This may appear, at first glance, a somewhat cryptic report. It consists of Patrick Bond's telegraphic notes on either the Excluded Workers Conference as a whole, or an academic event attached to it. Attached to this is a paper by Canadian socialist internationalist and Africanist, John Saul. I am making the material available whilst hoping for more substantial reports and documents, from Patrick or other international participants (Dan Gallin, Pat Horn). In the meantime, here is a URL for the EWC: http://www.excludedworkerscongress.org/congress.
Now read on...
New York City has such rich radical politics, today hopping with protests (e.g. Wall Street, City Hall) and hosting the Congress of Excluded Workers (9 sectors of the ‘precariat’) over the last few days (including a keynote at Colors workers-owned restaurant by Durban’s Streetnet coordinator Pat Horn)… and today, a workshop of brilliant labor analysts at the City Univ of NY, cohosted by the Socialist Register. The precariat was the central analytical category and the huge difficulties in getting trade-union consciousness (much less socialist consciousness) were evident – but likewise the great hope.
In the last panel tonight, John Saul brought many South African problems and possibilities into the discussion, wrapping up with the hope for ‘The Commons’ as a way to draw back collective purpose (after some tough talk on rights narratives), and a way to transcend corporatist tendencies amongst a ‘labour aristocracy’. His paper is way below (the only one I have right now). The final day of public discussion, tomorrow (schedule below), will be followed by Socialist Register 2013 debates on the weekend. Inspiring!
“Beyond Precarious Labor: Rethinking Socialist Strategies”
City University of New York Center for Place, Culture, Politics & The Socialist Register
CUNY Graduate Center, New York, May 12-13, 2011
INFORMAL CONFERENCE NOTES
Rough notes not meant to capture word-for-word statements or very extensive post-presentation discussions
CUNY Center for Place, Culture and Politics, 12 May sessions
David Harvey – opening talk
Precarious labor a major theme at CUNY Center for Place, Culture and Politics
Recall May 1 2006 activism by immigrants rights activists – but also related to conditions of labor (unorganized) doing precarious work (mostly in and around cities)
Rights of workers
Political impact of this is not in particular factories but in cities as a whole, as cities are threatened with being ‘closed down’
When a city closes down the economic damage is enormous: 9/11
After three days, leaders ordered ‘shop!’
City as a target for political activism is worth thinking through
2006 showed, mass movements could indeed make a serious impact
But what happened to that movement is instructive, because one of the factors in its demise was interracial division: a narrative that immigrants were taking away jobs from African-Americans
CNN’s Lou Dobbs was a key agent of this narrative (never had sympathy for African-Americans before), and to some degree his rhetoric ‘stuck’, which was to some degree the reason for the limitations of the immigrant rights movement
In the last few days the Excluded Workers’ congress met, especially NY, LA, SF (to some extent New Orleans) – taxi drivers, domestic workers, formerly incarcerated workers
Came from Detroit Social Forum: direct action orientation (given that chance for sympathetic Supreme Ct and Congress now lost)
Can unity be established in context of potential divide-and-rule? This is a good moment to think about this as a matter of socialist strategies
What’s the relationship to organized workers? Considerable interest from Rich Trumka
In 1990s in Living Wage campaigns, this was not the case
More geographical than sectoral orientation of organized labor
Bill Fletcher asks the question, can a labor movement organize ‘a whole city’? – a question we need to put on the agenda
This is a significant moment to allow us to reach back historically, such as the Paris Commune, the Seattle General Strike, Winnipeg General Strike and many others
An interesting history and the ability of the left to move from ‘who produces x in a plant’ to ‘who produces and reproduces daily life in a city’?
Significant question in ‘the end game of neoliberalization’
Capital doesn’t want to have to pay for externalities: environment, social reproduction
Capital wants to pay a small wage and leave reproduction to the worker
Some internalization of externalities in environment and social processes
Reagan put Watts at EPA and cut social spending
Cut the top tax rate from 72 to 32 percent
Growth rate was higher with higher taxes
Reagan also ran a huge debt (arms race) which allowed for major state spending cutbacks
Bush Jr did the same: tax cuts, big gifts to military, Big Pharma, etc
Now they can use the debt argument to lo9wer th living standards of the population
Other aspect is saving financial institutions (‘no haircut’)
Republicans preach austerity, with major decline (25%?) visited upon workers and the poor
Support for social reproduction disappearing, so the workers in these sectors are being pushed to the brink
So a good time to reconceptualise what labor is about, and for the left to reconfigure
Let’s think about the people who produce and reproduce the city, an important idea with historical validity
‘What socialist strategies are in place now that need rethinking?’
Most struggles have been defensive: to keep in place one set of capitalist arrangements to prevent another set that are worse
David argues we need to be more bold and audacious in our thinking
First review history of workers in urban struggles
Big mistake to underestimate organized labor’s traditional form and what it can do
Labor has been at heart of democratizing US movements: ‘Flint’, Toledo, Homestead, Pullman to name struggles, named as cities/towns
Two things were catalysts: attack on labor’s standing, and the demand for collective bargaining…
Then the rapid spread occurs to more general left politics
In St Louis the labor movement took over, as in 1919 in Seattle (AFL craft unions)
These labor struggles rapidly spread into something very broad
Contractualism and fragmentation of US industrial relations make unions more narrow and particular via collective bargaining, narrowing the conception of labor
In 19th c the ‘labor movement’ was a much broader conception
Diminished importance of urban central labor bodies, once the main face of US Labor
The national unions subsumed central labor councils and shifted gravity of the movement from community-wide to occupational/craft terrain
After WWII, the subsequent decades were important for central labor councils, e.g. 1962-63 the NYTimes was hit with a 25,000 strong picket line
In 1961 the NY Central Labor Council started its own labor party, in a Democratic Party internecine fight (‘Brotherhood Party’)
Citywide minimum wage didn’t exist earlier
Federal minimum wage had been very low
Central Labor Council had a strong sense of its possibilities: Healthcare insurance system (nonprofits, with broader agenda), Rent control, Anti-discrimination legislation, Keeping transit fares low
Central labor bodies subsidized Shakespeare in the Park and other arts and symphony concerts
This was the boring age of Mayor Robert Wagner, liberal technocrat
Shorter hours committee once automation threat emerged
Dominant CIO position was productionist, so AFL went to the left
Most dramatic expression was construction/electricians which won 25 hour work week (JFK denounced it)
The city labor movement helped low-wage workers through minimum wage law, as well as organizing low-wage workers (taxi workers were city employees then, and 36000 were organized); and hospital workers (which became 1199)
