Ten things about social pacts

The idea of a social pact was used widely in the European democracies with strong welfare states. (AP)

The idea of a social pact was used widely in the European democracies with strong welfare states. (AP)

1. On October 17, after discussions between representatives of the government, business and unions to deal with the wave of post-Marikana strikes, President Jacob Zuma announced a new social pact that included improved law and order and a commitment to address socioeconomic issues.

2. The terms "social pact" and "social compact" were used to describe the agreement eventually reached at the second round of the Conference for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) in 1994.

3. The idea of a social pact was used widely in the European democracies with strong welfare states and has since been seen largely as a government reaching agreements with its social partners, capital and labour. It is now applied all over the world and is often measured in terms of social spending.

4. Lucio Baccaro and Sang-Hoon Lim of the International Institute for Labour Studies in Geneva argue that social pacts come about when "weak government … unable ... to manage the crisis unilaterally seeks to build a broad societal alliance around its adjustment policies".

5. Social pacts grow from social contract theory, which goes back to the great Enlightenment philosophers of the 1600s and 1700s. The divine right of the European monarchies having been discredited, these thinkers asked what gave cohesion to a society and what allowed the rise of, and gave legitimacy to, a government and the state.

6.  John Locke tackled the matter in his Second Treatise on Government (1689), arguing that the populace delegates its right of self-preservation to the state.

7. In 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "a citizen of Geneva", took matters much further in his ground-breaking Of the Social Contract, or The Principles of Political Right, arguing for a stronger form of democracy in which only the general will of the nation as a whole could give legitimacy to a government.

8. Rousseau was extremely influential on the kind of thinking that drove the political philosophy of the French Revolution. From this and earlier arguments about the natural law that gives each person basic rights, the two declarations of the "Rights of Man and of the Citizen" (1789 and 1793) were developed.

9. The anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon argued in the 1850s that the true social contract was not between the people and the state, but between each person in society.

10. In response to the European Union winning the Nobel peace prize this month and the equivocal results of the latest summit on the euro crisis, the European United Left and Nordic Green Left called for a new "social pact for the 99%" that would entail "much needed social and environmentally sustainable development … This summit was all spin and no substance as the concerns of the citizens fell by the wayside. We must turn the tide and then we can talk about who deserves the Nobel prize."



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