Click the star to add/remove an item to/from your individual schedule.
You need to be logged in to avail of this functionality.

Accepted Paper:

Janus-faced unionism: a view of contemporary public sector unionism from South Africa  
Sarah Meny-Gibert (Public Affairs Research Institute, University of Johannesburg)

Paper short abstract:

Against the backdrop of South Africa as historical home of ‘social movement unionism’, I map the complex intertwining of contentious politics and clientelism in post-apartheid teacher unionism, and explore its implications for the future of public sector unionism in wider political struggles.

Paper long abstract:

Unions were at the forefront of anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, and scholars held up this activism as an exemplar of a powerful ‘social movement unionism’ internationally. Like unions in authoritarian regimes of South America, the activism went beyond struggles regarding conditions in the workplace, to an examination of wider process of social reproduction, and to alliances with anti-state protests for political and economic rights. Teacher unions, the focus of my paper, were an important part of this movement, lending many progressive reformers to the new democratic state in the 1990s. Decades later, however, teacher unions have been implicated in the chronic inability of the state to provide decent education to working class and poor communities. Local commentary on teacher unions, and public sector unions more generally, has tended to be polarised – involving either dismissal of unions as deeply implicated in state patronage, or as victims of neoliberal education policy against which teachers have appropriately rebelled. Drawing inspiration from anthropologist Javier Auyero and scholars of urban governance in South Africa, I dispute the polarised framing of contentious politics and patronage in studies of teacher unionism, and explore the intersections between the two. I also show how state restructuring under new public management and post-apartheid reforms shaped the union as fragmented, a characteristic it now shares with unions in some other African countries such as Ghana. I conclude by considering the implications of this Janus-faced, fragmented public sector unionism for future struggles for a more just society.

Panel Hist25
The African labour movement at a historical crossroads: past and future of unionism, work and society in Africa
  Session 2 Thursday 1 June, 2023, -