South Africa after Marikana massacre: Strike wave and new workers’ organisations challenge old compromises …
Thousands of Amplats mineworkers rally in Rustenburg, South Africa.
By Leonard Gentle
November 12, 2012 — International Labour Research and Information Group — Over the November 10-11, 2012, weekend striking mineworkers of the Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) corporation gathered at a mass rally in Rustenburg and howled their defiance of a series of ultimatums issued by the company. At De Doorns, farm workers are on a “wildcat” strike — the latest of a series that has become a feature of the South African landscape over the last three months, knocking theAfrican National Congress conference in Mangaung off the front pages. Something is stirring from below … and it is time we got beyond the fear and trepidation that have become the stock response in the media.
After the Marikana massacre South Africa’s president, the ANC’s Jacob Zuma, appointed the Farlam Commission and also convened an emergency social dialogue meeting of business, labour and government in October. The partners released a statement calling on strikers to return to work and for the police to defend law and order and noted that “the wave of unprotected strikes [could] undermine the legal framework of bargaining”.
So far the Farlam Commission has heard evidence of a police conspiracy, intimidation of witnesses and a hotline line between [former National Union of Mineworkers and ANC heavyweight turned mineowner] Cyril Ramaphosa, the Lonmin company [that employed the murdered mineworkers] and the police. But with the strike wave continuing is it not also time to ask: Where did this much-vaunted “legal framework of bargaining” come from? And how virtuous, from the perspective of democracy and social justice, has that system been?
South Africa’s Labour Relations Act (LRA), Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) and their associated institutions of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), the Sector Education Training Authorities (SETA) and the tripartite National Economic, Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) came out of a series of engagements around the National Economic Forum, the Labour Market Commission and the National Training Board between 1990 and 1995. Like the World Trade Centre negotiations at Kempton Park, which shaped South Africa’s post-apartheid political compromises, there was a similar set of trade offs being enacted within the labour market sphere between labour (essentially COSATU) and big business.
Under apartheid, industrial relations legislation had been based on the racial alliance between big business and white workers, and the suppression of black workers. White workers could form trade unions and use their muscle to establish minimum wages, industrial councils to have industry negotiations and have systems of labour protection and training through apprenticeship and training boards.
For black workers, however, strikes were illegal and they were excluded from labour protection and industrial councils.
However the illegal strike wave among black workers outside Durban in 1973 saw black workers defy the labour laws and eventually set up strong unions and forge recognition agreements with large employers. New unions, like the Metal and Allied Workers’ Union, even broke into the Industrial Council system, eventually forcing the apartheid state, in 1979, to amend the LRA to grant African workers the right to form trade unions and to compel employers to deduct membership dues.
By the time the labour market negotiations began in the early 1990s, COSATU wanted the state to legislate a legal duty to bargain on the part of employers, impose centralised bargaining and demanded that the new democratic state provide a high degree of social protection for workers. Big business, in turn, wanted maximum labour flexibility, little state intervention and little social protection.
These opposing views appeared irreconcilable.
The deal was to take labour legislation out of the sphere of criminal sanction and state enforceability completely. Instead the state, big business and labour agreed to a system of what came to be called “voice regulation” and “social partnership”.
So strikes and employer lockouts, unfair labour practices, unfair dismissals and incorrect wages, etc. would no longer be illegal but subject to discussion and rational persuasion through institutions like the CCMA. If your employer summarily sacked you or underpaid you, you couldn’t get a labour inspector to reinstate you or have your employer compelled by law to honour a contract, you went to the CCMA where you could get a mediator to try and reach a compromise solution.
Similarly, while there was no compulsion on the part of an employer to negotiate, you could invoke the power of your strong union to make life difficult in time for such a recalcitrant employer. And you could strike, albeit only on what was deemed to be a “matter of interest” (as opposed to unfair dismissal, which is deemed to be a “conflict of right”, over which you couldn’t strike but had to refer to the CCMA for mediation and/or arbitration). So the labour movement got its plethora of rights, but which were dependent on their real organised power to exercise, because the state was not going to be involved. But big business got its demands for labour flexibility because there were no laws involving the state imposing any kind of criminal sanction or legal enforceability.
The whole system presumed a scenario whereby big business would get the benefits of labour flexibility, industrial peace and skilled labour and big labour would get skills, job security, higher wages and a seat at the table of all labour market institutions.
