10/24/16 Colloquium Series - Alex Lichtenstein: “Consumption, Productivity, and Crisis: Remaking South Africa’s Apartheid Workplace in the 1970s”
From David Price
This paper explores the efforts of South African employers and the apartheid state to remake industrial relations during the 1970s in order to preserve racial capitalism. During the 1970s, South African manufacturers faced a new set of challenges. International economic pressures began to choke off their export markets, yet the domestic market remained severely limited because of employers’ dependence on Black labor paid a subsistence wage. Low productivity made it hard for manufacturers to compete globally, yet import substitution remained blocked by low consumption. Finally, in 1973, manufacturers faced mass strikes by underpaid African workers. Faced with this impasse, employers and the state sought to stabilize industrial relations by creating “communication” with Black workers, improving personnel relations, and even boosting some wages, but without promoting Black unionization. Despite these efforts to “reform” industrial apartheid, by the end of the decade Black workers succeeded in using the opening provided by these changes to lay the groundwork for an independent union movement.