WWMP is a non-profit organisation that specialises in developing democratic mass media and organisational platforms nationally and in several local communities that focus on socio-economic and political issues that affect them. Its activities include mass media productions, education and training and organising support for trade unions and working-class communities.
- To provide a wide range of media accessible and relevant to working class people in South Africa and internationally.
- To train trade unionists and community members in the use of the media.
- To improve the use of media and information for the building of working class organisation.
WWMP was started in 1997, after a group of labour service organisations (LSOs) and NGOs recognised the need for alternative community mass media that addressed the needs of poor and working class people. At the time community radio stations flourished and were present in over 100 poor black communities. Most CR stations had, and still do have challenges of their role and content due to political and resource limitations. Originally, we positioned ourselves as a non-profit labour media production house working in a democratic partnership with the trade union movement. Since then (2010) we have transformed ourselves towards having a community orientation with a bias towards the poorest and most marginalised communities and groups, mainly unemployed/ underemployed women in supporting them in developing their democratic organisations and representing their own interests in 16 communities and with four vulnerable groups of workers (community healthcare workers -CHW’s, waste-pickers/recyclers, farmworkers and ex-mineworkers and their widows. All these groups now take up their issues with authorities but still rely still on WWMP for support.
We do this through grassroots mass media development, education and training and organising support. Our mass media platforms include weekly shows 30 community radio and TV channels nationally, online print media and video documentary inserts via social media. Our successes include a two decades long broadcast partnership with up to 40 CR stations and SAFM (lapsed), the establishment of Cape Town TV (CTV) with a weekly 1-hour long live show, broadcast on DSTV with high audience numbers, Elitsha community newspaper, a campaign against violence against women in the mining industry that resulted in the conviction of the perpetrator responsible for the brutal rape and murder of Binky Mosiane after the case had gone cold for 18 months, a feature length documentary film, “Freedom Isn’t Free” that won international plaudits and awards and has been regularly broadcast on ENCA since 2019.
Cross-cutting themes for all our media, movement building and education/ training work
- Civic life and democratic participation
- Gender and women’s oppression
- Livelihoods, jobs and vulnerable/precarious work/workers
- Occupational and community health and safety
- The environmental crisis
- Discrimination – racism, xenophobia and homophobia.
Commitment to the labour movement
We are not just any media organisation – we are rooted in, and committed to the labour movement. We are non-partisan and democratic: we are governed by a Board that includes representatives from all three of South Africa’s union federations, as well as three labour service organisations. We defend workers’ interests, not those of any political party or faction.
We tell workers’ stories, but we believe in accountability, balance and integrity. Workers need accurate news that provides them with the information they need to participate in society – not propaganda. We abide by journalistic ethics. We believe that for society to function – especially a society with the structural damage of South Africa – people need accurate information. We aim to provide that information in an accessible and relevant format.
We believe in:
- Unity of workers and working class people.
- Organisational and political independence.
- Democracy – both in society and within organisations.
The state of media and journalism
We are concerned with the state of journalism, both in South Africa and internationally. We have seen increased media monopolies, the corrosion of good investigative reporting and the downgrading of industrial and labour reporting.
In South Africa, we have seen pro-government media bias from the state broadcaster, as well as the establishment of new print media that pushes the government line. At the same time, press freedom is being eroded, with the proposed Protection of State Information Bill – the “Secrecy Bill”. This legislation would allow the state to prosecute journalists who publish information it would prefer to see covered up for reasons of “national security”. Given the fragile state of South African democracy, especially after the Marikana massacre, this is a worrying development indeed.
Similar increased hostility towards media and journalists are to be found in various parts of the world and reflects the fear of those in power towards the free-flow of information relating to injustice and inequality. At the time of writing this report, four Al Jazeera reporters were still being detained by the military junta in Egypt there and accused of supporting a terrorist organisation, presumably the toppled from power, Muslim Brotherhood party.
In addition to providing an alternative media source for working class people, we work to broaden access to politics and media. We provide training and support in media production, so that trade unionists and working class organisations can make their own media. Our Mass Education Campaign empowers people to question the narratives offered to them by the mainstream media.
Our education and media work is also aimed at building and strengthening much needed grassroots organisation and leadership – at workplaces and within local communities and to build political and organisational bridges between these two terrains of working class life and struggles.
To reach as wide an audience as possible, we work in partnership with community radio stations with accountable structures, trade unions and labour service organisations.
