Solidarity (South African trade union)

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Solidariteit logo.svg
Full name Solidarity
Native name Solidariteit/Solidarity
Founded 22 June 1902
Members 130,000 (2008)[1]
Affiliation ITUC, CONSAWU
Key people Flip Buys, (general secretary)
Dirk Hermann, (Deputy general secretary: Development)
Steve Scott, (President)
Office location Pretoria, South Africa
Country South Africa

Solidarity (Afrikaans: Solidariteit) is a South African trade union that negotiates on behalf of its members and attempts to protect workers' rights. Although the union is often involved in issues of policial import, it does not align or formally affiliate itself with any political party. Solidarity is a trade union within the Christian tradition of unionism. This differentiates it from the majority of other South African trade unions that have socialist ideologies. Solidarity has a broader focus than workers' rights and includes defending civil rights for its members.

The union has positioned itself as a vehicle for minorities in South Africa to have their voices heard. Its membership is mainly, but not exclusively, Afrikaaners.


Solidarity is one of the oldest independent trade unions in South Africa. Its origins go back to 1902 and the mines on the Witwatersrand. The current union emerged from the Mine Workers' Union in the 2002.[2]:490 During this time, several other unions, including the South African Workers' Union, joined forces with the Mine Workers' Union. The union's name was first changed to MWU-Solidarity and later to just "Solidarity".

In 1997, when Solidarity's current general secretary, Flip Buys, was appointed, the union was in dire financial straits. The extreme right-wing views associated with the union had led to a dramatic decline in popularity and membership: the union had only about 30 000 members left at that stage.[3] Since the beginning of Flip Buys' term, the membership had increased to more than 130 000 by 2009.[2]:490 The union has more than 17 offices throughout the country and a staff complement of about 300 serve the members. The union also has about 2 000 shop stewards at different companies.

Solidarity affiliated with the Confederation of South African Workers' Unions (CONSAWU) in 2006. Through this affiliation Solidarity is represented at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Through membership of ITUC, the union gains access to labour dialogue at an international level.

Core labour union functions[edit]

Solidarity is organised in the aviation, chemical, professional services, telecommunication, electrical, metal and engineering, mining, medical and agricultural sectors. Solidarity's legal division with 34 staff members is the largest of its kind at any labour union in South Africa. The union represents its members in CCMA cases as well as in cases brought before the Labour Court.

Aviation, chemical, and professional services sector[edit]

This sector, which combines Solidarity's chemical and general sectors, has shown a steep rise in membership. Solidarity represents employees in the chemical industry at companies like Sasol, PetroSA, AEL and in the glass industry. In the aviation sector Solidarity is mainly involved at Airlink, Air Traffic Navigation Services and SAA Technical. Solidarity professional services represents members at a large number of diverse companies that are involved in everything from agricultural research, universities and colleges to companies in the financial sector. At the moment (2009) growth is strongly focused in the medical sector where the union focuses specifically on nursing personnel.

Metal and engineering sector[edit]

The metal and engineering sector is the sector that accounts for the largest chunk of Solidarity's membership. The union is organised at companies like ArcelorMittal, Denel and Highveld Steel.

Mining and agricultural sector[edit]

Solidarity is rooted in the mining industry, as its origins lie in the Mine Workers' Union that was founded in 1913. Solidarity is active in the gold, platinum, copper, chrome, coal, iron ore, other base metals and the diamond mining sectors. Solidarity's agriculture arm is organised at all of the large agricultural co-operatives and agri-businesses, as well as at the large cement producers in the country.

Electrical and telecommunication sector[edit]

Solidarity is organised in this sector, mainly at the national electricity provider, Eskom and at the large telecommunication company, Telkom. Solidarity takes part in the debate about the shortage of electricity in South Africa and the skills shortages at Eskom.


In 2013, Solidarity sued the Department of Correctional Services on behalf of one white and four coloured Correctional Services officials in the Western Cape who alleged they were denied promotions due to the department's employment equity policy.[4] The department set its employment equity targets based on national demographics, but coloured and white people make up 49% and 16% of the population of the Western Cape respectively, while each form only 9% of the national population.[5] This makes it more difficult for white and coloured employees in the Western Cape to gain promotions than a policy which set different employment equity targets for each province. Solidarity called the policy "irrational".[6] Another five applicants were later added to the case.[7]

The ANC in the Western Cape called the suit an "attack on employment equity", and accused the applicants of "stirring up racial antagonism between Africans and coloureds".[6]

Additional operations[edit]

Solidarity Helping Hand[edit]

A Helping Hand volunteer unloads donated food in Welkom.

The Solidarity Helping Hand is a social responsibility organisation that, though started by Solidarity, is an independent entity that functions on its own, separate from the union. It does however receive financial support from the union's members. It is registered as a Section 21 company (not-for-profit). It focuses specifically on supporting communities that have limited access to state support. The two areas where the Helping Hand operates intensively is Pretoria and environs and in Cape Town. Nevertheless, the Helping Hand actively expands into many other areas. As of June 2010, there were 32 other smaller regional branches throughout the country.[8] The Helping Hand focuses on assisting destitute Afrikaans-speaking people, but not to the exclusion of individuals from other cultural groups.

