Workers' Militancy in the South African Mining Sector, 2009-Present

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:45
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Immanuel NESS, City University of New York, Brooklyn College, USA
South Africa’s embrace of neoliberal capitalism in the post-apartheid era has been accompanied by an unequivocal decline in organized trade union power under the Tripartite Alliance (African National Congress, South African Communist Party, COSATU Federation of Labour).  For more than 20 years, the government has channelled spontaneous Black worker agitation and dissent against poor conditions and despotic corporate management into a formal system of labour relations directed at regulating and containing strikes and rank-and-file militancy. The failure of the state and the National Mineworkers' Union to address the rise of precarious labour and declining wages has stimulated informal and migrant worker self-activity and unsanctioned mass action that is challenging the credibility of the government and trade union leaders.  In the process, a new trade union movement is forming in the mining sector through the Association Mineworkers and Construction Union and throughout the South African labour market.  This paper examines the rising challenge to neo-corporate labour relations, viewed by most labour activists and academics as the ideal frame to represent workers’ demands in the Global South.  Instead, in South Africa, as elsewhere in the Global South, militant workers are emerging and are forming independent committees and organizations, or directing the demands of new and existing unions in opposition to the institution of neo-liberal capitalism which has severely eroded worker rights.  New struggles are taking on a new, more militant character, which is driving unrest against transnational corporations, existing unions, and the accommodation of states to the strictures of global capitalism.