Power,independance and worker democracy in the development of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and its predecessors: 1980-1995

Forrest, Karen Anne
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This thesis examines the building of power and how workers’ control and union independence augmented or detracted from this process in the National Union of Metalworkers and its predecessors from the 1980s to the mid 1990s. These unions aimed to accrue power to improve both their members’ working conditions and to effect political and economic transformation. In this process the building of non-racial national industrial unions that cut across the ethnically constituted state, the promotion of workers’ control, and political independence from formal political organisations were central. This thesis demonstrates how Numsa and its predecessors overcame obstacles to the accrual of power and scrutinizes reasons for failures in achieving pivotal ideological goals. In the early 1980s Numsa’s predecessors constructed greater degrees of democratic organizational and bureaucratic power. The formation of Numsa in 1987 allowed for the further construction of an efficient bureaucracy to support organizational and bargaining activities. It successfully forged national bargaining forums and built hegemony across the industry. In 1993 Numsa adopted a programme through which it hoped to restructure its industries in the transitional period leading up to a new democracy. It failed however to successfully implement the programme in its entirety. Tensions emerged in union goals as membership remained focused on increased wages whilst leadership was attempting to restructure industry, enhance worker skills and augment workers’ control in the workplace. In the political sphere Numsa was largely unable to effect a deeper infusion of its socialist leanings. Though Numsa and other Cosatu unions made an important contribution to the birth of a non-racial democracy, the capitalist state succeeded in demobilizing the trade unions in their pursuit of more fundamental systemic change. By the time Numsa produced the concept of a Reconstruction Accord, later developed into the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), the space to popularise a socialist perspective had been considerably reduced. Although Numsa forewent its early `party autonomous` position when Cosatu entered the ANC/SACP alliance, this was clearly far from a `state ancillary` stance. Though labour had won the right to be consulted in Nedlac and the right to strike, the possibility of dissent being diverted into bureaucratic chambers existed with a consequent loss of militant, strategic and ideological focus. Key words: trade union power, workers control, trade union independence, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), National Automobile & Allied Workers Union (Naawu), Metal & Allied Workers Union (Mawu), Motor Industry Combined Workers Union (Micwu), post 1980 metal unions, metal union politics, metal union bargaining, metal union organisation, trade union alliances, trade unions and violence
Student Number : 0376246 - PhD thesis - School of Humanities - Faculty of Arts
trade union power, workers control, trade union independence, national union of metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), national automobile, allied workers union (NAAWU), metal and allied workers union (MAWU), motor industry combined workers union (MICWU), post 1980 metal unions, metal union politics, metal union bargaining, metal union organisation, trade union alliance, trade unions and violence