Edward Webster, Karl von Holdt, eds. Beyond the Apartheid Workplace: Studies in Transition. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2005. xx + 497 pp. $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-86914-065-6.
Reviewed by Chris Bolsman (Department of Sociology, Aston University)
Published on H-SAfrica (April, 2008)
The study of workers, trade unions, and workplaces has a long and rich tradition within South African academia and, in particular, in sociology, history, and anthropology departments. The universities of Natal and the Witwatersrand have established research centers, which have supported the emerging independent black trade union movement. During the 1990s, industrial sociologists dominated South African sociological meetings. Edward Webster and Karl von Holdt's edited collection brings together a range of scholars who work beyond the narrower confines of industrial sociology to include a wider framework of the sociology of work. Beyond the Apartheid Workplace is framed within a context of a "triple transition"--"political democracy, economic liberalisation and post-colonial transformation"--and the impact on workers, managers, and the government (p. ix).
The editors argue that three zones of work can be identified--the core, non-core, and periphery--and that this distinction is important in understanding work within a developing country. They emphasize the difference between making and earning a living and highlight the trend toward non-core and peripheral work. They classify the apartheid workplace regime as "a site of racial domination buttressed by racial segregation, and by racist discourses and practices in which the distribution of occupations, skills, incomes and power was racially defined" (p. 7). This classification is extended to include management styles and antagonistic industrial relations. Here, the editors ask whether "a distinctive post-apartheid workplace regime [is] emerging" (p. 8). Webster and Holdt draw on Karl Polyani's notion of the Great Transformation, where, in the North, the welfare state emerged as a reaction to the market forces of the First Great Transformation. The editors argue that the Second Great Transformation needs to be located in the "colonial legacy of social underdevelopment" (p. 33).
Bringing together seventeen case studies divided across six broad themes, the collection is a result of research and a workshop on work restructuring in post-apartheid South Africa. The editors concede that "the studies vary considerably in the questions and themes that they address" (p. 39). In addition, the chapters make diverse empirical and theoretical contributions. The editors should be commended for the inclusion of five chapters by contributors conducting research for their master's degrees, suggesting a new emerging generation of South African scholars who are concerned with broader workplace studies. The contributors incorporate a range of research methodologies that include participant observation (see, in particular, Timothy Sizwe Phakathi's study of self-directed work teams in the mining sector), nonparticipant observation, in-depth interviews, and life histories, among others. Theoretically, a number of authors especially draw on the work of Michael Burawoy (The Politics of Production: Factory Regimes under Capitalism and Socialism ).
The first theme addresses the possibility of the end of a racial division of labor. The case studies examine the steel and white goods industries, and wine farms of the Western Cape. Holdt's essay on steelworkers demonstrates how management used "authoritarian restoration" and the union "negotiated reconstruction" among others in an attempt to reconstruct workplace relations. Andries Bezuidenhout's contribution on the engineering industry points to how race remains an important issue with the emergence of an "upward floating colour bar." In their study of wine farms, Joachim Ewart and Andries du Toit illustrate a further concern of casual work.
Focusing on employee participation and productivity, the case studies included in the second theme examine the fish processing and automobile industries as well as the mining and plastic sectors. Johann Maree and Shane Godfrey compare two fish processing firms with varied results, while David Masondo addresses the impact of trade liberalization on work restructuring in the automobile industry where workers are referred to as "associates." Phakathi considers self-directed work teams in a gold mine, and David Dickinson examines the plastics sector and the impact of liberalization on that sector. The findings from each case study highlight the contested and contradictory nature of worker participation.
Contributors to the third theme, which centers on work in the service sector, investigate the retail sector and a call center. In her analysis of Shoprite, Bridget Kenny, for example, describes "the ascendancy of a market hegemonic order" in the retail sector (p. 240). Darlene Miller draws on the work of David Harvey (Limits to Capital ) and considers the expansion of Shoprite into Zambia. Finally, Rahmat Omar's study illustrates the use of electronic surveillance in a call center.
The authors, then, turn to the issue of work casualization. Jan Theron's contribution considers the standard employment relationship and distinguishes between externalization and casualization. Sarah Mosoetsa and Christi van der Westhuizen analyze the footwear and clothing industries in Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town respectively. Both studies highlight the erosion of the trade union influence and the precariousness of the sectors.
The next theme centers on an examination of the self-employed. Kate Philip, for example, charts the successes and failures of rural enterprises developed by the Mineworkers Development Agency, while Webster considers street workers as part of the informal sector in Durban and refers to a "representational gap." In both instances, the authors highlight the increase in poverty linked to the loss of jobs in the core and the increase of jobs in the periphery.
For the sixth and final theme of the collection, contributors investigate workplace change in the public sector. Holdt demonstrates how the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union and the Congress of South African Trade Unions were able to resist government attempts to restructure a state asset. In the final case study, Holdt and Bethuel Maserumule examine the triple transition in a state hospital.
This edited collection provides an excellent overview of a range of workplace studies in post-apartheid South Africa. It demonstrates how the apartheid workplace regime has evolved, and how role players struggle and compete to earn and make a living in post-apartheid South Africa. It is a pity that there is no conclusion to this collection. Instead, readers are compelled to return to the introduction in which the editors forcefully argue that "we have to reconceptualize the meaning of work to include all three zones as well as social reproduction in households and communities.... There is a need to investigate how the changing world of work is contributing to a crisis of social reproduction and to understand the new alliances, social movements and networks that have emerged to reduce the impact of poverty, rising unemployment, lack of basic resources and HIV/AIDS. We hope the case studies in this book contribute to this emerging research agenda" (p. 8). This collection contributes significantly to this research agenda. Future studies may consider more comparative elements across sectors and countries. Of the seventeen case studies, one alludes to comparative research undertaken in Swaziland and Zimbabwe, and one is concerned with South African retailing in Zambia.
. See Ken Jubber, "Sociology in South Africa: A Brief Historical Review of Research and Publishing," International Sociology 22, no. 5 (2007): 527-546; Sakhela Buhlungu, "Rebels without a Cause of Their Own? The Contradictory Location of White Officials in Black Unions in South Africa, 1973-94," Current Sociology 54, no. 3 (2006): 427-451; and Johann Maree, "Rebels with Causes: White Officials in Black Trade Unions in South Africa, 1974-94. A Response to Sakhela Buhlungu," Current Sociology 54, no. 3 (2006): 453-467.
. See Karl von Holdt, Transition from Below: Forging Trade Unionism and Workplace Change in South Africa (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 2003).
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Chris Bolsman. Review of Webster, Edward; Holdt, Karl von, eds., Beyond the Apartheid Workplace: Studies in Transition.
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