Workers’ World Media Productions is an independent labour movement media project, with offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa, and an audience reach across the continent.

We have a vision for an informed, organised and mobilised working class acting in its own interests. To facilitate this, we produce, distribute and facilitate discussion groups, media training, film festivals, training manuals and television shows, but our primary focus is on radio productions and broadcasts. Radio is the internet of Africa, able to reach workers and poor people everywhere. We aim to provide working class people with a voice, their own platform in their language, as well as with the news and analysis they need to advance their interests.

Our project was founded in 1999, and we celebrate our 15th anniversary in difficult circumstances: the global economy is in crisis, the labour movement is divided, and tensions in South Africa are reaching boiling point as people lose patience in a government that has failed to end economic apartheid. Right wing populists are taking advantage of the vacuum, and there is a sense of political volatility in South Africa and all over the world.

Workers’ World was launched in 1999, by labour movement activists with a history in the struggle as a project of the Labour Research Service (LRS) and within its strategic plan that highlighted three areas of concern that posed a direct challenge to the labour movement, namely the:

  • Loss of leadership to government and big business by the trade unions, especially Cosatu at all levels.
  • Severe impact of neo-liberalism on the living standards of working class people and what it represented politically, i.e. an attack on workers’ unity by creating new structural divisions within the labour force of outsourced, labour broker, casual and/or part-time workers.
  • Rightward political shift of the labour movement, driven by the leadership to place faith in the ANC government and “social partnership” to deliver better living and working conditions. This had the effect of working class people abandoning their struggle orientation and self-organisation.

Our purpose was to develop an independent workers’ voice and media platform that would contribute towards overcoming and challenging these weaknesses and contradictions, and allow workers to put aside superficial differences and unite in defending and fighting for their own interests. We believe in the power of organised labour, and we were concerned that South African workers – having organised and fought their way into the vanguard of political struggle – were being marginalised. South Africa’s labour movement – one of the most powerful in the world – was at risk of being pushed to the side lines.

This was especially the case as the government increasingly adopted neo-liberal economic policies. South African labour law with its neo-liberal “regulated flexibility” paradigm - but still comparatively progressive when compared to countries like Britain – was increasingly being attacked as “inflexible”, and an anti-union consensus was growing in the mainstream media.

We saw a need to challenge these developments by creating an impartial but working-class biased voice for workers.

Apartheid and the Labour Movement in South Africa

The labour movement played a critical role in the end of apartheid. When black workers defied the apartheid regime in the docks of Durban and elsewhere in 1973 by taking wildcat strike action, they initiated a chain of events that led to the defeat of Apartheid. Crippled by uncontrollable industrial action, the apartheid regime legalised black trade unions, believing they could tie them down in the processes and bureaucracy of labour relations and co-opt them. Instead, the newly formed unions, united into the federations of COSATU and NACTU, went from strength to strength, organising and undermining the economic basis of the regime.

While official history highlights the role of negotiations, sanctions, and the importance of international sport to white voters as being crucial factors, the labour movement’s ability to mobilise the mass of people was probably one of the biggest factors in the defeat of apartheid. By uniting workers, communities, students and democrats from across society and with the United Democratic Front (UDF), the unions were able to articulate a positive and achievable struggle for political freedom and social justice, as well as an activist role for ordinary people.

This is in stark contrast to the tactics of the armed struggle: while heroic, this encouraged a culture of martyrdom and an elitism in some of the exiled leaders. Unions put ordinary working class people at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid, and it was these workers that prevailed. By striking at the economic heart of apartheid capitalism, organised workers were able to attack the profitability of the system, and play an important part in forcing the regime to negotiate a compromise political solution away from Apartheid.

Cape Town

 


Christina Fisa, Receptionist and
administration assistant


Lunga Guza, Khayelitsha Lamec
Co-ordinator and fieldworker


Martin Jansen, Director &
Editor


Sharon McKinnon, Labour TV
show producer


Lynn Thompson, Administrator
and Communications officer

Mzi Velapi, Africa Labour Radio
producer

Johannesburg


Nicolas Dieltiens, Multimedia producer

 
Vincent Mpebe, Radio
Producer and fieldworker

Muzi Mzoyi, Radio producer

Dibuseng Phaloane, Office administrator

Molefe Pilane , LCMP Coordinator
 

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