Rethinking “Workerism” and the FOSATU Tradition, 1979-1985

Rethinking “Workerism” and the FOSATU Tradition, 1979-1985 by Sian Byrne

Author: Sian Byrne

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This paper is concerned with unpacking key aspects of the politics of the influential “workerist” current that emerged within the trade union movement, notably in the Federation of South African Trade Unions (Fosatu), the largest independent union federation in South Africa from 19179-1985. This current dominated the main black and non-racial trade unions, played a central role in the anti-apartheid struggle, and was notable for its scepticism about the ANC and SACP, preferring instead to build an independent working class movement. Examination of “workerism” is not a new area of focus within left and labour circles, since workerism was highly controversial and featured, most notably, centrally in the “workerist-populist” debate in the 1980s. Yet it remains strikingly under-examined, with its core project obscured in key accounts.

Paper presented at the Durban Movement Conference
Rhodes University, 21 – 23 February 2013

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