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Solidarity with NUMSA?

July 12, 2007

The South African labour movement is still divided along racial lines.

It’s been interesting to watch, albeit from afar, the metalworkers strike in South Africa. What has been most interesting is that both Solidarity and NUMSA have been on strike, though they’ve expressed themselves in different ways: Solidarity held a braai to mark the beginning of the strike.

NUMSA is the COSATU-affiliated metalworkers union, and has a proud history of industrial militancy and opposition to apartheid.

Solidarity is another story all together.

Formerly known as die Mynwerkers’ Unie, it was an industrial haven for racist white workers – a scab union.

They’ve cleaned up their act a bit now: after a few mergers, they became Solidarity and their constitution opposes racism – though they unfortunately share their name with a British fascist union. But their constituency is probably still overwhelmingly white Afrikaans foremen and skilled artisans.

Their website reveals a preoccupation with affirmative action, and other issues of concern to an aging white male workforce.

I am not sure what to make of Solidarity. They seem to genuinely see themselves as trade unionists, and to be trying to service their members as best they can. They are also making an effort to be part of the international labour movement, by winning the LabourStart union website of the year competion – which probably says more about the competition rules than the quality of their website, which is resplendent in the colours beloved of Afrikaner nationalists, and rather reminds me of my school days.

I also agree with them on the issue of political independence:

“Solidarity jealously guards its political independence. This
does not mean that the trade union sits in a corner in
isolation. Solidarity position is to talk to everybody but to tie
itself to nobody. The trade union’s job is to safeguard its
members and it will fight hard to achieve this. It sometimes
entails cooperating with someone to the advantage of our
members, and sometimes it means differing from someone to
benefit our members. The test is whether the interests of our
members are served.”

Afrikaners are workers too, and deserve industrial representation. COSATU totally undermines itself by being in an alliance with the ANC, which introduces policies hostile to union members. The COSATU affiliates are not in a particularly good shape at the moment, and are stuck in the past: the see their constituency as being black men in blue overalls. I can sympathise with anyone not rushing to join them.

But by organising separately Solidarity are perpetuating the apartheid divide. Tribalism – with it’s attendant laager mentality and persecution complex – is the bane of Afrikanerdom. Afrikaners are a unique and interesting people with a lot to teach us all, but the laager mentality brings out the worst in them.

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