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  |  Declarations

COSATU 11th Congress Declaration on the Lonmin Marikana platinum mine tragedy, the mining industry, and general poverty wages

17 September 2012

We the 3,000 delegates to the 11th COSATU Congress, in the presence of over 500 invited guests, and in the true spirit of “An Injury to One is an Injury to All” wish to express our sincere and heartfelt condolences to the families of at least 60 people killed in the course of the Lonmin and Impala disputes. These include 5 killed at Impala Patinum, 6 at Aquarius Platinum, and 47 at Lonmin Marikana (10 before 16th August, 34 on 16th August, and 3 after the 16th August). We wish a quick recovery to all those who have been injured.

We declare our solidarity with all the working class communities in the affected areas whose lives have been shattered by the ongoing violent disputes in the mines. COSATU stands ready to join all South Africans and the progressive peoples of the world who genuinely want to see real peace and stability return to the affected mines through finding a just solution to the violent crisis.

We welcome the Independent Judicial Commission of Inquiry appointed by the government that will investigate all the events leading to fateful day of 16th August 2012. As COSATU we pledge to do our part to ensure that all the relevant factors and evidence that led to the violence and tragedy of 16th August are revealed by ensuring that by ensuring that our members who witnessed violence before, during and after the tragedy cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry.

We will do everything possible to help prevent any further deaths. We condemn violence, warlordism and intimidation from any quarter and strongly support the principle of Freedom of Association, especially for the working class. Membership of any union or any party should never cost a life. We reiterate the position expressed in a resolution taken at a previous COSATU Congress that we abhor the use of unnecessary force by the police against workers in all labour disputes, and believe that police officers are unfairly placed in situations which they are untrained and ill equipped to deal with. We also renew our call for the demilitarisation of SAPS.

We promise to defend our affiliate the NUM against ongoing violent attacks on its members and leaders. And we pledge to fight for the reinstatement of all the 2500 workers who were dismissed by Implats earlier this year, and the 800 who were dismissed by Lonmin last year.

We are extremely concerned that the events of 16th August and the ongoing violence, whose main victims remain the exploited masses, has shifted the focus and blame from the Platinum bosses who have systematically undermined collective bargaining and promoted division amongst workers, and who have been sitting in the shadows enjoying profits from the very workers whose families have now been robbed of their only breadwinners.

We call for a second Independent Commission of Inquiry that will work parallel to the Judicial Commission already appointed by the President. The terms of reference of this second Commission must be to investigate the employment and social conditions of workers in the mining industry, historically and at present. The Commission will have also to look at the global context of the industry. It should be of a scale similar to the 1979 Wiehahn Commission into Labour Legislation and the 1995 Leon Commissions into Health and Safety on the Mines. The Commission will be linked to a COSATU campaign for the complete transformation of the mining industry.

We commit ourselves to constantly working to improve the service that we as unions provide our members, including to protect and advance collective bargaining and to fight against attempts by employers and other expedient groups to promote employer unilateralism and the fragmentation of worker power.

We pledge that we will continue to strive to unite all workers in the struggle against poverty and exploitation, and for safe working conditions, decent and quality jobs, comprehensive social security and comprehensive social services

South Africa: the national and global crisis of capitalism and the centrality of the mining industry to the South African economy and society

South African capitalism has its origins in, and has flourished on the back of the exploitation of black and African labour; it serves, and is owned and controlled by, a tiny white population and its foreign backers.

In 1994, the African National Congress government inherited a collapsing colonial economy and society of South Africa, from the departing Nationalist Party. In this economy and society, Black people in general, and Africans in particular, suffered mass poverty, widespread unemployment and were victims of extreme forms of inequalities.

Mass poverty, widespread unemployment and extremely unequal social, economic and cultural conditions have been the burdens of Black and African people in South Africa before and from its inception, in 1910, to date.

The struggle for liberation was in fact waged in order to overthrow this situation: a situation in which the majority of the people of South Africa lived subhuman lives while the white population lived affluent lives.

