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By Editorial staff


Is trade unionism in decline? Cosatu strike very telling

The recent nationwide Cosatu strike revealed a low turnout, raising questions about the state of trade unionism in South Africa.

If the numbers of workers in the streets this week in support of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) nationwide strike were anything to go by, then any workers’ revolution in this country will be more of a whimper than a bang.

There were some physical factors militating against huge crowds at the union demonstrations. It was winter and the streets are cold, after all.

It was also school holidays and perhaps the teacher members of Cosatu affiliate the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) valued their holidays more than their militancy.

Yet, the turnout was in mere thousands, compared to the hundreds of thousands of workers who brought the country to a standstill in the ’80s and who were a major factor in the implosion of apartheid.

Could this mean that trade unionism is dying and that the bosses now have the upper hand over the workers?

Could it be that workers themselves are divided – because there are now two umbrella bodies, the other being Zwelinzima Vavi’s SA Federation of Trade Unions?

Could it be – most worrying for the union movement – that workers are disillusioned with their leaders?

Cosatu has certainly become more political in nature, being used to fight factional battles in the ANC and tripartite alliance – to the detriment of real shopfloor issues.

Union recruiters – including those not affiliated to Cosatu – have not, apparently, been putting much effort into broadening the membership base.

On the other side of the coin, businesspeople say the unionised state of South Africa means that doing business is difficult and that our labour laws – largely the result of the past strength and influence of the worker movement – are a deterrent to investment, both local and foreign.

Organised labour seems to be at a crossroads – which way will it turn?