Devan Pillay and Lucien van der Walt, 2012, “Assessing the Politics of Organized Labour in Asia, Africa and Latin America at the Start of the 21st Century,” Labour, Capital and Society, volume 44, number 2, pp. 2-25 . PDF online here. On the basis of studies of workers’ struggles in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Indonesia and South Africa, we argue for the on-going importance of unions, despite their contradictions, as an irreplaceable force for progressive social change for the popular classes, not least in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The world today is not in a “post-industrial”, “information” phase, or “post-work,” or in a post-neo-liberal era; it is instead essentially classic capitalism, with an ever-growing working class majority. Post-colonial ruling classes have been active authors of the neoliberal agenda, at the expense of their working classes. The current context affirms the centrality of unions, and of organized workers more generally, and it demonstrates that union struggles – and alliances with other sectors of the popular classes – make key reforms like the so-called Standard Employment Relationship possible in the first place. The more that the fracturing of the popular classes is challenged by linking unions to other popular class forces, the more successful such struggles become. The more that unions build solidarity within and across borders, the more space is opened for real social and economic change.
Published by Lucien van der Walt
I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009). View all posts by Lucien van der Walt