South Africa: 'The End of Labour'? Revisiting the Past to Understand the Future


Precarious workers are challenging the practices of the established unions. In doing so, they have mounted a real challenge to the unequal neoliberal workplace and the pessimistic 'end of labour' thesis.

August analysts like to declare that "labour has come to an end". The dramatic changes in the world of work, they say, has undermined the bargaining power of labour, making trade unions redundant.

Of course, I am not referring to the wishful thinking of a headline in the Financial Mail in October this year, "The end of Unions?", but to widespread predictions of the end of labour first heard some 80 years ago in the US. Nonetheless, what is emerging from our research in South Africa and globally is that we need to move away from the standard narrative of the end of labour.

Our research highlights that precarious workers do have agency and power. They are beginning to cross the divide between the historically organised permanent workers and the growing number of precarious workers. New and hybrid forms of organisation are forming on the periphery of the labour movement in Africa and elsewhere.

What can we learn by revisiting the past?

Faced by the de-skilling of craft work...

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