We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Sunday, May 4, 2008

South Africa: Participatory Approach to Mining

The following article proposes a system of neighborhood councils and direct democracy to improve conditions for South Africa's 493,000 strong mining labor force. - Editor

Anarcho-Syndicalist Strategy for Africa: Mining Industry Council

by Blackstone Wednesday, Apr 2 2008, 1:31pm


South Africa is particularly rich in mineral resources and is one of the leading raw material exporters in the world. Rightly so, South Africa can produce all the minerals necessary for her economic independence. Gold, diamonds, platinum, chromium, manganese, uranium, ire ore and coal make up 60 % of it's main exports. The country is also number one globally in exporting platinum, chromium, vandium and manganese. Africa is also the world's largest gold producer. It has enormous gold ore reserves representing 40% of global reserves.

However, 95% of South Africa's gold mines are underground operations. Declining grades of the mines and the increased depth of mining and a shift in the gold price, costs for these operations had begun to rise and as a result production has been steadily falling. The gold mining industry is the largest sector of mining industry. It constitutes around 60% of South Africa's mining labor for.
As of 2007, the South African mining industry employs 493,000 workers.

In 2005 the total gold production was 294,671 kg, the total iron ore production was 39.5 Mt, the total chromium production was 7.59 Mt, the total manganese production was 4.61 Mt, the total platinum production was 302, 000 kg, the total coal production was 245 Mt, the total diamond production was 15.8 million karats.

Working conditions

Mine workers are under-paid and over-worked. Declining grades of mines and increased depth of mining as lead to an increase in workplace injuries and deaths. Issues of mine safety received increased scrutiny during 2007, in large part due to multiple worker deaths. During 2006, 199 workers were killed during workplace accidents, and 191 have been killed during 2007. Around 200 workers die yearly in South African mines. One incident on October 4 2007 resulted in 3,200 workers being trapped for several hours.


Ultimately, class, racism and capitalism are at the root of most of the problems in South Africa. Capitalism is a society that is divided by class and is dominated by the corporate community and upper class. The working class thus consists of all the people in society who do not own property and therefore have to sell their labor power - the ability to do work- to a boss in order to earn a living.

The interests of the working class are fundamentally opposed to the ruling elite - the corporate community and upper class. The companies must seek ways to make profits, even at the detriment of their employees, the very people who are responsible for creating their wealth.

Disregard for safety precautions aids capital by continually accumulating profit, yet it hurts the working class, specifically miners, who suffer fatal injuries in high numbers. Cuts in wages and refusal to accommodate union demands for wage increases, further harms the working class by lowering their standard of living at the expense of increased revenue for mining companies.
The working class therefore has a direct interest in improving all aspects of the mining industry, whereas capital does not. The solutions lie within the working class since it's success is in its best interest.

Is There an Alternative?

Anarchist-Syndicalist and libertarian communist theory holds that the best people to run an industry are the workers and users of that service. Worker safety is held hostage to profitability and bureaucracy. Rather than private ownership and a monopolization of decision making roles by owners and managers, public ownership of the means of production through a decentralized system of federated workers and neighborhood councils would prove far superior. These councils would act as channels to allow participants to exercise direct democracy and gives ordinary citizens the ability to control their own lives.

Strategy to Get Us ThereThere are many different tactics that can be utilized to the bring increasing power into the hands of South African miners. Fighting for an increase in wages, shorter working hours and improved working conditions ensure a more efficient and happier workforce, while at the same time, increasing class consciousness and working class militancy. Miners must self-organize to demand these rights and be prepared to take direct action to hit the corporations where it hurts the most, their bank accounts. Direct actions such as mass rallies and protests with the support of the community and strikes would be ways to achieving these ends. The key is strengthening rank and file organizations of miners and creating mass organizations in neighboring communities that will struggle alongside these worker controlled groups. This is as anarcho-syndicalist theorist Rudolph Rocker notes, as creating "not only the ideas, but also the facts of the future itself"; that these self-managed organizations embody the structure of a future society.

Sala kahle (Stay well in isiZulu)

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