The Labor Movement and Ecosocialist Prospects in South Africa


Editor: Can you provide us with some background on the Global Labor University and its place within the labor movement?

Devan Pillay: The Global Labor University was initiated around about 2002 as an initiative within the ILO. Its advocates were very pro-labor and wanted to set up an alternative to the MBA – a post-graduate program that would empower trade unionists around a range of labor, social and economic issues. The first place that they approached was Germany, and they set up a station within the University of Kassel and the Berlin School of Economics, and that's when the first masters program began. We came on board as the University of Witwatersrand, representing South Africa (and Africa), around about 2006, and thereafter we brought in the University of Campinas, Brazil and then the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, India, and more recently Penn State University in the USA. Finally, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi came on board.

We have all those universities as part of a network that is in the first instance focused on providing this post-graduate (masters degree) program for trade union and other labor activists. Also, alongside that, are research activities and a range of other associated activities including publications, conferences, etc. The idea is to produce labor scholars that remain within the labor movement, or let me say labor intellectuals, intellectual activists, who remain within the labor movement, either back in their trade unions or in other capacities.

In that, it has largely succeeded. The network is backed by leading trade-union federations in different countries. That is both a strength and a weakness because the leading trade unions tend to be more traditionalist and tend to focus on the core working class, whereas the reality of neoliberal globalization is increasing informalization of labor. Hence, in a place like India, where 90% of the working class is in informalized labor, we interface with unions that represent a tiny sector of the working class – except for the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA); they're also a part of the global labor university, so that's a great addition to the network.

There have been debates within the network about how to broaden the scope, and move away from traditional narrow workplace and wage issues, as important as they are, and to address broader issues that relate more to a social movement union-type perspective. It's a broad church, basically, of different emphases, and of course in recent years, the ecological dimension has come to the fore slowly. Slowly, but not decisively.

Editor: What's the composition of each graduating class? Is it relatively evenly distributed across North and South? Also, between the formal and the informal sector, given the challenge with contingent labor that you have described.

Devan Pillay: I would say it's still predominantly focused on the core sector, because that's where trade unions are primarily located. However, in terms of geographical distribution, it is quite broad. It's mainly unionists from the Global South in all the different programs; even the German one attracts most of its unionists from the South. In the African one, we mainly attract participants from across Africa, but we also try to broaden it.

Associated with the formal masters program is what we call the Engage Program. That's a short course. It doesn't lead to certification, except for attendance. It's a three-month course of intensive course-work and a little bit of research work at the end. That's a relatively new addition, because we realize that many trade unionists either do not qualify for, or cannot attend, the full MA program. We have tried to increasingly broaden the scope of participants, to get people from social movements and labor-friendly activists, although the main focus is the trade-union movement. Yes, so as long as the trade unions are primarily located within the formal sector, that's where most of the recruits will come from – although my experience, having taught this course both in South Africa and in Germany, as well as indirectly with Brazil and India, is that those who come onto this program, particularly from the South, tend to have a broader social movement union-type orientation (or quickly see the necessity of this approach).

Editor: Approximately how many people have been through the program over the years?

Devan Pillay: I don’t know the exact figures but altogether we have graduated around 350 students with an MA degree, on all the campuses, as well as a further 80 or so coming through the Engage program.  A few who did not make the MA final stage also came out with a post-graduate diploma. A new development is an online course that will attract many more trade unionists across the world.

Editor: How recently have ecological and energy issues been introduced into the program?

Devan Pillay: Let me say that there's always been an ecological dimension or option available. I know that within the German program students can do an optional course on the environment. Similarly in India, South Africa and, to lesser exten, in Brazil.  Generally speaking, environmental issues within the social sciences have slowly crept in, but not decisively. That's been something many of us have been trying to institutionalize. What we've been trying to move away from is having an environment course as an optional one that some people are interested in, but that others can just completely forget about. Some of us have been trying to get it more centrally located within the mainstream core courses, and to have a re-conceptualization of what is meant by the economy. The economy has to, by definition, include the social and environmental dimensions. That's been one of the intellectual debates within the program. Our core course at Wits University now includes the environment as a central component.

It's always been there, but it's only in recent years, and with the different UNFCCC COP meetings, that public awareness of climate change has grown, especially with the much more decisive scientific evidence of the climate change that we are experiencing, and that a major part of it is human induced – related to industrialization and what we call fossil capitalism. That's increasingly inescapable. People including many traditional labor thinkers paid lip service to [the reality of] climate change in the past. Over the past five years they have begun to recognize it much more centrally. I would say the opportunity to make these issues much more central to our work has increased quite significantly.

