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Occasional Paper| An Empty Pot at the End of the Rainbow? Trade Unions and Twenty Years of Democracy

By: Khwezi Mabasa Programme Manager at Friedrich Ebert-Stiftung- South Africa (Society Work and Development Institute, University of Witwatersrand, Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria)

This paper explores the causes of the crisis in South Africa’s trade union movement. It argues that the impasse is multi-layered, and can be attributed to both structural changes in the country’s political economy and organizational challenges. The issues discussed are related to global debates on the state of the left, and what forms of political agency are required to revive labour movements.  Some of the key recommendations include: strengthening worker control; rebuilding social movement unionism; reviving autonomous education structures; and advocating for heterodox macro-economic frameworks.


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With its Occasional Paper Series, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung South Africa Office provides analysis and opinion on pertinent issues of South African, regional and global politics.

The opinions expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect the views of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, or the organisation which the author represents.

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