Industrialization resulted in the increasing number of blacks to enter cities to look for employment led to black workers coming into contact with another institution of the whites hence formation of trade unions. According to Maree (280;1985) African trade unions came into existence in the twentieth century and before the 1970s African Trade Unionism had experienced three major cycles of growth and decline .The large scale African industrial worker and the farm labour tenant organisation was according to Maree (280;1985) industrial and Commercial workers Union the ICU formed in 1941.The second in the cycle according to Maree (280;1985) it comprised of 119 unions with a combined membership of 158000 in 1945 the Non European Trade unions, Du Toit (37:1976) it was established as a co-ordinating body with the express aim of gaining legal recognition of Black workers under industrial legislation of the country. It’s split the according to Maree (281;1985) weakened the union as well as the state repression noticed in the 1946 strike which was viciously repressed by the state .The emergence of the of SACTU South Africa Congress of Trade Union in 1955 according to Maree (281:1985) was the final upsurge of the African trade unionism it was not exclusively African unions but rather committed to non-racial.
The challenge of the apartheid regime was the efficacy of the change of trade unions objectives that of not separating workers interests in the work place with economic and political needs hence the major paradigm shift from being shop floor oriented organisations to political motivated organisations. According to Maree (281:1985) the very inception of SACTU it perceived the struggle against economic exploitation to be inextricably linked to Black’s political oppression. The existence of SACTU was also submerged with the powerful brutal oppressive acts of the Apartheid regime to silence the trade unions. According to Maree (282;1985) after the destruction of the SACTU led to progressive working class leadership either in prison, exile or silent in fear of further state repression. The apartheid era comprised of various set ups that were meant to benefit the whites in the 1970s according to Maree (286;1985) the South African industrial relations was dualistic one system for whites, coloureds and Indians another for black African workers. Within this system meant trade union rights were only reserved for whites, coloureds and Indians. According to Maree (286:1985) the use of the legislature by the Apartheid regime was main weapon to silence and repress the creation of unionism in South Africa the Native Labour Act 1953 which was later amended in 1973 was legislation to suppress unionism in South Africa and the Industrial Conciliation act in 1924 was meant to not recognise African workers as employees. SACTU failed because of its prematurely propelled mass political campaigns and its leaders did not value the worker movement as an end in itself.
The emergence of independent Trade Unions followed in the 1970 according to Maree (287;1985) was in the reaction , of fear of states repression ,to avoid direct or indirect control of their activities by financing bodies as they heavy relied on international funding and finally were committed to the democratic trade unions. FOSATU Federation of South African Trade Union according to Maree (294:1985) came as a result of the combination of forces of the independent trade unions in reviving African Trade unions and achieved to survive in a hostile political environment with both the state and capital opposed to their existence.
FOSATU promoted working class politics as a way to challenge to apartheid era through this the unemployed took part in the fight against apartheid struggle and capitalist oppression. The most pronounced achievement of the independent unions according to Maree ( 285;1985) was the reorientation of the labour law in 1979 after the recommendation of the Wiehahn Commission give African trade unions rights, change the state approach on African Trade Unions and the independent unions also strengthened the foundations of democracy in working class politics. The failure of independent unions (FOSATU) by pursuing the narrow unionism agenda which confined them to the workplace issues and practice of working class politics resulted in them not fully representing the workers interests.
The formation of COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Union) which was different from the independent unions that prior existed gave a new face in the working conditions of the workforce. COSATU has a political unionism approach which advocates for unions to be involved in the national struggle with main alliance of the political movements. In its nature COSATU is closely afflicted with ANC (African National Congress) this was difficult for the Apartheid regime to repress. According to Wood (135;2001) after a series of mergers and realignments of the independent unions the unions coalesced into two main federations by the mid-1980s COSATU and NACTU (Africanist National Council of Trade Unions).Wood (135:2001) elaborates that COSATU had a membership of 400000 by 1990 it had reached the 1.2 million mark which clearly shows that political unionism was the only way to challenge the Apartheid era. The increase in assertive politics by the trade unions according to Marx (384;1989)was able to tackle the state repression to crush and divide it’s opponents which it took advantage of the opposition’s inability to combine both ideological and organisational coherence the establishment of COSATU was able to withstand the Apartheids regime repression.
The adoption of the Freedom Charter by the COSATU was a fundamental step to political unionism the ANC and SACP where the leading advisors in the adoption of this charter according to Marx (391:1989) the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1987 Congress before 12 of its affiliated unions resulted in its members becoming more politicised, Marx (393;1989) furthermore elaborates that the increasingly political agenda of the unions and pressure of unity adoption of the role of leading representative of the black working class. COSATU adopt political unionism and workerist unionism in its structures to strengthen the existence of the trade union and to challenge the apartheid era this to combine the shop floor issues with the economic and political issues that affected the workers.
Within the different strategies and approaches enforced by the different African Trade Unions ever since their origins to counter the Apartheid era repression acts against their existence the African Trade Unionism needed to merge the popularist unionism and workerist unionism approaches to their struggle. African Trade Unionism experienced three major cycles of growth and decline ICU, SACTU and FOSATU all faced decline due to weak strategies to challenge to apartheid regime. The efficacy of the COSATU trade union was a breakthrough in improving the legality and exact pressure of the Apartheid regime to recognise the African trade unionism through adoption of both the popularist unionism and workerist unionism approaches.
Du Toit M. A. (1976) South Africa Trade Unions McGraw-Hill Book Company South Africa
Maree.J ;Labour,Capital and Society 18:2 (November 1985) pp 278-303.University of Cape Town South Africa
Marx.W.A South African Black Trade Unions as an Emerging Working-Class Movement The Journal of Mordern Modern African Studies,VOL 27,No 3 (Sep,1989) pp,383-400 Cambridge Press
Wood. G South African in the Time for Adjustment; Labour /le Travial. Vol 47 (Spring 2001)pp. 133-150 Canadian Committee on Labour History and Athabasca University Press