Editor: To clarify, is it correct to say that it's not so much that the labor movement has only recently turned its attention to climate, but there was an overall problem – society as a whole has only recently become more aware of ecological and energy issues, and therefore the relative newness of the issue isn't unique to the labor movement?

Devan Pillay: Yes. I would say over the past five years the international labor movement has begun to take this seriously. Now you see scholarly publications coming out. Trade Unions in the Green Economy is a recent example.1 In South Africa, the National Union of Metal Workers (NUMSA), adopted a fine resolution in 2012 around the climate crisis and the energy crisis, but now it's on the back burner as the labor movement is imploding in this country.2

Certainly in a country like Germany, the labor movement has had to take notice of what's happening with the major advances made in renewable energy. I have recently seen the lead being taken by ITUC’s  Sharan Burrow.3 She's from Australia where they take these issues very seriously. She's made the environment a central platform issue at the apex of global union movement structures.

What's happening at the apex, and what's happening with the labor intellectuals and scholars, and in the interaction with environmental scholars, is one thing. To what extent it has filtered down to the base of the union movement and to society in general in terms of practical policies etc., is another. There's still a long way to go. There's a disconnect there, which is, I suppose, understandable. That's how it often happens. Awareness begins in certain spaces and eventually, hopefully, spreads.

Editor: Does the Global Labor University see itself helping overcome those disconnects?

Devan Pillay: There are some people within this network who are very passionate about these issues, but I would say still, by and large, this is a secondary focus for many people in the network, unfortunately. Both understandably because people focus on the one dimension of the impact of neoliberal globalization, and that is the informalization of labor and the downward pressure on wages, etc. The idea of wage-led growth is still very popular. A traditional, Keynesian perspective I would say is still a predominant focus.

Of course, others question the traditional logics of growth and the consumption-production model that it rests on – the “consumption-production treadmill” as environmentalists will put it. There are people across the network who continuously make this argument. Some research has happened along these lines, but nothing as substantial as one would like. It’s still organized around the traditional research focus areas on “decent work,” especially.4

The agenda of the ILO still has “Decent Work” as the headline and dominant focal point. Everything else is still secondary. I wouldn't want to overplay the significance of what we’re trying to do, for example, in the 11th Global Labor University Conference in September, 2016, “The Just Transition and the Role of Labour:  Our Ecological, Social, and Economic Future,” where there’s a very strong focus on alternative growth logics or development logics, and on alternative energy and around climate change, etc.5 This alternative focus has infused the conference but I will be candid with you, having looked at all the abstracts that have come through so far, many of them have yet to embrace this question with the depth and enthusiasm that we were hoping for. It’s still a long march for the union movement – people who apply to come to our conferences are from the trade-union sector. Unfortunately, in most countries the unions are still very, very far behind on these issues. Every year I notice that my GLU students, many of them have never really considered the ecological question in any serious way in the past. Now that’s slowly changing, but it’s still a long way to go in their minds, as trade unionists. Even those who do understand climate change will still assert that their unions are nowhere near addressing these issues, except for very few in some parts of the world. That just attests to how far the labor movement has got to go on these issues.

Now, in some senses, it’s understandable. Apart from a lack of visionary leadership to take these issues forward, there is this fear. You can recognize the problem of climate change but the transition to green jobs induced a defensive attitude amongst workers and unions and their leaders, that you’re going to get rid of our jobs, but what are you going to replace it with? Slowly evidence-based arguments are emerging like, for example, those in the One Million Climate Jobs Campaign, where they’ve done calculations to show that you can create quality jobs, green jobs, and pay decently.6 You can create more jobs if you move to renewable energy production systems.

That argument still has to come center stage, even in South Africa. If you take our example here, where we have the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), you had “change agents” as we call them within the union who started making the arguments [for the energy transition]. To make these sorts of arguments within the Metalworkers Union is quite a significant thing, given their location in the “dirty” industries and especially in the automobile industry.

They made tremendous advances. That's because you had particular individuals within the union who could hook up with shop stewards and others and make these arguments. They developed very impressive proposals around what they called socially-owned renewable energy projects. This is significant both in terms of the fact that they argued for renewable energy, but also for the socially-owned aspect. It’s a deliberate choice of words, not nationalization in a narrow sense of state control, but actually socially-owned, meaning worker- and community-owned and controlled. There’s a firm recognition within that conceptualization that renewable energy lends itself to democratic participation and community non-hierarchical forms of ownership and production of that energy; unlike, for example, nuclear energy, which is very top-down and highly skill- and capital-intensive.

