Publication / Book Chapters

Labour Beyond Cosatu

Wits University Press and the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) launched Labour Beyond Cosato Mapping the Rupture in South Africa’s Labour Landscape, edited by Andries Bezuidenhout and Malehoko Tshoaedi. Labour Beyond Cosatu is an analysis of surveys of the opinions, attitudes and lifestyles of members of trade unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). It shows that Cosatu, fragmented and weakened through fissures in its alliance with the African National Congress, is no longer the only dominant force influencing South Africa’s labour landscape.

6 September 2017 /  Senate Room Solomon Mahlangu House, Wits University


The Johannesburg launch of Labour Beyond Cosatu: Mapping the Rupture in South Africa’s Labour Landscape published by Wits University Press was held at Wits University on the 6 September 2017. Chaired by Crispen Chinguno of the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP). Edward Webster, Professor Emeritus in the Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP) at Wits, who pioneered the study of labour in South Africa was the main speaker with respondents Malehoko Tshoaedi and Andries Bezuidenhout who reflected on the current state of the South African working class and new issues in South Africa’s labour and employment relations landscape.

The book includes three chapters co-authored by Christine Bischoff, Wits City Institute Manager and contributing author.

  • Bezuidenhout, A., Bischoff C. and N. Nthejane  (2017) ‘Is COSATU still a working class movement?’
  • Bischoff, C. and Maree, J. (2017). ‘Public sector unions in COSATU’.
  • Bischoff, C. and Tame, B. (2017). ‘Labour aristocracy or marginal labour elite? COSATU members’ income, other sources of livelihood and household support?’

Labour Beyond Cosatu is the fifth publication in the Taking Democracy Seriously project which started in 1994 and comprises of surveys of the opinions, attitudes and lifestyles of members of trade unions affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). This survey was conducted shortly before the elections in 2014, in a context in which government economic policy had not fundamentally shifted to the left and the massacre of 34 mineworkers at Marikana by the South African Police Service had fundamentally shaken the labour landscape, with mineworkers not only striking against their employers, but also their union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Cosatu leaders had started to openly criticise levels of corruption in the State, while a ‘tectonic shift’ took place when the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) was expelled from Cosatu at the end of 2014.

In its analysis of the survey, Labour Beyond Cosatu shows that Cosatu, fragmented and weakened through fissures in its alliance with the African National Congress, is no longer the only dominant force influencing South Africa’s labour landscape. Contributors also examine aspects such as changing patterns of class; workers’ incomes and their lifestyles; workers’ relationship to civil society movements and service delivery protests; and the politics of male power and privilege in trade unions.

The trenchant analysis in Labour Beyond Cosatu exhibits fiercely independent and critically engaged labour scholarship, in the face of shifting alliances currently shaping the contestation between authoritarianism and democracy.

An excerpt from Labour Beyond Cosatu (the article is based on an extract from a chapter by Andries Bezuidenhout, Christine Bischoff and Ntsehiseng Nthejane) has been published in The Conversation, the article has also been published in The Citizen, as well as in News24 and EWN.

Labour Beyond Cosatu goes well beyond the previous volumes of the Taking Democracy Seriously project in some of its sorties, and is not shy of pulling its punches in what is now a highly charged environment. Deeply sympathetic to the project of organised labour yet highly critical of its present trajectory, this collection deserves to attract wide attention internationally as well as domestically.

— Roger Southall, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

South Africa’s working class movement is still powerful, but pressurised and polarised due to major shifts in its structure, base and forms of struggle. This timely, rigorously researched collection draws attention to key developments within Cosatu and beyond … Highly recommended.

— Lucien van der Walt, Professor of Sociology, Rhodes University, South Africa

Supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.