Transition from Below

Forging Trade Unionism and Workplace Change in South Africa

By Karl Von Holdt

This book analyzes the militant struggle of black workers against the despotism and racism of white power in the workplace, and of their participation in the broader political struggle against apartheid; the triumphant democratic breakthrough which culminated in the election of an ANC government in 1994; and the workers' strategy for reconstruction in the workplace and in local politics. Von Holdt explores the chaos and ungovernability in workplace and community as activists endeavored to disrupt the order of apartheid, as well as the outlines of a new order that emerged from this turbulence. Simultaneously, it examines the divisions and contestation within the union - between political activists and shop stewards, between migrant outsiders and urban locals - that erupted in open conflict and violence between workers. The struggle against white power was simultaneously a struggle to build trade union organization in a continuous process of forging and re-forging the meaning and "law" of the union. This book shows how trade union collective identity in the 1980s consisted of a complex amalgam of popular, class and workplace identities, many of which were forged beyond the workplace.


325 pages

Publication Date: 5/1/2003
Format: Paper
ISBN: 9781869140298