That was a major initiative of NUMSA. They adopted resolutions around this in 2012. They made representations to government in favor of a carbon tax, and to not only rely on the private sector for renewable energy, but to have the socially-owned alternatives. They didn’t get very far with government but the mere fact that they raised it is significant, and that they took those proposals into the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) federation. COSATU itself also adopted impressive resolutions around renewable energy in 2012. COSATU had a working group, a very strong one, on the environment. My colleague, Jacky Cock, played a big role in that. She’s also part of the Global Labor University Network.7

They made tremendous advances but then the union movement imploded.8 NUMSA was kicked out. These battles both within the union movement, within COSATU, and tensions within the ruling alliance (between the ANC, SACP and COSATU), deflected attention from issues like renewable energy. Even within NUMSA itself there are tensions between a traditional Marxist-Leninist focus from the top leadership and others who are interested in a more democratic, eco-socialist perspective. The latter have been increasingly marginalized and some of them even kicked out of the union.

It’s a double whammy; a major advance and then within the space of a few years, a major setback. Our hopes of major breakthroughs have been moderated quite a bit recently. It’s such a pressing issue. Even with these setbacks there is still a greater awareness within labor and within society about these ecological issues. I’m optimistic that it will resurface again once the labor movement gets itself back on its feet.

However, even if you look at the recent Workers’ Summit to set up a new federation, ecological issues don’t feature at all (nor does the gender issue), so it’s also a bad start on that front.9

Editor: When we think about the different forces within a progressive union like NUMSA, which seems to be, to use an older vocabulary, the “vanguard” of renewed hopes in the South African political scene, how are we to understand that even there these old approaches to the environment still predominate?

Devan Pillay: I suppose it’s quite easy to understand given the natural defensiveness of trade unions around the world. Their first response is to be very defensive. It takes a really visionary leadership, along with activists and shop stewards within the union movement, to make more progressive arguments, to make significant shifts.

You either have a Keynesian orthodoxy within the labor movement in general, or the Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy within a union like NUMSA. Perhaps it’s more of a rhetorical Marxist-Leninism. In practice, they’re also Keynesian productivists at best, but primarily defensive, protecting jobs. Their major activities will be around wage issues, and not connecting sufficiently with broader society, as happened in the 1980s at the heyday of social movement unionism.

NUMSA is the best expression of it in this country and it’s not very good yet. Now, having said that about NUMSA, I also noticed that there’s another dimension within the union movement, which is located at the shop-steward level. We’ve discovered that there’s a whole layer of shop stewards interested in alternatives – what one could call “open” Marxist approaches, rather than narrow mechanical ‘Marxist-Leninist’ approaches. There’s still enough of a bottom-up democratic momentum within a union like NUMSA for there to be this balance of power, let’s say. We, of course, don’t want to be part of any power struggles. We as intellectuals want to encourage a critical mode of thinking rather than promoting a narrow orthodoxy.

Editor: When you identified the socially-owned renewable projects and the One Million Clean Jobs-type campaigns and possibilities, where do you see hope for these things emerging? Does it involve enlisting intellectuals and activists like yourself who have both formal and informal relationships with labor movement? Is there something more organized than that?

Devan Pillay: Yes. Activist intellectuals can have an influence, but only up to a point. Certainly, the production of knowledge and producing articles and books etc., those are relevant and important activities. We find that there’s a layer of shop stewards and trade unionists in NUMSA and elsewhere that want to read and want to engage ideas. Then you have the potential for an impact. Of course, for us it’s a two-way process. We also learn in our engagements. We learn a lot from the shop stewards and workers with whom we engage.

To give you an example of an activity (despite this less optimistic picture than I might have painted compared to two years ago): last week, together with my colleagues – including the conference organizer Michelle Williams and others who are much more centrally involved in the Food Sovereignty Campaign – I went on one of the marches. Now, that’s the broad layer of activists outside the labor movement – environmentalists and food activists, others. But you also had NUMSA shop stewards, many of whom had come through our program who were also part of that. That was very encouraging – the combination of intellectual activists and shop stewards, together with ordinary activists. This march was mainly ordinary people from the townships – all hopefully making the argument around food security, and that’s linked to climate change and linked to concentrated food production, and problems of that nature.

