[SPECIAL ISSUE]: Devan Pillay, Lucien van der Walt (eds.), 2012, “Assessing the Politics of Organized Labour in Asia, Africa and Latin America at the Start of the 21st Century”

Labour, Capital and Society/ Travail, capital et société 

Volume 44, number 2


Devan Pillay and Lucien van der Walt (eds.), “Assessing the Politics of Organized Labour in Asia, Africa and Latin America at the Start of the 21st Century”

CONTACT: Lucien van der Walt l.vanderwalt@ru.ac.za with enquiries, or regarding copies.

pdflogosmallPaper by Pillay and van der Walt ONLINE HERE  and HERE.

This special issue of ‘Labour, Capital and Society’ was produced in collaboration with the Global Labour University (GLU), and draws from a highly successful GLU international conference  in Johannesburg in September 2011. The papers address some of the key issues about organized labour’s current political role and organizing challenges. Countries covered include Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Indonesia and South Africa, with authors from across the world bringing a range of perspectives to bear in a series of rich accounts.

The studies, the editors Devan Pillay and Lucien van der Walt argue, demonstrate the on-going importance of unions, despite their contradictions, as an irreplaceable force for progressive social change for the popular classes, not least in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The world today is not in a “post-industrial”, “information” phase, or in a post-neo-liberal era; it is instead essentially classic capitalism, with an ever-growing working class majority. Post-colonial ruling classes have been active authors of the neoliberal agenda, at the expense of their working classes. The current context affirms the centrality of unions, and of organized workers more generally, and it demonstrates that union struggles – and alliances with other sectors of the popular classes – make key reforms like the so-called Standard Employment Relationship possible in the first place. The more that the fracturing of the popular classes is challenged by linking unions to other popular class forces, the more successful such struggles become. The more that unions build solidarity within and across borders, the more space is opened for real social and economic change.

While there is a political vacuum in the heart of current labour struggles – in that they are often defensive,  and lack a clear vision of transformation beyond minor reforms – this same situation also opens space for a profound renewal of a left project centred upon participatory democracy. But what form could this take? Should unions participate in state forums and elections, seeking to wield the state (in a more traditional labour / socialist mode)? Or instead, build autonomous and oppositional bodies of counter-power that pressure the state for reforms from outside (while refusing participate in the state), instead stressing forms of mobilization that prefigure a post-capitalist, self-managed, stateless future (in a more anarchist/syndicalist mode)?

Or are there other options? This collection opens these questions, without providing easy answers.

NOTE: Given the large numbers of papers presented at the 2011 Global Labour University conference and their diverse topics, it was no easy matter to make a selection. A number of other papers will thus appear in a forthcoming book edited by Sarah Mosoetsa and Michelle Williams, to be published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).


SUZANNE DANSEREAU, Journal editor’s introduction

DEVAN PILLAY and LUCIEN VAN DER WALT, Contributing Editor’s Introduction to the Special Issue: “Assessing the Politics of Organized Labour in Asia, Africa and Latin America at the Start of the 21st Century” ONLINE HERE

DANIEL HAWKINS, “The Influence of Organized Labour in the Rise to Power of Lula in Brazil and Correa in Ecuador”

DEVAN PILLAY,  “The Enduring Embrace: COSATU and the Tripartite Alliance
during the Zuma era”

ERCÜMENT ÇELIK, “‘World Class Cities for All’: Street traders as agents of union revitalization in contemporary South Africa”

PRAGYA KHANNA, “Making Labour Voices Heard During an Industrial Crisis: Workers’ struggles in the Bangladesh garment industry”

JOHN FOLKERTH and TONIA WARNECKE, “Informal Labour in India and Indonesia: Surmounting organizing barriers”

ELAINE SIO-IENG HUI and CHRIS KING-CHI CHAN, “The ‘Harmonious Society’ as a Hegemonic Project: Labour conflicts and changing labour policies in China”

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