Ideology splits some of our warring institutions, even though we are supposed to be living in a post-ideological age. The Congress of South African Trade Unions and the African National Congress share a history of immersion in socialist doctrine, while our business community is committed to free- market capitalism. The extreme flanks of both those ideologies have been seriously discredited in recent times: the communist empire has collapsed, while free-market fundamentalism in the form of the ‘Washington consensus’ has produced the worst global recession in nearly 100 years, to say nothing of the ‘greed is good’ philosophy parodied in the 1987 movie, Wall Street.

First published in Business Day today is a thought-provoking article by Allister Sparks, a veteran journalist and political analyst – Economic Codesa may help SA span ideological divisions.

Business Day kindly allows me to publish extracts from the articles and provide links to Business Day.

It is time for the unions to think deeply about the damage being done to our unemployed youth – and thus to the future of our country – by their intransigence over the labour regulations that are preventing young people from getting entry-level jobs, particularly through a wide-ranging apprenticeship system that starts with low pay but would equip them with skills that they and the country so desperately need.

The unions should also consider compromises that would have them agree to lower- pay industrial development zones in our seriously depressed areas; to having wage increases linked in part to increased productivity; to allowing greater discipline as well as merit pay for teachers; to working to achieve better productivity generally.

But business has its part to play, too, in the compromise game. To begin with it needs to take the view of the unions more seriously, not to preach to them or approach dialogue over the way forward as though they possess the gospel truth that others must learn to accept. Such arrogance ensures failure.

The regularity of our annual strike season is not a one-sided phenomenon. Executives should think seriously about how their outrage at union demands for 12% and 14% wage increases in the face of low inflation looks to their workers when their own pay increases have averaged 23% this year nearly six times the inflation rate. And who was it who started the bling thing with ostentatious mansions, flashy cars and clothes and champagne parties? Its an inherited characteristic from our gold rush days, I guess, but a little restraint, in keeping with the inequalities of the new SA, would not be out of place.

Our business leaders would do well to look more closely at the stabilising influence of Germany’s social partnership model, in which workers participate in how business decisions are made and have more of a share in the profits that accrue.

Its no surprise that strikes are much rarer in Germany than elsewhere in Europe. German workers are treated as partners, they join with employers in improving productivity and in negotiating with the government on matters of labour market regulation and wider issues of economic and social policy, and they share in welfare benefits financed through company taxes. This has created a different culture.

German industry also benefits from a markedly better relationship between executives and shop-floor workers. This is largely because of the countrys highly developed apprenticeship system, which is run jointly by employers and the unions and covers all manner of occupations, from hi-tech engineering to producing master bakers.

The apprenticeship system is interwoven with the education system. Students who dont go on to higher education spend three years in vocational training schools, which run apprenticeship courses in collaboration with individual companies, where they work for low pay while learning on the job. So highly are these apprenticeships rated that many aspirant managers undergo the vocational training before moving on to universities and business schools.