[TALK + AUDIO]: 27/03/18 | 4:15 pm | Lucien van der Walt | What Are We Fighting For? Possibilities for Decent Work, Unions and Rights in Africa

A recording is available:

vd WALT-27 MARCH 2019-POSTER-smallerThe Labour Studies Seminar Series, Rhodes University, Makhanda, presents Lucien van der Walt: “What Are We Fighting For? Possibilities for Decent Work, Unions and Rights in Africa”

Wednesday, 27th MARCH 2019/ 4:15pm
Venue: Eden Grove Seminar Room 2 ALL WELCOME!!!!

THE PAPER: This paper discusses whether the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO’s) Decent Work agenda is a feasible and desirable goal for unions and working people in Sub-Saharan Africa. The overall argument is that the agenda has positive elements, but is a profoundly inadequate response to capitalist globalisation and African immiseration. Its concrete proposals fail to appreciate how the development of capitalism and the state is tearing away the ground for serious, sustained reforms and compacts, let alone capitalist alternatives to neo-liberalism.

Real changes cannot come via the ILO, nor through pursuit of the current Decent Work agenda. They require working class self-activity and an internationalist class struggle-based project of globalisation from below, seeking in the first place, global labour standards and global minimum wages and aiming, in the second, at popular self-management of economy and society. This requires reforming and regenerating unions, autonomy from the state, a prefigurative popular politics, alliances between popular class sectors, and building class-based counter-power and counter-hegemony. The history of African trade unions provides a rich tool box of experiences upon which we can draw: African unions have a far richer, more radical and creative history than often acknowledged, building on the class struggles of commoners, serfs and slaves that preceded the European conquest.

THE SPEAKER: Lucien van der Walt lectures at Rhodes University, has long been involved in union and working class education and movements, and has published widely on labour, the left and political economy. His books include “Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940” (2010/2014, with Steve Hirsch, Benedict Anderson etc.), and “Politics at a Distance from the State: Radical and African Perspectives” (2018, with Kirk Helliker). His work has been widely translated, including Czech, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish and Zulu.

Series run by the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics & Economic History


[VIDEO]: Lucien van der Walt (with Sian Byrne, Nicole Ulrich) on anti-nationalist, anti-capitalist South African “workerism” of FOSATU unions

Lucien van der Walt talks to paper with Sian Byrne and Nicole Ulrich on the radical anti-nationalist, anti-apartheid, workers’ control-based “workerist” politics of the mass-based Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU, 1979-1985), and its approach to the national question. The paper appears in Eddie Webster and Karin Pampallis (eds), 2017, The Unresolved National Question in South Africa: Left thought under apartheid. The footage is from the panel at the 4 May 2017 launch of the book at Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. A PDF of this chapter is at https://wp.me/p34LBU-yp

South Africa’s unresolved “national question” is shown by the  failure to create one united nation living prosperously under a constitutional democracy. This directs attention to how various strands of left thought have addressed the national question during apartheid, and the relevance for today and in the future. The book has chapters on Marxism-Leninism, Congress , Trotskyism, Africanism, Afrikaner nationalism, Zulu ethnic movements, Black Consciousness, feminism, constitutionalism and workerism.

[VIDEO]: Lucien van der Walt, 2017, “Anarchist/ Syndicalist Perspectives on Soviets, Revolution and Workers’ Democracy in the Russian Revolution”

Lucien van der Walt, 2017, “Anarchist/ Syndicalist Perspectives on Soviets, Revolution and Workers’ Democracy in the Russian Revolution,” input on panel,  at the “1917 Russian Revolution Centenary Festival,” Newtown, Johannesburg, 10-12 November.

Note: There is a small bit missing at around 21.26 minutes (technical error) but the video continues thereafter. The Q&A session was not recorded.

[RADIO]: “Who Owns South Africa? Beyond White Monopoly Capital” (Lucien van der Walt)

Interview on Power FM’s “Power Talk” show, 10 pm, 12 July 2017, with Iman Rapetti on “Who Owns South Africa?” We have heard the term ‘White Monopoly Capital’ in recent times, we would like to break down where the wealth is actually concentrated in South Africa. What is the role of the state elite? How has the capitalist structure changed since 1994 with globalisation, unbundling, denationalisation? Who really runs South Africa? What is the relationship between the two big economic players:the  (mainly black) state elite and the (mainly white) private corporate elite?

[WORKSHOP]: With comrades at the 2016 ‘Vuyisile Mini’ Winter School, Eastern Cape

With comrades on the 16 July 2016, last day of the Vuyisile Mini Winter School on “Labour and Social Policy,” organised by the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit, and the Institute for Social and Eocnomic Research, at Rhodes University,  Grahamstown.


[PHOTO]: With comrades at the NUMSA-Wits graduates colloquium

With comrades at the 8 October 2016 colloquium of graduates from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Afeica (NUMSA)-University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) “Social Theory and Research” programme. This ran from 2010-2015, and will be followed by similar initiatives in 2017.


[PHOTO + SPEECH]: Prof Lucien van der Walt at fees protests: “Free higher education, complete national liberation,” at “Rhodes” University, 19 October 2015




Personal statement by “Rhodes” University professor Lucien van der Walt:

Speaking at Rhodes, Monday 19 Oct, 2015

“Rights are not given from above but won from below. Fight for free higher education as part of the struggle for change and completing the black working class national liberation struggle in South Africa. Move the struggle from individual VCs and universities to confront the neo-liberal capitalist state which has gutted university spending from the 1980s, starting with NP, continuing with ANC.

Existing individual university incomes literally cannot fund the fees. The issue is not to recut a shrinking cake by budget tweaks but to tackle the state that shrinks the cake. Build student-worker-staff alliances, conscious of the revolutionary tasks, as basis for deeper change, a larger transition, working-class driven, for a libertarian (free, anarchist) self-managed system that can complete the struggle against all oppression, exploitation and domination.” ‪#‎feesmustfall‬ ‪#‎nationalshutdown‬ ‪#‎zumamustfall‬ ‪#‎blademustfall‬

[AUDIO]: Lucien van der Walt, 28 November 2014, “The Relevance of Makhan Singh for Labour Today,” at “Paying Living Wages: A Reality or Mirage?,” colloquium, Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KRC) Consortium, Nairobi, Kenya

AUDIO: Lucien van der Walt, 28 November 2014, “The Relevance of Makhan Singh for Labour Today,” at “Paying Living Wages: A Reality or Mirage?,”  colloquium, Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KRC) Consortium, Venue: Panafric  Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya, 27-28 November 2014.

MAKHAN SINGH was founder of the Kenyan trade unions, and influenced by the revolutionary Ghadar Party, and through it, the syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW); he was later involved in the Communist Party of India. Champion of non-racial workers unity, socialism, anti-colonialism, he was persecuted by the British Empire, and marginalised by the post-colonial, anti-worker, Jomo Kenyatta regime. More about this working class here