But neither the state nor big business kept their side of the bargain. Whereas the LRA, the SETAs and NEDLAC were unveiled during the period of the reformist Reconstruction and Development Plan, the government unveiled the Growth, Employment and Redistribution macroeconomic blueprint and its neoliberal prescriptions without any consideration of its labour “partner”. Instead of seeking beneficiation and skilled labour, the biggest South African monopolies unbundled, financialised and then jumped ship to London, New York and Melbourne. Making money via releasing “shareholder value” on global stock markets was so much more profitable than extending employment and promoting skills, let alone hanging out with its “social partners” in NEDLAC.
That left COSATU with nowhere else to go. After responding with anger in the early days of GEAR, the federation has more recently been happy to slag off the betrayals of its tripartite partner, the ANC, while its leaders, organisers and even shop stewards raked in the money involved in attending NEDLAC, SETAs and the myriad other tripartite and centralised bargaining fora.
Success or disaster?
And how did the institutions of South Africa’s industrial relations perform?
Well, from the viewpoint of peace and productivity, they certainly did their job. Strikes have shown a steady decline since 1995 with only 2010, the year of public sector strikes, showing an increase in the number of strikes and days lost, as unions and state departments found themselves at the end of a three-year agreement in that year. The CCMA in the meantime has increased its case handling exponentially and has become an established part of the industrial relations landscape.
But from the side of ordinary working-class people the system has been a disaster on every score.
First, at the macro level, inequality is increasing and all the indicators show increased unemployment — now peaking at 40% according to Census 2012 — and the increased informalisation and casualisation of workers. The labour peace has come at the cost of the restructuring of the working class towards the very flexible labour demanded by big business.
But what about the layer of full-time workers who have permanent jobs and are the backbone of the trade unions today? It turns out that, apart from those who benefit from the perks of sitting on the various negotiating fora, it didn’t work for them either.
In the main, company-level wage negotiations have settled on and around the annual inflation rate. And seeing that this is a figure roughly representing cost of living increases over the year past, this means that real wage levels have been eroded.
And what about the achievements of the bargaining councils? The statistics on centralised bargaining are revealing. In the history of the labour movement this was supposed to be a powerful means to even things upwards — to win victories in enterprises or sectors where the workers were strong, and then have that victory extended to companies where the union was weak via the ministerial signature extending the agreement to non-parties. So for years employers resisted centralised bargaining or Industrial Councils (as they were called then) fearing that it would push wage costs up.
In 1995’s LRA the industrial councils were rechristened bargaining councils and the compulsion on the part of the minister weakened so that s/he had some discretion in this matter and only if there were thresholds reached in terms of employer and union representativity.
So what has been their performance? In cases of holidays, working hours, maternity benefits, etc., bargaining councils have either settled on the minimum already enshrined in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (meaning no protracted negotiations and strikes were needed when workers already had these rights established in law) or, shockingly, have reached settlements where these are actually below the minimum set in the Act.
The average weekly working hours have gone up from 44 hours to 45 — a mass increase in the working year without a commensurate increase in pay.
Far from bargaining councils being instruments used by the unions to level conditions upwards they have become instruments for the employers to level conditions downwards!
Cape Town’s Labour Research Service’s 2011-2012 Bargaining Indicators had this to say: “The BCEA looks more like a ceiling than a floor of minimum conditions. Put another way, actual conditions of employment tend to cluster around the legislated minimums. We see few significant upward variations.”
In COSATU’s internal review tabled at its recent congress, some 60% of members express dissatisfaction with wage increases negotiated.
Overall workers’ wages and salaries as a percentage of national income have been dropping every year and were overtaken in 1999 by profits. In other words there has been a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the era of the current industrial relations system.
If the striking workers of the last three months are — horrors of horrors — challenging this system of industrial relations, then they are doing us all a service for which they should be applauded and not condemned.
Internationally, the trade union movement has often gone through periods of stagnation and co-option only to be revived by internal rebellions against the established industrial order. Trade unions originated in Britain as “trades unions” – where the older term “trades” referred to the skilled trades of craftsmen. The movement arose from two sources: one conservative and protective of the old guilds and craftsmen resisting the hordes of newly proletarianised, deskilled workers; the other a militant offshoot of the 19th century radical Chartist movement. The first shop stewards were factory (or “shop”)-based representatives who led a radical democratic movement against the craft unions in the late 19th century and established the modern labour movement.