But organized labor guarded its prerogatives closely and wouldn’t hand over power to disorganized (e.g. taxi union was top-down)
Now they need to join forces with other social actors, and on more equitable terms
These coalitions are the best chance we have for establishing countervailing power
Physical infrastructure, social structure and politics are up for contestation
Disparate ‘plebian elements’ are potentially organized
Many activists depend on foundations (treacherous)
Issues of communication are difficult
Many reform groups are uninformed about labor movement (e.g. 35% construction worker unemployment in NY)
In many cities the union movement has little presence
Most working people now live in suburbs
Some cities are centers of national and international movements (e.g. Cairo, Tunis) but not many in the US
Some demands are difficult to work out at metro scale
Exciting trends: Madison, with rippling into other movements, with creativity, with surprising role of Democratic Party, with big national unions giving resources (but not trying to manage or smother)
Every week in NY, a demo by a coalition of unions
Union cooperative housing has great tradition: 40,000 unites build from 1940s-70s, with extensive communal facilities – but completely forgotten until a decade ago, two documentaries; US equivalent of Red Vienna, they were far beyond minor defensive struggles, conceptions of a way of life
Immigrants rights movement also reclaimed May Day
Trade unions in NY now use May Day (inconceivable 10 years ago)
Reconnection of organized labor to socialist idea that democracy must extend to economy
Transformation of public workforce to precariat
Wisconsin not unique: Indiana, NC, Ohio and many other cases
But public unions were not very strong to begin with
Tammany Hall mentality in public unions
‘Political machines, union made’
Onslaught dates to 1970s: NYC’s ‘social democracy’
‘Rollback moment’ of neoliberalism
Rollout processes of new contracts
Wall St wanted to make a national example of 1976 attack
DC37 leader critiqued call to volunteerism (which didn’t work)
Case study of NYC Parks Department: privatization of management, privatization of funding streams, proliferation of labor contracts and precaritisation of workforce
One group, Community Voices Heard, looks more broadly, along with Right to the City and Excluded Workers’ Congress
Unions must follow this lead
Saru Jayaraman, Restaurant Opportunities Center, ROC
Restaurant sector (10.3 m workers) (nearly as large as retail)
75% of Americans eating out once/week
Frequency has increased 20%, even during economic crisis
Fast food and liquor didn’t lose jobs during crisis
Can’t be outsourced or offshored
Largely poverty-level jobs ($8.59 – below family of 3 poverty line)
Living wage jobs – white workers in upscale establishments $50-150,000
Importance to economy, psyche, culture
Only 0.1% is organized, lack of benefits
Industry lobby is 10th most powerful
On 9/11, 73 workers died at Windows on the World, 300 lost their jobs
Cofounder of organization was Moroccan employee
New Times Sq restaurant of Windows on the World
Owner didn’t want to hire WTC workers: ‘inexperienced’
Big victory in that struggle
Participatory research and policy work are owned by workers
Fine-dine restaurants take ‘low road to profitability’
Full range of anti-discrimination policies won in settlements (5-7 years)
Ten major settlements
Worker-owned restaurant, including 500 worker/year training: 417 Lafayette, Colors
New ones opening in Detroit and New Orleans
Ten reports based on 5000 surveyed restaurants, plus anti-discrimination, plus ergodynamic guidelines
Worker-driven, worker-led, methodologically-sound
Sick leave, minimum wage, combining with food justice movement (liquor license is a leverage point)
Many legislative initiatives (e.g. with Donna Edwards, D-MD)
$2.13 is the minimum tip-wage, so New Orleans’ Emeralds restaurant workers are homeless
National Restaurant Association kept tip-workers wage level down
12% of workers suffered vomiting or diarrheal diseases while working because of lack of sick days
ROCK worked until 2007 and then expanded to 7500 members around the US
Consumer Action Program diners guide
Alliances along the food chain: 2008 Food Chain Workers alliance going to supermarkets, farms
Rise in food justice, sustainable local movements, and need to link
Excluded Workers Congress
‘I’ve had a lot of trouble with the word ‘excluded’’ given that Fair Labor Standards Act excludes tip-workers, but all the other workers in the system have all the standard labor rights… the idea of an ‘excluded’ working class is the entire US working class
Restaurants and retail have real opportunities to transform economies – comparable to manufacturing at the turn of the last century… Triangle Shift factory fire parallels to 9/11 Windows on the World
Richard Berman a key right-wing opponent of ROCK, was right about 9/11 opportunity… and it can assist moving from 300 at Windows on the World to the 10m strong industry
Food service workers are the lowest paid in US economy
HERE asked organizers to start ROC, as they are not in restaurant sector – very encouraging and supportive
Session on Labor in the Transnational Perspective
Jamie McCallum, CUNY
Transnational labor/social movements being revitalized
Auto sector had led this in the 1970s-80s, albeit nothing much was achieved for workers or even int’l collective bargaining rights
New forms including South Africa
More concentrated capitals are actually more vulnerable, including in the service sector
Geographic benefits of retail workforce given lack of capital mobility
In security sector, private outnumbers public workers, with reserve army of labor, with bad working conditions and wages, and very low unionization
Hence what are the forms beyond institutional power to consider?
SA security union membership tripled in 18 months, as well as in India
Some new transnational agreements (e.g. Wackenhut) offer promise – but we have to be tentative in offering conclusions
One reason for promise is link across scales:, local to global
Dan Gallin, Global Labor Initiative
Transnational labor organizing is now possible because of communications
But no visible sense of purpose in ITUC, disconnected from reality of its members (very few know of its existence)
Oz general secretary who is ‘good, honest, bright’ – but a mistake was not asking for conditions when not getting elected
Most trade union internationals are several steps removed
Some solidaristic examples of contemporary power includes CocaCola in Guatamala
Membership involvement was crucial
We are winning a few battles but losing th war
SEWA is a good example of new politics; waste pickers too
Int’l Federation of Market Vendors very successful
Social movement unionism is strong 8in India (New Trade Union Initiative)
The ideological orientation of the new unions is ‘radical syndicalism’
Valerie Francisco, CUNY
Migrant worker stories (Filippinas in Queens)
Migrante International an alliance of 200 groups around the world (hq in Manila)
Pressure against labor agency via Philippine government (POLO watchdogging)
What are the different sets of global labor movements?
Case studies of Filippino migrant labor strategy to repay vast foreign debt
Capital in cahoots with states to create a highly disciplined precariat subject to various extreme pressures
Lessons from Newcastle resistance to privatization
Union suggested alternative to BT commercialization
Management had been demoralized
‘Our city is not for sale!’ was successful and for six years was practiced
Democracy-driven improvement, and savings made went into public sector improvement
Radical syndicalism? Political syndicalism!
