SUMMARY:  The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) has issued its annual May Day Message, focusing on issues such as its call to have 16 August declared South African Workers Day as well as the economic hardship faced by the South African working class.

In his annual May Day Message, AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa first extended a message of condolences to the Royal Zulu Family on the passing of the Zulu Queen, Her Majesty Queen Shiyiwe Mantfombi Dlamini Zulu, Regent of the Zulu Nation.

“On behalf of all AMCU members, I extend our deepest condolences to the Royal Family.  We are bereft upon the passing of the Queen, and we pray that our Lord will comfort her family and loved ones during this difficult time”, said AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa.

Continuing with his May Day message, Mathunjwa again highlighted why AMCU has been campaigning for a change in the date of celebrating Workers Day in South Africa.  While recognising the international value and significance of 1 May to mark the day of international workers’ struggles, Mathunjwa reminded South Africa of our own historic struggles and the significance of these for our own people.

“We, as AMCU, have the greatest respect and solidarity for our brothers and sisters in other countries, who have waged their own wars and fought their own battles against oppression and exploitation”, said Mathunjwa.  “We know that 1 May is most significant in the United States [of America], where hundreds of thousands of workers launched a nationwide strike for better working conditions in the late 1800s”, he added.

In 1886, after a protest on Haymarket Square in Chicago, police killed and wounded several workers.  This was later referred to as the Haymarket Massacre, and became a rallying point for the labour movement in the USA and abroad.  Until today, May Day or Workers Day is celebrated as a public holiday in 66 countries, even though it is barely recognised in the country of its origin, the United States of America.

“We salute our comrades in the US and all over the world, but in South Africa we have had our own massacre”, said Mathunjwa.  “On 16 August 2012, on a windy and dusty day on the koppie in Marikana outside Rustenburg, our government brutally killed 34 workers who were protesting for a better life.  Workers were brutally murdered in cold blood by our own democratically elected government.  We have therefore said, and we will keep on saying, that our government must declare 16 August a public holiday so that it can be celebrated as our own South African Workers Day.  We have our own massacre, which signals the ultimate sacrifice made by our comrades for the economic emancipation of the working class”, Mathunjwa said.

“We know that section 197 [of the Labour Relations Act] is applicable when businesses take over other businesses, and therefore Sibanye-Stillwater took over everything of Lonmin, including the Marikana Massacre.  That is why we now call it the Sibanye Massacre”, he added.

Since 2018, AMCU has stopped organising mass events on 1 May 2021 like most other trade unions do in South Africa.  Instead, the Union has called on its members to keep on working on 1 May and request their employers to take leave on 16 August to commemorate the Marikana Massacre.  AMCU also wrote to all major mining houses in this regard, and formally requested State President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare 16 August a public holiday.  President Ramaphosa has not responded to AMCU’s request.

In his May Day Message, President Mathunjwa also focused on the other challenges facing the working class in 2021.

“This coronavirus pandemic, as we have said from the start, is being used by White Monopoly Capital to strangle workers under the guise of Covid-19”, said Mathunjwa.  “Jobs are being shed, our vulnerable comrades are being forcefully incapacitated, others are left to stay at home without income without food on the table and many more are forced to work in hazardous conditions every day”, he said.

“We know that this jobs blood bath will continue – it will never stop, because White Monopoly Capital has captured the state long ago.  We have said many times that state capture is not a new thing.  Already in the late 1800s the state was captured by the Chamber of Mines, and in 1948 the National Party government was also captured.  The current government was again captured, even during CODESA, and it remains captured by the rich white mining bosses until today”, Mathunjwa said.

“Whenever we, as a working class make some progress, they bring new measures to repress us and keep us down.  They bring amendments [to the Labour Relations Act] to take away our right to strike and to limit our rights in collective bargaining.  They use their sweetheart union alliance partners to push through regressive changes at NEDLAC [the National Economic Development and Labour Council].  This way, they make it easy for White Monopoly Capital to bring us modern slavery under the guise of democracy, employment and investor confidence.  The fact is that Foreign Direct Investment has more power than us – us, the people who struggled and voted to put this government into power.  How ironic is this?”, Mathunjwa mused.

AMCU has consistently been critical of the co-option of the South African labour movement, and particularly the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU) by the government and other big employers.  The tripartite alliance has to a large extent undermined the socioeconomic wellbeing of South Africans in general, and the working class in particular.  Poor economic policy decisions, disadvantageous trade arrangements and lacking investment in infrastructure has led to mass unemployment, widening inequality and harsh levels of poverty experienced by most the vulnerable sections of South African society.

“The unity of the working class who are likeminded is critical, if we want to save our livelihoods under these circumstances.  Our government is hell-bent to sing in the hymn of neoliberalism, which cascades down to this neoliberal economy which doesn’t respect the socioeconomic realities of the nation”, said Mathunjwa.  “They are purely focusing on profits at the expense of the downtrodden”, he added.

“This neoliberal approach was accepted by COSATU when we moved from the RDP [Reconstruction and Development Programme] to GEAR [Growth, Employment and Redistribution] in the 1990s.  This directly resulted in massive job losses, cuts in government spending and the subsequent deterioration of infrastructure.  Through corrupt deals and patronage, big deals were given to friends and family members, and this led to the mass casualisation of many jobs in local, provincial and national government”, said Mathunjwa.

“NEDLAC is toothless.  It is a mere extension of the tripartite alliance, where COSATU agrees with the ANC and its friends in big business.  There are no real opposing views and no real debate in NEDLAC, and this is evident in how easy the LRA amendments and National Minimum Wage were pushed through and accepted by COSATU without any pain”, Mathunjwa said.

“This unemployment we face is self-inflicted – it is the result of our own actions and non-action.  People of South Africa, businessmen and businesswomen who love this country and truly care about the future of the people, must come on board and invest in this country.  This is critical if we want to see growth”, Mathunjwa said.

AMCU again calls for massive public investment in infrastructure and a stop to privatisation and casualisation.  It repeats its calls for the nationalisation of national assets like minerals and mining, as well as the expansion of public services to improve service delivery to the people.

“We still believe that the crumbs of the minerals that are left after everything has been looted, must be nationalised to reconstruct our country and bring dignity to the people of South Africa”, said Mathunjwa.  “Government must employ more people so that we can look after our socioeconomic needs, and we must stop privatising and outsourcing key government functions which leads to corruption and crime.  We must intensify our investment in bulk infrastructure.  We must build railways.  We must build roads.  We must build dams.  We must build hospitals and schools.  That is where employment will come from”, Mathunjwa said.

“Our people need skills and education.  Our education system must be totally revamped to focus on our God-given natural resources in this country.  Our children must not be taught how to merely take out the minerals and load it for the looters – our children must be taught to beneficiate.  We must beneficiate and industrialise!”, Mathunjwa concluded.

For interviews:  President Joseph Mathunjwa