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.
There has been much talk about South Africa’s Tahir Square moment. The events at the Lonmin Platinum mine at Marikana have brought home the problem of enormous wage disparities between those at the top of the capitalist pyramid and ordinary workers at the bottom. Clearly the so-called National Democratic Revolution sponsored by the ANC has failed to deliver on its promise of a better life for all.
The attempts by the ruling party to contain the crisis, with empty Marxist rhetoric only serve to focus our attention on the inability of the ruling party to deflect criticism of its leadership.
“The ANC is facing a crisis of legitimacy … because of internal corruption and a lack of dignity within the party,” national executive committee member Pallo Jordan said over the weekend.
On Saturday I was with a crowd of 500 people who marched to the Parliamentary precinct in Cape Town in protest at the brutal slaying of 34 mineworkers. Afterwards I joined mourners at a memorial service held in Belgravia for the late Neville Alexander — an auspicious event also attended by Jordan and struggle stalwarts such as Ahmed Kathrada.
Speaker after speaker paid tribute to the activist, educationist and advocate of citizen’s self-defense, Alexander, whose vision of a unified country, one which was avowedly based upon an exuberant and outgoing non-racialism as opposed to the narrow limits of ethnicity and the colour of ones skin, and where race should be of no consequence in the greater scheme of things — stands in stark contrast to the reality of the present regime.
With our government’s continued support of separate development, in particular a new form of multiracialism posing as Black Economic Empowerment, one can only observe as Neville liked to see it, that this kind of race-based tinkering was merely racism multiplied.
The betrayal of the Unity movement, along with the murder of Dulcie September in Paris can be seen as one of histories great tragedies.
Not only was Alexander locked up in prison, serving time on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela, but he died, after a short illness, without ever seeing his somewhat imaginative vision of a utopian “Azania” in which liberty and egalitarianism — true people’s power, would be fully realised.
A powerful didact and intellectual giant whose criticism of Mandela’s multi-streamed approach to nation-building is now being re-evaluated through sheer force of the riguour and words with which he posed uncomfortable questions of the state.
Alexander’s writing has an uncanny resonance with the debates of the day, for example recent correspondence in the press on the issue of the resurrection of the United Democratic Front (UDF), as we take stock of the prescient moment during the 80s when the Unity movement, whose culture and thinking underpinned much of the thrust behind the UDF , was once again betrayed.
What would have happened if the true non-racialists had prevailed, and if the ANC party and partyarchists like Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale, whose self-serving business interests now merely serve to prop up the last vestiges of the apartheid regime, had been pushed aside by the UDF?
As the miners strike plays itself out, one can only imagine what the pedagogues within the party must be thinking, knowing that any strike within the Platinum sector has the perverse effect of boosting currency markets, while driving down share prices enabling further opportunities for fund managers. The Rand once again rallied over the weekend upon news that the strike would reduce the global supply of Platinum.
We may look back and view the R12,500 wage demand by workers as small change, when the true worth of each and every miner has been calculated by some analysts at around R88 000 per month.
Something needs to be said about the Lonmin Massacre. It is not simply because what we are witnessing recalls so many massacres under the apartheid regime, or that what we are seeing is occurring now under an ANC government. No, what needs to be said is the way foreign markets are dominating the political and social discourse of the Republic.
Having Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the chief authors and negotiators of the South African constitution, at the helm of the board which is overseeing mining operations at the platinum mind, boggles the imagination. How could this happen and why are we not seeing a lot more contrition on the part of those who undoubtedly ordered the use of force?
Equally upsetting is the way the stage is being set by various shareholder groups, for a hostile takover of the resource, pre-empting a possible shift in the body politic.
Can anyone believe Julium Malema, when he says he has the best interests of the miners at heart? Surely what Juju wants is exactly what Cyril has at the moment, access to 80% of the worlds’ supply of platinum. It is a tragic power-play in which workers are being slaughtered because of the markets, while the banks and foreign investors leverage control South Africa’s economy.
One cannot help but think this disaster was in the making began when Juju jetted off to London, only to broker deals which could give him the upper hand in the incipient battle over leadership of a political movement which is showing signs of being nothing more than an excuse to command investment and interest rates, the kind of rough capitalism which has always managed to colonise Africa to the detriment of the poor.
Somebody must have given the order to shoot, as too, the government offical or party oligarchs who are now spin-doctoring, denying culpability while presumably granting Malema access to the Lonmin compound. Providing platforms for political speeches has always been the method of choice of the global illuminati and bilderburgers who control the Earth’s mineral wealth and who will resort to any means necessary to secure their investment.
This time, there is nobody who can accuse the capitalists of being racists, what they are, are plain old capitalists, and with Cyril involved, we can only presume to know how much money has been wagered on the operation.