By DANIEL XAVIER
(Updated, Oct. 7) Miners at South Africa’s Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), who are on strike for higher wages, have vowed to resist new measures to repress their struggle. In early October, two leaders of their branch of the National Union of Mineworkers were killed. One of them was shot when police attacked an Oct. 4 miners’ demonstration. The following day, Amplats fired the 12,000 miners on strike at its facilities. “This is the beginning of the war,” strike leader Gaddhafi Mododa told Agence France-Presse (Oct. 6).
In August, all eyes turned to South Africa when the government brutally massacred dozens of striking workers at the nearby Lonmin platinum mine in the Marikana region. The miners were on strike for better wages and working conditions and were rallying near the mine to gain support for their demands. The African National Congress (ANC), which has been in control of the South African government since the fall of apartheid in 1994, intervened in the dispute on the side of the employer, deploying police against the workers, who were corralled into a barbed-wire enclosure and gunned down mercilessly by the cops.
But this tragic massacre only served to embolden the workers, who were outraged that the government would so flagrantly betray their interests to support private capitalists. Workers and community members organized meetings all throughout the country in the wake of the government violence. The platinum miners did not back down on their demands, but continued to fight for a better livelihood.
Their efforts managed to secure a 22 percent wage increase when Lonmin finally agreed to settle with the striking workers in September. The workers rejected a lesser contract offer earlier in the month and continued to put pressure on the company until management finally caved. Their victory shows what gains can be made from unified action and sustained strike activity.
The grievances of the platinum workers are reflective of the hardships of the South African population at large. The Huffington Post reported 30 million South Africans, nearly 63 percent of the population, live on less than 10 rand ($1.25) per day. The Marikana miners’ victory has pointed the way forward for other South African workers, who have begun to follow their example. Despite the continuing repression, strikes have spread to a number of other mines, including workers mining platinum, gold, iron, and chrome.
According to Reuters, 75,000 workers, or 15 percent of the South African mining industry, are out on strike. In early October, the strikes spread to Kumba Iron Ore, another unit of the giant Anglo American corporation. Meanwhile, 20,000 truckers stopped work in the Johannesburg area, demanding higher wages.
Workers at Gold Fields’ KDC West mine have occupied an outcrop of rock near their workplace (much like the Lonmin platinum miners did), vowing not to leave until their demands were met. The company responded to the workers’ demands by evicting them from company-sponsored hostel housing, but the miners have continued to fight for better wages and working conditions.
Socialist Action stands in solidarity with the workers of South Africa and welcomes the growing labor movement among miners. Their resilience and capacity for action in the face of repression from government officials and bosses alike has been truly inspiring.