Collective entitlement as antidote to destruction of public values and goods
Strengths of labor: bargaining power of labor during the war but political power was delegated to Labor Party to construct welfare state (across Northern Europe)
Defending the decommodified sphere now requires a movement that is prepared to be political
Health service is now marketized (by New Labor)
Privatisation water cases from Brazil, Uruguay
Secret memorandums from IMF and no public discussion
Legitimacy search required bigger values to come to public debate; with partial success as a result
Trade unionism must be generalized to go into broad social unionism
Marx helps on ‘dual nature of labor’: one the one hand it’s abstract labor from which profits are extracted, but on the other productive of use values, creating an internal tension
Self-determining activity versus alienating labor
In this tension is the potential for liberation, which is seen in the way that anti-privatisation unions grasped the use-value of water
Radically reforming unions have addressed the commodification of state services that were earlier out of the sphere
Long history of making public sector responsive and democratic
They have rarely focused on the role of labor
Overcoming of this limitation is crucial
Public Services International ‘seems to have a bit more life in it’, and played a key role (partly because of mandated role from affiliates) – partly through strong researchers
WSF also a useful site for transnational anti-privatisation networking
Newcastle and other movements had strong union movements (WSF very influential)
New, horizontal ways of spreading examples – but creates a clientelist politics (transforming the company was blocked by local water sector union so even Oscar Olivera and his movement could not break through)
FULL PAPER (below)
Proletariat and precariat (Africa & South Africa)
Erica Smiley, Congress of Excluded Workers
Core forces include National Day Laborers, Domestic Workers, National Guest Workers’ Alliance – people’s movement assembly in Detroit at 2010 US Social Forum (after original formation in Atlanta at USSF in 2007); 9 sectors included restaurant workers, taxi workers, formerly incarcerated, domestic, farm, day laborers, right to work, guest workers… under framework of ‘right to organise’
Extensive consultations, including whether the 13th Amendment (no slavery) or National Labor Relations Act (too restrictive) or someth8ing else
Loose federation engaging in collective action doing collective work
Thorny theory around ‘most organized sectors of the working class’ – but who is at the vanguard?
AFL-CIO sees excluded as part of labor movement but debates continue about relationship
Guest workers and domestic workers now affiliating with AFL-CIO
Big experiment – adjust as we go along
Some allies within federal government, Dept of Labor – how do you struggle with them given that there are useful insiders
Does SNCC and SCLC’s relations with Dept of Justice teach anything?
Lots of push-pull politics
And what is the ‘scope’ of the congress?
We have a shared identity as ‘excluded’ workers
But exclusion as identity is a route to being stuck
And we are fighting for an entirely new system, not just to be ‘included’
To be ‘excluded’ is to be self-described as a minority, a danger
Millions of workers in the South are excluded from labor law
Wal-Mart has never made it possible for workers to have a contract
Just excluded workers? Informal workers? Temp? Flexible? Expendable? Unemployed?
Expanding the framework is important because the full ‘precariat’ is a majority
What power do we have in the global economy, to bring it to its needs?
In manufacturing, very clear: stop capital by walking off, then you get them to table
But when so disorganized, we’re out of touch with each other, seasonal differences, geographic fragmentation
We want to create power and blow the lid off the chokehold
We’re all united under desire to build power, dignity and respect
Precarious labor in India
We are translating Marxist ideas into a pragmatic social strategy
Concrete forms come up in every phase of history
Two or three forms we experience are worth discussing:
Dispossessed labor – not depeasantisation, we had slow migration in the past, but this is a rapid proletarianisation in geographic areas where land/mines have dispossessed the poor – so we should be there to help unite these strands, by being at the site of dispossession to fight against it, which requires new thinking about alliances (social alliances different than social unionism)… a social alliance FOR labor (not just environment, women, etc)… so that means challenging state and its eminent domain – but this is occurring under a ‘democracy’ so this adds new complications… and Bosco struggle is also very important for internationalism, including Korea Congress of Trade Unions…
Another form: labor that adapted from import-substitution to export-led growth, which required not ‘peripheral’ capitalism, but that is intrinsically precarious… so the shift in manufacturing to Global Supply Chain (network production) but the bottom line is that it is ‘subcontracted production’ – with its own precariat so aligned… this replicates 1970s-80s ‘dependency’ and yet there’s a new organizational form for it (no relationship to local markets or local currency) (an entirely new notion of dependency as a result)… garments a good example – so do we use a human rights framework? (yes, we need to take rights into labor)… but the main source of politics has to be about power… and identifying power is crucial within the buyers and first-tier subcontractors (garments, autos, pharmaceuticals)… Tier 1 companies are full-service providers (entire chain within), but no capacity to deal with the market… this allows Unequal Exchange to be replicated within the firm… price rigidity prevents full value realization… hence no wage rise for Indians… wage share and wage levels are not rising… how to respond? We need to bring up frameworks from old experiences… cannot look at all things in generalities.. we understand concrete forms, such as garments… PPP is same within Asian garment workers; by third bargaining cycle the company had already moved somewhere else
Do we need a global alliance as a result of these problems?
Current strategy addresses Asian regionality, living wage and anti-subcontracting
As for migration, high-skilled metalworkers now displacing East Asian workers
Many migrants already have an organization of some kind at home
Two concluding questions: concrete forms of precarious labor are located in the Global South, specifically, so can international trade union movement cope?
Can we thereby build internationalism using concrete forms of concrete precarious labor in the Global South?
Finally, given difficulty of collective bargaining framework, and given nature of ready mobilization, what is the nature of class consciousness… massive mobilization but not much trade union (or socialist) consciousness – so we need organizational forms in which we can capture this large mass of footloose workers
David Harvey: we’ve not done a good job of tracking merchant capital (Wal-Mart, Ikea)
There are also precarious production analytical challenges
Harvey query on rights language: pros/cons?
Erica Smiley: ‘I’m sick of the rights language but it’s where the membership in the sectors is at. We frame things in the broader sense of rights, the first set of blowing the door open on the NLRB. Even in a workshop yesterday, Workfare members said ‘it’s in our economic interests to have those rights’
Proletariat and Precariat: Non-Transformative Global Capitalism and the African Case[i]
John S. Saul
(A paper presented to the conference, “Beyond Precarious Labor: Rethinking Socialist Strategies,” co-sponsored by the Center for Place, Culture, Politics & the Socialist Register, and held at the CUNY Graduate Center, New York, May 12-13, 2011)
Everywhere the logic of an ever more globalized capitalist economy has shifted the global goal posts – as regards both the nature of on-going capitalist exploitation and of resistance to it. For starters we must place centrally the fact that global capitalism, even if still profoundly controlling of the world economy, no longer has the promise to transform the world and, in effect, simplify its social contradictions as it once promised/threatened to do – and as Marx and Engels, for example, once thought it would, viz:
Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeiosie, possesses…its distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting into two great hostile camps, into two great classs directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat...The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked at with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-laborers...The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.[ii]
Instead, in much of the Global South (and perhaps particularly in Africa, the region of the world that is of my particular interest) the transformation is, as best, incomplete, global capitalism have become a dominant reality, one quite capable of imposing upon Africa, for example, a grid of continuing inequality, exploitation and the recolonization of ostensibly liberated and independent peoples in the interests of corporate profit. Yet the system now in place is also unable to produce anything like the relatively straightforward, and theoretically proto-revolutionary, society of bourgeoisie and proletariat, either now or in any foreseeable future.
Indeed, much of the Global South is trapped between history’s ostensible phases in ways that we shall have to examine below. Undoubtedly a key feature of this change is the ever-increasing saliency of what has come to be termed “precarious work.” We will have to explore both this reality, but also the even broader reality of the South’s “precarious populations” more generally - and especially that defined by the phenomenal growth of the urban areas in Africa, our principal focus. What implications must this have for our sense of the “working class” in its most organized and its most generic essentials – and also upon our sense of the “revolutionary agency” that the “working class” (both the term and the reality) has, on the left, typically been thought to promise? What next, we will have to ask, in terms of any effective challenge from below to the inhuman, inequitable and exploitative capitalist system that continues to dominate Africa (and not least South Africa, my own principal focus) and to produce so many unsavoury outcomes?
