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Title: Negotiating Union. South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers and the end of the Post-Apartheid Consensus
Tutor: Pellegrini, Claudio
Banégas, Richard
Keywords: Sudafrica, National Union of Mineworkers, African National Congress, Congress of South African Trade Unions, Negoziazione, Sindacati, Relazioni industriali, Organizzazione, Miniere
Issue Date: 12-Dec-2014
Abstract: Based on a case study of South Africa’s largest trade union – the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), this dissertation puts the current mining crisis in historical perspective. Beyond mining, it proposes keys to understand South Africa’s “negotiated” transformation from apartheid to democracy. It concludes that this country currently experiences what one can call the “end of the post-apartheid consensus;” a moment in which shared elitist conceptions of political and socioeconomic change developed during South Africa’s 1990s transition are starting to be decisively challenged. Departing from the NUM’s early years, in apartheid’s last decade, it analyses the union’s trajectory as a mineworkers’ organisation after the end of white minority rule. Questioning NUM representations, in traditional struggle iconography, as a militant and revolutionary organisation, it argues that this union was also historically developed into a disciplined union, structured by and around strong core leadership. In other words, the main questions raised here are: how are we to understand, in time, tensions between militancy on the one hand, and organisation on the other hand? How are we to account in non-linear terms for the build up to the 2012 Marikana strike and massacre, in a democratic context in which labour relations had supposedly become less adversarial and more workers friendly? What, in the NUM’s organisational ethos, can help us understand what happened, not as if Marikana was the expression of fundamental and untenable contradictions – class betrayal by another name, but as the result of the sometimes unintended consequences of a nevertheless conscious and deliberate process aimed at organisation building and development? The main hypothesis that is put to work here is that NUM founders strategically built a centralised and efficient organisation, in order to survive in the mines’ repressive environment. This, in turn, generated tensions, which were to remain, between the grassroots and the top of the organisation. In order to fulfil its organisational goals, the union also crucially invested in leadership development, at the expense of membership development. While claiming to be a socialist union that produced professional organisers and revolutionaries, the NUM nevertheless gave birth to professional negotiators who were more inclined towards negotiation than conflict. If the NUM achieved tremendous gains for workers through collective bargaining, the 2012 strikes and their aftermath have shown that mineworkers still aspire to militancy at the grassroots, and that they are ready to fight in order to “transform” the mining industry. This implies that the workers’ bread and butter demands are also rooted in more structural claims, which have gradually brought the “post-apartheid consensus,” which until 2012 prevailed as a shared narrative of how mining was to be democratised, into question.

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