The Helping Hand has five main projects: A bursary scheme, an emergency fund, child projects, donations of living essentials and feeding schemes. Helping Hand requires millions of rands each year to keep these social support projects running. The money is received mainly from individuals, but also partly from donations by companies.

During 2007, more than R1 million was disbursed in the form of bursaries to 100 students. In 2008, the Helping Hand also took control of the administration of the Rapport Education Fund (Rapport Onderwysfonds).


An AfriForum protest in Pretoria against the destruction of a Great Trek monument in Standerton.

AfriForum, an independent initiative of Solidarity, is a non-profit institution that strives to counteract what it sees as the active and passive withdrawal of minorities from public affairs in South Africa, and claims to represent minorities in South Africa in public fora.

AfriForum is a South African civil-rights organisation linked to the Solidarity trade union.[9] It was established in 2006 with the objective of encouraging the participation of minority groups such as Afrikaners in public debate and civil actions.[10] It particularly promotes the protection of Afrikaner culture, and has opposed renaming streets and affirmative action, which it considers a form of Discrimination.

According to AfriForum CEO, Kallie Kriel, AfriForum is a civil rights initiative to mobilise civil society and specifically minority communities, in order to take part in democratic debate. Kriel further stated that AfriForum would like to achieve balance in South Africa. “True democracy needs alternative voices in order to succeed. While we aren’t a political party, we give alternative ideas and suggestions, where applicable, to the government stance ”.[11]

The Growthfund[edit]

Solidarity started the Growthfund in 2008 with the objective of collecting R100 million for the empowerment of the Afrikaans community. The eventual goal is to collect more than R500 million from the Afrikaans community, for the Afrikaans community. Solidarity's members also each contribute around R10 per month to the fund as part of their membership dues.
At the moment, the Growthfund's projects focus on training and education. A new Afrikaans technical college (an expanded version of Sol-Tech), the largest Afrikaans correspondence-college in South Africa and a multi-million rand bursary fund for scarce and critical skills are planned for the future. Solidarity bases the Growthfund project on the Helpmekaar (English: Help one another) movement of 1916, the Reddingsdaadbond that followed, the Economic Congresses and the founding of many companies like Santam, Sanlam and Volkskas that, historically, were Afrikaner-empowerment projects.


Some of Sol-Tech's students at the old campus in Centurion, Gauteng.

In 2006 Solidarity started an Afrikaans technical college in Centurion. This college offers young people training in technical areas like vehicle mechanics, electronics, fitting and turning, and others. The college has since moved to larger premises in Hermanstad in Pretoria West and has been able to enrol more students than before.

Express Employment Professionals[edit]

Solidarity owns several franchises of Express Employment Professionals, an international personnel agency. This enables the union to attempt to find work for its members who are without jobs.


  1. ^ "WHO WE ARE – SOLIDARITY TODAY". Retrieved 2008-09-23. 
  2. ^ a b Pretorius, Fransjohan (2014). A History of South Africa: From the Distant Past to the Present Day. Hatsfield, Pretoria: Protea Book House. ISBN 978-1-86919-908-1. 
  3. ^ Visser, WP. 2002. Van MWU tot Solidariteit; Geskiedenis van die Mynwerkersunie, 1902 tot 2002. ISBN 978-0-620-42142-3
  4. ^ Raubenheimer, Graeme. "AA lawsuit underway", Eyewitness News, South Africa, 24 April 2013. Retrieved on 13 May 2013.
  5. ^ Census 2011: Census in brief (PDF). Pretoria: Statistics South Africa. 2012. ISBN 9780621413885. 
  6. ^ a b Phakathi, Bekezela. "Solidarity court bid 'stirring up racial antagonism'", BDlive, South Africa, 30 April 2013. Retrieved on 13 May 2013.
  7. ^ Raubenheimer, Graeme. "Solidarity takes Correctional Services to court", Eyewitness News, South Africa, 25 April 2013. Retrieved on 13 May 2013.
  8. ^ Helping Hand website. Accessed on: 1 June 2010
  9. ^
  10. ^ Visser, Wessel P. "From MWU To Solidarity – A Trade Union Reinventing Itself" (PDF). University Of Stellenbosch. p. 20. Retrieved 14 January 2014.
  11. ^ "Afrikaner aspirations: An hour with AfriForum’s Kallie Kriel".

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Visser, WP. 2002. Van MWU tot Solidariteit; Geskiedenis van die Mynwerkersunie, 1902 tot 2002. ISBN 978-0-620-42142-3
  • Visser, WP. 2006. From MWU to Solidarity; A trade union reinventing itself. South African Journal of Labour Relations, 30(2), 2006, pp. 19–41
  • Hermann, Dirk. 2007. The Naked Emperor; Why affirmative action failed. Protea Book House. ISBN 978-1-86919-143-6 (Originally published in Afrikaans as: Die Keiser is Kaal; Hoekom regstellende aksie misluk het. ISBN 978-1-86919-142-9)