Overcoming Fragmentation? Labour-Community Alliances and The Complexity of Movement Building in Cape Town

Thumbnail Image
Murray, Adrian
Geography , Labour , Social Movements , Development Studies
This thesis explores processes of social movement organizing in response to the neoliberal restructuring of public services in South Africa. Through a case study of an alliance of municipal workers and community activists collaborating to contest public service commercialization in Cape Town, this thesis examines the limits and possibilities of contemporary efforts to build labour community alliances. In many parts of the world, particularly Latin America, broad coalitions including community organizations and labour unions have formed to defend public services and propose alternatives to market delivery. Despite widespread discontent, rising levels of poverty, increasing inequality and the success of anti-privatization coalitions elsewhere in the world, a sustained and successful movement has not emerged in South Africa. Situated in the debates within social geography on South African neoliberalism and those in the labour and social movement literature on labour-community alliances, this thesis argues that several factors serve to frustrate coalition formation in the present. These include the organizational and institutional complexities and heterogeneity of partner organizations, the fragmenting effect of a diverse and problematic socio-cultural context, and the disabling political economy of South Africa at the fore of which is the enduring hegemonic project of the ANC. Highly interrelated, these factors ultimately continue to thwart attempts to build a social movement to effectively challenge and move beyond the neoliberal restructuring of public services in Cape Town. However, this thesis argues that openings and spaces for the emergence of labour-community alliances and deep coalitions do exist, and concludes that the outlook for the emergence of transformative movements in Cape Town is not so bleak as the complexity and fragmentation of the present may suggest.
External DOI