chapter  11
39 Pages

The rise of unions in semi-industrialized countries: the cases of South Africa and Zimbabwe

WithJulianne Whiteley

Declining union membership and strike statistics in the advanced societies during the 1980s and 1990s resulted in both neo-liberal and some of their more pessimistic critics proclaiming the working class a thing of the past (Moody 1999: 9). The global market economy, increased international competition and the role of multinational corporations were well cited as reasons for the decline (Salamon 1998: 25; Wood 1999: 1). The most optimistic prognosis was that, unable to fight on, the organized working class would fall into a coma of co-operation with its former foes (Moody 1999: 9). Yet, while decline has proved a common fate of union movements in the advanced capitalist world, it has not been a universal experience (Kelly 1997). Pervasive industrial restructuring coupled with deepening international integration and the rise of international production systems have created a layer of nations that are partly industrial, increasingly urban and as internally uneven as the world in which they exist, yet situated somewhere above the rest of the third world by most industrial and economic measures (Moody 1999: 201). In contrast to the problems of diminishing membership and reduced political clout faced by unions operating in advanced societies, within industrializing and semi-industrialized countries, unions remain numerically robust and enjoy significant political influence. This chapter focuses on the experiences of the labour movements in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Both countries have a significant industrial sector, and a history of weak authoritarian rule and protectionism. In South Africa, authoritarianism gave way to democratization; in Zimbabwe, settler rule was followed on by independence and dominant partyism. The latter in turn has degenerated into a personality-centred autocracy. In the 1990s, 242both countries adopted broadly neo-liberal policy prescriptions, which resulted in painful periods of adjustment, particularly in the industrial sectors. In Zimbabwe, neo-liberalism has given way to elite-serving ad hoc policy measures. All these developments have posed serious challenges, whilst at the same time, opened up new opportunities for organized labour in both these countries.