Attitudes to South African trade unions
South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS)
Trade unions in South Africa, many established during the political struggle for democracy, have long claimed to represent the entire working class and not just their own members. The organised labour movement, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in particular, has participated in a number of campaigns that challenge the government over issues including economic inequality, inadequate social welfare and food and energy prices.
The labour movement has become one of the most important civil society institutions in post-apartheid South Africa, with the largest modern trade unions - Cosatu, the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) and the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) - representing millions of workers across the country. In our democracy, the voice of trade-union federations can be loud, and when it comes to the political arena even louder than that of political opposition parties. It is therefore essential that we monitor and understand the dynamics of trust in the nation’s trade unions.
Events in the past year have led political commentators to ask whether trust in South African trade unions is dwindling, signalling a decline of the traditional post-apartheid trade-union movement. During illegal strikes in the mining sector last year, many workers voiced dissatisfaction with their trade union leaders, accusing them of being too close to management and too willing to compromise on workers’ demands. Recent violent strike action by farm workers in the Western Cape was also seen to bypass trade union structures.