The Freedom Charter accurately captured the aspirations of all peace, democracy and justice loving South Africans, thus it became the revolutionary programme of the Liberation Movement in South Africa.

Today, the whole world is reeling under the weight of the worst ever global crisis of capitalism. From 1996 onwards, South Africa moved rapidly to integrate fully into the global capitalist economy. Today, South African workers, like all workers of the world, are suffering the effects of the global crisis of the world capitalist system.

The global capitalist crisis has seen the capitalist class scrambling to claw back its rate of profitability. And as with every crisis of capitalism before it, capital is rallying by attacking the working class. In the workplace the attack is being effected through the relocation of production, casualisation, sub-contracting and labour broking, through reducing the size of the workforce, factory closures, and through changes in production processes. Attempts are being made to undermine trade union rights including collective bargaining, and a growing emphasis by the bosses on performance pay (usually meaning not negotiated), and the reduction or elimination of employer contributions to the social wage and to social security payments.

Outside of the workplace the squeeze in many countries is being effected through cuts in social services and increasing privatisation of basic services such as health, education, water and electricity. At the same time, food prices and the price of basic services such as water and electricity are increasing dramatically.

In all capitalist countries, of which our own is no exception, the state plays a central role in bolstering capital’s efforts to resolve the crisis by increasing levels of exploitation and accumulation. Calls for fiscal austerity are part of this. The working class, through its organised formations, has to contest this, and mobilise for responses to the crisis which shifts the burden of responsibility to those generating the crisis; and protects workers and poor communities from bearing the cost.

A feature of the current global capitalist crisis is that while attacking the working class, the ruling class increasingly rewards itself with grotesque pay and bonuses, engages in corrupt practices, and isolates itself from the rest of society by creating a privatised cocoon for itself. Never before has the gap between the rich and poor grown so rapidly.

The impact of the global economic crisis is being felt by the working class in growing unemployment (globally 210 million in 2010, the highest ever level of unemployment), a growing precariousness of employment, declining household incomes, reduced pensions, and reduced social services. Social cohesion, trust and solidarity invariably take strain under these conditions.

However, these processes of attacking the working class have never happened without a fight-back from the working class. And the fight-back invariably leads to attempts by the state, acting in the interests of the capitalist class, to put down resistance through coercion or force. That is why we have seen bloody clashes between protestors and police in the past year in Madrid, in Wisconsin, in London, in Seoul, in Cairo and in Athens. In this context, the actions of the police in labour disputes in South Africa, most recently in Marikana, reinforces the perception that rather than protecting ordinary people, police are advancing the narrow interests of employers.

The South African crisis of capitalist accumulation and the centrality of the mining industry

There is one major difference between South Africa and the rest of the world: the global capitalist crisis is worsening the already existing triple crisis of mass poverty, widespread unemployment and extreme inequalities in South Africa.

In this 11th Cosatu Congress we will once again, through our Socio-Economic Report, show just how desperate the conditions of life of the majority of the South African working class have become.

It is this which explains the desperation, anger and frustration of the majority of the South African working class who are largely Black and African: the inherited triple crisis is being compounded by the impact of the global crisis of the capitalist system!

Cosatu has consistently warned that the poverty, unemployment and inequalities affecting millions of South African workers are a ticking time bomb!

But there are features that make our situation different in other respects as well. One of those features is that our government has a commitment to increased social and infrastructure spending, as opposed to deep cuts in these areas. That is to be welcomed, even if as we know, there are challenges in implementation. But the other feature which makes our situation unique is the absolute centrality of the mining industry to our economy. This uniqueness has an ugly side to it, which is both historic and current.

