State-labour relations in Botswana, 1966-1990 : industrial relations in an emergent "liberal" capitalist democracy
Botswana is a formally liberal democratic country that is known for its impressive economic growth and political stability. The country has sometimes been referred to as Africa's economic miracle and a shining example of democracy in a continent notorious for economic mismanagement, military dictatorships and one-party government. However, this picture of Botswana is too superficial and generous. This study seeks to delve beneath the surface of this much acclaimed liberal democracy in order to explore the system of labour repression that is the dark side of Botswana's constitutional framework of individual rights and democratic freedoms. In Botswana, the collective rights and freedoms of trade unions, though formally recognized, are in fact severely restricted. The state prevents workers in the public sector from forming or belonging to trade unions at all. In the private sector there are manifold constraints on industrial bargaining, organisation and activity. These forms of control over the trade union movement derive from the Botswana state's position as a peripheral capitalist state. These structures of social domination, however, have not gone unchallenged by the labour movement. The growth and development of the trade union movement and the challenges posed by the labour movement to both the state and capital have shifted the state towards limited labour reforms. This shows that, while the Botswana state remains the guarantor of private capital accumulation, its form is nevertheless determined by the constellation of class forces in which it is located. If the state is to maintain legitimacy and hegemony in society, and not rely on coercion alone, it must accede to some of the demands of the working class. Botswan&s liberal democracy gives the working class space to fight for the reduction of exploitation and to push the state toward more social reforms. At the same time, however, there is occurring a marked change in how the state relates to labour - from what may be called a strategy of "national economic development" to one more influenced by neo-liberal economic and political approaches. The conclusion I have reached in this analysis is that workers and their unions need to develop a long term strategy to increase their social weight in relation to the state and capital. The strategic option recommended here is social movement unionism. It is argued that because of the liberal democratic form of Botswana capitalism, social movement unionism, rather than overt political unionism stands a better chance of success because this form of unionism will not split the ranks of the workers along party lines.