Coming just a week after the five month strike of over 70,000 platinum mineworkers, the NUMSA strike of over 220,000 workers in the metal industries that began on 1st July is part of the on-going revolt of the working class against the cheap labour system of South Africa. Workers are demanding a 15% pay rise across all companies in the sector. Marches of Numsa members in cities across South Africa on 1st July brought over one hundred thousand on to the streets showing the determination of Numsa members to struggle for victory.
The poverty wages, not just in the metal industries, but across the entire South African economy, in effect represents the neo-colonial slavery of the black working class that continues shamefully to be the mainstay of the South African capitalism. Labour-broking is a central part of the modern capitalist strategy to hold down the wages of the working class.
The outcry from the employers about the unaffordability of the workers’ wage demands are being echoed in the media has absolutely no merit or legitimacy. Bosses in the metal industries, as is the case across the entire economy, have enjoyed massive profits on the back of the workers meagre wages.
For example, in 2010, earnings in the manufacturing industry reached R332 billion, with gross profits of R134,6 billion. Major steel monopolies like ArcellorMittal increased its earnings to $8 billion and their profits by 23% in 2013. Even in comparison to workers in these same monopolies in other countries, South African workers are being paid poverty, slave wages. More often than not, workers in Europe earn ten times what workers are being paid here. Numsa must show the lead in struggle to dismantle this system of black working class slavery in the engineering sector as the mineworkers have done in the platinum mining industry.
In an act of class arrogance and aggression, engineering sector bosses, through their major organisation, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEISFSA), have declared a lock-out, in other words a strike by the employers and a declaration of war on both striking and non-striking workers. What this lock-out signifies is not just the old colonial class outlook and contempt of the bosses for the black working class, but also the qualitative changes in class relations that have taken place since the Marikana massacre in 2012.
That event widened the class polarisation in society and hardened the political attitudes of both the capitalist class and the working class. The 2012 mineworkers uprising, before and after Marikana, upset the balance of forces established in 1994 when the ANC compromised with the apartheid regime by agreeing to maintain the capitalist economic foundations that the racist apartheid segregation system had rested upon in exchange for universal suffrage and political power. The participation of Cosatu – the two million member trade union federation – in the Tripartite Alliance with the ANC and South African Communist Party largely tamed the trade union movement, and turned the majority of the Cosatu leadership into lapdogs of the bosses, disciplining the heavy battalions of the working class on their behalf.
The newly found confidence of the workers in their organised power has inspired capitalist fury, as expressed in the venom of class hatred spewed by their spokespersons in the media. The capitalist class are resolved to crush the new working class militancy. The platinum workers strike made the stubborn resistance of the mine bosses brutally apparent including the resort to brutal police measures to ruthlessly break that strike. Just as it is obvious in the aggression of the engineering bosses and resolute support that government pledged to make sure the strike does not succeed.
Nationalisation under democratic workers control
If the bosses in the metal industries cannot afford the workers’ modest wage demands – a demand that still falls far below a living minimum wage – this only shows the bankruptcy of the capitalist system and the need to replace it. As part of the strike, Numsa must raise the demand for the nationalisation of all the big monopolies in the metal industry and all metal companies failing to meet the legitimate demands of the workers as part of their commitment to struggle for the public ownership the commanding heights of the economy, to make possible the democratic planning and management of the economy in the interests of the working class and poor people.
Cosatu and United Front: Call a General Strike
The hardening attitude of the metal bosses right from the onset demonstrates their preparedness to try and settle scores with the metalworkers on behalf of the entire ruling class in a manner that the mine bosses tried and dismally failed to do in the platinum sector strike. But Numsa and the working class as a whole must respond with equal determination. The idea of a united struggle of the entire working class for a living minimum wage across the entire economy has been raised by the struggles of the mineworkers. The call for a general strike by Cosatu, in line with their congress resolutions committing the federation to struggle for a living minimum wage would receive enormous support and be capable of winning a decisive victory.
The right-wing pro-ANC leadership of Cosatu cannot of course be trusted so Numsa must make a direct appeal to the rank-and-file of Cosatu unions. Numsa’s new United Front could call a national conference to serve as the basis for uniting workers, communities and youth, in struggle for an economy wide living wage of R12,500. Such a demand could cut across all the sectoral divisions in the working class. Such a campaign should also link a living minimum wage to demands for service delivery, unemployment benefits, decent jobs and free education for all.
With the solid support of the communities, the youth and many workers outside its ranks that Numsa already enjoy, the union should immediately call for creation of solidarity groups and strike support committees to embark on a programme of rolling mass actions targeting big steel monopolies, SEIFSA, MEIBC, government departments and co-ordinate series of regular and flying pickets of specific workplaces which should be used to counter the strike breaking activity of the bosses and the scabs.
A new workers party
The metalworkers’ strike is an excellent opportunity for the Numsa leadership to popularise the idea for a new workers’ party amongst their membership and the working class in general. This could be done by contrasting the pro-boss stand of pro-capitalist parties like the ANC and the DA which will be an inevitable feature of this strike to the role that a workers’ party, committed to socialism, could play in supporting the strike, linking to other sections of the working class and taking the militancy on the industrial plane on to the political plane.
- Forward to a 15% wage increase across the metal industries. End Labour broking.
- For an economy wide living minimum wage of R12 500 and decent jobs for all.
- Unite the working class in a campaign for a living wage including the preparation of a general strike.
- For nationalisation under workers’ control and socialism.
- For a United Front and mass workers’ party on a socialist programme