A new union movement is needed – Trade Unions

Meeting agrees that fragmentation has weakened labour at the worst possible time

Statement on a meeting of trade unions held on 7 September 2015, Johannesburg

A significant number of trade unions and federations - FEDUSA and NACTU - met in Johannesburg on 7 September 2015 to analyse the state of the trade union movement in South Africa today, and to assess the prospects of achieving unity.

The meeting noted that while ‘Unity is Strength’ has been a watchword for all federations and many independent unions for decades, the reality is that the movement has become increasingly fragmented and weak, because:

There are 180 registered trade unions

70% of all workers are not in any union

Union membership is largely amongst the higher paid, permanent, directly employed workers

Many unions are divided and splintering

There is a reserve army of labour

The meeting agreed that such fragmentation leads to less power for the workers, at a time when they face unprecedented threats of mass retrenchments and attacks on union rights. Weak unions are also bad for democracy in the country as a whole, as it confronts the quadruple challenge of mass unemployment, deepening poverty, widening inequality and burgeoning corruption.

All the organisations present were happy with this initiative and fully endorsed the urgent need for strong, democratic and worker-controlled trade unions and a, united and independent national union movement, aligned with community struggles and with national campaigns against corruption and for better health and education services, a decent national minimum wage and an end to retrenchments.

The meeting discussed how to unite all workers around a minimum programme of action and to plan for a Workers Summit which will take this forward in a more detailed way.  It was also agreed, in the best traditions of union democracy and accountability, that each organisation required a firm mandate from its members before deciding on the best way forward to achieving these aims before taking decisions on specific ways to achieve them.

It was agreed to establish a steering committee, with one representative from each of the organisations present, to plan for a Worker’ Summit and chart the way forward. It was also agreed to reach out to other unions not present.

The meeting also agreed to mobilise the workers in force for the Unite Against Corruption March on 30th September and stressed that this campaign was against all forms of corruption in the public and private sectors and the inherently corrupt capitalist system.

Issued by Patrick Craven, 8 September 2015