INSIDE LABOUR: Election manifestos vs. reality

INSIDE LABOUR: Election manifestos vs. reality

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We are again in the midst of that five-yearly cycle when
politicians make extravagant promises that, on even cursory examination, ignore
reality. And that does not even mean looking ahead to the consequences of the
fourth industrial revolution that the world has already embarked on.

Some promises and projections, such as those contained in
the manifesto of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are more detailed, even
more coherent, than most. But they also ignore the facts in a globalised world.
Like much of the labour movement and most other political parties, the EFF
retreats into nationalism and to what writer Samuel Johnson called “the
last refuge of a scoundrel”: patriotism.

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    To quote another famous writer, Jonathan Swift: “No
    man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a
    part of the main.” This certainly applies equally to those artificial
    creations of history: nation states.

    Pie in the sky

    Yet politicians in particular continue to promote the idea
    that, somehow, their country is isolated from the rest; that successful recipes
    for growth and general wellbeing that applied in different regions in a less
    integrated world, can simply be adopted today for a better tomorrow. Were the
    consequences not so tragic, this sort of thinking might be laughable.

    But there seems little thought for the consequences. As the
    electoral battle is joined, the major political parties seem to share in common
    proposals for greater foreign direct investment, a revitalised manufacturing
    sector and — especially from the EFF — more special economic zones that would
    grant tax free status to major employers of labour.

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    What it all boils down to, whether from the government, the
    Democratic Alliance or any other party, is: more growth, more jobs and at
    decent pay. It is a call joined, almost unanimously, by the labour movement. Yet
    it is all just another example of pie in the sky.

    Race to the bottom

    It is also dangerous to adopt — and try to carry out —
    policies based on the assumption that economic growth will lead to more jobs,
    let alone jobs that will provide a decent living wage to all. To do so merely
    entrenches to “race to the bottom” for the sellers of labour.

    The reason is obvious: we live in a world not only of
    sufficiency, but in a global village of surpluses. Great advances in transport
    also mean that products and produce can move quickly to any part of the world.

    We therefore have the potential to adequately feed, clothe,
    house and liberate humanity. But the policies now pursued within a system
    accepted by governments and most political parties, makes this impossible and
    the consequences are tragic.

    A classic example is the fact — measured by the UN Food and
    Agriculture Organisation — that “global hunger” has increased in the
    past three years, with an estimated 821 million people now malnourished. Yet,
    by 2017, there was a near record global glut of wheat, rice, corn and soybeans.
    And from the US agriculture department we hear that the US has stockpiled a
    record 1.39 billion pounds (3 million kg) of cheese.

    A mad see-saw

    This mad see-saw of famine and glut is obviously
    unnecessary. It also results in the dumping of food, sometimes literally into
    landfills or the sea or as cut-cut-price exports to other countries, so
    undermining agricultural production in the dumped-on regions. The same all too
    often applies to much subsidised “food aid”.

    Similar situations apply right across the board and often
    have damaging consequences for the environment. The energy intensive and
    polluting production of steel, where there is massive global over-capacity and
    over-production, is an often-quoted example. Yet the same criticism applies to
    products such as clothing, once a major South African manufacturing sector.

    Take a pair of jeans, for example. It requires 7 000 litres
    of water — the amount the average person consumes in six years — for that
    single item of clothing to reach the market. On top of that, it is estimated
    that 30% of annual garment production is never sold.

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    What happens to much of this surplus is an horrific tale of
    waste: in the US alone, 12.8 million tons goes into landfills every year. And
    in Sweden in 2017, the global H&M brand provided discarded clothing to help
    power the furnaces to supply electricity to the town of Vasteras, south-west of
    Stockholm.

    There are many similar tales of wanton waste and
    environmental degradation resulting in obscene wealth for the few and sometimes
    horrific penury for the majority. This is the reality that politicians and
    policymakers should face in order to set in motion actions that can have
    beneficial material effects.

    Once, with the transition from apartheid, South Africa was
    seen as providing such hope. But this was an illusion, a rainbow that briefly
    obscured the underlying reality of the rotten system beneath.

    Hard questions now need to be asked. Hard facts faced. It
    will not be easy, but it can be done. And it has to start somewhere. All it
    requires is the political will to take the radical steps necessary to start a
    process that could lead our global village out of the mire it now wallows in. But,
    as the 2019 elections loom, there seems nothing on offer for the electorate but
    variations on the same theme.

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