A book launch was held for Jan Theron’s "Solidarity Road: The story of a trade union in the ending of apartheid" on 8th March 2017, in partnership with Jacana Media and Fanele Publishing as part of the Labour Studies Seminar Series. The series is jointly co-ordinated by the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit (NALSU) and the Departments of Sociology, History, and Economics and Economic History.
Jan Theron was born and educated in Cape Town. At the age of 26 he became general secretary of FCWU, a position he occupied until 1986, when he became general secretary of FAWU. At the end of 1988 he took long leave to write a book, but did not return to the trade union. In 1990 he embarked on qualifying as an attorney, and has since combined legal practice with a part-time post at the University of Cape Town, where he has coordinated a research project on labour market policy and the changing nature of work. He has published in local and international journals and books.
Why do the Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU) and its National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) continue to support the ruling party long after the 2012 Marikana massacre? Jan Theron, veteran union and anti-apartheid activist, argues that the roots of this enduring embrace lie in failures and compromises by the unions that launched COSATU. The Food and Canning Workers’ Union (FCWU), of which Jan was General-Secretary, was perhaps the most famous. Its past leaders included militants like Ray Alexander, Oscar Mpetha and Liz Abrahams; it had survived 1960s apartheid repression; its Transvaal Secretary, Neil Aggett, died in detention in 1982. “Solidarity Road” talks about FCWU’s revival from the 1970s, its battle to purge internal corruption and rebuild radical non-racial worker solidarity, its victories, and its role in forming COSATU. COSATU was meant to be a truly independent federation, allied to anti-apartheid organisations. For FCWU, this required financial self-sufficiency and zero tolerance of corruption. “Solidarity Road” argues that compromises were made that members came to regret, and that facilitated the capture of COSATU. This is a story about the values that shaped the trade union struggle and the decisions and practices which undermined them.