WSF (1998): “Focus: Unemployment crisis”

WSF (1998): “Focus: Unemployment crisis”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 4, number 2, fourth quarter 1998. Complete PDF is here

1 million lose jobs in two years

The job crisis: What is the solution?

South Africa is in the midst of an unemployment crisis unprecedented in its history. There at least 5 million jobless. The official unemployment rate is 30%, but the actual unemployment rate varies between different areas. In some locations, unemployment is near 80%.

The unemployment is being increased by a massive process of job shedding in all major sectors of the economy.

* Overall, jobs have fallen by 1,230,000 since 1995

* Farming: jobs have fallen from 1,5 million to 750,000 over the last four years.

* Mining: at least 200,000 jobs have been shed over the last two years. This has taken place despite a two-year productivity agreement between the National Union of Mineworkers and the mine bosses.

* Overall, the number of jobs is at the level it was at in 1984. In other words, although the population has grown over the last fourteen years, job creation has simply not kept pace. Only 1 in every ten school leavers finds work.

THE REAL CAUSES OF UNEMPLOYMENT

*Fire the Bosses- Workers Must Manage the Factories, Mines and Farms through their Trade Unions

We live in a capitalist society. This society is controlled by big companies, and by the government. Both of these structures concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few- the ruling class of bosses and politicians.

BOSSES

Capitalism creates unemployment. Even a healthy capitalist economy has a lot of unemployment. The bosses always make sure that there are some workers without jobs. This is so that they can use the unemployed as scabs during strikes, and as a way of controlling workers who want to fight back: “You can go and complain with the jobless at the roadside!”

The bosses create more unemployment by using machines to take jobs.

CRISIS

Capitalism is a very unstable system. It goes through periods of growth and periods of crisis. The whole world’s economy went into a crisis in the early 1970s. This includes South Africa. The crisis is still going on today.

During this period of crisis, unemployment has become even worse. This is because many companies have collapsed or shrunk their operations.

The companies that are still going are trying to cut their costs so that they can keep making profits. One way of cutting costs is to cut back on the number of workers employed through “workplace restructuring” – either by using fewer workers to do more, or by replacing workers with machines.

Government policies around the world during the current crisis are making unemployment worse. These policies, which take the form of GEAR in South Africa [see GEAR article on p. 20 for more details], involve privatisation, cut backs in the public sector, and allowing in cheap exports which undermine local industries.

WORKERS CONTROL

Unemployment is built into capitalism and will only end when capitalism is replaced by real socialism. We do not mean the thing that existed in Russia. We mean libertarian socialism under workers control brought about through revolutionary trade union action to take over the factories, offices, mines and farms (anarcho-syndicalism).

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About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I am currently also involved in union education and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented papers at more than 120 conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 3 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and written well over 130 other articles, papers and entries. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. I have several books, including 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014) and 'Black Flame: the revolutionary class politics of anarchism and syndicalism' (co-written with Michael Schmidt, AK Press 2009).