Apartheid and the Labour Movement in South Africa
The labour movement played a critical role in the end of apartheid. When black workers defied the apartheid regime in the docks of Durban and elsewhere in 1973 by taking wildcat strike action, they initiated a chain of events that led to the defeat of Apartheid. Crippled by uncontrollable industrial action, the apartheid regime legalised black trade unions, believing they could tie them down in the processes and bureaucracy of labour relations and co-opt them. Instead, the newly formed unions, united into the federations of COSATU and NACTU, went from strength to strength, organising and undermining the economic basis of the regime.
While official history highlights the role of negotiations, sanctions, and the importance of international sport to white voters as being crucial factors, the labour movement’s ability to mobilise the mass of people was probably one of the biggest factors in the defeat of apartheid. By uniting workers, communities, students and democrats from across society and with the United Democratic Front (UDF), the unions were able to articulate a positive and achievable struggle for political freedom and social justice, as well as an activist role for ordinary people.
This is in stark contrast to the tactics of the armed struggle: while heroic, this encouraged a culture of martyrdom and an elitism in some of the exiled leaders. Unions put ordinary working class people at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid, and it was these workers that prevailed. By striking at the economic heart of apartheid capitalism, organised workers were able to attack the profitability of the system, and play an important part in forcing the regime to negotiate a compromise political solution away from Apartheid.
The democratic era
The labour movement went into the democratic era in a seemingly powerful position: in alliance with the governing party, and with a strong reputation in the fight against oppression. The workers’ movement seemed poised to play a central role in determining the new society, and to help bring about an end to economic as well as political apartheid. During the early 1990’s Cosatu led the way with its Reconstruction and Development (RDP) programme that promoted welfarist social democracy but it was soon watered down to provide scope for the new government’s neo-liberal economic policies that were to come later in the form of the Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) policy in 1996. Nevertheless, fundamental workers’ rights were enshrined in the Constitution and labour laws of the new democratic state.
While the labour movement in the West had been in decline since the late 1970s, South African unions bucked the trend, and were showing growth, dynamism and a shop-floor vibrancy that suggested the power to bring about a real democracy. In addition, South African workers helped develop and articulate a new model of industrial relations – social movement unionism – that seemed to provide answers to the organisational impasse reached by their colleagues in other countries. South African unions had reinforced their central role in society by developing themselves as the economic arm of a broad struggle for socialism, uniting diverse communities, rather than just fighting for the narrow terms and conditions of their members.
From the start, however, there were stresses and contradictions that threatened workers’ unity. Chief of these, perhaps, was the way the workers’ movement reflected apartheid divisions, and that workers went into the democratic era with three rival federations reflecting different histories and traditions. In time, tensions between federations would ensure that workers were sometimes divided politically, and restrained from taking united collective action, or in identifying and fighting a common class enemy.
The other major contradiction was the alliance between the dominant federation, COSATU, and the governing party. This was always going to test the loyalties of activists, especially as the state was a major employer. When the post-apartheid ANC government embarked on a neo-liberal economic policy which resulted in, among other things, a raft of privatisations of state enterprises, excessive user fees for basic services, including education, this contradiction was thrown into even starker relief.
Another fault line was the shift in the nature of the South African economy itself. Jobs were shed in the traditional extractive industries, as well as in the former state enterprises. Both the service sector and the informal economy grew in importance. Preoccupied as Cosatu was with political battles, the labour movement failed to respond adequately to this shift, and a large constituency of workers today remains unorganised and consequently extremely exploited and oppressed.
Finally, there was a shift in the country’s labour relations model to the social dialogue of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) and a feeble attempt through workplace forums at company level. NEDLAC is a tripartite body consisting of representatives of labour, government and business. While it has brought about better nation-wide collective bargaining cover and material conditions for workers, albeit limited, its overall orientation has done so at the expense of an increased bureaucratisation of the labour relations process, with a consequent demobilisation and marginalisation of shop-floor activists. Today more union resources and time of trade union organisers are spent in mediation and dispute resolution between workers and employers than actual mobilisation and building workers’ power.
Workers’ World was launched in 1999, by labour movement activists with a history in the struggle as a project of the Labour Research Service (LRS) and within its strategic plan that highlighted three areas of concern that posed a direct challenge to the labour movement, namely the:
- Loss of leadership to government and big business by the trade unions, especially Cosatu at all levels.
