The Politics of Difference: Union Responses and Attitudes Towards Migrant Workers in a Post Migrant Labour Regime

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Janet MUNAKAMWE, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
"The Soviet had to develop out of an organisation that bound workers together, regardless of their union, regardless of whether they were even in unions, around the point of production, an organisation that united their struggles with those other workers linked to them in the productive process, an organisation that could express their growing awareness of their unity, strength and ability to control production" (Gramsci cited in Harman, 2006:5)

In light of the statement above, this paper examines union responses and attitudes towards vulnerable and precarious workers in the shadow of globalisation. Various categories of ‘at risk’ workers have emerged in the 21st century; casual, out-sourced, labour brokered, seasonal, permanent temporary and immigrants. While all are vulnerable, it is important to accentuate the fact that workers as a social group are not homogenous and that the level and magnitude of exploitation varies. Besides ‘bread and butter’ issues, at the core of foreign workers’ struggle is the issue of migration status (documentation) which to a greater degree underpins vulnerability and exploitation and xenophobia. In particular, this paper looks at union responses to immigrant workers in a post migrant labour regime. In his theory of hegemony, Gramsci argues that economic needs are not the only stimulant to mobilisation of workers as there exist other subtle factors. Thus, using ethnographic methods and through in-depth interviews with union officials, migrant rights organisations (MROs) and migrant workers in South Africa, this paper, argues that in their organising efforts, unions need to take into account the politics of difference and further examine the intersectionality of class in relation to other social markers such as ethnicity, nationality, regionalism, race, gender, education, age, religion, xenophobia including employment contracts.