Solidarity: South Africa’s Majority White Union Adapts to the Post-Apartheid World
Institute for Research on Labor and Employment’s Strategic Decision-Making in Labor and Social Movement Organizations Conference, May 2010
11 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2012
Date Written: May 1, 2010
South Africa’s transition to majority rule has been a challenging one for Solidarity, the predominantly Afrikaner labor union whose roots go back more than 100 years to its days as the Mine Workers Union (MWU). Long a backer of the National Party, Solidarity has been forced to adjust to more than one “new reality” in its relationship with the government. Not only has it become representative of a minority political constituency, it has had to adjust to policies that reflect the ruling ANC’s desire to maintain economic growth; policies at times in conflict with labor’s program. Through the transition to multi-racial democracy, Solidarity itself has retooled to adjust to the political and economic realities of the mid-1990s and beyond. Today, the union represents about 135,000 workers employed at some 8,000 companies, and while it said it does not classify its members by race, it estimates that between 70 percent and 80 percent of its members are white.
Each of the nation’s three ANC administrations has taken differing – at times opposing – views of engagement with civil society organizations in general and with Solidarity in particular. And yet adapting to shifting political tides is not new to Solidarity. Over the course of its history, the union has moved from its narrow base of advocating for white mine workers and at times militant support of the apartheid government to become more diverse in its constituency and mission. In addition to its traditional role in collective bargaining, the union has expanded its portfolio to include job training, legal advocacy (primarily related to affirmative action cases), and taking ownership stakes in investment firms and distance learning enterprises.
Since 2006 it has been home to the non-profit AfriForum, an “independent initiative” formed to advocate for the “constructive activation of minorities to participate in public debate and action, in order to ensure a future…in Africa.” The organization focuses on using the new South African Constitution to advocate for minority rights; it presents forums addressing civil rights, social affairs, and emigration; encourages re-migration of expatriates through its “Come Home Campaign”; and lobbies parliament and the executive branch on legislative matters of import to minority communities.
This paper looks at how the union has adjusted to shifts in the post-apartheid political landscape and the concurrent economic changes that have shaped both labor and social policies in South Africa.
Keywords: South Africa, labor, trade unions, African National Congress, Solidarity, AfriForum, Mandela, Mbeki, Zuma
JEL Classification: N37, N67
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation