The dying phase of labour unions in a democratic South Africa

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Zamokuhle Mbandlwa, Nirmala Dorasamy


Historically, trade unions in South Africa played an instrumental role to fight against the apartheid regime when the liberation movements were banned. Workers were all united against the injustices imposed on them and the general population of black people by the apartheid government. The objectives and the mandate were not only that of fighting for the rights of workers but also fought for the human rights of black people. The unbanning of the political parties shifted the mandate of trade unions to only focus on the battle of fighting for the rights of workers. This was not an easy transition because most of the union leaders were not trained on how to fight for the rights of workers in a government that is biased to blacks and governed by black people. This affected the relevance of trade unions in South Africa, most unions if not all biased toward the government and some union leaders were part of the decision-makers in senior government positions. Leaders of trade unions and federations became leaders of political parties and some became members of parliament and some are in various governance structures such as provincial legislatures and municipal councils. Union leaders submitted their unions and members to the government and they are trying to convince the workers to understand the position of the employer instead of convincing the employer to understand the position of the workers. This paper is presenting a view that the majority of trade unions have lost their relevance and members have lost hope in union leaders. The objective of this paper is to convince the leaders to stand out and represent the workers correctly and stop sleeping on the same bed with the employer. The secondary research methodology was applied to present existing data that is relevant to the study. Conclusions and findings of this paper show that union leaders in senior structures use the votes of members to advance their narrow selfish interests.

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