Similarly in the USA, the older craft-based American Federation of Labor (AFL) experienced a revolt by industrial workers in the 1920s against the sweetheart nature of the AFL and its protection of skilled white workers. These militant industrial workers, newer immigrants and many African Americans – grouped under the Congress of Industrial Organisations – fought the labour elite and forced it into an amalgam, the AFL-CIO, which is still the United States’ trade union centre today.
So workers’ rebellions against “their own unions” and against the “legal framework” for collective bargaining has a distinguished history.
Since the Marikana massacre there has been a strike wave of some 100,000 workers across the country – from the platinum province, to the coal and gold mines of the North West, Gauteng and the Free State, and from the workers at Kumba in the Northern Cape; to Toyota in KwaZulu-Natal; and even home-based textiles workers in Cape Town. And now farmworkers in De Doorns.
A common feature of these strikes has been that they are led and driven by self-organised workers’ committees in defiance of existing unions and of signed collective agreements made with these unions. This exercise in self-organisation was even to impact on existing procedural wage negotiations – notably the transport sector, where employers and unions were about to reach an agreed wage settlement only to find that the membership on the ground rejected the proposed agreement and forced through a protected strike.
The appellation “wildcat” may invoke images of an unruly mob. The appearance of a [populist former ANC Youth League leader] Julius Malema at Marikana may play to perceptions that striking workers are easily swayed bumpkins willing to believe any snake-oil salesman. And the demand for R12,500 may appear unreasonable and outrageous to commentators who can’t credit workers with any power to think for themselves. But what has been the most striking feature of the strike wave – particularly in the mining sector – has been the level of sophistication displayed, with no full-time organisers, no back-up offices and no administrators; and against all the whole gamut of the state and civil society– from the mine owners’ media, to the political parties and the trade unions themselves.
For example AngloPlat declared, a month ago, that it had dismissed 12,000 workers. Then it said that they could return but by the company’s imposed deadline. Then it met with the pro-government National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the mainly white skilled workers’ union Solidarity and signed an agreement for a return to work. But still the mines couldn’t get back to full production and couldn’t bring in scabs. The workers simply declared “the strike committee speaks for us” and defied AngloPlat.
With each back down by management the strength of the committee was enhanced until, against all the procedures enshrined in the LRA and the collective agreements with NUM, the company was forced to sit down with the strike committee and recognise its de facto power.
As at Lonmin – where the company was forced by the power of its strike committee to pay a 22% wage increase – the workers at Lonmin and AngloPlat have changed the face of industrial relations in South Africa. And this has been repeated at AngloGold and across the mining sector.
As ever, there are no guarantees and the best efforts of the striking workers may be defeated by the sheer range of forces lined up against them. But for now the strike committees across the mining industry have formed their own structure, the National Strike Committee, and within this there is lively debate about where this initiative will go and what its strategic orientation will be– whether a broad labour front or a new union or a mass enlistment in one of the existing registered unions.
The strike wave has been greeted only with doom and gloom in the mainstream media. Strangely enough, the same media and many commentators have also lined up to speak to the threat to democracy posed by an increasingly authoritarian and beleaguered ANC leadership. Business figures such as Nedbank chair Reuel Khoza were lauded for having the “courage” to speak up, while World Bank luminaries like Mamphela Ramphela are celebrated for “speaking the truth to power”.
So why, when striking workers challenge this self-same intolerant government and the whole cosy edifice of the current order, are they treated to this discourse of fear and loathing? Surely it is time to celebrate the possibilities for an expansion of democracy represented by the current strike wave? Or is democracy only an effete experience for the well to do?
[Leonard Gentle is the director of the International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG), a left South African NGO that produces educational materials for activists in social movements and trade unions.]
BRICS bloc’s rising ‘sub-imperialism’: the latest threat to people and planet?
President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese President Hu Jintao and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa pose prior to the BRICS summit in New Delhi on March 29, 2012.
By Patrick Bond, Durban
November 22, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — The heads of state of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) network of governments are coming to Durban, South Africa, in four months, meeting on March 26-27 at the International Convention Centre (ICC), Africa’s largest venue. Given their recent performance, it is reasonable to expect another “1%” summit, wreaking socioeconomic and ecological havoc. And that means it is time for the first BRICScountersummit, to critique top-down “sub-imperialist” bloc formation, and to offer bottom-up alternatives.
After all, we have had some bad experiences at the Durban ICC.
