executive, Chris Briggs, earns R7.3m (N130m) a year even after being forced to forego his bonus of 50% of his salary (because the company failed to prevent fatal accidents). The wage gap in the mining industry is 390 to 1. In the mining industry, the average worker would have to work 325 years to earn what a CEO earns in 1 year.
The ANC â€“ a party of the mine bosses
Minister of Minerals and Energy, Susan Shabangu’s condemnation of the Anglo Plat’s announcement is of course sheer hypocrisy. She shared the view of hostile antagonism of the entire economic and political elite towards the Lonmin workers’ strike and is complicit in the Marikana massacre. But she is correct to point out that these decisions were not made overnight â€“ they were planned over many months. What Shabangu, and the African National Congress (ANC), are really reacting to is the fact that the mining bosses’ action exposes the contempt in which the capitalists hold the ANC government. After 19 years of bending the knee to big business, the mining bosses rightly see them as their stooges. If you lie on your belly in front of the bosses, they will kick you in the teeth!
Nor is the timing of this counter-offensive by management an accident. They awaited the outcome of the ANC’s Mangaung conference from which they derived great comfort. In a pitiful attempt to appease international capitalist investors, ANC delegates not only finally shut down the nationalisation debate, even the word “nationalisation” itself was erased from the economic policy documents. From the reaffirmation of the youth wage subsidy, the endorsement of e-tolling and, and the adoption of the neo-liberal National Development Plan, to the election, with an overwhelming majority, of the butchers of Marikana â€“ Zuma, Mthethwa and Ramaphosa, the bosses had every reason to celebrate.
From the “left” such as it is, in the form of the anti-Zuma faction in the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), which had arrived at Mangaung bound hand-and-foot by their capitulation to the Zuma faction at their own conference, there was heard nothing but the silence of the lambs led to the slaughter. To crown it all the post-apartheid tradition of the occupation of key ANC leadership positions by a graduate from the mining industry school of class collaboration â€“ hitherto confined to the general secretary position in the ANC â€“ was now elevated to a new level: the grand prize of the presidency itself, at the latest by 2019. The symbolism was complete: the ANC was not just in the hands of the capitalist class â€“ it was now the public lackey of the mining bosses.
Bosses have miscalculated
But the bosses have misread the situation. The threat of mass retrenchments is a serious political miscalculation. In the eyes of the mineworkers, Marikana had exposed the role of the ANC (and indeed of the whole Tripartite Alliance) as a strike-breaking conspiracy. From the Marikana experience the mineworkers had drawn profound political conclusions. Determined to reclaim their class and political independence, jointly with the Democratic Socialist Movement, mine workers strike committees from several mines founded the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) on December 15th 2012 at Bokoni Mine in Limpopo.
This latest action by the mining bosses again exposes the role of the ANC as a tool of the mining bosses in the eyes not just of the mine workers, but of the entire working class. It will reinforce the political process that commenced as early as during the ANC’s very first term in office (as revealed in Cosatu’s 1998 survey which found that at that time already 30% of shop stewards wanted Cosatu to form a workers’ party and to contest the elections) — the steady erosion of electoral support. Over the past few years this process has accelerated with the ANC’s 66% parliamentary majority masking the decline in its electoral support in the overall population to 34% of the eligible voting population in 2009. The warmth the Zuma faction is feeling following its overwhelming majority inside the halls of Manguang, will be replaced by the icy cold wind of an alienated working class determined to find its own voice, its own programme, its own party in the WASP.
WASP will be built through struggle. In the lead up to it launch on Sharpeville Day, 21st March 2013, it will lead a campaign to fight threatened retrenchments on the mines by calling for a General Strike. As part of the mobilisation WASP has initiated a million-signature campaign. Disillusioned with the ANC, but not offered an alternative by any of the other pro-capitalist parties in parliament, twelve million people did not vote in the last election. WASP will offer these voters the radical anti-capitalist fighting alternative by attempting to unite all the struggles of workers on farms for better wages, in communities against corruption and for better services and amongst students against financial and academic exclusion and for free education in a general strike in solidarity with the mine workers.