Lucien van der Walt, 2019, “Anarchism’s Relevance to Black and Working Class Strategy: Dispelling Ten Myths”

Lucien van der Walt, 2019, “Anarchism’s Relevance to Black and Working Class Strategy: Dispelling Ten Myths,” ASR/ Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, number 76, pp. 30-34.

pdflogosmallPDF online HERE.   Full text below.

*The following is from an October 2005 presentation at a Red and Black Forum, Phambili Motsoaledi Centre, Motsoaledi, Soweto.

Anarchism and syndicalism have been major forces internationally in the struggle of the popular classes against all forms of oppression and domination. I mean here the working class, the peasantry and the poor. And by working class, I mean the term broadly: all those who rely on wages and lack power, including workers, the unemployed and their families, and I include here “blue” collar, “white” collar and “pink” collar workers, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or other division. To be working class is to be exploited, regardless of income level or skill, and dominated, regardless of job title.

Of course, most parts of the working class (and the popular classes more generally) face additional forms of oppression, notably in South Africa, the racial/national domination that affects the majority of the people. Only a bottom-up, libertarian, unified, class-based movement can really end all exploitation, domination and oppression, and no such movement can be built except on the basis of opposing all forms of oppression, including racial/ national oppression.

The left tradition has long grappled with issues of strategy, tactics and principle, and this has been the basis of many divisions: these divisions are not simply matters of sectarianism or stubbornness, since different positions have very different implications for political practice.

The anarchist tradition – in which I include syndicalism, which is a variant of anarchism, it is anarchist trade unionism – provides a coherent approach to issues of strategy, tactics and principle. It is a rich set of resources of the working class today, not least the black working class in South Africa, which remains, in important ways, not just subject to capitalist exploitation and state repression, but also racial/national oppression. South African capitalism centers on cheap black labor, and this remains in place.

But to have a discussion about anarchism’s relevance to black working class strategy in the face of ongoing capitalist restructuring, we need to dispel myths about anarchism and syndicalism, to reclaim the revolutionary coreRead More »


Lucien van der Walt, 2019, “Rebuilding the Workers’ Movement for Counter-Power, Justice and Self-Management: A Contribution to the Debate”

Lucien van der Walt, 2019, “Rebuilding The Workers’ Movement For Counter-Power, Justice And Self-Management: A Contribution To The Debate” (Amandla!, Number 63, Pp. 24-25 )

pdflogosmallPDF online HERE.   Full text below.

THE ROBUST EXCHANGE BETWEEN comrades Ronald Wesso and Mametlwe Sebei, in the pages of recent issues of Amandla!, over the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) brings contrasting analyses of unions to the fore. Wesso favours a “new workers movement” based on the millions of precarious workers. He argues that unions represent a small elite enmeshed in a “neoliberal labour relations system,” and are undergoing “terminal decline” and “collapse.”

For Sebei, by contrast, the organised workers and unions – Saftu especially – have waged bitter battles, includinga “stubborn Stalingrad shop floor resistance,” to casualisation, and remain key to change. These positions have obvious political implications, with Wesso at the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO), and Sebei in Saftu’s General Industries Workers Union (Giwusa) and #OutsourcingMustFall.

I offer my points in a constructive spirit; let us keep our energy for the real enemy. I suggest that Comrade Sebei’s position is more convincing, but that both of them skip some key issues. Specifically, I argue that we need a serious discussion on how to reform the unions – still the largest, formal, class-based organisations – and what role they can play in a radical redistribution of wealth and power to the popular classes. These are profoundly political questions. I argue against reliance upon the state, and for re-building unions – and other workers’ movements – to maximise direct action, autonomy, and education, so laying the basis for direct workers’ control over production and the economy, rather than nationalisation.