I Precarious Work in Africa and Beyond: The Ambiguities of the “Working-Class”
Here we will let the fashionable Wikipedia – because in its relevant entry it draws so heavily as it on the estimable scholarly work of Fudge, Owens and Vosko - give us our first lead with regard to “precarious work”:
Precarious work is a term used to describe non-standard employment which is poorly paid, insecure, unprotected and cannot support a household. In recent decades there has been a dramatic increase in precarious work due to such factors as: globalization, the shift from the manufacturing sector to the service sector, and the spread of information technology. These changes have created a new economy which demands flexibility in the workplace and, as a result, caused the decline of the standard employment relationship and a dramatic increase in precarious work. An important aspect of precarious work is its gendered nature, as women are continuously over-represented in this type of work.
Precarious work is frequently associated with the following types of employment: “part-time employment, self-employment, fixed-term work, temporary work, on-call work, homeworkers and telecommuting.” All these forms of employment are related in that they depart from the standard employment relationship (full-time, continuous employment with one employer). Each form of precarious work may offer its own challenges but they all share the same disadvantages: low wages, few benefits, lack of collective representation, and little to no job security.[iii]
Moreover, in Africa such a definition/ description begins actually to describe the vast bulk of the urban population, so great in their numbers that, as many more flock into the urban areas, they are hard-pressed to find any formal “work” at all, even of the kind most readily defined as being “precarious.” Here, indeed, the most orthodox Marxist may be inclined to throw up his/her hands in despair, faced with the reality of an emergent “capitalist” society very different from the kind – one much more straightforward, at least in theory, in terms of revolutionary potential - that Marx and Engels had foreseen, as quoted in our opening paragraph, to be slowly but surely simplifying and clarifying social contradictions.
Should we be surprised that some Marxists are tempted to view with alarm the kind of society that a powerful but nonetheless non-transformative (or, at the very least, not as yet transformative) capitalism does produce in Africa and elsewhere in many parts of the Global South? For such intermediate societies seem - in Africa certainly - very unlikely to alter substantially, into some entirely straightforward and conventionally “bourgeoisie-proletariat” pattern of polarization, in the near future.
Of course, Marx and Engels themselves speak nervously of the social realities they saw to be scarring the transitional period to a full-bodied capitalism, noting, in particular, the possible resonance of a resultant (in their term) “dangerous class,” one defined by them as
the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown up by the lowest layers of the old society, [which] may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution; its conditions of life, however, prepare if far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.[iv]
As Marx himself writes elsewhere, “Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and dubious origins, alongside ruined and reckless casts of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped gallery-slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzeroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaus [procurers], brothel-keepers, porters, literati [literary hacks] organ-grinders, ragpickers, knife-grinders, tinkers, beggars – in short the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French term la bohemia.”[v] In addition, in a second and related text, he speaks critically of the Mobile Guards, the most assertive strike force mobilized on behalf of France’s reactionary Provisional Government, suggesting that
they belonged for the most part to the lumpenproletariat, which, in all the big towns, form a mass strictly differentiated from the industrial proletariat, a recruiting grounds for thieves and criminals of all kinds, living on the crumbs of society, people without a definite trade, vagabonds, gens sans feu and sans aveu, with differences according to the degree of civilization of the nation to which they belong, but never renouncing their lazzaroni [hoboes] character.[vi]
This litany of not easily “classed” elements does not quite directly evoke African social conditions, though it points at a somewhat similar urban social milieu. To begin with, a much more gender sensitive and diverse listing of urban dwellers would now be required; women, for example, are quite crucial players in Africa both amongst the semi-proletarianized and within the cadre of urban socio-political actors than Marx and Engels’ itemization would help us to infer. But note, more generally, that the term lumpenproletariat itself can and should not be so dismissively employed (not least, as we shall see, in South Africa).
Not that the more settled and more organized working class should ever be displaced as a particularly central vector of possible progressive promise, of course. Marx himself was the key thinker in emphasizing – and for good reason - the extent to which the concentration and centralization of this “working class” were crucial determinations of its socialist aspirations and endeavours – and, of course, in Africa and elsewhere their consciousness and organizational presence have often been often crucial both to anti-colonial struggles and to resistances to contemporary recolonization. Yet, as we shall see, the kinds of numbers, and the diversity, that the congested urban settings Africa has increasingly to offer, can also produce vital expressions of political energy in their own right that press the conceptual boundaries of working class action more conventionally defined – political energy that can, potentially, be expressed in particularly dramatic ways (as we have seen most recently in Cairo and in Tunis, for example). To this reality we will have to return.
Nonetheless, note here the stratification - within itself, as it were - that this vast mass can evidence. For the reference is not primarily to the most obvious kind of class differentiation, that between the upper and most favoured echelons of Africa’s hierarchy (the most affluent of owners, politicians and state functionaries, and enterprise managers and their attendant retinues); such class differentiations are clear enough. No, the reference here is to shades of difference – differences that can nonetheless have pertinent socio-political effects – amongst those “below” the elite and affluent: within, that is, the lower tier of society itself.
Such divisions can be quite diverse and can have, for both good and ill, a wide range of expressions: between criminal and victims, for example, between those differently defined in terms of gender, and amongst holders of diverse ethnic, national (think of the recent xenophobic excesses that have scarred South Africa, for example), and religious affiliation. Nonetheless, where full-time employment is a (relative) “luxury” and the availability of working-class organizations of self-defense a rarity, divisions within the urban mass along socio-economic lines can also be important: not least between the fully employed who are generally more effectively organized at the work-site vs. those who are more marginalized, “precarious” and also less well-organized for worker and popular self-defense.
Many decades ago Giovanni Arrighi and I actually employed, albeit somewhat controversially, the term “labor aristocracy” (for want of a better phrase) precisely to distinguish the “upper echelons” of the poor (the relatively stabilized in employment) from those much more marginalized from capital’s activities than themselves.[vii] So controversial was this application of the term that I soon after (1975) felt myself forced to clarify and to qualify our use of the term, though I first reestablish our earlier point:
The “more privileged” and better organized workers have been encouraged to identify upward – to become partners (albeit the most junior of partners) in the jostling for surpluses among the internationally and domestically powerful (including more prominently in the latter category the elites and sub-elites themselves) – rather than to identify downward with the even more “wretched of the earth”: the urban marginals and the average inhabitant of the…rural areas.[viii]
But, I quickly added, in a capitalism in crisis the “classic strengths of the urban working class” could become “more evident,” with the “the upper stratum of the workers [then] most likely to identify downward [to become] a leading force within a revolutionary alliance of exploited elements in the society.” And I also conceded that, in any case, the concept “labor aristocracy” - whether its usage had once been “sanctioned” (in his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism) by Lenin or not - seemed a harsh one to apply to workers in Africa who remain, to this day, exploited and even more “relatively” disempowered and impoverished vis-à-vis the dominant circles of their societies than they are “relatively” empowered and privileged vis-à-vis their fellow denizens of society’s lower orders.
