The ANC and government's relationship with trade unions is changing. While workers still join unions in large numbers, there are frequent and ongoing ruptures with the ANC and government. President Cyril Ramaphosa hopes to build a social compact with business and labour but the foundation is weaker than ever, writes Carol Paton.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa was booed off the stage by workers at the May Day rally in Rustenburg a week ago, it was one of those revealing moments that showed how thin the social compact of 1994 has worn. This is not a new insight. The contract between the people and government has been under pressure for a decade or more, expressed most directly in election results. In the municipal vote six months ago, the ANC’s share of support dropped below 50% despite the individual popularity of Ramaphosa: the clearest signal that political trust is in deep decline.
What is notable though, is that ruptures of this sort are becoming more frequent and political institutions less able or less inclined to paper over the cracks and hold things together. This is true for both the ANC and Cosatu. As Ramaphosa pointed out the next day in his weekly letter the incident reflected "a weakening of trust [by workers] in their union and Federation and political leadership and political institutions". In the aftermath, Cosatu, in turn, pointed a finger at the ANC, it said in a provocative quote from Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky: