Roundtable discussion on Have Trade Unions Become Irrelevant? held on 25 June 2015

On the 25th of June 2015, the CPLO held a roundtable on Trade Unions at the Townhouse in Cape Town. When the invitations first came out, there was some disquiet in various trade union circles first because they felt that the trade unions themselves should have a voice in the panel, and also because they probably feared that this would be a session of Union bashing without them having the opportunity to express their views.

However, the roundtable itself produced a slightly different outcome where the most dominant voices were those of the various trade unions who were present and who, to almost the last person, admitted that trade unions needed to rethink their way and what is going on, and especially how to respond to the changing world of work prompted especially by mechanisation and technology. There was also an admission that it was true that trust and confidence in trade unions was low and was falling, demanding some proper reflection and response.

All the speakers spoke well, and it was slightly disappointing that the Hon Bagraim had to leave. However, he had specifically said that he would only be able to stay for the first half of the discussion. Though he said that trade unions were not taking workers seriously and were really not doing their work properly, and that was why people like him sued trade unions, he nevertheless agreed with all the speakers that trade unions were indispensable to a balanced economic environment.

The HSRC study presented by Steven Gordon gave proof of the dwindling trust and confidence levels people were having in trade unions. It was a useful study to have because it gave a clearer picture of what was going on with trade unions’ relationship with workers.

Terry Bell gave a worrying prognosis for the future of employment as the world changes and technology replaces workers, and there seems as if there is nothing anyone is doing about that matter.

All in all, it was a good roundtable. In a way we gave voice to the workers, and challenged them to challenge themselves and their trade unions’ relationship with the future and with politics.

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L-R: Michael Bagraim and Terry Bell