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Sender: owner-afrlabor@acuvax.acu.edu
Message-ID: <162807@isis.Reed.EDU>
Date: 05 Sep 95 12:43:41 PDT
From: Chris.Lowe@directory.Reed.EDU (Chris Lowe)
Reply-To: AFRLABOR@acuvax.acu.edu
Subject: Re: When the boot is on the other foot
To: AFRLABOR@acuvax.acu.edu

When the boot is on the other foot

By Chris Lowe, Chris.Lowe@directory.Reed.EDU,
5 September 1995


Your report on COSATU solidarity efforts in Western Australia is very interesting. There was a case in the early 80s of one of the FOSATU unions raising money to support a strike by 3M workers in New Jersey; one of the big U.S. tv networks did a spot on it for a "magazine" show, perhaps partly because Bruce Springsteen was also involved.

That case was union-to-union (& local, at the U.S. end), and directed at a specific corporation. George Nkadimeng's threat in comparison comes from the federation level, and is directed at a government and region.

In the U.S., comparable kinds of solidarity with S.A. unions were most often tied into broader anti-apartheid & sanctions movements. The strategy which ultimately came to have some bite on corporate behavior was to organize labor-community coalitions which began to get municipal governments to ban contracts with companies that did business in S.A. (in contrast to stock divestment campaigns which were primarily valuable as focuses for agitation & education).

The problem with such strategies is that they are hard to fine-tune, particularly in give-and-take legislative negotiations. In this case, did Nkadimeng's statements come at the request of WA unions? Do the WA unions have clear goals & criteria? Nkadimeng identifies the collective, transnational worker interest in high labor standards; the WA unions take part in that but are negotiating in a particular local context. Which end of the spectrum ought to define goals & strategies?

Of course, Nkadimeng's expression of solidarity, and his perspective on the meaning of the proposed laws have intrinsic persuasive value.

Part of what South African unions have to offer "western" unions (and especially U.S. unions) is their organizing and campaigning experience. In the U.S., it appears that the AFL-CIO may be entering a period when there will be more effort at active organizing. If so, looking internationally for models and advice might be a way to build transnational solidarity around concrete joint work, as well as being a source of ideas & hope. It might also tend to undermine inegalitarian attitudes arising from resource disparities between unions in richer vs. poorer countries.

A touchier issue is that of internal union (& labor movement) democracy. Again, I think SA unions could offer useful examples & experiences to U.S. unions. Whether the latter would be open to them is another question, although I think internal reform is crucial to any hope for revitalization here.