It comes down, fundamentally,to the issue of consciousness. I argue againstRead More »

[PRESS]: on crises, 2011, in “Fired mineworkers in a hole”

Kwanele Sosibo, 09 Dec 2011, “Fired mineworkers in a hole,” Mail and Guardian

Mothusi Setlhako has not been underground since November 2009. But, two years later, he still hovers around the Aquarius Kroondal mine’s parched, dusty surrounds in Rustenburg like a restless ghost.

Ever since his dismissal, with about 4 000 of his colleagues, for participation in what was alleged to be an unprotected strike at the Kroondal and Marikana mines in 2009, the short, wiry 24-year-old has turned reversing his fortunes into a full-time occupation.
Sometimes Setlhako can be found visiting his colleagues at the prefabricated compound that is Kroondal’s Circle Labour Hostel, where almost 200 former workersRead More »

[PRESS]: On unions, in 2019, “Vavi Happier to be Outside the ANC Alliance Now”

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni, 14.2.2019, “Vavi happier to be outside the ANC alliance now,” The Citizen

He wants people to understand, though, that trade union fragmentation does not ‘serve the agenda of the workers’.

Is it indeed colder outside the ANC tripartite alliance?

South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) boss Zwelinzima Vavi says recent events, such as the Congress of SA Trade Unions’ (Cosatu) march against public sector retrenchments yesterday, show the opposite is true.

While there was a mostly bused-in crowd of about 400 supporters at the march, compared to the thousands who participated in the Saftu march against the national minimum wage last year, Vavi was reluctant to make any comment on the success of the recent event.

But he denounced the fragmentation of unions, saying they were better off working with people within and outside the alliance.

“As Saftu, we support those demands, they are legitimate. But we wish people could understand that trade union fragmentation does not serve the agenda of the workers,” said Vavi.

“By that I mean whether it is within Saftu or other organisations like Cosatu, Nactu (National Council of Trade Unions) and Fedusa (Federation of Unions of SA), if you are isolated as a movement you will never achieve anything.

“We have to learn that the only way movements will progress is if they work with the unemployed and the working class masses.

“Whether you have chosen to work within this or that alliance, you will want to work with organisations outside of it.

“That is why Saftu has chosen to be independent and that is why we are better able to reach more people.”

Fears of mass retrenchments due to the restructuring of cash-strapped state-owned entities were exacerbated this week by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that Eskom would be split into three companies.

Unions panicked that tens of thousands of jobs would be lost as the spectre of privatisation loomed.

Rhodes University professor and labour and sociology expert Lucien van der Walt said Vavi had a point about the importance of unity among unions, but that those aligned with political parties were as important as those that were not.

Van der Walt added that unions did not need political parties to bring about change.

“Unions are the most important force at the moment for real changes that reach ordinary people. Right across the continent, unions have been the standard-bearer of change,” he said.

“And both those within and those outside the alliance are equally important. They represent two different pressure points on government, as we have seen now.

“We see Cosatu trying to shake up the budget and Saftu doing the same thing last year and now going after Eskom.

“Both are critical in different ways to raise the popular voice. Outside of the churches, they are the single biggest civil society organisations.

“In terms of organisations with a life beyond a certain moment, unions are pretty much it in South Africa.”


[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

Interview: “The Subterranean Fire Of Class Struggle” (Lucien van der Walt)

The Subterranean Fire Of Class Struggle: Professor Lucien van der Walt, Department of Sociology (Rhodes University)
By Luke Alfred (2015)



PDF online here.  

“Reports of the death of the broad working class are greatly exaggerated,” says Lucien van der Walt with mild but discernible flourish. “Too many experts believed it anachronistic, passé. But if you look around internationally, and locally too, that’s just not the case. It is bigger than ever; its rumblings shake the world. It has now overtaken the peasantry as the biggest class, as the majority of humanity.”

Van der Walt, a Professor in the Department of Sociology, has a wide range of academic interests including anarchism and syndicalism, labour and left-wing history and politics, and working-class responses to neo- liberal economics. While he’s happy to admit that some of the grand political narratives like Marxism-Leninism and Third World nationalism have foundered, he nonetheless believes that there’s ample evidence to suggest that the struggles of labour and the Left are by no means done and dusted.

