Gaining Influence but Losing Power? COSATU Members and the Democratic Transformation of South Africa
This paper draws on the results of a third leg of a longitudinal survey of COSATU members run in 2004 by the Sociology of Work Unit (SWOP) and the Democracy and Governance unit of the Human Science Research Council in South Africa and compares these with results of the first two legs of the survey (1994 and 1998). The study shows a remarkable continuity of the militant union traditions within the union federation. Furthermore, COSATU members support the involvement of labour in institutions of the new democracy, including parliament and municipal councils because they believe that these provide them with opportunities to extract benefits and make new gains. For similar reasons support for the tripartite alliance led by the ruling African National Congress remains strong 10 years after the inauguration of democracy. However, an examination of the social characteristics of the membership of COSATU shows that the federation represents an ever-diminishing section of the working class and that it is making no headway in organizing workers in the growing precarious forms of work - contract, outsourced, casual and part-time workers. Furthermore, the federation's membership is increasingly becoming more skilled, more educated and older. In light of the above, the paper asks, does the survey data suggest that COSATU has been gaining political influence but losing organizational power during the democratic transition? Are we about to witness the marginalization of labour or is a process of union revitalization likely in South Africa? The paper concludes by arguing that both processes have occurred and that it is too early to suggest that the South African labour movement has been completely marginalized during the transition to democracy.
Full reference: Buhlungu, S. 2008. "Gaining Influence but Losing Power? COSATU Members and the Democratic Transformation of South Africa." Social Movement Studies, 7(1): 31-42.