do unions relate to struggles being waged by those who are poor and lack secure
employment? Drawing on a content analysis of 176 press releases, this article
examines how two South African unions, the private manufacturing union NUMSA
(National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) and the public services union
SAMWU (South African Municipal Workers Union), officially responded to protests
in township communities ravaged by unemployment. Both unions recognize the
importance of the protests, but they situate them within different narratives.
Revolving around a notion of failed redistribution, the NUMSA narrative
is more left leaning but also more hostile to community protests, viewing them
as lacking in political direction. Revolving around a notion of failed
administration, the SAMWU narrative is less radical but expresses greater
sympathy with and understanding of the protests. The two narratives suggest
that union solidarity with more insecure layers of the working class will
depend on their relation to the state and ruling party, and the extent to which
they view themselves as privileged actors in working-class struggle.