- In 2001, in spite of demands by 10,000 protesters, the United Nations World Conference Against Racism refused to grapple with reparations for slavery and colonialism or with apartheid-Israel’s racism against Palestinians (hence Tel Aviv’s current ethnic cleansing of Gaza goes unpunished).
- The African Union got off to a bad start here, with its 2002 launch, due to reliance on the neoliberal New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) promoted by Pretoria.
- The 2003 World Economic Forum’s African regional meeting hastened governments’ supplication to multinational corporate interests in spite of protests.
- In 2011, Durban’s UN COP17 climate summit – better known as the “Conference of Polluters” – featured Washington’s sabotage, with no new emissions cuts and an attempted revival of the non-solution called “carbon trading”, also called “the privatisation of the air”.
Eco-disasters made in Durban
“The Durban Platform was promising because of what it did not say”, bragged US State Department official Trevor Houser to the New York Times. “There is no mention of historic responsibility or per capita emissions. There is no mention of economic development as the priority for developing countries. There is no mention of a difference between developed and developing country action.”
The Durban deal squashed poor countries’ ability to defend against climate disaster. With South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in the chair, the COP17 confirmed this century’s climate-related deaths of what will be more than 180 million Africans, according to Christian Aid. Already 400,000 people die each year from climate-related chaos due to catastrophes in agriculture, public health and “frankenstorms” like last month’s Hurricane Sandy.
Degeneration of global governance is logical when Washington unites with the BRICS countries, as was first demonstrated three years ago with the Copenhagen Accord. At the COP climate talks, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, Brazil’s Lula da Silva, China’s Wen Jiabao and India’s Manmohan Singh joined Barack Obama to foil the Kyoto Protocol’s mandatory emissions cuts, thus confirming that at least 4 degrees Celsius global warming will occur by 2100. “They broke the UN”, concluded Bill McKibben from the climate advocacy movement 350.org.
The negotiators were explicitly acting on behalf of their fossil fuel and extractive industries. Similar cozy ties between Pretoria politicians, London-based mining houses, Johannesburg “black economic empowerment” tycoons and sweetheart trade unions have since been exposed by the police massacre of striking Marikana mineworkers, with another blast against the climate anticipated when fracking soon begins in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal’s Drakensburg Mountains, driven by multinational corporate oil firms led by Shell.
The 2012 Yale and Columbia University Environmental Performance Index showed that aside from Brazil, the other BRICS states are decimating their – and the Earth’s – ecology at the most rapid rate of any group of countries, with Russia and South Africa near the bottom of world stewardship rankings.
Like Berlin in 1884-85, the BRICS Durban summit is expected to carve up Africa more efficiently, unburdened – now as then – by what will be derided as “Western” concerns about democracy and human rights. Reading between the lines, its resolutions will:
- support favoured corporations’ extraction and land-grab strategies;
- worsen Africa’s retail-driven deindustrialisation (South Africa’s Shoprite and Makro – soon to be run by Walmart – are already notorious in many capital cities for importing even simple products that could be supplied locally);
- revive failed projects such as Nepad; and
- confirm the financing of both land grabbing and the extension of neocolonial infrastructure through a new “BRICS Development Bank”, likely to be based just north of Johannesburg where the Development Bank of Southern Africa already does so much damage following Washington’s script.
The question is whether in exchange for the Durban summit amplifying such destructive tendencies, which appears certain, can those few of Africa’s elites who may be invited leverage any greater influence in world economic management via the BRICS? With South Africa’s finance minister Pravin Gordhan’s regular critiques of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), there is certainly potential for BRICS to “talk left” about the global-governance democracy deficit.
But watch the “walk right” carefully. In the vote for World Bank president earlier this year, for example, Pretoria’s choice was hard-core Washington ideologue Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian finance minister who with IMF managing director Christine Lagarde catalysed the Occupy movement’s near revolution in January, with a removal of petrol subsidies. Brasilia chose the moderate economist Jose Antonio Ocampo and Moscow backed Washington’s choice: Jim Yong Kim.
This was a repeat of the prior year’s fiasco in the race for IMF managing director, won by Lagarde in spite of ongoing corruption investigations against her by French courts, because the Third World was divided and conquered. BRICS appeared in both cases as incompetent, unable to even agree on a sole candidate, much less win their case in Washington.
Yet in July, BRICS treasuries sent US$100 billion in new capital to the IMF, which was seeking new systems of bail-out for banks exposed in Europe. South Africa’s contribution was only $2 billion, a huge sum for Gordhan to muster against local trade union opposition. Explaining the South African contribution – initially he said it would be only one tenth as large – Gordhan told Moneyweb last year that it was on condition that the IMF became more “nasty” [sic] to desperate European borrowers, as if the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish poor and working people were not suffering enough.
