Wildcat strikes were the key fighting strategy during the May 1968 protests in France, as too they were during the defiance campaign against apartheid of the 1980s, and early 90s. While the state may have changed, workers still find themselves trapped in the cycle of super-exploitation of labour, the result is Marikana.
Jeremy Cronin, in his most recent missive in Umsebenzi Online defending the SACP track record with regard to the Marikana Massacre, attempts to explain away all the faults of the current system by blaming everything on the past, in so doing he painfully ignores the role of the state and his own party in unleashing violence and aggression upon our own people, in particular the working class of this country.
The problem with Cronin’s mode of South African Marxist analysis is the way that persons deploying such polemic immediately assume some form of kinship with those on the receiving end of capitalist exploitation, while at the same time neglecting to widen their framework of analysis to accommodate changed economic and political circumstances. Instead of updating his analysis, Cronin accomplishes nothing less than a skillful deflection of the corporate brutality which has characterised the present regime and which will undoubtedly continue to impact upon our future and that of our children.
Brushing aside the democratic massacre of 34 mine workers by a deeply unpopular government takes some doing, yet Cronin effects this form of intellectual slaughter by failing to adequately criticise his own government, ( lest he be subject to the kind of routine abuse meted out by proponents of state capitalism). Jumping into an historical precis of the material conditions which underpinned the legacy of the apartheid regime and which continue to impact on us all today, Cronin refuses to answer the most obvious of questions:- Why is it that more than 18 years after our first democratic election, this self-same extractive economy, based as he readily admits, upon super-exploitation of labour and capitalist accumulation by a corporate elite, is still with us?
In examining the work of Harold Wolpe, the role of the Bantustans, the subordinated role of workers, the boss-boy system, the deliberate “tribalisation of labour” and the patriarchy of the informal settlements – the tragedy of state brutality which is once again playing out on our television screens – one can be forgiven for thinking that all that is needed is meaningful debate on the historical conditions. Cronin’s text book analysis of the situation however, bears no resemblance to the new reality of a Tahr square moment — a profound revolt by the people against super-exploitation of labour by the ANC-sponsored corporate elite who, having been tasked with ending labour apartheid, merely perpetuated the crime in order to reap the rewards of the free market.
Blame for the massacre needs to be firmly placed at the door of the ruling alliance, and every party which has stood by while workers have seen the greatest erosion of fundamental human rights and freedoms since 1922 when General Jan Smuts bombed South African mine workers into submission. The right to strike, to withhold ones labour without fear of penalty, is not merely an idea, a quaint political slogan put there by a few well-meaning individuals, but a fundamental freedom underpinning our democracy.
The wildcat strike action at Marikana – whichever way one construes the apparent lack of authorisation by a registered trade union – needs to be seen in the context of the manner in which our democracy is predicated, not simply upon the dictates of the few, but the collective will of each and every citizen to engage in direct action. This revolutionary freedom is not about gaining access to the ballot box once every five years, but rather about meaningful economic change — liberty and freedom for each and every individual, without which our democratic revolution would be nothing but a pipe dream.
The mine workers of Marikana have chosen to vote with their feet against appalling conditions, putting down their tools and engaging in collective strike action – one needs to examine why it is that the SACP and South Africa’s union bosses have failed to register these votes? Is it because the large union structures such as NUM and COSATU continue to take their orders from Pretoria while supporting super-exploitation?
Is it because the Labour Relations Act has been buried, for all intents and purposes, by a corrupt labour legal system in which the labour brokers have in turn become the judges? Is it because the nation’s political structures no longer reach to the ground, as the logic of patriarchy, and oligarchy of the Zuma administration, and successive ANC governments draws to its logical conclusion?
It is abundantly clear where Cronin pins his parties support – not upon the masses who desire freedom, but rather upon the dictates of centralisation, bureaucracy, authoritarianism and the command economy in a corrupt state which blames workers for their own deaths, which labels unwanted strike action as “illegal” and which paints the spectre of “demagoguery” merely in order to deflect public opinion from enormous and insurmountable failings. All this while excoriating the press for the many problems associated with the growth of a new “labour aristocracy”, one which has effected control of our nation’s boardrooms and which continues to hold the economy in an iron grip.