workers revolution cartoon

workers revolution

The South African Workers’ Revolution

Since the beginning of September 2012, post-Apartheid South Africa has experienced a strike wave of unprecedented intensity and violence. This militancy began in the mining sector but has spread as workers across the board flex their collective strength – particularly in the private sector but also now in the area of local government.

A key element of this upsurge, particularly on the mines, has been that it is largely ‘illegal’ – outside of established bargaining procedures; in fact, it has flaunted worker power in the face of agreements signed between companies and trade unions. So, despite workers having the tools for organised advancement of their interests, why have tens of thousands defied their own organisations and the negotiation mechanism built up over decades and, against all odds, held firm and risked their livelihoods?

The first thing to appreciate is that strikes are not only about material needs. They are also responses to feelings of powerlessness in the face of exploitation, corruption, humiliation and national/ethnic concerns. This was certainly true of the Apartheid era when economic exploitation together with national oppression fueled militancy and the workplace was highly politicised.

A regime change and years later, not much has really changed. The ANC/ SACP have implemented essentially worker-unfriendly policies without COSATU forcefully expressing its opposition by mobilising mass action. This has also extended to the general failure of government to deliver on basic needs for the working class: adequate housing; education; and health services. And this failure has affected the entire working class – not just the employed who are just managing to survive, but the millions living in squalid conditions on the periphery of cites and towns and near large workplaces like mines.

The reality is that under the ANC, SACP and COSATU, the inequality in distribution of wealth has deepened. While mining executives and the BEE bourgeois were signing uncontested, fat cheques for themselves, the likes of NUM were meekly signing retrenchment packages for thousands of workers. This is the reason why Julius Malema and the ANCYL draw a keen audience when hinting at a second Mugabe-style economic revolution.

Another important factor has been that, prior to the strike wave, various companies themselves undermined the collective bargaining framework and NUM failed to decisively intervene. Select categories of workers were given increases despite there being no provision for such increases during the currency of wage agreements. This simultaneously showed that increases were viable and that shouting loud enough bears fruit. The mere indication of the latter inspired workers across the board, not just in the mining industry, to take similar stands.

So where does this leave South Africa, besides in a dire economic mess?
A broad front loosely called the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) is slowly emerging. Made up of workers from across the mining sector and activists from established social movements, it counters the influence of the SACP. As the strike fever spreads and COSATU affiliates are forced to step up their actions to meet members’ demands, the DSM is likely to grow in strength as the SACP is highly unlikely to change its behaviour – state power, with all its perks, as enjoyed by Communist cabinet ministers and regional politicians is too much of a carrot for them to jeopardise by defying ANC big business-friendly policies.

If the DSM can consolidate its position, form new trade unions and community organisations that are truly democratic and genuinely advance worker interests, it may have important long term spin offs as the emergence of such a working class formation will, for the first time since 1994, give workers a real alternative to the ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance in terms of electoral politics.

In conclusion, the current strike wave, born of massive grassroots frustration and anger at falling living standards, widening wealth gaps, lack of basic social services, growing corruption and ineffectiveness in the state machinery and arrogant, short-term profit-obsessed corporates who play fast and loose with labour rights, has truly shaken up an untenable and unjust status quo. Whilst deeply regretting the loss of life occasioned by the strikes, South Africa should celebrate that direct action by the oppressed has again given a deeply fractured society the opportunity to set a new course.

Leave YOUR COMMENT here on South Africa’s labour revolution, ANC, Cosatu and the mining industry.
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Frustrated workers image
So, are you sick of all the strikes and wishing things would revert back to ‘normal’? Or are you an affected worker with no choice but to place your hopes on a weekly lotto draw, buying lottery tickets online and simply hoping for the best? In either case, Wonkie feels for you.

If you’re in management already and just glad you don’t need to be a member of any union, perhaps now would be a good time to redistribute your own wealth by trying your hand at some of the top online casino games South Africa or on the best Rand Online Casinos. For Wonkie readers based in India that can’t understand what all the fuss about strikes is about, click here instead for some Indian online casino options or visit this site for more international ones. If you strike out with these choices, visit Wonkie’s Top 10 pages for recommendations in a completely different genre!


Online Casinos directory image
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Related cartoon posts on strikes in South Africa, Cosatu, labour unrest and Marikana:

  1. Strikes in South Africa
  2. Lonmin Marikana Shooting – Little Sympathy for Stupidity cartoon
  3. More articles and the latest Cosatu news
  4. Strike a pose in South Africa
  5. The Doctor’s strike – written from a South African Doctor’s perspective

Leave YOUR COMMENT here on South Africa’s workers’ revolution, trade unions and the mining industry.