Indeed, while one of my current South African correspondents notes that there may be “more evidence for the concept’s appropriateness now” he nonetheless speaks strongly to this same point, thinking the concept’s use is “misleading because neoliberal globalisation is eroding the core of the labor market, making this 'elite’ very precarious. Moreover and “secondly, even these core jobs are often below R2000 per month; and, thirdly, almost all workers share their income with a household with an average of five members…” At the same time, such differences as do mark these “lower orders” (as my correspondent adds: “to have job at all in these time may be seen as a privilege rather than a curse”) can also make some difference in terms of divergent “class practices.” As a result, if any such “divergences” of interests and actions as are discernible are carefully framed with reference to their social basis and to such matters as differential remuneration and job security and differing degrees of effective self-organization, they can be understood to have weight. There may thus be differences, however subtle, between the “settled” proletariat and the more precariously employed, or between those of both these categories and the urban “precariat” even more broadly defined – as further examination of the South African case will amply confirm.
Moreover the politics of the urban dwellers per se as distinct from that of the urban proletariat (there is some obvious overlap between categories of course) has a dynamic and thrust of its own (as, again, examination of the South Africa case will demonstrate). For, more generally, we enter here the realm of “street level politics” focussed upon so vigorously by Jonathan Barker, among others. A sharp debate has arisen, it might be noted, as to what is the precise import of such “street-level politics”[ix] – not so much, be it noted, “workers take to the streets” as “street-dwellers take to the streets.” For what we see in such social circumstances is a “people” available for socio-political upsurge (in both township and rural settings), though their actions will perhaps be directed most forcefully at the state and the polity, their programmes and their minions, more than, directly, at employers.
Perhaps, too, this does not as readily expand into a socialist challenge as does the workplace-centred confrontations of more formally “proletarian” provenance. But even translating work-place confrontation into socialist-style skepticism about, and hostility towards, capitalism per se takes creative political and ideological work for it to begin to happen. How much more such work is necessary to blend the two worlds of working-class/workplace and of urban-rooted protest into resistance at the higher level of clarity and consciousness – even if the varied resistances do set themselves against the broader reality of capitalist control over and definition of the logic of the particular social milieu that provides the context of struggle.
If we were to expand resistance to include both working-class and “township” fronts of struggle however, is something in danger of being lost in terms in terms of the kind of systemic, more formally “proletarian,” struggle, most often brought into confrontational focus, at least in the first instance, at the workplace? How, we must ask ourselves, do these two worlds of resistance and protest relate to each other? Can the mix of resistances (clearly visible in South Africa, for example) blend into a coherent and cumulative counter-hegemonic project (of socialist provenance?) vis-à-vis the status quo? Or is this more "precarious politics" still only, a la Marx and Engels, “dangerous,” as one recent analyst of the precariat has apparently concluded?[x]
Of this one thing can be said. There are certainly proletarians and even semi-proletarians in the Global South who can come to develop the working-class consciousness sufficiently far as to understand their grievances vis-a-vis their employers expected to be against capitalism per se. And there is also produced a "people" - poor people in both urban and rural setting - even more readily available for socio-political upsurge as they are for socio-economic confrontation at or about the work-place. The people so mobilized can perhaps be called an "under-class" (or in a somewhat more metaphorical than scientific usage perhaps) a proletariat or working-class, but the politics of a broad-based mobilization that includes both proletariat and precariat will be full of positively revolutionary potential - but very complex! And this true, as we shall now see, not least in Africa.
II Lagos and Beyond: The Politics of “Precarious” Settings
What, in such terms, of Africa? The continent presents an increasingly urban setting certainly, cities growing exponentially throughout the continent - with the population of cities like Lagos or Cairo already reaching quite staggering proportions. Of course, this is a global phenomenon, as George Packer writes in an article on Lagos entitled “The Megacity”, of the Global South more generally:
Around a billion people — almost half of the developing world’s urban population — live in slums. The United Nations Human Settlements Program, in a 2003 report titled “The Challenge of the Slums,” declared, “The urban poor are trapped in an informal and ‘illegal’ world — in slums that are not reflected on maps, where waste is not collected, where taxes are not paid, and where public services are not provided. Officially, they do not exist.” According to the report, “Over the course of the next two decades, the global urban population will double, from 2.5 to 5 billion. Almost all of this increase will be in developing countries.[xi]
But Packer’s main focus in Africa and, particularly, what is, for him, a megacity par excellence: Lagos in Nigeria. In that city, as he reminds us, “in 1950, fewer than three hundred thousand people lived [there]. [However, he continues,] “in the second half of the twentieth century, the city grew at a rate of more than six per cent annually. It is currently the sixth-largest city in the world, and it is growing faster than any of the world’s other megacities (the term used by the United Nations Center for Human Settlements for ‘urban agglomerations’ with more than ten million people). By 2015, it is projected, Lagos will rank third, behind Tokyo and Bombay, with twenty-three million inhabitants.”
And it is in such cities that “urban dwellers” can become socio-economic actors that may far transcend the proletarian and semi-proletarian descriptors that in past reality applied to at least some of them – and this can sometimes have quite radical implications. Working-class? Yes and no.
As Freund once wrote of Africa:
While it might seem at first sight that urbanization and direct subjection to market production would have brought about a class of workers that could be relatively easily understood and subsumed under the categories of capitalist industrial society familiar to Westerners there are problems…in comprehending labor…in the African city. With the exception of South Africa which needs special treatment precisely for this reason [an issue to which we will have to return]. Only a small section of African workers actually are wage workers operating in the sphere of mass commodity production. Nor is this section growing very significantly.[xii]
Indeed, says Freund, “a conservative...estimate of the working population of the Nigerian metropolis of Lagos in the 1970s suggested that only a minority is to be found registered as wage workers.”
True, this argument does not refer the more recent and truly mammoth Lagos evoked in a preceding paragraph. But the same point doubtless still holds. What is one to make of this “mass,” sometimes epitomized as the “informal sector”? As Freund continues,
The state in colonial times and often thereafter has taken an ambiguous stance at best towards the “informal” sector of the economy and those who work within it. Classic development theories focussed on industrialization and its consequences in an urban context or the development of a prosperous peasantry in a rural one. The world of shanty towns, of corner stalls and makeshift sweatshops, of women selling little packets of favouring for stew, individual cigarettes and bars of soap do not belong to the structures that it proposed and planned. It is supposed to be a mark of backwardness and a temporary phenomenon only. In reality, though, it is precisely the “informal sector” that has flourished most in post-colonial Africa and any serious assessment of the African workers has to give it a serious share of attention.[xiii]
In fact, Peter Gutkind has anticipated this point in an earlier analysis. Under colonialism, he stated, urbanization could only “produce a ‘marginal’ urban population who live in precarious conditions, exploited in form or another by the dominant colonial group and relegated ecologically to the peripheries of towns and economically to the peripheries of a producing and consuming society.” Indeed, he continued, the African city is best seen as being “made up of three basic population groups, a plebian urban mob, workers and artisans.”[xiv] Gutkind saw fit to characterize this heterogeneous urban population as having a kind of broad-gauged proletarian consciousness. Again, “yes and no” must be the most accurate response, proletarian consciousness becoming, in such a formulation, as much a metaphor as a precise scientific description.