And this applies internationally as well as closer to home. Whether these are neighbourhood blockades by the unemployed in Argentina demanding tools to work, or whether it’s the anarchist- and Marxist-influenced Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) creating a revolutionary zone in Kurdish Syria, strikes in China, or ongoing battles in South Africa, working class-struggle is alive and kicking. Sometimes you have to know where to look; you need to be prepared to scratch the surface, and look beyond neglect, dissembling, and even propaganda.

“The page has by no means turned on working-class organisations,” says van der Walt. “If you look at the struggles of the unemployed, the rural poor, at neighbourhood organisations, at unions, the working class remains of one type or another. There’s undeniable vitality there. The subterranean fire of class struggle always smoulders, sometimes flaring red and black.”

Much of van der Walt’s work in 2014 has been on the global history of anarchism and syndicalism across the world, an act he characterises as one of reclamation. This is the story of anarchism as a movement globally, whether this be in Latin America and the Caribbean, or Asia, or part of large swathes of Europe, and elsewhere, anarchism has a rich, significant history, a product of class struggles.

Van der Walt stresses any conversation about intellectual and political history has to also be a conversation about the Left traditions of the working class, including Marxism, anarchism and syndicalism. In his work, van der Walt has ventured into the anarchist histories of countries as diverse as Poland and Korea, but notes that telling a global history has practical and analytical difficulties. “I think access to information isn’t the issue, so much as pulling it together in a balanced and coherent narrative,” he says.

Whether he’s investigating the history of anarchism or simply commenting on the refusal of left-wing movements to wither and die, van der Walt understands that history is an enigmatic and challenging space, in that what was should not be mixed up with what had to be. For every turning, there were different roads: human choices shaped where we are today, and we forget how very different things were, and could have been.

“History always points to paths not taken,” he says with subtlety. “And it’s significant to remember that what happened wasn’t always what had to happen. We think today as if the ANC was always the major resistance force, the inevitable victor. But for much of the 1920s and 1930s, for example, the ANC was a comparatively minor player; in the 1940s the Communist Party was far, far bigger. People forget that the ANC didn’t have a single trade union affiliate in the 1940s, while the Communist Party led unions of hundreds of thousands, and dozens of townships.”

While van der Walt notes the ongoing emergence of pockets of dissent and radicalism, of autonomous organisations and the flexing of left-wing muscle worldwide, he’s less sanguine about the role taken by the more orthodox unions. Generally he believes sections within unions have been compromised by alliances with the state and political parties, leading to a softening of their stance. This applies generally, whether we are talking at home or abroad.

“Many union leaders have been co-opted, and this within the context of dire economic conditions. The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) may be keeping its numbers stable, but it’s stagnated, mired in the party system, hardly grown in 15 years. Of course, an entire union can’t be co-opted, because capitalism and the state cannot buy off the class they exploit. But leaders can be captured easily.”

Fragmentation has become another major issue for unions. As examples locally, he cites the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union’s (Amcu) breakaway from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and the National Union of Metalworkers’ (Numsa) split from Cosatu.

The latter he dubs “very important” because in Numsa’s move away from Cosatu and rejection of the ANC, there are signs of a possible re-alignment, “It could be a game-changer if a big national union like Numsa provided support for the sporadic but potent township revolts, often very localised, or hooked up with mass strikes on the farms in the Western Cape, or with the rural unemployed – and helped build a real, effective working class united front,” he says. “The But Numsa is divided internally – they really can’t agree on what to do or how to do it, and the moment can end sooner than people think. If ordinary people do not seize it, politicians will hijack it.”

This, then, is the rub in the contemporary South African landscape: while there are many outbursts of dissatisfaction and rage, there’s no umbrella body or mass front, or even widespread cohesion, whether union-driven or not. This is what distinguishes the current scenario from, say, what was happening in the 1980s, where the rise of powerful and radical formations like the Federation of South African Trade Unions (Fosatu) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) gave coherence to the struggle against apartheid (and in some cases the struggle against capital).

