A view after Marikana

October 2, 2013

South Africa—What have we learned from the Marikana massacre of South African mine workers? Firstly there are limits to trade unionism. One union will struggle for dominance over other unions in the workplace, but whether that struggle is about the rights of workers or the privileges of shaft/shop stewards and the union bureaucracy is another matter.

We have seen positive signs of worker self-organization. We have also seen a crisis of representation, where workers and communities are beginning to say that they do not need the mediation of others and can speak, organize and act for themselves.

Then, apart from the deep-seated divisions among the Left (essentially because the Left hides its intellectual laziness behind ideological divisions dating back to the Russian Revolution and its activist laziness by grandstanding in university corridors), the Left waits for explosions in the working class, which its various factions then attempt to hijack.

There is no substitute for grinding door-to-door hard work in working-class communities, and this does not imply preaching the divisions of the Russian Revolution. It implies understanding the challenges facing the working class, understanding immediate, intermediate and long-term struggles of the working class where they live and work, and building solidarity and unity of purpose and struggle within and between communities, within and between workplaces, and rebuilding the self-confidence and consciousness of workers as workers and as members of working-class communities. There are no instant “microwave popcorn revolutions.”

—David van Wyk

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