For what, we must ask, does such “proletarian consciousness” actually amount to, especially since post-colonial urban Africa has not been so fundamentally altered structurally from its earlier colonial profile. No wonder that many have felt forced to understand in fresh ways the complexities of an unfinished transition to a cleanly and clearly defined (and polarized) capitalist-based society that might otherwise be thought to merely stymie revolutionary aspiration in present-day Africa? Thus observers like Post and Wright have persisted in taking a high road with reference to those social elements set adrift by a failed capitalist “transformation.” They take a first step in allowing our sense of class contradictions – and of class belonging – to be markedly expanded, especially with respect to Africa and the rest of the Global South. For there, in societies profoundly altered but not transformed by the impact of capitalism, the roster of those exploited (and potentially available for class-based action) is far wider than narrow “classist” categories can hope to elucidate – and this is not just to speak of all those peasants out there! Hence their key formulation:
The working out of capitalism in parts of the periphery prepares not only the minority working class but peasants and other working people, women, youth and minorities for a socialist solution, even though the political manifestation of this may not initially take the form of a socialist movement. In the case of those who are not wage laborers (the classical class associated with that new order) capitalism has still so permeated the social relations which determine their existences, even though it may not have followed the western European pattern of "freeing" their labor power, that to be liberated from it is their only salvation. The objective need for socialism of these elements can be no less than that of the worker imprisoned in the factory and disciplined by the whip of unemployment. The price [of capitalism] is paid in even the most 'successful' of the underdeveloped countries, and others additionally experience mass destitution. Finding another path has...become a desperate necessity if the alternative of continuing, if not increasing, barbarism is to be escaped.[xv]
Yet even this may not quite go far enough. Such forces do indeed struggle for equality, but, be it noted, not necessarily and in the first instance for socialism. This is the world of struggles that that we have seen Jonathan Barker to epitomize, in the book that he has edited, as “Street-Level Politics”[xvi] - a world of protest and resistance that stretches beyond the work-place and often elaborates its politics in terms that are not quite so easily recognized as “progressive” in the most conventional of Marxist terms. Yet should we not look for our systemic contradictions where we find them. Indeed, Barker sees the phenomenon he refers to as a “social response to the expansion of market logic into social relationships that have more than economic meaning to people.” And elsewhere he speaks of the existence, in Africa and beyond, of “thousands of activist groups addressing the issues of housing, functioning of local markets, availability of local social services, provision and standard of education and abusive and damaging working conditions.”[xvii]
Nor does this mean that there is not a challenge to getting people, both urban and rural, to see their negative situations in effectively proletarian and anti-capitalist terms. After all, the vectors of oppression they often feel most tangibly are those of the state, designated to police a semi-transformed society, and to often refuse, on behalf of capital and the locally powerful, legitimate popular claims for social services and social redress. Hence the tendency for the poor and the “untransformed” to give at least as much importance to “street-level politics” as to work-place contestation in defining the overall texture of the political situation.
Moreover, it is precisely under such conditions, I would argue, that the left must feel compelled, much more imaginatively than ever before (in terms of clear principle and by means of compromise and assiduous political work), to seek to draw the best of various claims and assertions (both street-corner and work-site) as arise from diverse but related contradictions into effectively counter-hegemonic projects.[xviii] They must become, in short, claims and assertions that represent the “highest common factor” of their protagonists’ various social locations. Of course, these will certainly include worker’s demands defined quite specifically but, in the Global South in particular, it is the people across quite a broad front and mobilized around (if you like) a kind of revolutionary and eminently progressive populism who can be bring themselves (and be brought by means of effective means of political work) to defy not only oppression but also, collectively, the rule of capital.
But we cannot stop at merely a more expansive class definition of agency. For we must make a positive force in our struggle for liberation of other tensions in society that can be wed to claims and assertions advanced in the name of class-defined redress if we are imaginative enough to do so. As my former teacher and old friend Ralph Miliband has noted, capitalism’s grossly uneven development around the world has produced “extremely fertile terrain” for the kind of “pathological deformations” – predatory authoritarianisms and those “demagogues and charlatans peddling their poisonous wares...of ethnic and religious exclusion and hatred”[xix] – that now scar the global landscape. As I would add: losing confidence in socialist and other humanely modern, humanly cooperative, projects, people turn for social meaning to more ready-to-hand identities, often with fundamentalist fervour. And yet, despite this, progressives committed to class struggle can and should continue to view such identities as contingent in their socio-political implications and as not being, in many cases, in contradiction with socialist purposes. And we should, when possible, invite the bearers of such identities – alongside feminists, environmentalists, anti-racists, activists around issues of sexual orientation and the like – to join us within a broader community-in-the-making and within a universalizing democratic project of global, anti-capitalist transformation.
In fact, as Miliband continues,
...everywhere there are common goals and aspirations -- for democratic forms where they are denied and for more democratic forms where these are no more than a screen for oligarchic rule; for the achievement of a social order in which improvements in the condition of the most deprived – often a majority of the population – is the prime concern of governments; for the subordination of the economy to meeting social needs. In all countries, there are people, in numbers large and small, who are moved by the vision of a new social order in which democracy, egalitarianism and cooperation – the essential values of socialism – would be prevailing principles of [xx]social organization. It is in the growth of their numbers and in the success of their struggles that lies the best hope for humankind.
But the corollary of this position is equally compelling: we on the left had better learn to operate in our complex world of diverse faiths, races and ethnic belongings, to unite such “belongings” to our cause of class liberation, or they will continue to return to haunt us – as “merely” divisive “identifiers” and claims that can, at their worst, turn rancid and dangerous to humane purpose. So, too, must gender-defined and environmentally-concerned projects be ever more assertively articulated as being, not reducible to, but coequal with and enlarged by an assertion of class considerations.[xxi]
In short, one of our key goals must be to define “agency” not merely in terms of some rather abstractly defined “working class interest.” For that apparently simple slogan – correct but excessively schematic - has presented far too open an invitation to arrogance and high-handedness (in the interest of the “working class,” don’t you know) to essentialist vanguards of all kinds, ever quick to assert arrogantly just what “the class” must and should do. Instead we need to reach towards embrace of the range of shades of identity within and beyond strict class boundaries that can be won to revolutionary praxis. Not that tensions between diverse goals and purposes will then simply disappear, of course. Yet seeking to realize such an enlarged project of “class struggle” also underlines the requirement of much more democratic methods of negotiation of both the means and the ends of revolutionary work than has characterized most past socialist undertakings – in mobilizing the forces both to launch revolutionary change and to sustain the process of socialist construction in the long run.
III. South Africa: Proletariat and Precariat
Here South Africa is a key case, one that, as suggested in my first footnote (#1, above) I am currently examining in detail for an article complementary to the present one. To complete the present essay I will sketch something of that analysis here while referring the reader to that piece itself should he/she wish to further pursue the matter.[xxii] For the fact is that South Africa is the country in Africa that has experienced a more “modern” and conventionally capitalist transformation than the rest of the continent - and it has had a greater degree of a recognizable “proletarianization,” due, in particular, to its dramatic (and on-going) “mineral revolution” of the past 150 years. But it is also a society marked by the perpetuation and further growth of that “dangerous class” of which we have spoken (those mired, especially in the vast urban townships, in the swamp of “precarious work”...and less).
