Business Books

How South Africa’s once-weak trade union movement became powerful

The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield interviews Johnny Copelyn for his weekly business book review.

Copelyn is the author of “Maverick Insider: A Struggle for Union Independence in a Time of National Liberation”.

Description on Amazon:

In 1973 the trade union movement was both racially and regionally divided.

It virtually excluded African workers and, in many cases, unions were led by cautious and paternalistic leaders, long schooled in avoiding confrontation with either the state or employers.

Then widespread strikes erupted in Durban where hundreds of thousands of workers downed tools in support of wage demands.

It was a militant explosion unprecedented since the apartheid government had crushed and outlawed mass demonstrations against segregation and “whites-only” rule.

And it provided the impetus for the next decade and a half of trade union organisation, which succeeded in uniting workers on a largely non-racial basis, dominated by the slogan “one industry one union”.

“Maverick Insider” is an anecdotal, insider’s account of the transformation during this period in the textile, clothing and leather worker sectors.

It focuses on the outlooks of leadership groups in different parts of that industry and their efforts to influence the nature of the amalgamation of six unions to form the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu), one of the three largest unions of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

It traces the interaction between union leadership and both political parties and community organisations dedicated to making the country ungovernable, as well as those who were determined to stamp out such calls.

It recounts struggles to unite workers across political divides in the same union organisation and to assert an independent working-class point of view in a period of growing African nationalism.

It details the traumatic events on the road to the so-called peaceful miracle that created a rainbow nation but left 22 000 South Africans dead in the process.

And it is the story of a team of people who set out to change the world and formed an unshakeable bond in the process.

For more detail; listen to the interview in the audio below.

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