January 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Durban Strikes and the formation of a new wave of independent non-racial trade unions. These resilient unions led to the formation of FOSATU in 1979, COSATU in 1985 and a host of unions outside the two federations.

 This milestone provides an opportune moment for celebration and reflection to recapture the spirit of the time and also to take stock of the recent scholarship on the labour movement then and now. What leaders have emerged from workplaces, enduring legacies remain and how much of the emerging vision of social justice has been way-laid?

 What have the implications of extreme joblessness and vulnerable work had on organisations, in short, the burden of the future?

 We want to review the state of our history; collect and put into the public domain photographs, archival material and other documents that relate to the history of the labour movement, promote new research and reflect on the contemporary challenges.

South African History Online (SAHO), will be hosting a conference and a cultural festival in partnership with the Durban University of Technology, the University of KwaZulu Natal, Wits History Workshop, the University of Fort Hare, the Centre for the study of Inequality, the University of Cape Town Department of Sociology, the University of Pretoria, and the Chris Hani Institute.

  • Conference Date: 26 – 27 January 2023 - Conference Programme coming soon.
  • Cultural Day 28 January 2023

Call for Papers: Topics

 Making sense of the 1973 strike wave and the formation of the trade union movement

  • The role of students and public intellectuals in organising workers 
  • Cost of living, transport and working people’s worsening economic situation
  • The attitude of the state to the strikes and the rise of new unions.

Working-class organisations/parties and alliance politics before and after 1994

  • Impact of Global economic factors on government policy on working-class politics 
  • The global pandemic
  • Trade unions and popular resistance in the 1980s and new alliances and the different union traditions
  • Nedlac, union investment companies, the tripartite alliance and the shock of the government’s new economic policies

Poverty, inequality and the question of trade union representation in contemporary South Africa

  • Representation of vulnerable population groupings 
  • Union policies to deal with poverty, inequality, and social injustice 
  • Non-traditional work and the question of representation

The burden of the future and the new poor 

  • Beyond precarious labour and informality 
  • Solutions to the youth bulge and a receding labour market 
  • Government deficits in the inequality gap and the growth in unemployment

Critical reflections of the trade union movement past and present

  • What is the trade union movement’s role in building eco and Feminist and socialist alternatives from below and worker activism through the arts? 
  • The controversy of the role and purpose of trade union investment companies

Please submit a proposal including a short bio (100 words), paper title and abstract (300 words) online via this abstract submission page by Wednesday 31 August 22

 We also call on academics, freelance intellectuals, union activists and members of the public to submit material - including papers, journal articles, biographies, newspaper clippings, original documents, photographs, etc - for the creation of a free online digital archive on the trade union movement as part of SAHO’s website.

 We also are calling on artists, photographers, performers, and musicians to submit proposals for exhibitions and performances.

 For more information, please contact

Monique Marks – moniquem@dut.ac.za

Omar Badsha – omar@sahistory.org.za