The proposed Commission must trace the history of the mining industry in South Africa, including its past and present discriminatory practices, its historical reliance on cheap labour, and the history of treating mine workers as subhuman,

The mining industry directly employs around half a million workers, with another 400,000 employed indirectly by suppliers of goods and services. The combined direct and indirect contribution of the industry to our gross domestic product is around 18%[1]. Mining also accounts for over half South Africa’s foreign exchange earnings. These are seemingly “neutral” statistics. But the industry has what the NUM has described as a “killing face”, reflected in ongoing fatalities, rapidly growing occupational diseases, unchecked environmental degradation, and squalid living conditions for many mine workers. Between 1900 and 1994, 69,000 mine workers died as result accidents and over a million were seriously injured. While the rate of fatalities and injuries has declined, it is still totally unacceptable, and has given reason for the NUM to call regular strikes on safety. 2301 workers lost their lives in the ten years between 2001 and 2011, and nearly 43,000 were seriously injured.

The mining industry has been found to be linked to 760,000 new TB infections per year given the effects of silica dust, poor living conditions and the prevalence of HIV and AIDS. This is a catastrophic figure, given that TB is an infectious and often deadly disease. The social consequences on the Southern African Region could be disastrous. In addition, silicosis (caused by the inhalation of silica dust underground) on its own is a killer disease, claiming the lives of thousands every year.

As the NUM has put it “Many mining workers employed underground will not live to see retirement without bodily harm. They will either be killed, injured or fall sickly.”

Not only is the mining industry characterised by death and disease, it is also characterised by remnants of apartheid. We all know that the industry was intertwined with apartheid through its use and promotion of tribalism and racial segregation and discrimination, so it should be no surprise to us that these are still to be found in many of our mines. It is not unusual, for example, to find white workers using separate shaft lifts. Racism is also institutionally entrenched through continued occupational segregation. While 83.7% of the total workforce in the industry is black, 84% of top management remains white! 72% of middle management are white, and 68% of professional workers and artisans are white.

While progress has been made in recruiting and training women in the industry, the environment remains hostile. Discrimination, violence and rape are not uncommon. Binky Moisane, an NUM comrade in the platinum sector, was earlier this year murdered underground.

Inequality is at its most extreme in the mining industry. It is no coincidence that the highest paid executive directors in South Africa in 2009 were in BHP Billiton (average R41m), Anglo American (average R20.5m), Lonmin (average R20m) and Anglo Gold Ashanti (average R17.5m). Compare these grotesque salaries to the current median wage of R4000 per month (or R48,000 per annum)[2] and median minimum of R3600 a month (R43,200 per annum) of NUM members!

The mining industry is peculiar in that reduced demand for its output does not necessarily result in reduced profits. Profit depends on the price of the commodity, and that price can be manipulated by artificially manipulating supply and demand. So, for example, despite reduced demand for platinum in Western Europe and the US due to the recession, the three platinum companies Lonmin, Implats and Anglo Platinum registered an operating profit of more than R160 billion in the past five years!

The centrality of the mining industry to our economy is reflected in urban development which is driven by the sector. Just as Johannesburg was built on gold, Rustenburg is currently growing in a fashion which only meets the short term and rapacious interests of the platinum sector. Instead of a people-centred, sustainable modern city, the fastest growing city in Africa is characterised by no planning, mushrooming informal settlements (38 at the last count), and poor service delivery. Corruption is rife, and politics is murderous. Anarchy prevails.

This is the context that our affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers organises in. The NUM has made huge strides over its 30 years of existence achieving massive improvements in the pay and conditions of mine workers. 30 years ago the industry was uniformly characterised by the very lowest pay, tribal factionalism, the physical abuse of workers, and dismissals without hearings. The industry was almost inaccessible to organising. Through struggles in the trenches led by the NUM, much has changed. But as indicated, there is much that remains unchanged in the structure and general characteristics of the industry. The fact that there is still so much that needs changing is not as a result of weaknesses of the NUM, but due to the entrenched position of the industry in our economy, and its resistance to radical transformation.