This moment requires a hard-nosed analysis of the state. In South Africa’s semi-industrial capitalist economy, van der Walt argues, the state has become a major vehicle in class formation. This is largely because that while opportunities nominally exist in the private sector for advancement and promotion, in actuality such pathways are few and far between. “It’s very difficult for an independent black industrialist class to get a foothold on the economy because white capital has been so centralised historically,” he says. “The state then becomes important to class formation through circuits of accumulation and patronage. The civil service suddenly is an arena for self- advancement, which means South Africa has two elites, pitted against the people: private capital and state managers.”

Given all of this – from the structural imbalances of the South African economy, to recession and outpourings of popular dissatisfaction – the current moment is difficult to assess. “It’s unpredictable and I steer clear or predictions anyway,” says van der Walt. “I really don’t know if we will have a Tunisia Moment or not, and if we did, where it would go. But I know the consciousness of the working class will be decisive.”

SOURCE: Rhodes University Research Report 2014 (published December 2015).

Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “The Crisis Hits Home: Strategic Unionism, Anarcho-syndicalism and Rebellion,” Zabalaza Books

Lucien van der Walt, 2011, The Crisis Hits Home: Strategic Unionism, Anarcho-syndicalism and Rebellion, Zabalaza Books, Durban/ Johannesburg.

pdflogosmallGet the PDF here

This is basically a pamphlet reprint of Lucien van der Walt, 2011, “COSATU’s Response to the Crisis: An Anarcho-Syndicalist Assessment and Alternative,” ASR/ Anarcho-syndicalist Review, number 56, pp. 11-13: HERE. In Italian HERE.

Lucien van der Walt, 1994 “Introduction” to Alfredo Bonnano’s “Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle”

This first appeared as Lucien van der Walt, 1994, “Introduction to the South African Edition,” in Alfredo Bonanno, Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle, ARM, Johannesburg, South African edition. The text below is the slightly revised version from the 2019 3rd South African edition, which is available in full HERE.

TO CITE: Lucien van der Walt, 2019, “Introduction to the 1994 South African Edition (revised),” Alfredo Bonanno, Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle, Zabalaza Books, Johannesburg, third South African edition,  pp. 4-6.

Introduction to the 1994 South African Edition (Revised)

by Lucien van der Walt

This pamphlet represents an attempt to develop an anarchist internationalist stance on the ever present and ever controversial issue of the national liberation struggle (NLS), and, more broadly, the “national question” itself. We can broadly understand the NLS to mean a struggle against a relationship of exploitation and domination involving a NATIONAL group. Such a struggle is of obvious importance to us as anarchists, because we are opposed to all oppression, and believe that it must be ended by revolutionary action.

The topics covered by Bonanno range from internal colonialism, imperialism, class identity, to incisive critiques of certain Marxist positions on this issue. However, two main arguments are made in this text. Firstly, he argues that only revolution, based on libertarian and federalist structures, can make possible the free association of human groups, thereby solving the national question.

Secondly, and far more importantly for our purposes, Bonanno makes the case that anarchists should fully support national liberation struggles (i.e. against imperialism and internal colonialism) insofar as they are the struggles of the oppressed classes (workers and peasants) themselves. This is because different classes within the oppressed nation have different interests and therefore also end goals within the NLS. That of the national aspirant capitalist-cum-politician class is to exploit and dominate their compatriots. This is obviously no solution at all for the oppressed classes.

What Bonanno is pointing to is that NLS can assume a variety of forms: ranging from revolutionary class struggle against oppression, aiming at the institution of an anarchist society, to a nationalist (class alliance) form, typically concerned with forming a national state. This may be the division of an existing state into several new ones (as in Czechoslovakia), or the reshaping of an old state into a new form (as in South Africa), but whatever the form of the new state its function is that of all states: to serve ruling class interests.