And the result of this BRICS intervention is that China gains IMF voting power, but Africa actually loses a substantial fraction of its share. Even Gordhan admitted at last month’s Tokyo meeting of the IMF and world Bank that it is likely “the vast majority of emerging and developing countries will lose quota shares – an outcome that will perpetuate the democratic deficit.” And given “the crisis of legitimacy, credibility and effectiveness of the IMF”, it “is simply untenable” that Africa only has two seats for its 45 member countries.
Likewise, South Africa’s role in Africa has been “nasty”, as confirmed when Nepad was deemed “philosophically spot on” by lead US State Department Africa official Walter Kansteiner in 2003, and foisted privatisation of even basic services on the continent. In a telling incident this year, the Johannesburg parastatal firm Rand Water was forced to leave Ghana after failing – with a Dutch for-profit partner (Aqua Vitens) – to improve Accra’s water supply, as also happened in Maputo, Mozambique, (Saur from Paris) and Dar es Salaam (Biwater from London) in Tanzania.
As a matter of principle, BRICS appears hell bent on promoting the further commodification of life, at a time when the greatest victory won by ordinary Africans in the last decade is under attack: the winning of the Treatment Action Campaign’s demand for affordable access to AIDS medicines, via India’s cheap generic versions of drugs. A decade ago, they cost $10,000 per person per year and only a tiny fraction of desperate people received the medicines. Now, more than 1.5 million South Africans – and millions more in the rest of Africa – get treatment, thus raising the South Africa’s average life expectancy from 52 in 2004 to 60 today, according to reliable statistics released this month.
However, in recent months, Obama has put an intense squeeze on India to cut back on generic medicine R&D and production, as well as making deep cuts in his own government’s aid commitment to fund African healthcare. In Durban, the city that is home to the most HIV+ people in the world, Obama’s move resulted in this year’s closure of AIDS public treatment centres at three crucial sites. One was the city’s McCord Hospital, which ironically was a long-standing ally of the NGO Partners in Health, whose cofounder was Obama’s pick for World Bank president, Jim Kim.
So we must ask, are the BRICS “anti-imperialist” – or instead, “sub-imperialist”, doing deputy-sheriff duty for global corporations, while controlling their own angry populaces as well as their hinterlands? The eco-destructive, consumerist-centric, over-financialised, climate-frying maldevelopment model throughout the BRICS works very well for corporate profits, but the model is generating crises for 99% of the people and for the planet.
Hence the label sub-imperialist is tempting. As originally formulated during the 1970s, Ruy Mauro Marini argued that his native Brazil is “the best current manifestation of sub-imperialism”, for the following reasons:
- “Doesn’t the Brazilian expansionist policy in Latin America and Africa correspond, beyond the quest for new markets, to an attempt to gain control over sources of raw materials – such as ores and gas in Bolivia, oil in Ecuador and in the former Portuguese colonies of Africa, the hydroelectric potential in Paraguay – and, more cogently still, to prevent potential competitors such as Argentina from having access to such resources?
- “Doesn’t the export of Brazilian capital, mainly via the state as exemplified by Petrobras, stand out as a particular case of capital export in the context of what a dependent country like Brazil is able to do? Brazil also exports capital through the constant increase of foreign public loans and through capital associated to finance groups which operate in Paraguay, Bolivia and the former Portuguese colonies in Africa, to mention just a few instances.
- “It would be good to keep in mind the accelerated process of monopolization (via concentration and centralization of capital) that has occurred in Brazil over these past years, as well as the extraordinary development of financial capital, mainly from 1968 onward.”
Matters subsequently degenerated on all fronts. In addition to these three criteria – regional economic extraction, “export of capital” (always associated with subsequent imperialist politics) and internal corporate monopolisation and financialisation – there are two additional roles of BRICS if its components are genuinely sub-imperialist. One is to ensure regional geopolitical “stability”: for example, Brasilia’s hated army in Haiti and Pretoria’s deal-making in African hotspots like South Sudan and the Great Lakes countries, for which a $5 billion arms deal serves as military back-up.
