This article presents a detailed analysis of the greatest achievement of the Durban moment when at least 60,000 Black workers went on strike early in 1973 against their low wages. The achievement was to turn temporary worker action into a permanent independent and democratic trade union movement. In April 1979 the unions that emerged from the Durban moment were able to link up with other unions to form the Federation of South African Trade Unions (F0SATU). FOSATU was independent of employers, the state and political parties. It consisted mainly of democratic unions that were representative of, and accountable to, its worker members.
During the 1980s Black trade unions grew very rapidly, as did community organisations and political opposition to apartheid. As a result, a political realignment took place in the trade union movement when FOSATU linked up with community-based and other unions to create the large and powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in December 1985. COSATU entered into the Tripartite Alliance with the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), which, this article maintains, was a major mistake. By so doing COSATU lost its independence and shifted its major concern from workers to politics. Many of its leaders started pursuing political ambitions and the acquisition of wealth. The article spells out negative consequences of this shift for workers and the country as a whole. It then proposes six steps that COSATU and other like-minded federations and unions need to take to once again establish an independent and democratic trade union movement with the primary goal of representing workers and advancing their interests.