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  1. Fantastic article Wonkie and loved the Little Lerato cartoon – hits the nail on the head. When one looks at the likes of Cyril Ramaphosa, Motlanthe etc it seems that the only people that come out better for the Unions are the people in union management themselves… so much for representing the workers!

  2. Kind of reminds of the 1900s in Great Britain and Ireland as detailed by authors like Alexander Cordell and we have our Mabone in Vavi. Below is an except from The Miners Next Step.

    Here is perhaps after all our strongest indictment. The policy of “collective bargaining” will be dealt with later on. But we have here to point out why there is discontent with “leaders.” The policy of conciliation gives the real power of the men into the hands of a few leaders. Somebody says “What about conferences and ballots”? Conferences are only called, and ballots only taken when there is a difference of opinion between leaders. The conference or ballot is only a referee. Can this be denied? In the main, and on things that matter, the Executive have the supreme power. The workmen for a time look up to these men and when things are going well they idolise them. The employers respect them. Why? Because they have the men – the real power – in the hollow of their hands. They, the leaders, become “gentlemen,” they become M.P.’s and have considerable social prestige because of this power. Now when any man or men assume power of this description, we have a right to ask them to be infallible. That is the penalty, a just one too, of autocracy. When things go wrong, and we have shown that they have gone wrong, they deserve to be, and are blamed. What really is blameworthy, is the conciliation policy which demands leaders of this description. For a moment let us look at this question from the leaders’ standpoint. First, they are “trade unionists by trade” and their profession demands certain privileges. The greatest of all these are plenary powers. Now, every inroad the rank and file make on this privilege lessens the power and prestige of the leader. Can we wonder then that leaders are averse to change? Can we wonder that they try and prevent progress? Progress may arrive at such a point that they would not be able to retain their “jobs,” or their “jobs” would become so unimportant that from their point of view, they would not be worth retaining. The leader then has an interest – a vested interest – in stopping progress. They have therefore in some things an antagonism of interests with the rank and file. The conditions of things in South Wales has reached the point when this difference of interest, this antagonism, has become manifest. Hence the men criticise and are discontented with their leaders. But the remedy is not new leaders. But – well, we shall see.”

  3. Alas! how true. I will emphasise my fear and disgust about Mugabesque suicidal stupidity and Economic ignorance. Zimbawe is Economically dead because of this, only the might of our beloved SA productivity is propping up Africa. Don’t everybody forget the Nongqause catastrophe of which Malema and co are prophets and proponents of. New beginnings are justified but not on Malema and co’s platform of doom and suffering. We suffered enough under apartheid now we want suicide? No. South Africa must deal with greed and the imbalance. The basic wages must be adjusted up to ensure better living. Splurges on jets curtailed. A strong socialist platform is urgently needed. A welfare state would address this by securing balanced levels of life instead of feeding fat overfed fat-cats!! But then as they say Power Corrupts!

  4. Looks like the Gravy Train is slowing down to a stop to eventually pick up new Passengers and dumping the present Passengers.

  5. We are in a vicious cycle where those employed demand and get more and more become jobless. Employers mechanize more and business opportunities are lost due to the cost of labour apart from the unjust labour laws. If there were no minimum wages and if collective bargaining and striking outlawed, there would be few unemployed and the economy would be flourishing. It does not help to take money from the employed to keep the unemployed alive just for political expediency. It eventually will bring the country to the point of revolution. Employers should set the terms, not the workers. If they are not happy, they are free to resign. If free market principals are applied to labour the country would flourish.

  6. It is sad to see a rich country being so unmanageble by incompetent govement. History repeats itself.!

  7. Since 1994 I have been saying “look North” the same thing will happen in SA. I was told “nonsense – it can never happen in SA!”. Mark my words, we will still have a civil war in this country – look North – the same will happen here. Those other countries have been through the full cycle and are only now realising what foolish, stupid mistakes they have made and how poor they are. It seems SA will not learn a lesson from their mistakes. SA must still go through the cycle, this is only the beginning. If you think about it then, SA is way, way behind the rest of Africa in this respect. Oh, I am sure there will be those who critize me for being negative but it does not help hiding your heads in the sand and denying it.

  8. Right…If you don’t like your job then resign and get a better one? Logical?

  9. I am so very glad to see people like xoolo are starting to think for themselves, and not like common sheep! There is some hope yet! South Africa is the most wonderful country in the world, and should be a paradise for all. Lets all join hands and make it so!!! This is Mr Mandela’s legacy, not the present crap that is happening in the country.

