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Labour Wrap: Of state and union capture

Sep 08 2016 07:22
Terry Bell

Cape Town - Two of perhaps the most used words in recent political and social commentary are state capture, says Terry Bell in his latest Labour Wrap. This term applies generally to the sometimes direct and undue influence exercised over governments by business.

What makes South Africa different to most cases of this kind, says Bell, is the apparently blatant, even crude, manner that such capture has been practised locally. However, even this is not unique, although most bought influence is usually exerted in a much more low-key manner.

But while the allegations of state capture are ongoing, Bell feels it would be best for the labour movement in coming weeks to focus more on a looming union capture that could be extremely disruptive. This is likely to come to a head next month when four Cosatu-affiliated unions play host in Durban to the world congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU).

A major contradiction here is that Cosatu is affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) that does not regard the WFTU as a legitimate labour organisation. And the reason it takes this position is that the WFTU has its roots within communist parties once allied to the former Soviet Union.   

Bell points out that, as such, it has within its ranks state-dominated unions in countries such as Syria, Vietnam and North Korea. The latter provide what he refers to as “an even more grotesque parody of socialism” than the version offered in the former Soviet bloc.

Bell maintains that the ongoing global economic crisis has caused widespread disillusionment with established political parties and policies, and has revived the once almost moribund WFTU. However, he says South African unions would be better off looking to the example of their own, democratic “workerist” origins rather than seeing any solution in the statist “conveyor belt” party political unionism offered by the likes of the WFTU.

* Add your voice or just drop Terry a labour question. Follow Terry on twitter @telbelsa

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