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Reviewed by:
  • Beyond the Apartheid Workplace — studies in transition
  • Shaun Ruggunan
E Webster and K Von Holdt (eds) (2005) Beyond the Apartheid Workplace - studies in transition. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press

This edited volume is a valuable contribution to industrial and economic sociology. As someone who teaches an undergraduate module on organising the labour process and a graduate module on globalisation, flexible work and trade unions, it has often been difficult to find a single volume of case studies that deal with the South African workplace in its many forms and the labour process, equity, and power issues therein.

Webster and Von Holdt have included 17 in depth case studies in this volume. The volume works from the premise that in order fully to understand the workplace, one has to have a 'broader understanding of societies and economies' (2005:ix). As such, the editors attempt to broaden our understanding of what the workplace is and who workers are, as well as the relationships between workers, workplaces and changing forms of work with 'wider social processes and social structures' (2005:ix). The 17 case studies are all theorised within Webster's conceptualisation of South Africa's triple transition towards political democracy, economic liberalisation and post-colonial transformation and the tensions (particularly for workers) inherent in such a transition.

The book draws on several directions of labour studies theory. The first of these directions is a focus on the labour process approach to theorising the world of work. Simply stated, this entails understanding how work and workplaces are organised. Fordist and post-Fordist ways of producing and organising, the skilling and deskilling of workers, class, race and equity relations are some of the key subjects of study in this book. The focus also [End Page 127] investigates the workplace as a site of struggle and control as well as managerial strategies to obtain the control and consent of the workforce in the workplace. The number of case studies in this book that use this approach to understanding the workplace is evidence of its continuing popularity in South African labour studies.

The second theoretical direction of this volume is a focus on class, race and equity. In this sense it draws on the classical labourist belief in 'the point of production as the key to all questions of work, exploitation, and organisation' (Walker 1998:xii). At the same time, however, the editors and their case studies attempt to go beyond the point of production in their understanding of the 'new workplace'. The editors state explicitly that the world of work needs to be understood within the broader changes at local, national, regional and global levels. In this regard the editors attempt (less successfully) to engage with a third type of theorisation that engages with workplace issues that traditional class and labour process theories cannot adequately address. As Walker (1998: xii) points out: 'Capitalism suddenly and unceremoniously revolutionised the landscape of industrial production, rendering obsolete any number of articles of faith about the course of mechanisation, deskilling, corporate concentration and the nature of work'. Whilst this collection of case studies is seminal in many ways, it is also a clarion call for new scholarship to expand South African industrial sociology beyond the workings of the workplace. As the editors suggest, the scale of analysis needs to be shifted outside the workplace to local, national, regional and global scales of analysis. In sum, the spatial or geographic analysis of work, workers and workplaces needs to come more to the fore in future studies.

The book is divided into six themes as an attempt to capture fully the transition of the post-apartheid workplace. The themes are:

  1. 1. The end of the racial division of labour? Skills, workplace discrimination and employment equity;

  2. 2. Employee participation and productivity;

  3. 3. Working in the service sector;

  4. 4. The growing trend of casualisation: is a new work paradigm needed?;

  5. 5. The self employed: working poor or potential entrepreneurs?;

  6. 6. Negotiating workplace change in the public sector.

The findings of the various case studies are organised and discussed by the editors in their introductory Chapter One, 'Work restructuring and the [End Page 128] Crisis of Social Reproduction'. According to the...


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