This paper will attempt to dissect and identify the challenges faced by the wage labour and labour movement in this highly celebrated capitalist era especially by the rich. It would highlight the problems specifically related to wage labour and labour movements and their survival. It will also highlight the constraints resulting from globalised economic policies demands and problems of economic retaliation resulting from a drastic economic reform. The paper will further propose that, the working class organisations missed an opportunity for achieving their perceived goal of socialism in their respective localities.
Before I endeavor to what is said above I think it will be wise for us not to forget that historically globally all those who are presently are wage earners they have been made to sell their labour power for their survival. It is a known fact that capitalists in their colonising spree they plundered the means of production such as land and forced the rightful owners to the periphery and to sell their labour power or perish to their death. The “economics of political economy has revolves around through eras where leading figures saw security as desirable or undesirable” (Standing, 1999:51). So, for the working people to survive these harsh conditions they organised themselves into trade unions for their defence. Generally, the trade unions engaged in struggles in the shop floor as the means to address the working conditions. But in some instances they engage in struggles for political emancipation. These struggles varied according to the localities that communities live in. For example, workers in Britain fights for better working conditions and workers in South Africa they were first divided in the 1920s according to race1 in fighting for their rights of which varied from issues such as the better working conditions and land dispossession by the foreigners2.
This paper won’t able to go into details on the differences of struggles of workers faced in different localities but it will just highlight few effects for better understanding. But what is interesting is that workers from the early industrialised countries like Britain played a meaningful role towards influencing working class culture 3(Baskin, 2000:53). This tendency tended to blend the workers struggle into a point where workers around the world follow the same pattern of ‘resolving’ their problems. Although in some localities workers struggle tended to be orchestrated by shop floor issues and political agenda4. For example in the South African scenario the workers struggle was highly influenced by political parties of which almost of them ended up in government structures. This type of arrangement forces labour movement to follow the line of their mother body5 of which is the end-up forfeiting the workers interests (Buhlungu, 2005:193-195; Von Holdt et al, 2005:311).
The twentieth century had two contending models of which are the welfare state capitalism and state socialism of which have a common objective that is called the decommodification – that means making labour less flexible (Standing, 1999: 51). In addition these both models were more focused on the interests of labouring man and as well as advancing the fundamental needs and aspirations because everywhere all men and women were expected to labour for a long time they can, in full wage labour. Presently, writers like Standing argues that globalisation is the dominant model of which facilitates international division of labour and change in working conditions and as well as coercing governments to scale down on labour rights and welfare (1999:73). We also need to understand that the present political framework of liberal democracy is nothing more than a western philosophy that is used to open up for further colonisation in new terms. Globalisation is ideological and also linked to economic liberalisation of which demands more labour market flexibility and forcing governments to support large scale business ventures and amendments of social policy (Standing, 1999:62 - 63).
Therefore, in these times of the so called ‘modern’ globalised capitalist economy, governments are forced or willingly adopt the liberal economic policies that favours the rich at the expense of the poor of which are mostly poorly paid workers. For example, South African government adopted a Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) macro-economic strategy and dropped the Reconstruction and Distribution Programme (RDP). That means in sectors such as labour, the interests of capital took priority over the interests of the poorly paid wage and dispossessed labour (Noyoo, 1999:65). Therefore, the organisations are forced to restructure by various factors such as the rapidly advancing technology, changing markets, globalisation and rising global competition (Jarvis et al, 1999:27). In view of the globalisation organisations adopt the continuous improvement “because it can speed up work dramatically or even replace labour, the introduction of new technology into a workplace usually results in workplace restructuring and introduction of new forms of work organisation” (Jarvis et al, 1999:27). Globalisation also leads to a lack of protective regulation and also to a lack of working class traditions and expectations such collective bargaining on issues pertaining to workers everywhere whether is South or North. (Standing,1999:63).
Globalisation and technological change raised income inequality in the workforce and unemployment and facilitated the increase in number of people seeking employment to other countries as immigrants due to the fact that their own countries cannot offer employment especially women (Massey, 1999:318). McGovern (2003) argues further that current feminisation of immigrant labour of Third World women in the changing transnational division reinforces gender, class, race and nationality inequality.
