24 August 2012In response to the carnage at Marikana COSATU issues a strong statement to express its shock and dismay that so many lives have been lost in such a violent manner. Today we want to reiterate our heartfelt condolences to the families and fellow workers of those who perished in the tragic events in Marikana.
We join all South Africans, and many millions more across the globe, in mourning this tragic loss of 44 lives and we also send our best wishes to the 78 people who were injured and hope that they recover as quickly and fully as possible. We also express our solidarity to all other workers who have been killed in senseless and orchestrated violence since February 2012.
We share the pain, grief and despair that the families of the bereaved must be feeling. Families lost their loved ones, husbands, sons and brothers, and in most cases have also lost their only breadwinner.
We know that most employed workers support as many as 12 family members from their meagre wages. The biggest source of income for the unemployed – 70% - is in the form of remittances from employed family members.
The families affected by this tragedy come from all over South Africa, not just around the mines, but in areas established by the apartheid regime to facilitate the supply of cheap labour to the mines, and also from neighbouring states.
We must appreciate the massive significance of this tragedy. After 18 years of democracy we have witnessed scenes which we had hoped were now only part of our history. For 34 workers to be killed within three minutes is a colossal disaster. It has understandably made headlines and provoked protests throughout the world.
COSATU is however refusing to use this tragedy to score points. We won’t play the blame-game nor will we use the anger workers and their communities are feeling to drive sentiments against government or anyone. We must await the findings of the Commission of Enquiry, which we have welcomed, and hope will establish exactly what happened not only on that tragic day but in many months before that day.
Next week we shall write a letter to all members of COSATU to trace the events that led to this tragedy. We shall do so, again, not to apportion blame but from the working class perspective provide leadership and political direction to our members and supporters who are calling for direction from their movement during these trying times.
One question which we have to confront immediately however, is what COSATU has raised for many years now – a pattern of brutality and a "skiet en donner" attitude on the part of the commanders of the police. While the Commission of Enquiry must determine precisely what happened in this case - and we cannot attach blame until we have the full picture - there can be no doubt that the police response was excessive and forms a pattern we have witnessed for many years in terms of how police handle demonstrations.
We have on countless occasions protested against the immediate resort to firing live ammunition which reveal a serious lack of training and planning on crowd control tactics. We have also protested the use of rubber bullets on unarmed protesters.
Police must be trained to negotiate before using force to control crowds. We want to see no guns, including those firing fire rubber bullets! We want to see riot shields, water-cannons and tear-gas, not R5 automatic rifles, to control crowds.
COSATU has consistently condemned the use of live ammunition in protest actions by workers and in communities, and will continue to argue for a better trained, better equipped and socially responsible police service.
We must also equally criticize the carrying and use of dangerous weapons by demonstrators and strikers. We must ensure that members of society do not carry dangerous weapons and our demonstrations must be peaceful and free from intimidation of those who choose not participate in our strikes or protest actions.
Workers have every right to be militant and angry, but must also be peaceful, lawful and orderly, as COSATU has always insisted, and successfully achieves in the vast majority of cases on a daily basis.
The underlying problems which give rise to incidents like those at Marikana are the stark levels of inequality in South Africa and the super-exploitation of workers by ruthless and rapacious employers. Since they discovered diamonds, gold and platinum these greedy companies forced people from all over Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa to go down every day deep in the bowels of the earth and dig out precious stones.
They work in most dangerous conditions in high temperatures, in damp and poorly ventilated areas where rocks fall daily, killing many and condemning others to a life in a wheelchair and the loss of limbs. Some families have never even had the chance to bury their breadwinners, whose bones remain buried underground.
The rock-drill operatives (RDOs) at the centre of the dispute perform a more dangerous, unhealthy and difficult job than anyone else in the world. They face death every time they go down the shafts. Yet their monthly earnings are just R5 600!
Compare that to their bosses. The earnings of Lonmin’s Financial Officer, Alan Ferguson, are R10 254 972 a year, R854 581 a month, 152 times higher than an RDO!
We welcome the fact that the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is already taking up the RDOs’ claim, with comparable demands for other workers in the industry, whose wages are equally pathetic, and whose living conditions are also still squalid and lacking in basic services.
