South Africa: World of Work - Deep, Systemic Crisis Signals the Union Form May Have Outlived Its Usefulness


There can be little argument that the world of work in South Africa, and indeed globally, is in the throes of a deep, systemic crisis, made all the worse by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. However, if we allow ourselves, we can see the current and coming period as heralding a different kind of transition, one of possibility.

Dale T McKinley is a long-time political activist, researcher-writer and lecturer who works at the International Labour Research and Information Group.

At one level, there are record levels of socioeconomic inequality between those who own the means of production and those who produce, which is threatening to pauperise the majority of workers and which has only been further catalysed by the pandemic. At another level, workers and worker organisations are increasingly divided, ideologically, socially, economically and organisationally, with the general state of the trade union movement being one of generalised disorientation and weakness.

One of the most crucial "products" of this crisis is strategic confusion. Past ideological certainties are no longer able to provide the framing glue for holding together a clear strategic vision and set of goals. The institutional and organisational moorings that previously allowed for the strategic building of more inclusive,...

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