Since the resumption of mining in Burkina Faso in 2010 and 2011, various companies have faced vigorous economic struggles of the workers over their living and working conditions. The employers do not like these workers’ mobilizations at all; they use demagogy and the threat of repression, but they are forced to consider that the problems of the workers have to be addressed with respect and seriousness. What are the miners in struggle demanding? How should one interpret their actions in the current context of the struggle of the people of Burkina Faso for bread and freedom? Before answering these questions let us see what is the situation of the mining sector in Burkina.
Harassment by the multinationals
The mining companies are only interested in an area when they have proven amounts. Thus one sees how they are interested in the great mineral, mining potential of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of South Africa, Mali, Zimbabwe, Ghana, etc. The offensive of the multinationals has been accelerated because of the rising price of gold. One ounce (28.35 grams) of gold is worth more than $1,500 today. In recent years the mining sector has been characterized by increased activity in the country. Several international mining companies are quick to exploit to the maximum the subsoil of Burkina (as well as elsewhere). Currently, Burkina has seven fully operating mines, of which six are of gold and one is of manganese. The gold mines are:
• Taparko, in Namentenga province, operated by the Mining Society of Taparko (Somita).
• Yuga, in the department of Zabre, Bulgu province, operated by Kalsaka Mining Inc.
• Belahouro, in Soum province, operated by the mining company Belahouo (SMB Inc.)
.• Wona-Fobiri-Mana, in the provinces of Bale and Mouhoum, operated by the West African Mines Company (Semafo Inc.).
• Essakane, Oudulan Province (Gorom-Gorom) operated by Burkina.
The manganese mine is:
• Kiere Mine, Tuy province (Hounde), operated by Burkina-Manganese.
In addition to industrial mining companies, national companies are searching for gold nuggets using handicraft and semi-mechanized methods. In late January of 2011 twelve permits were granted for semi-mechanized mining. There are also several companies or groups of companies that use handicraft or industrial exploitation. This sector that searches for gold nuggets is in the hands of mafia clans in power through straw men.
Burkina Faso is witnessing a growing number of mines in operation. STREMCO, a company that exploits the deposits of Guiro-Diuga in Seno, and Nantou Mining in Perkoa, will soon be fully operational. The exploration for other mines is continuing. All these riches and potential riches in no way benefit the people, for they are in the hands of capitalist powers through various mining companies. They all ignore and marginalize the true creators of this wealth, the workers, the national cadres and research structures, who are the ones who discovered the deposits. The miners are despised and scorned. We see:
• A disproportion in salaries between Burkinabe and foreign cadres with the same skill.
• Poverty wages relative to the gold extracted in these good times. This fully justifies the demand for higher wages.
• A lack of decent housing for the workers, and where there is housing they are miserable barracks, while the cadres live in insulting luxury. All this reminds us of Johannesburg and Soweto, in the mine of the former Soremib Poura in the mid-1980s
• Draconian working conditions, with constant danger of accidents and various illnesses. In the mechanized sector of searching for gold nuggets, each year there are dozens of fatalities. • Very short rest periods that do not allow for proper rest and are a source of stress.
• Insufficient food, both in quantity and quality. There are mines that refuse to provide three meals to the native miners, while the foreign and Burkinabe cadres receive them. For example, in the SMB mine, foreigners receive three meals, while most of the locals only get one, and the other two they have to pay for. While domestic workers suffer hardships, outsiders are well treated with high salaries, airline tickets at least every 45 days to rest in France, Canada, South Africa, Ghana or Australia.
However, local people are often expelled or expropriated from their lands with promises of compensation that are never fulfilled. These people have been evicted and see the looting of their lands without compensation, lands that are contaminated with cyanide and other highly toxic chemical products.
Such discrimination, abuse and depredation are carried out before the eyes of the authorities of the Fourth Republic who, under the pretext of attracting investors, sacrifice the interest of the country and the working class. In Burkina Faso, the share of state capital never exceeds 10% of the capital of the established companies, and it is muzzled by the big companies that dictate its law, an ultra-liberal mining code, so-called investment stimulation, but which is in reality a dictatorship of international financial institutions, and which has been adopted as a framework for the establishment of the mining companies.
More than 23,000 kgs of gold have been obtained in 2010
In 2010, more than 23,000 kilos of gold were obtained by the mining companies, and for the seams of nuggets. Unfortunately that gold has been obtained, exported and sold by the mining companies.
The proceeds of the sale only benefit the multinationals and their allies from the mafia power of Blaise Compaore, his family and hangers-on. As in Mali, Niger, Guinea and Mexico, the multinationals exploit the gold for their own benefit, without a significant compensation to the population. Burkina, a neocolonial country, is subjected to an economy of profit, that is, it buys and repays more than it sells, and it is increasingly impoverished. The current gold bonanza is the big business of the imperialist powers. As for the crumbs conceded, they have no impact on the development of Burkina Faso.
What consequences does all this have for the workers in Burkina Faso?
The gold mined is exported for the benefit of the multinationals. The visible consequences are the small wages of the workers and some state taxes. No investment worthy of the name has been carried out in the mining provinces and areas. The work in the mine shafts leads to the constant danger of accidents (sinking, flooding, etc.) besides infectious diseases because of the dire conditions in the mines (mainly lung diseases), aggravated by the deplorable hygienic conditions. It is very urgent to take measures to prevent and limit the dangers in the industrial and handicraft mines.
The miners should organize and continue the struggle
Faced with this situation, since February 2011 the workers have mobilized in their unions and launched vigorous and multifaceted struggles to demand their rights
• In SEMAFO, due to the workers’ mobilization, an internal protocol was signed in January that recognizes some of the concerns of the miners.
• In SOMITA a one week strike took place in April 2011, demanding their rights.
• In SMB there was a strike from May 7 to 15, 2011. Throughout 2012 and early 2013, the struggle of the miners and the population of the mining areas has continued with determination to achieve their just demands.
The Revolutionary Communist Party of Volta (PCRV) supports these struggles and encourages the workers to persist on this path and improve their organization for greater efficiency.
The miners should organize themselves more and better than in the past, to continue their activity against the real owners of the mine, the magnates of capital, whose motto is “exploit to the maximum the riches of the neocolonial countries” such as Burkina. As long as the system is not brought down, one not get any real improvement in the living conditions of the workers and the general population.
The current struggle in the mines is highly significant and unmasks this moribund system that in no way favors the workers and the population. The miners must continue their struggle and fight the opportunists whom the employers finance, as well as the corrupt cadres and the repression that they carry out.
These struggles are the alternative proposed by the PCRV to the proletariat and the people, to overthrow the corrupt power of Blaise Compaore, the ally of the multinationals, and for the establishment of a Democratic and Modern Republic.
Long live the struggle of the miners!
Bread and freedom for the people!
Revolutionary Communist Party of Volta (PCRV)