As it stands, the pamphlet has only one real problem. Although Bonanno repeatedly refers to “exploitation”, no mention whatsoever is to be found of “domination”. Yet as anarchists, we are not merely opposed to “exploitation” but [unequal – editor] power relations themselves. It is precisely this that distinguishes us from other socialists, and it is precisely for this reason that we favour federalist and libertarian forms of organisation.

But the pamphlet is still clearly highly relevant to South Africa. Firstly, Black people have long been engaged in what might be conceptualised as a national liberation struggle against post–colonial white settlerism or “colonialism of a special type” (i.e. South Africa, although independent, retains within itself the features of White colonialism). Secondly, since the end of the Second World War at least, nationalism has the primary form taken by resistance to Apartheid–Capitalism (see O’Meara in M.T. Murray (editor) South African Capitalism and Black Political Opposition, esp. pp. 389 – 392). Nationalism is exemplified in the politics of the African National Congress (ANC), Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) and even the South African Communist Party (SACP); the SACP believes that a “national democratic revolution” must be achieved before class revolution can take place. (Previously, Black nationalism was largely confined to Black intellectuals and petty businessmen).

And finally the importance of a class perspective on national struggle and nationalism is increasingly obvious as the country moves, by means of the “reform” period, into a situation where the majority of Black people are left out of the “new South Africa”, whilst at the same time a small elite of Black mangers, politicians, businessmen, professionals, and skilled, often unionised Black (male) workers are absorbed into the barely changed structures of State and capital i.e. the White ruling class (see Morris, February 1993, in Work in Progress, no.87, pp. 6 – 9). This is a clear case of class interests and divisions shattering the “nation”. It might be worth noting that the White nation is also fracturing in class lines as the White upper classes withdraw from White workers the privileges (e.g. job reservation, high wages) that used to buy the acquiescence of the latter…

What follows is an attempt to extend Bonanno’s analysis to the problems of building a revolutionary anarchist movement. Theoretical clarity is an essential part of this task (see Bratach Dubh Preface in this pamphlet). So let us examine the relationship between nationalism and class carefully.

We must recognise two factors. Firstly, as anarchists we must recognise that national oppression (like racism, sexism etc.) means that specific sections or fractions within the oppressed classes are doubly oppressed: both because of their class position and as a nationality. Three points follow. First, this means that within the oppressed classes (which are multi-national) certain groups are subject to relations of [national – editor] oppression. Second, because national oppression has its own independent reality (from class oppression etc.) and is obviously not confined to any one class, it (like other non-class oppressions e.g. race etc.) can and does provide the basis for cross class alliances class (which are not in the long term interests of all [oppressed – editor] classes). Third, it means that the unity of the oppressed classes cannot be assumed: that they may be easily and deeply divided.

Secondly we must not be blind to the fact that nationalism really does give people in the oppressed classes something. “This ‘something’ is identity, pride, a feeling of community and solidarity and of course physical self-defence” in the face of very real oppression (Class War, Unfinished Business, pp. 50, 156 – 7). And nationalism (called “ethnicity”) can provide a very effective principle of organising for sectional gains and material benefits for members of all classes involved (see N. Chazan et. al., Politics and Society in Contemporary Africa, Chapter 3; also Nelson Kasfir, in Kohli (editor), State and Development in the Third World). In South Africa, Afrikaner nationalism was not only supported by White Afrikaner farmers, traders, professionals, and financiers, but also by White workers because it successfully addressed their poverty, oppression as Afrikaners (most semi- and unskilled Whites were Afrikaners) and very real fears of Black competition in the job market etc. (see L. Callinicos, 1993, A Place in the City, pp. 110 – 131, esp. pp. 120 – 123).