It is certainly true, for example, that the organized working class has been a key player in the country’s politics – a major player for example at the intersection of class struggle and anti-apartheid assertion.[xxiii] It was, in fact, the crucial role played by COSATU as it emerged as the key centre of organized black labor in the 1980s that gave observers who were skeptical from quite early on as to the revolutionary credentials of the ANC/SACP the sense that that something more radical was afoot in South Africa. But of course the promise was even wider than that, epitomized by COSATU, for it also lay in the broader movement of township-based self-assertion on the part of many Africans of different genders and diverse social locations. Though this kind of popular assertion was not facilitated by the ANC’s reassertion of its vanguardist mind-set during its ascension to power[xxiv], it was to revive in opposition to the policies of state and ruling party in the 1990s and, especially, in the first decade of the new century.
Here some have begun to see the possibility of a dawning of a new kind of self-conscious joining of work-place and street-level assertions of the kind that had – thanks to the saliency and universality of apartheid as shared enemy – underpinned broad-based struggle in the 1980s. Now, of course, the best organized workers were to some degree absent from the promise of counter-hegemonic struggle, having pledged themselves, from quite early on, to a the role of junior partner (as quasi-“labor aristocrats”?) to the ANC/SACP as part of the TriPartite Alliance in objective support of a neo-liberal overall trajectory for the economy.[xxv] And the wide-spread manifestations of township struggle remained paradoxical as well. For in the broad mass of the impoverished we find a population locked, on the one hand, in almost slavish electoral thrall to the ANC and its liberation-struggle credentials. Yet, on the other hand, this has proven simultaneously, to be a population ready to act out, at “street-level” as it were and in highly dramatic fashion its resistance to a broad range of governmental policies and activities. Thus, as the abstract preceding a recent important article on what he terms to be the "Rebellion of the Poor" in South Africa phrases it, Peter Alexander has argued:
Since 2004 South Africa has experienced a movement of local protests amounting to a rebellion of the poor. This has been widespread and intense, reaching insurrectionary proportions in some cases. On the surface, the protests have been about service delivery and against uncaring, self-serving a corrupt leaders of the municipalities. A key feature has been mass participation by a new generation of fighters, especially unemployed youth but also school students. Many issues that underpinned the [intial] ascendency of Jacob Zuma also fuel the present action, including a sense of injustice arising from the realities of persistent inequality.[xxvi]
Moreover, he notes, "While the inter-connections between the local protest, and between the local protests and militant action involving other elements of civl society, are limited, it is suggested that this is likely to change"!
In effect, then, two schools emerge. One, clearly exemplified by David Harvey and Patrick Bond in their writings, sees in the energies evidenced by these and other assertions of "civil society" the manifestation of a genuinely proletarian reality of struggle – struggle directly linked to other tangibly workplace-centered actions by those of more familiar working-class belonging. For such writers of the left, Gillian Hart suggests,“the central task is to rip away the mask that obfuscates neoliberal class power [confident that] such an exposé will help pave the way for a coherent resurgence of mass movements...[moving] beyond race, ethnicity, gender, and other dimensions of difference in order to achieve class-based solidarity in an increasingly dangerous world.”[xxvii] But this is not quite good enough, Hart asserts.
Thus, as she writes,
Pace David Harvey, the task confronting the left in South Africa and elsewhere is considerably more complex than that of exposing neoliberal class power. Nor is it adequate to posit a shift from race to class apartheid. Most immediately, the ANC government’s embrace of GEAR constitutes a re-articulation of race and class that is also part of an activist project of rule.[xxviii]
Note this last sentence: “class,” “race,” “rule” (and, in another context, she would no doubt add “gender”); small wonder that, for her, “the challenges facing the left are far more complex” than, her view, Harvey countenances.
The drama that exploded at Polokwane [site of Zuma’s challenging of Mbeki] was as much about contesting the meaning of nation and liberation as it was about the fallout from a neoliberal class project and socio-economic structure and we ignore these sentiments and struggles at our peril.[xxix]
In sum, she is saying, the claims of a left-populism[xxx] that self-consciously takes the liberatory claims centered on considerations of gender, race and the exercise of democratic voice with great seriousness, must not be obscured by any too exclusive a preoccupation with the simultaneous reality of class determination.
How best to square this particular circle: “class politics” or “a more broadly liberatory politics?” The short answer: both of the above (although in fact Hart is rather unfair to Bond who has consistently pressed, through his Centre for Civil Society in Durban for a perspective that takes a full range of civic assertions, ranging from environmental concerns to service delivery protests, seriously). But for heuristic purposes consider “Bond” – and Hart certainly does think that both Bond and Harvey are too quick to label urban resisters as “proletarian” almost by definition - as being tilted too far towards the kind of class essentialism of which Hart is accusing him. And consider Hart herself as being much too wary of it. In such a scenario the “Bonds” and the “Harts” would both be equally correct - but only as far as they go!
For it is in making the two pieces of the puzzle – the puzzle as to what can and will drive the “lower orders” in their pursuit of equity - fit together for revolutionary purposes that the real challenge lies. It is easy to see how they might not fit: the most organized of workers going deeper and deeper into the (minimally) gilded ghetto of “privilege;” township dwellers more and more seduced down the blind-alleys of the most “dangerous” of consciousnesses: criminality, xenophobia, ethnic rivalry and the like.[xxxi] But, on both sides of the equation, such postures remain so far from being the whole story of work-place and township life that many South African activists reach for a different narrative, a different possibility.
Add to this the fact that, on both sides of the equation claims are, at their best, driven by a demand for equity and fairness, disturbingly liberal-sounding substantives in their vague and potentially windy abstraction, but words with meaning nonetheless. And one thing more: the varied terrains of struggle need each other. For “class” preoccupations pursued without full attention to the terrains of struggle for gender and racial equality and for a guarantee of access to the expression of real democratic voice are as unlikely to make a meaningful revolution as are movements based on gender, race and voice that don’t take demands based on class considerations sufficiently seriously.[xxxii] Genuine liberation, genuine socialism, genuine liberatory socialism demand all four components.
[i] This essay, prepared for workshop (mentioned below) organized by David Harvey at CUNY in New York, May 12-13, 2011 should be read in conjunction with a second, complementary one, entitled “Reviving Resistance: “Workers and the Poor” in South Africa” and prepared for the “Socialist Register Workshop on Socialist Strategy Today” for the weekend immediately after the CUNY conference in New York.
[ii]. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party” in Robert C. Tucker (ed.), The Marx-Engels Reader, Second Edition (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), pp. 474, 476, 482. At the same time, of course, they write (p. 481) that “the organization of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset by competition between the workers themselves,” - adding, however, that “it [the proletariat] ever rises again, stronger, firmer, mightier.”
