While unions are facing a decline on a global scale, in South Africa, however, those unions that are able to successfully connect wider social injustices to their members’ cause and mobilise people around this are increasing their membership numbers. Workers do not necessarily see their work and living environments in isolation, so any protest over wages can easily be further inflamed by issues outside the workplace. As a result, they are increasing their political influence.
In South Africa high unemployment, wage inequality, low education levels, low service delivery and social unrest has provided fertile ground for unions to blur the boundaries between workplace issues and social injustices.
In South Africa, an abundance of breakaway splinter unions such as the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) has revealed growing dissatisfaction among rank-and-file members with leaders who appear closer to the political elite than the concerns of the workers.
The close relationships between trade unions and political parties have shown that union leaders lose the focus on servicing their members’ needs. This dissatisfaction is more acute when the unions are institutional players in the establishment. The metalworkers’ union Numsa is trying to escape this.