In the face of these inequalities our responsibility is to maintain workers’ unity and direct their anger and frustrations to those who keep wages down and working conditions unbearable - the bosses. Our enemy is not ourselves or some amongst ourselves - our enemy remains the capitalist system that exploits workers and robs them of the social surplus.
Everyday COSATU fights hard to expose these massive income inequalities. We have for decades and for the past 18 years campaigned that the country and government must spare no energy in a united battle against the tripe challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequalities.
Everyday our unions, including the NUM, engage management in protracted battles using negotiations and collective bargaining, and when all else fails, embarking on legal strikes to force collective agreements to improve workers wages. Today every study shows that members of the unions enjoy better wages, conditions of employment and job security in comparison to unorganized workers.
The NUM has a proud 30-year history of fighting to improve the lives of this most exploited section of the working class. It has always been a fortress of the mine workers’ struggle, championing their demands for better wages and working conditions. It has earned its stripes as a true representative of workers and lifted the bar for all the workers they represent.
As COSATU’s biggest affiliate, with over 300 000 members, it will and must continue to defend and improve the lives of mineworkers and play a leading role in the federation for years to come.
Today conditions of mine and construction workers, whilst far from ideal, have improved for the better. Workers who used to be treated as the lowest of the low, with no respect for their human dignity and paid starvation wages, have won important improvements in pay, health and safety and living conditions.
Today the NUM, and the whole trade union movement, is facing a huge threat to workers’ unity. The report to be issued next week will reveal what we have identified as a as a co-ordinated political strategy to use intimidation and violence, manipulated by disgruntled former union leaders, who have been discredited, expelled for ill-discipline, in a drive to create breakaway ‘unions’ and divide and weaken the trade union movement.
Part of this onslaught against the federation is the emergence of the splinter unions in the form of NATAWU, a breakaway from SATAWU, and AMCU which was formed by the former NUM members. This is extremely worrying!
We not surprised that the right wing is focusing its energy on undercutting the power and influence of the federation which is the fortress of the workers. Today political opportunists of all different kinds disingenuously express shock at the pathetic salaries earned by mineworkers in general and rock drillers in particular.
Suddenly politicians who on a daily basis condemn workers for being too militant and for acting against the interests of the unemployed, are suddenly expressing sorrow and disgust and have even have the guts to blame ‘defocus’ amongst unions for this state of affairs.
Their latest recruit is former ANC Youth league leader Julius Malema, a wealthy essentially right-wing leader, who demagogically exploits any perceived weakness to encourage workers to leave their union, their only means of defence.
What all these opportunist right wing politicians have in common is to blame COSATU for the workers’ problems and try to divide and weaken the workers’ movement.
COSATU uses all its constitutional structures to address its weaknesses and to fortify its strengths. Weaknesses and organizational challenges will always be part of any organisation. No organisation does not have challenges, but COSATU does not hide these. The most important thing is that these must be confronted before they undermine the strength of the workers.
In less than a month, COSATU’s National Congress will be convening. While we shall be celebrating yet another record level of membership, we will also have to discuss how we can defeat this attempt to divide and weaken the workers, how we can give even better service to our members, and cut the ground from under the feet of the bogus breakaway ‘unions’ and their political and financial backers.
At our congress we shall seek to strength the capacity of the federation to intervene when its affiliated unions faces problems. We shall do everything possible to prevent splits and preserve and strengthen our unity. The old slogan: “United we stand – Divided we Fall” is not empty rhetoric. It is the key to our success in transforming workers’ lives, building prosperous and peaceful world and preventing any more Marikanas.
COSATU subscribes to the principle of "one union, one industry" and believes that workers unity is sacrosanct. That is why we believe that splinter unions are inherently reactionary because they divide the loyalties of the workers and undermine the need for maximum unity and strength.
COSATU together with all affiliated unions have fought against attempts to promote workers differences, including through tribalism and regionalism. In the aftermath of this tragedy we call on workers to maintain maximum unity and not to allow any force to undermine the gains we have made.
Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
Tel: +27 11 339-4911 or Direct: +27 10 219-1339
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456