Trade unions only exist because their members are employed, but unless Cosatu and similar union federations rid themselves of anarchic notions of how economies work, they may cease to be relevant. Two very important articles in Business Day this month by Carol Paton (Workers of the world, unite to help fix the mess) and Theto Mahlakoana (Striking unions could be on their way out) deal with, among other issues, retrenchment as a means of reducing costs, strike violence, and the need for unions to be involved in changing the economy. These pieces refer to union federation Cosatu unions, but the same could apply to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu). Mahlakoana criticises Cosatu unions for presaging their own demise through increasing levels of violence during strikes, whether lawful or not. Union officials mouth the platitude that violence is caused by “criminal elements” not connected to the union. In ...

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