Trade Unions and Democracy : COSATU Workers Political Attitudes in South Africa by Sakhela Buhlungu
HSRC Press, 01 March 2007
Soft cover, 259 pages
This title analyses the results of a survey of the political attitudes of members of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) undertaken in the run up to South Africa's third democratic general election in 2004. The survey was the third in a series, two previous ones having been conducted by some of the authors writing in the present collection before the elections of 1994 and 1999. The results of all three surveys are presented in an appendix, and taken together constitute a unique data base whose interpretation makes a major contribution to our understanding of contemporary South African history, notably with regard to how and why COSATU has become a major political actor within the 'tripartite alliance' which links it to the ruling African National Congress and the South African Communist Party. Carefully analysing both the changes and (remarkable) continuities which characterise workers' political orientations, the book highlights not only the complexity (and contradictions) of COSATU's stand on the ANC's politics and policies, but the quite extraordinary extent to which the federation's leadership reflects the opinions and attitudes of its base. Reflecting upon these attitudes with regard to such issues as the growing informalisation of work, internal union and parliamentary democracy, black empowerment and the marginalisation of women within the trade union movement, the collection concludes with considerations of COSATU's relation to working class politics and the democratic transformation of South Africa more generally. Written by leading scholars of the South African labour movement, this book constitutes a major challenge to competing views which present COSATU as representing, on the one hand, a 'labour aristocracy' within a context of massive unemployment, and on the other, the core of an emergent political party to the left of the ANC. It is a resource which no serious student of South African politics can do without.