The second is to advance the broader agenda of neoliberalism, so as to legitimate continuing market access – typical of South Africa’s Nepad, China, Brazil and India’s attempt to revive the WTO and Brazil’s sabotage of the left project within the “Bank of the South” initiative. As Belgian political economist Eric Toussaint remarked at a World Social Forum panel in Porto Alegre in 2009, “The definition of Brazil as a peripheral imperialist power is not dependent on which political party is in power. The word imperialism may seem excessive because it is associated with an aggressive military policy. But this is a narrow perception of imperialism.”
A richer framing for contemporary imperialism is, according to agrarian scholars Paris Yeros and Sam Moyo, a system “based on the super-exploitation of domestic labour. It was natural, therefore, that, as it grew, it would require external markets for the resolution of its profit realisation crisis.” This notion, derived from Rosa Luxemburg’s thinking a century ago, focuses on how capitalism’s extra-economic coercive capacities loot mutual aid systems and commons facilities, families (women especially), the land, all forms of nature, and the shrinking state – and has also been named “accumulation by dispossession”’ by David Harvey, and in special cases evoking militarist intervention, Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine”.
Along with renewed looting are various symptoms of internal crisis and socioeconomic oppressions one can find in many BRICS, including severe inequality, poverty, unemployment, disease, violence (again, especially against women), inadequate education, prohibitions on labour organising and other suffering.
The rising inequality within BRICS – except for Brazil, whose minimum wage increase lowered the extreme Gini coefficient to at least a bit below South Africa’s – is accompanied by worsening social tensions, which in turn is met with worsening political and civil rights violations, such as increased securitisation of societies, militarisation and arms trading, prohibitions on protest, rising media repression and official secrecy, debilitating patriarchy and homophobia, activist jailings and torture, and even massacres (including in Durban, where a notorious police hit squad has killed more than 50 people in recent years, and even after exposure by local media and attempted prosecutions, continues unpunished today).
The forms of sub-imperialism within BRICS are diverse, for as Yeros and Moyo remark, “Some are driven by private blocs of capital with strong state support (Brazil, India); others, like China, include the direct participation of state-owned enterprises; while in the case of South Africa, it is increasingly difficult to speak of an autonomous domestic bourgeoisie, given the extreme degree of de-nationalisation of its economy in the post-apartheid period. The degree of participation in the Western military project is also different from one case to the next although, one might say, there is a ‘schizophrenia’ to all this, typical of ‘sub-imperialism’.”
As a result, all these tendencies warrant opposition from everyone concerned. The damage is going to be ever easier to observe, the more that BRICS leaders prop up the IMF’s pro-austerity financing and catalyse a renewed round of World Trade Organization attacks; the more a new BRICS Development Bank exacerbates the World Bank’s human, ecological and economic messes; the more Africa becomes a battleground for internecine conflicts between sub-imperialists intent on rapid minerals and oil extraction (as is common in central Africa); and the more specific companies targeted by victims require unified campaigning and boycotts to generate solidaristic counter-pressure, whether its Brazil’s Vale and Petrobras, or South Africa’s Anglo or BHP Billiton (albeit with London and Melbourne HQs), or India’s Tata or Arcelor-Mittal, or Chinese state-owned firms and Russian energy corporations.
One opportunity to link issues and connect the dots between campaigns so as to find a unifying anti-subimperialism that aligns with our critique of global capitalism, is within a Durban uncivil-society counter-summit on March 23-27, 2013. Like the rest of South Africa, Durban has witnessed an upsurge of socioeconomic conflict in recent months, and it is incumbent upon visitors to understand where tensions are emerging so that similar processes in the other BRICS are not left isolated.
An overall objective is to “rebuild BRICS from below”, so the usual “globalisation-from-the-middle” talk shops – featuring speeches by petit-bourgeois NGO strategists and radical intellectuals (like myself) – must be balanced through community-based teach-ins where reality tours and sharing between oppressed peoples take precedence.
One of the most critical sites is South Durban, where a $30 billion project to destroy two black neighbourhoods (Clairwood and Merebank) through 10-fold expansion of shipping, freight and petrochemical activity is being vigorously contested. The narratives of the communities resisting go well beyond “not in my back yard” reasoning, and instead much more widely question the extractivist, export-oriented model of maldevelopment that has seduced the current South African government, as well as other BRICS.
Watch soon for more details from some of the welcoming groups at http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za,http://www.groundwork.org.za, http://www.sdcea.co.za and http://www.amandla.org.za.
[Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society – host institution for last year’s COP17 counter-summit – and authored Politics of Climate Justice, UKZN Press.]