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Public sector trade union response to change in South Africa: a case study of the South African municipal workers union (SAMWU) in the Western Cape (1992-97)

Public sector trade union response to change in South Africa: a case study of the South African municipal workers union (SAMWU) in the Western Cape (1992-97)

Catchpowle, Lesley (2002) Public sector trade union response to change in South Africa: a case study of the South African municipal workers union (SAMWU) in the Western Cape (1992-97). PhD thesis, University of Greenwich.

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The thesis explores the relationship between the public sector trade unions and the government in South Africa from 1992-7. The research is located in debates concerning the ANC government's endorsement of the 'free-market 1 economy in the post apartheid period. The Marxist method of historical materialism is used to explain the changing relationship between the state and the trade unions.

To expound these issues, a single case study of the Cape Town branch of the municipal union - SAMWU - is examined. The case served several functions, it illustrated the nature of apartheid, it took account of the government's introduction of privatisation in the public sector, and simultaneously provided a vehicle for the development of the theory of the state and its inter-relationship with the trade unions. The questions that arose from the case were linked to whether SAMWU would engage in conflict or conciliation to stop privatisation in the public sector, and whether the state would be free to respond favourably to labour's actions and demands. A number of key findings were established relating to these areas.

With regard to the state, the materialist analysis developed by the 'state derivation' theorists provided a useful tool, but for reasons outlined in the dissertation, neglected the basic structural dependence on capitalism. The theoretical conclusion of the thesis: was the state was not independent of capitalism, that it - along with business and labour - was ultimately bound up with the relations of capital. However, as an integral part of capitalism, the state was also affected by the 'contradictions' or potential conflict found within the exploitative relations between capital and labour. Consequently, in order to control any serious challenge from labour to the system - arising as a result of the 'contradictions' within capitalism - the South African state had chosen to engage in conciliation with the trade unions, with the aim of minimising any overall threat or resistance to the existing system.

As to whether SAMWU would engage in this conciliation, or choose resistance to stop privatisation, the answer was viewed as related to the union members' levels of class consciousness, and the policies and organisation of their union. The class and collective consciousness of SAMWU members was seen as inherently tied up with issues of race - in particular their 'coloured' identity. The thesis conceptualised apartheid and race as a function of capitalism. It concluded that the continuing use made of the 'coloured' identity in the region, to disguise economic inequality, had the potential to negate against the members' collective ability to resist privatisation. With regard to the acceptance of conciliation, although no clear answers were immediately forthcoming by 1997, it was possible to deduce that formalisation and partnerships had, at this stage, done little to prevent free market practices from being introduced in the workplace. Finally, although the thesis was unable to conclude in 1997, that SAMWU would ultimately resort to industrial action to stop privatisation, the re-organisation of the union to remain rooted in rank-and-file activity, the campaigns and protests against privatisation, plus the declared intention of the leaders and membership during interviews to take strike action, all seemed to indicate this would be the case.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:
Uncontrolled Keywords: trade union, public sector workers, South Africa,
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Business
School of Business > Department of Human Resources & Organisational Behaviour
Last Modified: 26 Sep 2018 16:04

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