The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

South Africa:
Marikana Miners Make Big International Companies Retreat

Oct 1, 2012

On September 18th, after a six-week strike which cost the lives of 40 of their comrades, the 38,000 platinum miners in Marikana, South Africa, forced the giant mining company Lonmin to give ground.

They won the $1,600 a month increase they demanded. There was an immediate 11% to 22% increase and another 12% to be negotiated the next month. Already, this is three times more than coal, diamond, gold and metal miners won in their four big strikes of 2011.

The Marikana strike was remarkable in several respects. First, because it developed outside the control and despite the opposition of the miners union’s bureaucratic apparatus. Then, beyond the impact of the Marikana miners’ strike and their determination, they knew how to reach out to other miners of the region.

After the August 16th massacre in which 34 strikers were killed, work stoppages occurred in many mines. But it was the Marikana strikers’ mass marches, which went from mine to mine, that wound up transforming brief stoppages into a strike.

On September 11th, Anglo Platinum, the world’s biggest platinum producer, locked out workers at the Rustenburg district. On the following days, other platinum and chromium companies did the same.

The mining companies had been caught unprepared by the rapid extension of the movement and tried to stop the unrest by closing the mines to put pressure on the workers through layoffs. They also appealed to the regime’s repressive forces for them to go after movement leaders. On September 15th, the police and army’s light armored vehicles, supported by helicopters, surrounded Nikaneng, the most important shantytown where Marikana strikers live, wounding a good number. At the same time, the army took control of the Rustenburg area.

But nothing happened. The Marikana strikers didn’t give in, as they were strengthened by the mobilization of the miners of the region. Finally, the Lonmin corporation, faced with a movement which it seemed nothing could stop, ended up giving in.

But despite all that, the movement isn’t over. In the Rustenburg area in particular, 26,000 miners remain on strike at the Anglo Platinum complex. There are also strikes in other important mines, like at Acquarius and Xstrata. And, above all, the strike wave has spread for some time now to gold mines in several districts. On August 29th, the majority of the 46,000 miners of the KDC GoldFields complex near Johannesburg went on strike. Since then, miners at several big mines joined them, including those at the biggest South African gold company, AngloGold Ashanti.

Today, the regime and the mining companies are worried about the strike spreading, due to the effect of Lonmin giving in. Martial law was decreed in the Rustenburg district, which remains the key point of the movement.

But the miners have hardly let themselves be intimidated. On September 15th, after the announcement of the death of a city councilman who was wounded during a police raid, there was a riot at Anglo Platinum complex. Then on September 19th there was a riot in Nikaneng. In both cases, the repressive forces’ armed cars were overturned and burnt, forcing the army to retreat.

In this movement, the miners are showing their determination and organizational capacity and also the effect of their numbers, their economic weight, and a considerable political prestige, due to their past struggles under Apartheid. In short, they have caused the bourgeoisie to fear an uncontrolled social crisis and they have the means to get more still.