Date: 05 Sep 95 12:43:41 PDT
From: Chris.Lowe@directory.Reed.EDU (Chris Lowe)
Subject: Re: When the boot is on the other foot
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
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 &
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.