So, how do these points bear on anarchism? If we are to forge an effective and successful movement, we must, firstly recognise that the movement must be based on the oppressed classes. But we must recognise and challenge oppression within the class by specific and systematic work across all working class organisations (e.g. actively fighting racist attitudes), and by championing demands and struggles that unite the workers and the poor against the oppression that all share (e.g. low wages) and that also specifically fight the extra oppression that some face (e.g. fighting racist pay gaps, discriminatory housing and services etc.). We need to link a range of popular organisations into a broader revolutionary mass movement – a revolutionary front of the oppressed classes, that fights all oppression, but steers clear of cross-class alliances with elites – involving “many different groups and individuals… They will have different experiences and approaches and each will be good at different things” but will communicate and co-operate with one another (Class War, Unfinished Business, pp. 135-6). Federalist structures are ideally suited to this task.

At the same time we must strive to unite the oppressed classes, (guarding against the selfish manipulation of division by the bosses and the ambitious), to fight in their own class interests i.e. for the overthrow of the ruling class. Thirdly, we must combat the solidarity etc., given by nationalism with class identity, pride, community, solidarity, history, culture and achievements (Class War, Unfinished Business, pp. 50).

Finally, our role as revolutionaries. Our aim is to build a revolutionary and libertarian worker-peasant movement, (based on the oppressed classes, BUT recognising oppression and struggle within the class), which will strive to increase the militancy of struggles, to build a culture of revolution, and to build a situation of counter power, of peoples power.

In this way we can make the revolution!!!

Forward to a society based on direct democracy, not power, and need not greed!!!



[6-DAY SCHOOL with NUMSA]: 2009-2015: “Labour, the left and working class theory”

I was a founder and a coordinator of the Social Theory course for the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) run at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, from 2009-2015. Classes began in 2010, and there were four modules by block release. Mine was the first of the year, on “Labour, the left and working class theory,” and examined the key theoretical and strategic debates in the socialist tradition,  looking at the major traditions: classical Marxism, social democracy and anarchism/ syndicalism. At NUMSA’s request, I also designed and set up a similar programme at Rhodes University, to launch in 2016. However, the NUMSA courses were put in abeyance in 2016. An article from NUMSA News about the programme is further down (I am in the back row on the left, looking ).

van der Walt - NUMSA outline 2015- Module 1 Part A 1.0.jpg

NUMSA News 2011 - article on Wits NUMSA course

[2-DAY SCHOOL with NUMSA]: 24-25/11/2018: “South African Political Economy and the Global Crisis”

Part of a larger non-sectarian workers’ and union education initiative, through the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU), Rhodes University, I developed this programme in conjunction with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa’s (NUMSA’s) Uitenhage Local. It was run on a Nelson Mandela University campus in Port Elizabeth.

[ANALYSIS] Byrne, Chinguwo, McGregor, & van der Walt, 2018,”Why May Day Matters to Malawi: History with anarchist roots”

Sian Byrne, Paliani Chinguwo, Warren McGregor, and Lucien van der Walt, 30 April 2018,”Why May Day matters to Malawi: History with anarchist roots,” As it Happens News (Malawi), online at



When we celebrate May Day we rarely reflect on why it is a public holiday in Malawi or elsewhere. Sian Byrne, Paliani Chinguwo, Warren McGregor, and Lucien van der Walt tell of the powerful struggles that lie behind its existence, and the organisations that created it and kept its meaning alive.

May Day, international workers day, started as a global general strike commemorating five anarchist labour organisers executed in 1887 in the USA. Mounting the scaffold, August Spies declared:

‘if you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labor movement – the movement from which the downtrodden millions, the millions who toil and live in want and misery – the wage slaves – expect salvation – if this is your opinion, then hang us! Here you will tread upon a spark, but there, and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere, flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out.’

Anarchist* roots

May Day’s roots in the revolutionary workers’ movement are often forgotten. It arose from the anarchist movement – anarchism is often misunderstood. Anarchists like Spies wanted society to be run by the ordinary workers and farmers, not capitalists or state officials. In place of the masses being ruled and exploited from above, society and workplaces should be run through people’s councils and assemblies, based on participatory democracy and self-management.