In addition, Lindio-McGovern argues further that this phenomenon resembles the continuation of ‘old slavery’ as some of the African serve as brokers in the slave trade as they benefited and even the current labour immigration plays a role in entrenches the chains of modern slavery. Massey (1999:307) argues that capitalists in negation they support labour supply as it helps to reduce wages and maintain labour market flexible.
So, the issue of flexibility of workplace has brought various changes in the livelihood of workers across gender. This is confirmed by the rise of service work of which employ mostly women in other sectors whilst jobs in the manufacturing declines where men were the majority employees and that has transformed the class relationship as service work consists of mostly women and as well as the rise of ‘underclass’ of which survives mainly on state funds (Bradley, 1999:17). This also affect the ‘traditional’ division of labour within families as men lost their status of being breadwinners and learn new skills and ‘feminise’ their masculine personalities and as they becoming caring parent (Bradley, 1999:18-19). Bradley argues that class and gender are terms that used to understand the manner in which of the societies differ from each other and these lived differences relationships include different excess to resources and power (1999:21). Division among women is between those who are careerist like men and ‘family-oriented’ women who joins employment ranks not fully as part-time job (Bradley, 1999:29).
Writers like Castells argue, “networks” are the fundamental stuff of which the new organisations are and will be made” (2000). Therefore, one can say networks refer to a new communication processes that are used by the companies where electronic machinery such as computer and Internet play a pivotal role in communications between individuals and organisations. The term networks arise when the capitalist world economy is transforming itself by using electronics to reach the whole world or globe without spending time not more than a second. This type of economy is networked as the historical conditions, productivity is generated through and competition is played out in a global network of interaction between business networks (Castells, 2000: 77). Furthermore, this new economic system is informational because the productivity and competitiveness between firms or regions or nations fundamentally depended upon a capacity to generate, process, and apply efficient knowledge.
Business activity and key performance of the main operations of management, financing, innovation, production distribution, sales, and employee relations are predominantly by Internet, or other networks of the computer (Castells, 2001: 65). In addition, the socio- technical transformation permeates throughout the entire economic system and also affects all processes of value, creation, value of exchange, and value of distribution. This transformation of industries lead to a need for a new type of workforce and if the organisation is not willing to adjust it end up to the history books or adjust and be part of the game. Castells confirm this euphoria by he arguing that the labour is more important and dependent on the ability to take initiatives, skill in knowledge, reprogramme itself, retrieve, process and apply information, increasingly on line and also highly educated (2001: 90-92). This type of labour force demands are placed on education system, constant retraining and reliance process that continue throughout adult life. This demand of highly skilled labour force put pressure to the organisations or firms to have flat hierarchy, adoption of team system, open of which facilitate easy interaction between workers and management, across the department and all levels with internet capability, as well autonomy, involvement, a water down form of cooperative ownership. Furthermore, the communication system is increasingly speaking universal, digital language is both integrating globally the production and distribution of worlds sounds and images of our culture and customising them to the tastes of the identities and moods of individuals.
This economy gradually transforms the old and notorious capitalist economy into a “new economy” because it specialises on usage of computer networks, of which reaches the entire planet in the uneven pattern. The production is informational because the productivity and competitiveness of units or agents such as firms and nations in this economy they are fundamentally depend upon their capacity to generate, process and apply efficient knowledge – based information (Castells (2000:77). Furthermore, the core activities of production, consumption and circulation, as well as their components such as capital, labour, raw materials, management, information, technology, markets are organised on a global scale, either directly or through a network of linkages between economic agents. Workers through their trade unions loose power to challenge as its membership has been casualised at the same time workers participate in decision making during production as they participate in teams (Jarvis et al, 1999:132).
