Has the cavalry arrived to rescue the union movement? Or are the rescuers themselves too captured to help? The formation of a rival to Cosatu, the South African Trade Union Federation (Saftu), may have little immediate effect on who runs the country. But it could tell us whether the labour movement can shake off the malaise that now grips it: this may be every bit as important to democracy and the economy as the fight to control the ANC. Since the ANC leadership battle seems to be the only political game in town, interest in Saftu’s launch has focused on its impact on this contest. So it is not surprising that it has not attracted much attention: the new federation’s launch will have little influence on the choice of ANC leader. Unlike Cosatu, it is not allied to the ANC — or any other party. This does not mean that Saftu is not political: any union federation that wants to give its members a voice must take political stands. But it says it will avoid linking to a particular party w...

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