Anarchism was a global mass movement from the 1870s, including in the USA. Its stress on struggle from below for a radically democratic socialist society appealed to the oppressed in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and the Americas.

The 1880s USA looked like China today: massive factories, Read More »

[ANALYSIS] Maisiri & van der Walt, 2018, “Alternatives to Capitalism Part 3: Resist-Occupy-Produce: Lessons from Factory Take-Overs and Worker Cooperatives in Argentina” (Workers World News)

Leroy Maisiri and Lucien van der Walt, 2018, “Alternatives to Capitalism Part 3: Resist-Occupy-Produce: Lessons from Factory Take-Overs and Worker Cooperatives in Argentina,” Workers World News (ILRIG), number 110, August-September, pp. 8-9.

pdflogosmallGet the PDF of print version here

In Argentina economic crisis saw a collapse in working class conditions. High unemployment, low wages, attacks on social services: familiar things in South Africa. But in Argentina, from the 1990s, something very different started happening.

The “recovered factories” movement saw hundreds of closed factories reopened by the workers, run democratically, creating jobs and helping working class communities. For example, the former Zanon tile factory was reopened under workers’ control. It created jobs, restored dignity and helped build a community clinic. Many of these worker-run sites are still running; linked together through two national networks.

This experience shows the limitations of protest – and the need to discuss alternative production sites. To move beyond saying what we do not want, and making limited demands, to creating something new.

Workers in Argentina helped show an alternative from below. They rewrote the economics textbook. The experience shows the immense role and creativity of the productive classes. That it is possible Read More »

[JOURNAL SPECIAL] “Assessing the Politics of Organized Labour in Asia, Africa and Latin America at the Start of the 21st Century” (Devan Pillay and Lucien van der Walt, eds., 2011)

Devan Pillay and Lucien van der Walt (eds.), 2011, Assessing the Politics of Organized Labour in Asia, Africa and Latin America at the Start of the 21st Century, special issue of Labour, Capital and Society, volume 44, number 2


This special edition, which draws together studies of workers’ struggles in Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Indonesia and South Africa, provides the basis for an assessment of the politics of organized labour at the start of the 21st century. The papers in this collection are drawn from a highly successful September 2011 Global Labour University conference on “The Politics of Labour and Development”, held in Johannesburg, South Africa. On the basis of the studies, we argue for the importance of unions, despite their contradictions, as an irreplaceable force for progressive social change for the popular classes. Post-colonial ruling classes have been active authors of the neoliberal agenda, at the expense of the working class. The current context affirms the centrality of unions, and of organized workers more generally as it is union struggles – and alliances with other sectors of the popular classes – that make the Standard Employment Relationship possible. The more the fracturing of the popular classes is challenged by linking unions to other popular class forces, the more successful such struggles become.

Table of Contents

Editor’s Introduction / Introduction de la rédactrice (Suzanne Dansereau)

1. Contributing Editor’s Introduction to the Special Issue: Assessing the Politics of Organized Labour in Asia, Africa and Latin America at the Start of the 21st Century (Devan Pillay and Lucien Van Der Walt)

2. The Influence of Organized Labour in the Rise to Power of Lula in Brazil and Correa in Ecuador (Daniel Hawkins)

3. The Enduring Embrace: COSATU and the Tripartite Alliance during the Zuma era (Devan Pillay)

4. ‘World Class Cities for All’: Street traders as agents of union revitalization in contemporary South Africa (Ercüment Çelik)

5. Making Labour Voices Heard During an Industrial Crisis: Workers’ struggles in the Bangladesh garment industry (Pragya Khanna)

6. Informal Labour in India and Indonesia: Surmounting organizing barriers (John Folkerth and Tonia Warnecke)

7. The ‘Harmonious Society’ as a Hegemonic Project: Labour conflicts and changing labour policies in China (Elaine Sio-Ieng Hui and Chris King-Chi Chan)

More here