Images of striking COSATU workers, singing, marching and toyi-toying are a familiar sight for most South Africans and external observers of the country’s politics. Similarly, COSATU’s feisty general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi has become a household name, commanding respect and admiration among millions and loathing and fear among his enemies and those who are on the receiving end of his fiery political oratory.
But how much do we know about what COSATU workers think about their workplaces, their unions, politics and the economy? What influences COSATU members’ decisions to vote for a particular political party? Why has COSATU women members’ support for the ANC declined? Why do some union members think there may be good reasons to assault non-strikers and scabs during strikes? What do unionised workers think of service delivery and what role did they play in the recent spate of service delivery protests? These and many other questions are examined in this volume which is based on the fourth run of the COSATU Workers’ Survey conducted a few months before the 2009 elections.
Contrary to stereotypes reproduced in the media and other public platforms which portray trade union members as a herd led by all-powerful ‘union bosses’, COSATU’s Contested Legacy deftly presents a picture of a multifaceted organisation whose members are steeped in the traditions of internal democracy, leadership accountability and mandated decision-making. But these traditions are not static. They are fiercely contested among different groups and categories of union members – women and men; migrant and urban workers; skilled and unskilled workers; blue collar and white collar and professional workers; permanent and part-time and casual workers.
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