The quest for "flexible" trade unionism in post-apartheid South Africa : engaging neo-liberal hegemony.
The inauguration of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa after the first-ever democratic elections, in many ways marked the end of official apartheid and the beginning of new times in the country's history. For the labour movement it became imperative to entrench its position during this period of transition, even under an ANC led government. Despite securing a relatively labour-friendly macro-economic policy early on in the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), the next few years were to see a more pronounced decline in the influence of labour in the South African political economy. The marginalisation of labour did not, however, result in an absolute dismissal of labour's concerns, but saw a particularly narrow conception of "labour relations" being articulated, characteristic in government priority support of business elements over transformatory ideals. This paper explores the pressures and strains for labour under the new democratic dispensation by specifically examining the factors that bring about the emasculation of labour. The decline of labour is examined in three levels. Characteristic in all three levels is the hegemony of neo-liberalism that manifest in the international political economy, the South African, as well as workplace specific contexts. Firstly, the hegemony of neo-liberalism globally is examined. Individual states under pressure from the prevailing international system pressure states to adopt increasing economic liberalisation. The implications of the neo-liberal hegemony on the trade union movement globally are also considered. Secondly, the domestic variables that account for the decline in labour are considered. This is largely the domain of the institutional, policy, organisational and ideological shift in "labour relations" in South Africa. Thirdly, changes at the level of the workplace as a result of neo-liberal iii ascendancy are examined. The revival of a much more progressive labour movement, it is argued, has to consider the nature of all these limiting factors, and recast itself into a much more "flexible" trade unionism.