National Sections of the L5I:

South Africa: 100,000 miners on strike for better pay

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Over the last four days 100,000 workers in South Africa’s gold mining industry have been on indefinite strike, demanding a pay increase of 12% (against the bosses offer of 4.5%), and improvements in working conditions.

The miners work in temperatures of 40 degrees centigrade, up to 3 kilometres below ground, and still live in the so-called ‘hostel’ accommodation: single sex dorms with very limited facilities, far away from their families. This is a relic of the ‘racial zoning’ system of apartheid. While the Mandela government formally abolished the race specific aspect of it in the early 1990s, many of South Africa’s industrial workers are still left in the same appalling living conditions.

The bosses clearly recognise the problem and currently pay a 10% housing allowance to help workers find their own homes. This is no where near enough. On top of their pay demand, the union is calling for this allowance to be doubled.

The strike has so far been incredibly successful in crippling the industry. Gold analysts estimate that it is costing the bosses upwards of $12 million a day. The workers’ wages, working and living conditions are all the more appalling given that in the past two years gold prices have increased by 25% percent reflecting the precious metal’s historic role as a safe haven for investors in times of increased economic instability and uncertainty. Anglogold Ashanti - the world’s second largest gold producer and one of the companies affected by the strike action - has recorded in the past twelve months a ten fold increase in earnings up to $96 million as a result of these rises and a ‘cost efficiency’ programme that has aimed to save up to $100 million through cut backs.

As the L5I newswire goes out the bosses had upped their offer to around 6.5% revealing that they feel seriously under pressure by the militant action of the strikers. This indicates that, if the strike continues, bigger and more far reaching concessions can be won. But, in any case, the trade union leadership mustn’t be allowed to do a deal by behind the backs of the rank and file. Mass meetings must be convened to democratically control the strike and decide upon what course to take. In fact the conditions for winning the whole claim, alongside other sections of workers could hardly be more favourable.

The strike comes at a time of increasing social upheaval in South Africa. At the end of June the Cosatu trade union federation organised a one day general strike against poverty and unemployment that saw tens of thousands of workers demonstrate in all of South Africa’s major cities. In theory the Cosatu and the ANC are allies in government but serious strains have emerged over the last two years with the ANC’s privatisation drive. In 2002 after the first anti-privatisation strike, a furious ANC leadership, with President Thabo Mbeki leading the charge, circulated “briefing notes” to all ANC regions calling for “ultra-left” activists in Cosatu to be “isolated and defeated".

Meanwhile there is increasing political pressure from the anti-privatisation social movements that have emerged outside of the ANC for the trade unions to break with the government and take steps towards forming a new party committed to defending the interests of the working class.

The League for the Fifth International believes that throughout the momentous struggles of the 20th century the South African masses lacked what was necessary to win – a party that fought for the socialist interests of working class people against the racist bosses. The fight for this class independent political party is now entering a new and important phase. The ANC government is betraying the masses of working class and poor people who put them in power hoping not just for an end to the racist system but an end to the gross inequalities and poverty that grips South Africa.

Trade Union, anti poverty activists, socialists and the urban poor, astounded by the betrayals of the last period, should go on the offensive against these attacks, form a new working class party committed to the overthrow of the capitalist class and the coming to power of the working class and poor.