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South African youth activist school discusses the future of trade unions

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12 May, 2021Young workers from IndustriALL Global Union affiliates participated in the IndustriALL-Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) South Africa youth activist school from 4-6 May in Johannesburg which discussed the future of trade unions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The activist school, which also had online participants from Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, heard that unions are facing difficulties that have been worsened by the Covid-19 crisis, including retrenchments, precarious work, wage cuts, and loss of benefits especially among the youth. The school emphasized the need to strengthen union power, unity, and global solidarity.

The participants said they are supporting union campaigns for the ratification of ILO Convention 190, which aims to stop violence and harassment in the world of work, and the adoption Just Transition policies.
The school urged trade unions to form partnerships with artisanal and small-scale miners and other informal sector workers. Further, the land inequality must be addressed to benefit workers and communities.

Abigail Moyo, from UASA said:

“I learnt about feminism and gender equality in society and workplaces, the relevance of unions today and the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the job market. We will discuss these issues with the youth in our union, and in the sectors we organize.”

"Pamela Bonga from NUM added:

"To attain gender equality, women must be given support and encouragement to take up leadership positions in the union. Unions were also reminded that they can use the health and safety provisions in the Constitution to advance workers’ rights.”


A visit to the Workers Museum in Johannesburg.

On stopping xenophobia, Sboniso Nkomonde, from SACTWU said:

“Employers continue pitting local workers against migrant workers whom they pay low wages. They take advantage because some of workers do not have work permits, and fear being deported. Unions must find ways to stop the exploitation of migrant workers.”

Uta Dirksen, the director of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung South Africa office which supported the activist school said:

“Young workers must build union power and harness that power to push for their demands. Dialogue with members is important in reshaping the union and maintaining its strength. As union strength is also found in the society where workers live; unions should be part of social movements that are demanding social justice.”

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa said:

“It is significant for the youth in the unions to learn about feminism because it advances the interests of young women workers and workers in general. Feminism is also educational and empowering as it addresses gender inequality and sexual and gender-based violence at work.”

The IndustriALL affiliates that participated are the Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU), National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU), and UASA – The Union.

Presenters included a gender expert from Ghana while others were drawn from the Congress of South African Trade Unions, SADC-NGO, Khanya College, and the University of the Western Cape.