WSF 1998: “Why we say ‘Asifune GEAR’ (Why we oppose GEAR)”

WSF 1998: “Why we say ‘Asifune GEAR’ (Why we oppose GEAR)”

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

In June 1996, the ANC-led government adopted the Growth, Employment and Redistribution plan (GEAR). This plan promotes policies, which blatantly serve the needs of bosses at the expense of workers and the poor. The government’s adoption of GEAR marked its commitment to “free market” policies.

WHAT IS GEAR?

GEAR is the ANC government’s strategy to promote social and economic development. It replaces the RDP. The government argues that the best way in which to “develop” South Africa is to promote “economic growth” (i.e. to increase bosses profit). In other words, there must be a “good investor climate” (things must be good for the bosses), and this will lead to better times. There will be more jobs, and more money to spend on services.

But if one takes a close look at GEAR’s policies it is clear that if government’s policies will ensure that bosses get fat while the poor and working class are condemned to poverty and hunger.

GEAR says: cut back government spending especially public sector wages and jobs, and social services (hospitals, schools, pensions).

* Education and free primary health care will mean very little if hospitals and schools are over crowded, have no money, have no resources (no beds or books) and are understaffed.

* Tertiary education will become much more expensive and bursaries will be cut. Thus making it impossible for workers’ families to attend university or technikon.

* Pensions will remain extremely low.

* There will be very little money for building houses for the homeless.

GEAR says: privatise state assets.

* With the privatisation of state assets, basic services will only be provided to those who can pay (e.g. electricity).

* Many workers will lose their jobs or be forced to accept wage restraint because the bosses and the government aim to cut costs and privatise government assets.

* Workers will have to pay more for services, such as transport

GEAR says: The tax on the bosses companies and personal income will be reduced. Taxes like VAT will increase.

* Instead of the rich and middle classes paying higher rates of tax than the poor, the poor will pay more tax than the rich will. This means that workers pay a disproportionate amount of tax and will shoulder the burden of supporting the government.

GEAR says: Drop exchange controls and trade barriers to open the economy to foreign imports.

* Workers will lose their jobs or be forced to accept low wages as bosses try to make their companies more competitive with cheap imports by cutting labour costs.

GEAR says: Workers to agree to wage restraint (workers must not demand higher wages), flexible labour markets (less regulations and protection) and increased productivity (workers must work harder).

* Less pay, harder work, worse conditions, less worker rights

OPPOSE GEAR

It is clear that if workers and the poor want a better life we must not accept GEAR. But Trevor Manuel has stated that GEAR’s policies are non- negotiable and every one must accept it. COSATU leaders say that they will try to influence the government’s economic policy by talking to their allies in the alliance. We say, we cannot wait for negotiations and must resist GEAR now on the shopfloor. We must take up mass action and strike against the implementation of GEAR!

WORKERS MUST DEMAND

* An end to cutbacks in health, education, welfare, pensions, housing and infrastructure.

* An end to privatisation

* An end to increases in VAT, trade liberalisation and high interest and bank rates.

* A Living wage and an end to wage restraint.

* An end to retrenchment and unemployment. We demand more jobs.

* That COSATU be independent of all political parties so it can fight for the workers.

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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).