To change the mining industry we need maximum unity of workers

Our affiliate the NUM has been at the forefront of calling for radical change in the industry. But its efforts have been frustrated by unilateralism on the part of the bosses, by the blind encouragement of splinter unions by the bosses by competition for positions of shop steward, by the resuscitation of tribalism in some areas, and the resistance of our government to ban the practice of labour broking. In the Platinum sector, employer resistance to centralised bargaining has added to frustrations. What has made matters worse is that where divisions have resulted in physical attacks against NUM members, SAPS has consistently failed to act. This has lead the NUM to conclude that sections of SAPS are part of an anti-worker, ultra-nationalist “state within a state” which is acting to support a narrow grouping of business people and politicians. COSATU supports the NUM in its call for proper policing in the form of investigations, arrests, prosecutions and convictions in the case of reports of violence against NUM members or workers in general. This call for proper policing is not to be interpreted as a call for the violent repression of protesting workers. COSATU has unequivocally condemned the killings of 16th August.

Workers in the mining industry are clearly ready to tackle the need for deep change. The divisions amongst workers, and the other factors described above, combined with the appearance on the scene of uncountable numbers of opportunists seeking to pull workers this way and that way, are creating serious obstacles for the NUM to take the struggle forward.

In the face of all of this, COSATU recognises that the changes that are needed in the mining industry require the following of the Federation:-

  • A clear message to mine workers that “united we stand, divided we fall”. While breaking out of the NUM’s fold might appear to bring short term gains to some workers, in the long run it will weaken the power of mine workers to change the industry and improve conditions overall.
  • A strong appeal to any NUM member who has a genuine grievance against the union to channel this through the union, or via COSATU if necessary.
  • Ongoing discussion at all levels of the Federation of how best to practically support the NUM going forward.
  • A clear message to the SAPS and the Judiciary, that where there are continued violent attacks on mine workers and their families, these should be speedily investigated, and we must see arrests, prosecutions and convictions.
  • The urgent establishment of a Commission into the historical and current working, social and living conditions in the mining industry.
  • We demand that the Mining Industry takes urgent steps to comply with the Mining Charter.
  • The proposed Commission will be linked to a Federation-wide solidarity campaign for the complete transformation of the industry. Such a campaign will be for an industry that reflects what is right and fair in a democracy. Every COSATU local and every affiliate will be expected to engage on how the struggle for transformation in the mining industry links to transformation in other sectors. It will include the demand for people centred urban development which is not anarchic as we have seen in Rustenburg.

Attacking poverty wages and inequality

Over and above the special attention to the mining industry, COSATU promises a militant campaign to tackle poverty wages in general. It is totally unacceptable that half of all employed workers in this country earn R3000 a month or less. The proposed elements of this campaign are spelt out in the Organisational Report to Congress, but in sum include:-

  • A campaign to radically raise the lowest levels of pay in our country, with demands based on calculations of living requirements. As part of this, Congress will debate the principle of a National Minimum Wage.
  • A demand for compulsory centralised bargaining in all sectors. We are convinced that we would not have seen the unfolding of events in the platinum sector if the mining bosses had seen beyond their own self interests to agree centralised bargaining.
  • A pledge to move away from across the board percentage increases only, which we recognise have created inequalities between unskilled and skilled workers. While wages have on average beaten inflation, the real wages of many of our lowest paid members have actually declined.
  • A campaign to move away from grading systems which have been imposed over time by the bosses and which disadvantage workers such as the rock drill operators in the mining industry. Workers who are central to any operation, and those who do dangerous or heavy work, should be rewarded accordingly. The fact that they do not “make decisions” as per the evaluation of the bosses should not be the sole factor in determining pay.

COSATU condemns, in the strongest terms, the opportunistic political exploitation of the plight of workers and incitement to violence by any groups or individuals for their own selfish ends.

We remain committed to doing whatever it will take to rebuild the confidence of the working class in the mines in the NUM and the unity of the Federation. We will work with the NUM to ensure that the mine workers who have left the NUM are brought back into the COSATU fold and to the home where they belong, and that their legitimate concerns about working and living conditions in the industry are addressed with maximum solidarity from all workers in the Federation.

Defend the NUM
Transform the Mining Industry
Forward to Decent Work for All
Aluta Continua

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