This is in line with what was argued by Standing (1999:80) as he highlighted that there is no much opposition from trade unions and that create political conditions in which increase employer control and lessen workers protection. The new phase of global labour flexibility is accompanied by mass unemployment of strengthens employer’s bargaining position and management taking advantage of workers fears of unemployment and poverty to introduce labour and product innovations. Jarvis et al argue that labour is seen flexible when it reaches a state where a worker is open and able to adapt to various approaches and also change swiftly from one approach to another. Labour flexibility is also seen differently by workers and management because workers view it as job insecurity no guaranteed wage and less working conditions whilst on other hand the management view it as the manner in which the company is able to control it staff direct by reducing the number of full-time workforce (Jarvis et al, 1999:100-101). Jarvis et al highlighted that labour flexibility is divided into three categories of which are in numeric, functions and wages. Numerically it refers to the number of people are hired and the working conditions in they are employed under as workers consists of those who are regarded as the core employees because they are permanent, highly trained and are becoming contract workers and other are regarded as are on the periphery and also referred to as flexible labour and they are mostly women; at functional flexibility it refers to state where a worker perform different functions in the job and good example is the retail companies such as supermarket as they employ number of permanent employees with benefits such as pension fund and on the weekend it employs from a pool of casuals instead of permanent as these casuals less wages with no benefits and lastly, the wage flexibility it refers to a state where wages depends on meeting targets and not guaranteed.
The labour movement seems as if it has failed to chart their forward and that enabled the capitalists to influence the way forward in their favour at the expense of black majority. Trade union movement it seems it has reached the end of the road as the leadership has been flocking the ranks of the corporate world and government structures. It is clear that trade union movement has abandoned their mission of defending the job security and they have become investors in the system that further subjugates its membership. The union leadership it looks like it does not have the alternative and only is to join ranks of the capitalist. De Villiers et al confirm this when they highlight that Linz (1990) who argues for a modest definition of strengthening democracy by saying that it is: -
“one in which none of the major political actors, parties, or organised interests, forces or institutions consider that there is any alternative to democratic processes to gain power, and that no political institution or group has a claim to veto the action of democratically elected decision makers. This does not mean that there are no minorities ready to challenge and question the legitimacy of democratic process by non-democratic means. It means, however, that the major actors do not turn to them and that they remain politically isolated. To put it simply, democracy must be seen as the “only game in town” (2000:35).
So, for the labour movement to be in a better position that will it not placed it as the organisational fossils that have no significant role to play in the contemporary world of work. I think trade union movement need to change its strategy in order to survive and pursue its objectives further, as a handful of activists start to look back to the past practices such as era of social movement unionism of the 1990s and imagining the revival of such unionism (Buhlungu, 2005:197).
In conclusion, different writers are indicating that trade union movement has been derailed or lost track as it membership today has lost most benefits they once enjoyed. In view of this development, wage labour has been drastically altered from what it used to be. A state of lifetime and permanent employment with fringe benefits such as housing subsidy and medical aid to a state a reduced workforce with reduced fringe benefits and increased work load and that is accompanied by a massive unemployment. Whilst the labour movement faces the reaches a point of differing views with “common” problems of reduced membership and result in less power of influence. They are also divided into three categories: one set still clings to racial segregation when registering membership, the other set still steadfast to the marriage with their political organisational alliances and the last set remains regard itself as independent. Furthermore, these unions also differ in adjusting to the so called global demand, as we other visit the world meeting organisations that share the same views such privatisation of state assets. Other union’s approach has become intertwined with struggles such as the world social forums that meet especially when the rich capitalist meet at international conferences. The last set of unions consists of mostly small union in terms of number of membership and this segment is not much active in policy formulation gatherings as its leadership is only concerned with their survival individually in terms of getting income in their comfort zones.
The said part is that the senior leadership of the labour movement has joined the ranks of the opposition and that shows that they seems they did not know where they were heading. Based on the above information, I think chances are very minimal to the current labour movement to come up with a sound programme that is geared to what I say is the liberation of the proletarian. Such developmental changes in the shop floor pose a serious challenge to the labour movement in general to reconsider their mandate or to transform themselves to something that will remain relevant to the aspirations of the proletarised populace in general.
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