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GLOBALIZATION, THE TRADE UNION RESPONSE: "In our last issue, under the general heading 'Southern Africa's Tragedy,' we sought to locate the troubled circumstances of a number of southern African countries - Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe - in the context of the stern global economic environment in which they find themselves. We did not, on that occasion, include South Africa within the frame of such a discussion. . . And yet South Africa cannot easily escape the contradictions created by its insertion into the process of 'globalization' that it is now so difficult, everywhere, to ignore." (jbv)

vol 11 no 3

Editorial and contents for Vol 11 No 3
the SAR editorial collective


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Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 11, No 3, April 1996
Page 1
"Editorial"

EDITORIAL: WHOSE GLOBALIZATION?

In our last issue, under the general heading "Southern Africa's Tragedy," we sought to locate the troubled circumstances of a number of southern African countries - Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe - in the context of the stern global economic environment in which they find themselves. We did not, on that occasion, include South Africa within the frame of such a discussion. After all, South Africa possesses a much stronger economy than any of the countries we did focus upon and is, at least for the moment, much less "tragically" situated than most of its neighbours.

And yet South Africa cannot easily escape the contradictions created by its insertion into the process of "globalization" that it is now so difficult, everywhere, to ignore. Consider, for example, the exchange we feature in this issue between Eddie Webster and Leo Panitch - labour-linked activists both, but also South Africa's leading industrial sociologist and Canada's preeminent political scientist, respectively - regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the South African trade unions' present politico-economic strategies. At the core of their disagreement in this debate is, precisely, a difference of opinion regarding the presumed imperatives of globalization and what, if anything, trade unions might do to resist them.

Thus, where Webster sees new opportunities for working class self-assertion in the apparent compromises with corporate power and a reformist state that the South African labour movement seems compelled to adopt, Panitch fears a "corporatist" outcome that will be increasingly detrimental to the hopes of ordinary South Africans for a better life. And where Webster seems to envision little alternative to the labour movement's seeking merely to "modify" (rather than transform) the capitalist structures that currently drive South Africa's economy, Panitch smells disaster in the logic of "competitiveness" and "business as usual" that underpins such compromises.

We will leave our readers to arbitrate this debate for themselves. However, they may wish to do so in light of the more general article by Colin Leys on the nature of the globalization process that we include in the present issue. His key themes: "The assumptions on which the globalization process rests . . . are literally absurd" and that "any society that is not in a position to resubordinate the market will be destroyed by it." While the cast of this article is, precisely, "global" and therefore deals with Africa only in passing, we have found it - alongside other of Leys' recent writings referred in the editorial to our last issue - a useful point of reference in our work and, on that basis, recommend it as a brilliant "backgrounder" to current policy debates throughout southern Africa . . . and also here at home.

Throughout southern Africa . . . and in Canada as well. Here Leys' article also provides a useful bridge to another of the articles that form the core of this, our "labour issue": Judith Marshall's careful and illuminating account, drawn from her own first-hand experience, of some of the novel links that are currently being forged between Canadian trade unions and their South African counterparts. For Marshall emphasizes, quite specifically, the way in which this labour solidarity is increasingly being grounded in a shared understanding, at both ends of the exchange, of the vulnerability of workers to capital's world-wide dictate. And such solidarity can contribute, in turn, to creating the kind of active global "civil society" whose political assertions might eventually democratize and socialize a globalization process that currently seems beyond workers' control.

* * *

Of course, workers face the challenges of the global economy and of governments increasingly compromised in their dealings with that economy elsewhere in southern Africa. For this reason we are pleased to include here Gretchen Bauer's careful and sympathetic analysis of the current status of the trade unions in Namibia - while also noting with interest just how important she feels a vibrant labour movement to be in safe-guarding political and economic democracy in that country.

Moreover, Bauer's attempt to give voice to labour and its "progressive" allies in civil society seems particularly important in a regional context where, too often, popular assertions have now begun to be discredited - in the name of "realism," "responsible planning," and, no surprise, "global imperatives." Such discrediting is occurring in debates about South African urban development, for example: in attacks often launched upon the "unreasonable expectations" that are said to exist, negatively, in the townships. And yet, as Greg Ruiters and Patrick Bond document in these pages, the new South African regime is still very far from discovering effective means for realizing even the most "reasonable" of expectations that are held by township dwellers in that country.

In this issue, too, you will find South African writer and cultural activist Luli Callinicos worrying aloud (during a recent Toronto visit, reported on below) about the dangers of depoliticizing, in the name of "reconciliation," the people's own history of oppression and resistance. This is a history that, Callinicos reports, is struggling to find its voice, with important, potentially positive, implications, within the culture of a new South Africa. Fortunately, she can also report that on this terrain - the terrain of "heritage" - real progress is being made despite countervailing pressures. So, in a phrase: "Historians of the world, unite." Workers, too.

- 30 -

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Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 11 No 3
"Globalization: The Trade Union Response"

Editorial: Whose Globalization? - 1

COSATU: Old Alliances, New Strategies - 3
by Eddie Webster

COSATU and Corporatism: A Response to Eddie Webster - 6
by Leo Panitch

"Globalizing" from Below: The Trade Union Connection - 9
by Judith Marshall

Trade Unions and Politics: What Next in Namibia - 13
by Gretchen Bauer

The World, Society and the Individual - 17
by Colin Leys

Democratizing Heritage: The South African Challenge - 22
by Shelley Butler

Zambia and the Media: a letter - 25
letter by Methaetsile Leepile

Failure in the Townships? The Development Bottleneck - 26
by Greg Ruiters and Patrick Bond

"In Search of Hope": Zimbabwe's Farmworkers - 31
by Blair Rutherford

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.

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