n South African Journal of Labour Relations - Forum : So, you think being a trade union is plain sailing?

Volume 25, Issue 1_2
  • ISSN : 0379-8410
  • E-ISSN: 2520-3223



The survival of trade unions depends to a large extent on their ability to adapt to change in the economy on a macro level, and on their efficiency and effectiveness on the micro level. Their ability to survive resides in the loyalty and support of the rank and file and the extent to which the union fulfils its purpose in and outside the workplace. South African trade union members are, however, not always exposed to and perhaps not interested in the survival problems their trade union is experiencing. Job security and an income high enough to meet the basic needs of their families are their main concerns. Low economic growth, tough competition and the difficulties globalisation has brought to South Africa are some of the challenges facing trade unions. The success and survival of organisations in the private and public sector are also key factors in their own success and survival. Whether this "economic law" (the success of the trade union depends on the success of the employer) is understood by the typical trade union member is debatable. If indeed it is understood, a more cooperative approach towards management could be expected. However, adversarialism and sometimes arrogance in the workplace suggest that the extent to which this "economic law" is understood is questionable. Either the leadership of trade unions is misleading its supporters or trade union members are ill-informed about the consequences of low economic growth for the trade union's ability to meet their expectations. Trade unions in South Africa are insensitive to changes at the macro level (the economy as a whole) and the micro level (activities on the shop floor). One of the consequences of this is that their future existence and their members' job security are threatened. A further repercussion is that the trade unions are not seen as responsible role-players in the economy, thereby creating mistrust among job creators. The aim of this article is to highlight the problems currently facing trade unions, and to explore possible avenues for ensuring their survival.

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