All these connections are being made because we face this major crisis of high food prices, rising hunger, rising inequality, and then, on top of everything, climate change. To connect those dots is now intellectually much easier to do than it was before. Interestingly, one of the editors of the journal African Communist approached me recently and said, “Please write an article on ecosocialism for us,” even though I’m known to be a strong critic of the Communist Party, that journal’s publisher.

Editor:  With many South Africans hopeful about the United Front or some other political alternative, do you see any formation emerging that will give expression to an ecosocialist agenda?

Devan Pillay: Definitely. Let me say the United Front arises out of NUMSA but it is much more than NUMSA. It arises out of, let’s say, the more democratic Marxist or ecosocialist moment. Those who promoted the socially-owned renewable energy projects, those are the ones who are making the major advances within the United Front. Of course, it’s still a very embryonic formation. It’s still got a long way to go to really establish itself, although they are going to be contesting certain elections. Well, Port Elizabeth, apparently will be contested by the United Front in the coming municipal elections. The signs are that they can win a sizeable share of the vote. In a survey recently, 20–30% of respondents said they would vote for the United Front. Of course, that’s explained by the fact that NUMSA has such a large presence in Port Elizabeth and neighbouring Uitenhage. That will be interesting to see. It’s also a good strategy to concentrate on only certain areas and not try to be over-ambitious and go all over the show. If they make major advances there, then it will be the beginnings of something broader.

It’s never an easy road. You have, amongst key activists within the United Front, a broader vision, but it’s also a broad church. You have alongside ecosocialist perspectives traditional Trotskyist and other Marxist-Leninist-type approaches, as well as autonomists, syndicalists and traditional social democrats – although even within those circles I’ve noted an increasing awareness around ecological issues. One shouldn't be too skeptical. There’s movement in all the intellectual spaces around recognizing ecological issues, so that’s hopeful. Also, of course, there’s the danger that people who couldn't get anywhere on the ANC ticket may come creeping into the United Front as an opportunistic alternative. One has got to be aware of those things. Nevertheless, without trying to spot too many possible potholes, it’s a very promising initiative but still very much in the embryonic stages.

Editor: Given this embryonic stage, are there any institutional innovations or structural components to the United Front which would guarantee or at least strongly encourage the environmental dimension to be a part of any future United Front city administration or policy framework?

Devan Pillay: For example, I can’t say for sure to what extent the particular leaders in the Eastern Cape, and in particular Port Elizabeth, are really absorbed in an ecological awareness, as opposed to the people I know in the Johannesburg or Cape Town areas, who may have a keener awareness of these issues. Of course, there are also people who were on that environment task team in COSATU and who will now be dispersed. Some of them are part of this new Workers Summit. They didn’t have much of an impact, as I said, on the summit declaration. Hopefully they will become an influence in those spheres.

The Workers Summit, the new proposed Workers Federation and the United Front are likely to work closely together. We will have to see how that unfolds. Also, in some of the initial declarations of the United Front, the ecological question was centrally identified as something to be aware of. There are signs that it will be taken much more seriously than, say, in any of the new formations like the Economic Freedom Fighters, etc., but as I say, it’s too early to tell.

Editor:  To round this off, thinking about the traditional Keynesian model or more so traditional collective bargaining, one negotiates with an employer, one negotiates with the state, but to what extent can socially-owned projects actually be negotiated with those partners, especially given that the need for new economic activity is most acutely felt in communities, among currently unemployed workers, or by workers about to be displaced? In other words, doesn't the ecosocialist agenda leap outside the bounds of collective bargaining – but labor unions exist for such bargaining?

Devan Pillay: Sure. Unions on their own, in a narrow sense, can only go so far with these sorts of issues. You need a progressive state to really make an impact. For example, NUMSA, not naively, but because they didn’t expect the state to take them seriously … but nevertheless they made this representation [the call for socially-owned renewable projects] to the state, showed the state up – as not being as progressive as what they would have us to believe. Still, it’s an argument that you’ve got to really alter configurations of state power as the one strategic objective. The union movement is critical to doing that; so is a realignment of political forces. The revitalization of the union movement goes alongside the revitalization of our politics. Of course, that space is opening up now with the president [Jacob Zuma] exposed in different ways

That's one terrain of struggle, but also the union movement linking up, for example, with the food campaign. We were hoping they would link up more decisively with the One Million Green Jobs Campaign. NUMSA is still formally part of it, the last I heard, but I don’t know to what extent they’re actively pushing it. Now, that's potentially what would bring about a movement that demands socially-owned renewable energy where possible. NUMSA has invested some money into projects to set up things outside of government-owned initiatives.

