Let us learn from our past struggles, in the USA and in Malaysia. May Day should be an occasion to reflect not jubilate, to engage not agonize, to demand not relent, and to organise, not complain. We need systemic change that can guarantee equality, fraternity, self-management and socialisation of the commonwealth, guided by a bottom–up approach to decision making. We need a labour movement that is multicultural and international, feminist, active in urban and rural struggles, and that prizes reason over superstition, justice over hierarchy, self-management over state power, international solidarity over nationalism. We need to fight for a universal human community, not parochialism and separatism. The organisational power and strategic location of the Malaysian union movement provides an excellent point of departure for building this counter-movement. This is our appeal and message as we celebrate this May Day, on the eve of dark days in which the storm clouds gather over humanity – but in which the light of hope of a better future can break through, if we arm ourselves with the correct ideas and approaches. May Day began as an example of globalisation-from-below. Let us rally to it. Let us take back its original vision: liberty, equality, unity.
Renewal and crisis in South African labour today: Towards transformation or stagnation, bureaucracy or self-activity?
South African unions are large but fragmented, substantial but politically weak. They represent different political traditions and all are marked by serious organisational problems. They have little impact on the official public sphere. The unions need to work towards realizing a stateless, classless, self-managed society without hierarchy, based on political pluralism and freedom.
by Pitso Mompe (ZACF)
Trade unions have played a major role in defending workers’ rights against the bosses and politicians, also in advancing workers’ interests. This is why, even today, workers are still loyal to their unions. However, there are obstacles within the unions – one being the union bureaucracy, of paid and full-time officials. This can develop its own interests, undermining the unions.
This is a challenge faced by many unions. This bureaucracy is at times unable to represent workers’ grievances effectively: they often spend more time fighting amongst themselves for certain positions within the union instead of for workers’ rights. Due to this bureaucracy, which is structured hierarchically, higher positions hold more power, including in terms of decision-making. Those in leadership are often full-time and recieve much higher salaries than those of the workers they represent. This means they often want to prevent union actions that threaten their own positions, like long strikes.