[iii]. This Wikipedia entry draws heavily on Judy Fudge and Rosemary Owens (eds.), Precarious Work, Women and the New Economy: The Challenge to Legal Norms (Toronto: Hart, 2006), especially their introduction, and also on Leah Vosko’s chapter in the same book, “Gender, Precarious Work and the international Labor Code: The Ghost in the ILO Closet.”
[iv]. Marx and Engels, ibid., p. 482.
[v]. Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York: International Publishers, 1963), p. 75.
[vi]. Karl Marx, Class Struggles in France (New York: International Publishers, 1964), p. 50; as he continues, “at the youthful age at which the Provisional Government recruited them [they were] thoroughly malleable, capable of the most heroic deeds and the most exalted sacrifices, as of the basest banditry and the dirtiest corruption.”
[vii] In Giovanni Arrighi and John S. Saul, Essays on the Political Economy of Africa (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973).
[viii] See my “The ‘Labor Aristocracy’ Thesis Reconsidered” in Richard Sandbrook and Robin Cohen (eds.) The Development of an African Working Class (Toronto and London: University, 1975) and, with the same title but in a somewhat modified version, as chapter 12 in The State and Revolution in Eastern Africa (London and New York: Heinemann and Monthly Review Press, 1975).
[ix]. See Jonathan Barker, Street-Level Politics (Toronto: Between the Lines, 1999)
[x]. As I complete this piece I learn, via the internet, that a new book by Guy Standing entitled The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class - thus underscoring in one title both concepts I deploy here: "the precariat" and "the dangerous class"- is set to appear. Clearly Standing and I are working along some startlingly similar lines since, beyond the title itself, the flyer I have received announcing the book’s launch summarizes its content as follows: “The Precariat is a new class, comprising the growing number of people facing lives of insecurity, doing work without a past or future. Their lack of belonging and identity means inadequate access to social and economic rights. Why is this new class growing, what political dangers does it represent and how might these be addressed?" I have yet to read this still forthcoming publication of course, but, while intrigued, I am rather surprised to hear only “dangers” being mentioned in its announcement (above). The reality on the ground is much more complicated (and more promising) in South Africa, as this essay and the complementary one noted in footnote 1 argue.
[xi]. George Packer, “The Megacity,” The New Yorker, (Nov. 13, 2006).
[xii]. Bill Freund, The African Worker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) p. 74-5.
[xiii]. Freund, ibid., p. 75.
[xiv]. Peter C. W. Gutkind, The Emergent African Urban Proletariat (Montreal: Centre for Developing Area Studies, McGill University, 1974), p. 1.
[xv]. Ken Post and Phil Wright, Socialism and Underdevelopment (London and New York: Routledge, 1989), pp. 151-2.
[xvi]. Jonathan Barker, op. cit., p. 13.
[xvii]. Jonathan Barker, “Debating Globalization: Critique of Colin Leys,” Southern Africa Report (SAR), 12, 4 [September, 1997]).
[xviii]. Note that Barker himself is skeptical about the priority (or even wisdom) of seeking to discover some counter-hegemony to encompass and generalize the diversity of such important and legitimate claims. In my opinion and on this aspect of the question he is effectively answered, also in the pages of Southern Africa Report, by Colin Leys, “Colin Leys Replies,” SAR, 12, 4 (September, 1997) and Veronica Schild, “Their Hegemony or Ours,” SAR, 3, 4 (August, 1998).
[xix]. Ralph Miliband, Socialism in a Sceptical Age (London: Verso, 1995), p. 192.
[xx]. Ibid, pp. 194-5.
[xxi]. Material in this paragraph is drawn from my book Development after Globalization (op. cit.), especially ch. 3, “Identifying Class, Classifying Difference,” where this overall argument is spelled out at much greater length.
[xxii]. See my complementary paper “Reviving Resistance: ‘Workers and the Poor’ in South Africa” (op. cit., footnote 1).
[xxiii]. The documentation on this subject is substantial but for a useful overview of COSATU and the organized working-class as it emerged into the post-apartheid milieu and a “neo-liberalizing world” see Eddie Webster and Glenn Adler, “Exodus Without a Map: The Labor Movement in a Liberalizing South Africa” in Bjorn Beckman and Lloyd Sachikonye (eds.) Labor Regimes and Liberalization: The Restructuring of State-Society Relations in Africa (Harare: University of Zimbabwe Press, 2001). See also, for an analysis of more recent developments, Roger Southall and Eddie Webster, Unions and parties in South Africa: COSATU and the ANC in the wake of Polokwane" in Bjorn Beckman, Sakhela Buhlungu and Lloyd Sachikonye (eds.)Trade Unions and Party Politics: Labor Movements in Africa (xxx) and, inter alia, Carolyn Bassett and Marlea Clarke, "South African trade unions and globalization: going for the 'high-road," getting stuck on the 'low-road'," World Organisation, Labor and Globalisation, v. 2, # 1(Spring, 2008) and Sakhela Buhlungu, A Paradox of Victory: COSATU and the Democratic Transformation in South Africa (Scottsville, S.A: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2010).
[xxiv]. See Rusty Bernstein’s revealing 2002 letter to the author, later published as “’The turning point...’ Letter from Rusty Bernstein to John S. Saul” in Transformation, #64 (2007).
[xxv]. On the virtues of a new "small-a" alliance between organized labor and civil society, one that could deplace the presently existing "large-A" Alliance from political centrality in South Africa, see John S. Saul, Revolutionary Traveller (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring, 2009), pp. 292-6 and Patrick Bond, "South African splinters: From 'elite transition' to 'small-alliance'," Review of African Political Economy, #127 (March, 2011)
[xxvi]. Peter Alexander, "Rebellion of the poor: South Africa's service delivery protests - a preliminary analysis," Review of African Political Economy, v. 37, # 123 (March, 2010).
[xxvii]. Gillian Hart, "Provocations of neoliberalism: Contesting the nation and liberation after apartheid" in Brij Maharaj, Ashwin Desai and Patrick Bond (eds.), Zuma's Own Goal: Losing South Africa's 'War on Poverty' (Trenton, N.J.: African World Press, 2011), p. 82.
[xxviii]. Hart, ibid., p. 83. Bond’s own characteristic mode of argument is epitomized by Hart, ibid., p. 96.
[xxix]. Hart, ibid., p. 96
[xxx]. This is not a phrase that Hart herself uses, it should be noted.
[xxxi]. See John S. Saul, “Race, Class, Gender and Voice: Four Terrains of Liberation,” being chapter 1 of Saul, Liberation Lite: The Roots of Recolonization in Southern Africa (Delhi Trenton, N.J. and Asmara: Three Essays Collective and Africa World Press/Red Sea Press, 2011).
[xxxii]. The complexities of township life, the realities of a real struggle for equity there, and the simultaneous danger of slippage to less than savoury outcomes have been well documented in recent literature, as will be discussed at greater length in my attendant essay anticipated in Footnotes 1, above. See, in addition to Peter Alexander (as cited in footnote 26), the running compilations of township unrest being assembled by John Devenish at the University of KwaZulu/Natal. See too such fine “township insider” accounts as that by Jacob Dlamini and entitled Native Nostalgia (Aukland Park, S.A.: Jacana, 2009), a book at once sociological and autobiographical.
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