Progressive social movement organisations in South Africa, including the trade unions, have focused on the burden of the past – apartheid and colonialism. Very little attention has been given to what I would like to call the burden of the future. For many South Africans, particularly in the younger cohorts, the future is extremely bleak with a shrinking labour market, failed state and private institutions, and a proliferation of vulnerable population groupings. Given this reality, it is not surprising that on the horizon is a drug use pandemic, gender-based violence, and a disassociation from organised formations. To speak of an 'underclass' or a 'reserve army of labour' in these circumstances is nothing short of a euphemism. The trade union movement is yet to develop a programmatic framework that considers the burden of the future and what it means for working people who are now in the minority, and for the majority who exist with little hope of meaningful work or social mobility. A key question that needs to be asked is: What is the role of the union movement today given the burden of the future?