  10. now what about the poor money lenders, how are they going to live, they wil have to strike as wel, who can loose a 100% interest on your money you loaned to the miners

  11. Right Madevu Even the ANC cannot get blood out of stones! There going to be some broken kneecaps soom! I have been wondering what the strikers are eating as they have no income. Affirmative shopping?

  12. Apartheid was supported by some 3 million people, all white. That was its mistake, the government of the day based the economy on those 3 and maybe 2 million blacks, coloureds and indians. Economists did not foresee this country supporting 49 million without massive economic growth. Alas the economy is now supported by 6 million people, BEE blacks are filling the spaces of whites who are retiring, leaving or being murdered and whatever economic growth has only provided only another million taxpayers. Apartheid is back and doing well the only difference is that it now is controlled by ANC kleptocrats who are separating the rich and the poor. The government keeps coming up with laws, (the secrecy bill) policies (BEE) and rhetoric (nationalisation) which discourage growth and investment. The ANC has designed its government based on the old Nats and an overriding desire to enrich themselves at any cost. Fatboy is right we need a new struggle for equality. The government is a bloody disgrace and a change of leadership is not going to change that. It needs a change of heart.

  13. South Africans need to wake up and smell the Coffe. I’m embarassed. How can you let a standard 3 fellow to to run the Country? The MP’s are not educated enough run the country. These has been corrrupt even when we were in Exile. They brought their from exile. They have been intimidating people since exile. They aregoing

  14. ratava there wil be Affirmative shopping,but read your paper and listen to your radio there wil be whities collecting food and all that AND you big business wil donate all there needs, wil the whites also get some thing?

  15. Believe me they have destroyed people lives in Exile. Now are destroying people lives in Country. What happened to the Freedom Charter. South Africa is runned by the Gangsters and Pimps. They have raped andkilled in Exile other SAfricans. What’s new same behaviour is being repeated. They drove nice cars and stayed in big nice houses in Exile
    They dealt with diamons and drugs in Exile. Wake My People. They are worse than Boers

  16. They don’t want to improve the education cuz they don’t care. Some of the MP’s don’t have College or Uni versity background. How can you run money of the Country without Accountent Degree? Please stop bullshiting South Africans.

  17. well apartheid was horrible and wrong in many ways, but oh, we all had it better under the apartheid rule!!! at least the people governing the country had the ability to make speeches without having to try and read it from a paper!! if the strikers asked for more realistic wages, not thousands of rands more than they get now, maybe it would have been granted. then next year they could’ve striked for the next increase!! like eskom, 16% over the next 5 years!! madness…

  18. Why ANC playing political psychology on poor people

  19. I believe SA is going to be like Angola, Zambia, Zimbambwe, Tanzania, Mozambiqe

  20. Xoolo, there needs to be a new direction in South Africa. The current Government is lining it’s pockets and will continue to do so. All the ANC leaders keep saying what they are going to do like create 500 000 jobs, like improve education, etc. And yet nothing happens, if one day the people say no more, they will not turn to the ballot, they will turn to revolution. Time is running out for thes kleptocrats.

  21. a-maize-ingly-corny says

    I cannot believe it – there is a streak of gold – or is it YELLOW? – down the platinum spine of Anglo-American. First, they announce, yesterday, that the CEO of 6 years’ excellent work has resigned (NOT, they say, because of shareholder pressure) and then, second, they announce, today, that all of the 12 thousand illegal strikers that they have already sacked for the illegal strike action will be welcomed back to work if the return by Tuesday.
    It makes one wonder what kind of principles the mining industry uses and what kind of principals they employ.
    And, what kind of law and order message is Anglo-American sending out? – That it is all right to have an illegal strike – That it doesn’t matter if you are sacked for illegally striking – You will still have your job if you keep toyi-toying!!! And, I’m sure, if you get enough BBC coverage, and if you get Jelly-Arse involved, you will, eventually, get every ridiculous – even exorbitant and extortionate – claim that you demanded, granted.

  22. a-maize-ingly-corny says

    Platinum and gold are quite soft metals.
    It looks like the platinum and gold bosses are equally soft.

    Platinum and gold are quite malleable – meaning readily hammered into shape.
    The bosses have definitely been hammered into the shape the workers want!

  23. Garth these behaviour of empty promises its not new. Like I said these has brought exile mentality. ANC leaders still living in 60’s ideology. There corrupt in exile what’s going to stop? People who are real not bullshiters. Its hard when you dealing with thieves, scammers which equals to Greed.

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