Lucien van der Walt, 2009, “Labour in South Africa: a sleeping giant?”, in Immanuel Ness, Amy Offner and Chris Sturr, (eds.), Real World Labor, Dollars and Sense Collective, Boston, pp. 105-112.

This chapter provides a brief overview of the union movement in South Africa, black and white, its achievements and its challenges.This includes a discussion of all the main union federations and their background, including the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA).

It is also critical of the corporatist strategy of the largest federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), arguing that COSATU efforts to shape state policy through corporatist structures bureaucratise unions and require unions to co-manage the capitalist/ state system that they were founded to fight.  It also develops an argument that I have made elsewhere: COSATU’s alliance with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is an exercise in futility: it gains the unions little, disorientates (and often corrupts) union leadership, and prevents the unions from forming alliances with the many other working class social movements that exist in South Africa for fear of incurring ANC displeasure. It argues for a back-to-basics approach – an independent, radical unionism drawing on the anarcho-syndicalist tradition.


The PDF is here.


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