One must recognize that even within government, there’s increased space now, massively increased space, for renewable energy. The roll-out of renewable energy over the past few years has been very rapid. The Department of the Environment has been significantly involved in many of these initiatives, but of course there are contradictions in government. Coal is still king and nuclear still looms on the horizon. You have all these contradictions in government. Within that space one has to recognize that this minority strand exists and has to be expanded.

The space is definitely there for increased contestation around these issues. It’s just unfortunate the labor movement has been sidetracked for the last few years, not able maximize the opportunities available in this space. Other actors have entered that and, unfortunately, it’s mainly private-sector actors. Nevertheless, even from a private sector perspective, they’ve made significant advances in the roll-out of wind and solar energy. Huge tracts of land now are made available for the production of solar and wind energy.

They’re tapping into that technology around the world, including what’s happening in China, and of course other parts of Africa. Tremendous advances have been made. Uganda has made huge advances. South Africa is not too far behind. As I say, it’s a contradictory phenomenon. You could have the threat of nuclear power and you still have the massive coal lobby. We’re still predominantly a coal-producing country.

In that sense, I’m more optimistic about the future. Just that the key actors in the labor movement have got to join hands with those within broader society, like the environment groups and the food sovereignty groups that are emerging, to make a much more powerful impact.


Document: Building a Socially-Owned Renewable Energy Sector in SA10

 Noting that:

  1. South Africa is developing its renewable energy (RE) sector through the Renewable Energy Procurement Programme which will attract investments of around R100-billion between 2012 and 2016.
  2. According to a cabinet-adopted Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010 which is a 20-year electricity plan for the country, about 9% of all electricity generated in the country by 2030 will be from renewable energy sources – onshore wind, concentrated solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, biomass, biogas, landfill gas and small hydro.

Further noting that:

  1. Our government seems to have succumbed and is handing the whole process to the private sector through Independent Power Producers (IPPs).
  2. All the IPPs who receive tenders between now and 2013 will have to be operational not later than the end of 2016.
  3. Energy is vital for production, national development and meeting basic needs.
  4. In addition to increasing the share of renewable energy in meeting the world’s need for sustainable power, heat, cooling and transportation energy solutions, an accelerated development of renewables would create new industries and millions of jobs.

Realising that:

  1. The development of South Africa’s RE sector takes place in the midst of an international energy revolution where tight supplies and a drive for super profits are resulting in rising costs, price volatility and a search for alternative sources either in the form of unconventional oil (tar sands, bitumen and extra-heavy oil), fracking or renewables.
  2. A combination of ecological, political, economic and financial factors mean that energy production and consumption is becoming central to global political, economic, and financial dynamics.
  3. Workers and their communities stand not to benefit in what is another capitalist grab to enrich a few and to commodify natural resources for profitable sale in the world-market.
  4. The renewable energy being produced through the Renewable Energy Procurement Programme is not meant for those who do not presently have access to electricity but is being developed for big corporations who get their supply at discount.
  5. The primary goal of developing a renewable energy sector is it to feed electricity into the grid and not to serve as a non-commercial means of subsistence.
  6. The main beneficiaries of the Renewable Energy Procurement Programme will be large foreign energy, power and technology companies, financiers and project developers, and that South Africa will continue to be a recipient of products developed in the North on the terms of the world market and global patent regimes.
  7. The dual character of renewable energy where the sector has on one hand the potential to give communities greater control of their resources and to satisfy their energy needs on a decentralised basis while on the other acting as a site of inequality, hierarchy, gender oppression and exploitation.
  8. Capital as is always the case, views the introduction of renewables as a new site of accumulation and one of the ways to resolve the current economic-financial crisis.
  9. Social-ownership of renewable energy can guarantee greater security of supply and equality of access.
  10. Socially-owned renewables can provide a strong basis for energy sovereignty, as an important way of confronting, and in the long term overcoming, energy inequalities in the world-market.
  11. A socially and ecologically desirable transition to a new energy system in which renewable energy plays the dominant role is actually not possible within the constraints imposed by capitalist relations.  

