Dissertation Abstracts

Street Traders: A Bridge Between Trade Unions and Social Movements in Contemporary South Africa

Author: Celik, Ercüment , ercument@gmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg, Germany
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Hermann Schwengel
Year of completion: 2009
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: street trading , social movements , social movement unio , South Africa
Areas of Research: Labor Movements , Social Classes and Social Movements , Economy and Society


This thesis explores street traders as a bridge between trade unions and social movements in contemporary South Africa. It achieves this by focusing on, first, the emergence and development of new democratic street traders’ organisations in Durban, South Africa; second, their relations with the largest union federation, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and its affiliates; third, their engagement with the shack-dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo; and finally, the alliance of these three with the other constituencies of the marginalised people in the “World Class Cities For All” (WCCA) Campaign on the way to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This thesis explores street traders/informal workers within the ‘marginalised labour force’ and goes along with studying their marginalisation within the society at large. The main hypothesis is: “As they are playing a bridging role between trade unions and social movements, street traders can be a promising agent for revitalising social movement unionism in contemporary South Africa”. Through a survey applied to 105 street traders in six areas in Durban and 21 in-depth interviews with selected persons, this thesis investigates the following issues: With particular reference to the South African context, what is the relation between the history of the black working class and the contemporary livelihood strategies of the ‘truly disadvantaged’? How much did the transition from apartheid to post-apartheid change the lives of these marginalised people? Furthermore, how do these people struggle against their marginalisation and exclusion in post-apartheid South Africa? This thesis examines the issue of organising informal workers in relation to both the labour movement and emerging social movements in contemporary South Africa. Firstly, as integrating informal workers requires gradual changes in the union structures, the thesis questions to what extent trade unions show their will to develop respective policies and, more importantly, implement them. Secondly, this thesis looks at the post-apartheid social movements that emerged in response to the growing commodification of basic social services. Among these movements, it particularly focuses on the shack dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo. How would we explain it if many people living in shacks were to make a living by engaging in informal economic activities - above all street trading? The relation between their living conditions in shack communities and working conditions in the streets is very unique for this study. Thus, this thesis constructs the link between the workplaces and communities of the marginalised labour force and explores, therefore, how their vulnerability brings together their demands and struggles. Following these stages, this thesis investigates a more concrete alliance between street traders’ organisations, trade unions and social movements in the case of the WCCA Campaign. This part predominantly makes clear how street traders’ organisations play a bridging role between trade unions and social movements through the activities of the campaign. This thesis finally defines street traders’ movement as "the movement of the marginalised labour force". It identifies some characteristics of this movement and endeavours to integrate their agency into ‘social movement unionism’ approach.