van der Walt, Lucien, (1997), “Against Corporatism: the limits and pitfalls of corporatism for South African trade unions”, version presented at African Studies Association of South Africa Third Biennial International Conference
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This paper reflects upon the experience of corporatism in South African and other contexts. It argues that the prospects for the establishment of corporatist arrangements in South Africa are quite high. However, it also takes issue with a central orthodoxy in discussions of corporatism in South Africa, viz., the notion that corporatism is the key to the empowerment and material upliftment of the broad South African working class. It argues that corporatism is highly unlikely to deliver material gains to the South Africa working-class, and that its achievements on other fronts have hitherto proved minimal and are almost certain to remain so. There is thus little basis for claims that corporatist forums can provide a site for reconstruction and redistribution, let alone a route to social-democracy or socialism. In addition, corporatism imposes a range of costs on the labour movement, including an erosion of trade union democracy, the development of tensions between the leadership and the rank-and-file and the involvement of the unions in the co-management of capitalism. It is suggested that the trade unions should abstain from corporatist arrangements, and instead focus their energies on the consolidation of workplace organisation and rely on struggle as a means of pressing demands- both reformist and transformative.