- Severe impact of neo-liberalism on the living standards of working class people and what it represented politically, i.e. an attack on workers’ unity by creating new structural divisions within the labour force of outsourced, labour broker, casual and/or part-time workers.
- Rightward political shift of the labour movement, driven by the leadership to place faith in the ANC government and “social partnership” to deliver better living and working conditions. This had the effect of working class people abandoning their struggle orientation and self-organisation.
Our purpose was to develop an independent workers’ voice and media platform that would contribute towards overcoming and challenging these weaknesses and contradictions, and allow workers to put aside superficial differences and unite in defending and fighting for their own interests. We believe in the power of organised labour, and we were concerned that South African workers – having organised and fought their way into the vanguard of political struggle – were being marginalised. South Africa’s labour movement – one of the most powerful in the world – was at risk of being pushed to the side lines.
This was especially the case as the government increasingly adopted neo-liberal economic policies. South African labour law with its neo-liberal “regulated flexibility” paradigm – but still comparatively progressive when compared to countries like Britain – was increasingly being attacked as “inflexible”, and an anti-union consensus was growing in the mainstream media.
We saw a need to challenge these developments by creating an impartial but working-class biased voice for workers.
The situation today
The period since the end of apartheid has seen growing discontent among the working class and poor in South Africa. Most have seen no substantial improvement to their material circumstances, and yet are confronted with the conspicuous wealth and consumption of both the old, white ruling class, and the new black elite. South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world. Despite positive economic growth rates, the majority of black working class people still live in desperate poverty.
This inequality has led to the rise of new social movements and protests for service delivery. Increasingly, these protests and movements have been met by state violence. However, the depth of the crisis – especially in the labour movement – came to shocking prominence with the Marikana massacre in late 2012. Scores of striking mine workers were shot dead – some executed at point blank range – by the police during a strike. The strike itself was a consequence of divisions in the mining unions, with workers protesting the failure of their unions to represent them adequately. Marikana was followed by a massive wave of workers’ uprisings and protests, not just in mining, but also agriculture, where workers on wine farms set vineyards alight in protest at conditions. The boiling over of frustrations in these two sectors was no accident since they were at the heart of the brutal oppression and exploitation of Apartheid Capitalism and have experienced minimal improvements for workers in the new South Africa.
The consequences of Marikana and the resulting workers’ uprisings have caused pressures and consequently political tensions and divisions within the South African labour movement, especially Cosatu. Cosatu unions are split, broadly, between those that believe they should be directly fighting for the working class and poor, and those that have chosen loyalty to the ANC government and an overreliance on it to eventually deliver “A Better Life for All”.
An important survey carried out by the labour service organisation Naledi shows that ordinary members want their unions to defend their interests robustly, but some in the leadership have acted undemocratically in order to preserve their power and their close links to government. This has led to a deep dysfunction at a time when a powerful and united labour movement is needed more than ever in the face of ongoing economic, social and political crises.
South Africa faces a crucial general election this year. With no consistent voice speaking for workers, right wing populists masquerading as left-wingers are filling the vacuum.
South African workers face a crisis, and the house of labour is divided with a potential split looming in Cosatu. Stronger organisation and voices from the ground is important, now more than ever, to promote a principled political battle that will ensure a positive outcome of a stronger, united, democratic and independent labour movement.
Our continued relevance
In this context, an independent, reliable voice for workers is needed more than ever. Marikana and the Naledi report highlighted how badly the labour movement has neglected rank and file activists – for instance, only between 5% and 10% of shop stewards have had any significant training over the past decade. This has been borne out by our own direct experience since 2010 when we started embarking on shop-stewards training in several townships in various parts of the country. This creates a serious issue of capacity, with the movement’s most crucial activists ill-equipped for the tasks at hand. For this reason, we have made a strategic shift over the past two years to reach out to and directly support rank and file activists and shop-stewards. In line with this approach we have systematically shifted our resources to be physically located in areas where workers live and work.
We believe that in order to stand a chance of navigating this difficult and contradictory territory, South African labour activists need access to the best possible news, information and campaigning resources. We endeavour, as far as possible, to fill in the media and education gaps left by an official labour movement that is too embedded in its internal crisis to meet the needs of workers.
Our content themes for Media and Education work are:
- Marginalised Workers
- Democracy – Trade Unions and Politics
- Gender and Women’s Oppression
- Discrimination – Racism, xenophobia and homophobia
HIV & AIDS
- Occupational Health, Safety and the Environment