Rival unions, corruption, and the corporate state

TW: violence against protesters, violence against unionized workers

How about another quick peek at some conflicts in South Africa that I mentioned a few months back? Al Jazeera has been doing some excellent direct reporting on it, and in a nutshell: the inability for rival unions to reach a consensus, let alone coordinate, has led to some difficulties for the miners in Marikana, South Africa. That much should be clear from the fact that the body of one of the local union’s leaders was found this weekend, in his workplace, presumably after an altercation.

While it seems most likely that Mawethu Steven was killed by armed men in the pay of the mining companies that have operated at of the South African Lonmin site or the corrupt local government, as he was due to testify against their coordinated violence towards strikers, it can’t be ruled out that a more conciliatory and competitive union was involved.


(Some of the thousands of protesters in Marikana over the past few days, from Al Jazeera.)

The entire situation is an unfortunate warning for the US in terms of the dangers of disintegration of unions as a location for workers to establish their shared economic goals into business-like entities that compete to provide the workforce (or rather, portions of it) with benefits. To be fair to South Africa, our current predicament with unions is a warning for how easily stable systems that benefit that majority of workers can slowly degrade over time into far less effective systems.

Nonetheless, it seems important to note that when unions cease to operate as spaces for workers to organize and collaborate, the competition between workers to be held favorably by management (even if only in contrast to other workers), can lead to very violent extremes. That’s something that many workers in assorted information and technology fields should especially take to heart at the moment, as Mark Zuckerberg is lobbying for legislation that would pit local and immigrant workers against each other.

And when we compete with each other instead of them, they win.

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