Wednesday, August 15, 2012

South Africa: Striking miners battle cops

striking miners at the Lonmin Mine
Adding to the killings that took place at the Collum mine in Zambia and the Suzuki factory in India,  a miners strike in South Africa has taken a violent turn.  The strike has been declared illegal and police battled striking miners yesterday and today at Lonmin's Maikana mine. According to reports there have been 10 deaths also attributed to battles between rival Unions, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) which is a member of COSATU, and what we understand to be a  more radical breakaway from the NUM, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). 

From what we can find out given out limited resources is that the AMCU takes a more hard line position with regards to relations with the bosses.

Lonmin is on eof the world's largest producers of platinum and has threatened to fire 3000 rock drill operators if what they claim is a wildcat is not ended.  "On Wednesday, scores of police backed by helicopters lined up opposite a crowd of around 2,500 miners who had taken up position on a rocky outcrop overlooking the mine." Reuters reported today and the mine owners have secured a court order to compel them to return to work today. "If we believe that this criminal activity is still continuing and that rock drill operators are still on this illegal strike we will have no option but to issue the ultimatum," Executive Vice President Barnard Mokwena told the press.

The turf war between the NUM and AMCU has been going on for some time and the world's largest platinum mine was closed for 6 weeks back in January this year due to battles between the two groups. In the present conflict, two policemen as well as workers have been killed.

What we do know is that the mine bosses have been negotiating with four unions that they recognize as legitimate representatives of the workers but have excuded AMCU which tends to suppoort what we have learned that AMCU is the more militant of the workers' groups which would be why the bosses are trying to isolate them. The four Unions in negotiations have distanced themselves from the clashes and, with our limited knowledge of the situation seem to have distanced themselves from the strike although we are not sure about that.

We have heard from South African contacts that there is currently a big struggle going on in COSATU as to whether or not to support Zuma for a second term. General Secretary Vavi is against it as is National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa who have elected a radical general secretary. . NUM however supports Zuma for a second term (as does the president of COSATU). Last week NUM publicly threatened to replace Vavi as general secretary at the COSATU Congress which is coming up next month unless he changed his position we have learned. The other COSATU unions support one side or the other, and some are divided. The Association is not part of that debate however as it is not in COSATU.

The violent clashes that are occurring more frequently in these dangerous  industries where the workers are most severely exploited are a sign of more to come as the global offensive of capital continues.  In these situations it is always workers that are accused of fomenting violence and we are always referred to as "the mob".  But, as we pointed out in the blog about the Zambian violence, history reveals very clearly where the violence originates.  Apart from that, the conditions that workers of the world, particularly the former colonial world, are forced to work in are violent conditions in themselves. Worker violence is almost always a response to bosses' violence inflicted in one way or another. It is not violence in the same way.

As an aside, a good book to read more about the "Mob" is The Many Headed Hydra by Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh

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