Therefore resolve that:

  1. As a union we should, in opposition to plans to build an RE sector driven by the private sector, fight for a socially-owned RE sector; a sector made up of a mix of energy parastatals, cooperatives, municipal-owned entities and other forms of community energy enterprises.
  2. In discussions about building a renewable energy sector in South Africa, we should put the question of social ownership and control at the centre. The mandate of socially-owned RE enterprises should be service provision, meeting of universal needs, de-commodification of energy and an equitable dividend to communities and workers directly involved in production and consumption of energy.
  3. Socialise existing state-owned energy enterprises (SoEs) such as Eskom and Central Energy Fund (CEF) through a change in their mandates from the current profit orientation to service provision. Instead of boards of directors appointed by Ministers and other politicians, we need to agitate for significant representation of energy consumers and energy producers on new and legislatively-empowered governing councils of these SoEs.
  4. Enterprises that make up the socially-owned sector will have to act under a strict social mandate, where a large share of economic benefits of renewable energy production and consumption accrues to producers and owners of the actual means of renewable energy production. For this to happen there will have to be prioritisation in the grid of electricity generated by socially-owned RE entities.
  5. As immediate steps to build a socially-owned renewable energy sector, NUMSA should struggle and call for the following:
    • The bringing of sites with the greatest abundance of useable renewable energy sources such as land under public, community or collective ownership.
    • Social ownership of utilities (generation, transmission and distribution).
    • Bringing the fossil fuel industry such as coal and synthetic fuel under social ownership and control.
    • The introduction of a strategic and targeted local content requirement regime aimed at building a RE manufacturing base in South Africa.
    • Creation of concrete learning situations by establishing NUMSA RE coops. This should also include experimentation with different scales of technology including both on and off-grid technology.
  6. As NUMSA we must encourage other socially-owned entities to enter the RE space. Where we can, we should do likewise with municipalities; encourage and struggle with them to establish municipal-owned solar and wind parks.
  7. We should use the bidding process as a focus to build a movement for a socially-owned renewable energy sector. To carry out this work the union commits itself to establishing a RE-bid Watch; a network made up of Friends of NUMSA (locally and internationally) to monitor and report on the bidding process.
  8. While insisting that government should set aside public investments for renewables, the union should explore:
    • how fossil fuel revenues can be harnessed to fund renewables
    • possibilities of using workers’ pension funds as a vehicle for financing socially-owned renewables.
  9. The union should embark on ongoing education on socially-owned renewable energy sector that develops a rigorous critique of existing development path in the RE sector.
  10. NUMSA commits itself to organising workers in all branches of the renewables sector.
  11. We must advance gender equity in the renewable energy sector through a demand to RE companies that calls on them to adhere to Employment Equity legislation and to absorb women at all levels of the occupational ladder.
  12. NUMSA will build and strengthen relations with organisations and institutions in countries where there are examples either of different forms of social-ownership within the renewable energy sector, or examples of the conflicts generated by capitalist renewable energy development. In addition we are keen to have contact with unions, organisations, specialist institutions and individuals who share our perspectives of a socially-owned RE sector, wherever they may be.


1. Rathzel, Nora and David Uzzell eds. (2013) Trade Unions in the Green Economy: Working for the Environment, Abingdon: Routledge

2. See Appendix for full text of the resolution.

3. Sharan Burrow is General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC,

4. The International Labour Organization has defined a “decent work agenda” and describes the frame in the following terms: “Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives. It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.” See ILO, “Decent Work”

5. The conference’s “Call for Papers” may be retrieved from

6. The One Million Climate Jobs Campaign’s website is

7. Jacklyn Cock is a pathbreaking sociologist at the University of the Witwatersrand who in the post-Apartheid years expanded her focus from domestic labor relationships to antimilitarist work and presently to struggles for environmental justice. She is the author of The War Against Ourselves: Nature, Power and Justice (Wits University Press, 2007)

8. [Ed. Note: Writing from a pro-business perspective, Bloomberg News provides an overview of the “implosion” that Pillay references. The article describes the challenges that began in 2013 with the political pressures directed at the then COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, leading eventually to his expulsion and the departure of the 365,000-member NUMSA from COSATU. Larger political-strategic issues relating to the relationship between the trade unions and their Revolutionary Alliance partners, the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party, in government and with respect to national development strategy define the implosion as a political moment. See Vecchiatto, Paul and Michael Cohen (2016) “Once Powerful South African Unions Hobbled by Strife, Job Cuts,” February 2. ]

9. For background on the Workers Summit, see NUMSA (2016) “The Workers Summit and May Day 2016”

10. The “Building a Socially-Owned Renewable Energy Sector in SA” resolution was adopted by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa in 2012.