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Publication Details

Reference
Bennett, Mark  (2003) Building Organisation Among South Africa's Textile & Clothing Workers: The National Union of Textile Workers and its Successor
Unions, 1973 - 2003 . RAU Sociology Seminar Series : 1-34.

Summary
Worldwide significant debates are occurring on how trade unions should adapt to the new circumstances that the world finds itself in. Issues that union movements are confronting which mainly stem from changed economic conditions include :

- fewer people joining unions
- less security of employment
- demands for greater workforce flexibility
- a growing importance of the informal sector and a rise in the number of atypical workers
- an employer class that is reluctant to accept unions as representatives of employees
- greater (employer and state) pressures on traditional collective bargaining arrangements
- political elites that rely on worker votes to assume power, yet who pursue a range of social and economic policies, and legislative agendas that are intrinsically hostile to the working class constituencies that vote them into power.

The outcomes of the debates to address the aforementioned issues, and the policies and strategies put in place to drive new trade union agendas will be critical for determining the futures of workplace organisations that represent workers in their firms and in society at large.

What generally has been forgotten is that these union rethinks are not unique. Unions since their formation have continually had to adapt to changing circumstances. South African trade unions have not been unaffected by these rethinks and retooling processes. South African unions adapted to new circumstances after the 1922 Rand Rebellion, and have adapted to the myriad of racially discriminatory laws and repression that flowed from the election victory of the National Party (NP) in 1948.

What this proposed dissertation will attempt to do is to track the organisational development of those unions that have organised SouthAfrica's textile and clothing workers since 1973. The fundamental question that it will try to address is how did it happen, that within a very short period of time, that there emerged a dominant textile and clothing worker's trade union (which represents almost 70 percent of the country's weekly paid textile and clothing; and more than 98 percent of all organised textile and clothing workers) in the face of enormous challenges. The challenges this dominant union (and its predecessors faced) includes :

- a hostile apartheid state that focused its repressive apparatus on the newer unions that organised
African workers;
- a post-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) government which has both been friendly
and hostile towards union movement
- an employer class that was initially hostile to the new union that organised clothing and textile
workers and which responded by seeking favour from the apartheid government of the day and
with the established trade unions of the time
- a multitude of competing unions who at various times competed for favours with the state and
with employers
- tough economic conditions that saw employment levels in the both the textile and clothing industries decline significantly and a rise in the number of informal sector workers, atypical workers and disguised employment relationships

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