From Durban to Wiehahn: Black Workers, Employers, and the State in South Africa during the 1970s

Monday, 25 February, 2013 - 15:00

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In this paper rather than adjudicate whether Wiehahn represented the first step down the road of reform or the last effort to shore up apartheid, I want to examine closely a specific fissure in South Africa’s industrial relations system considered in great detail by the Commission—that between the shop-floor power sought by the increasingly militant independent black trade unions the Commission and Government sought to tame, and the corporatist Industrial Council (IC) system that had long-governed South African labour relations at a highly centralized level of negotiation, but which had historically excluded African workers and their unions. This tension between what the industrial relations policymakers in South Africa called “levels of bargaining” had a profound effect on the trajectory of labour organizing in the final years of apartheid, the shape of the trade union movement that emerged from that struggle, and the labor conflicts raging today in post-colonial/post-apartheid South Africa.

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