Where to for our diminishing labour and industrial force

2014-03-03 04:54

It was a cool Autumn Saturday morning in 1993 eMsobomvu in the then Transkei. My grandmother had depleted her stock of wool for knitting in preparation for orders in the winter season. She was never short of business, with orders coming from locals within the township to the Spargs supermarket in town eGcuwa.

On that day however she surprisingly decided to take me down the road to the nearby factories that produced this wool. Maybe it was because she didn’t have a nanny to take care of me at that time (she always had a knack of firing them and I just couldn’t keep track anymore). I still remember the feeling as I walked in the cotton factory. It felt like I was watching a theatrical sci-fi movie. So many machines! So much cotton! People standing in process lines waiting for batches, screaming and shouting. There within those walls lay the wool that would nourish my grandmother’s business.

Factories like these were reminiscent of the intense manufacturing industries of the 80s and early 90s. Not only did they employ thousands of people in industrial Fort Jackson (Mdantsane), in Dimbaza, Newcastle, Ladysmith and the likes, but they fed small enterprises and initiatives like those of my grandmother. They enabled parents to provide for the future doctors and lawyers that flocked to schools at 7h30am. They were the spinal cord of our ecosystem, and still remain that of dominant economic powers the world over.

As I looked at Butterworth a few weeks ago and walked past these once crowded factories, I saw dilapidated structures parallel to a people disintegrated into a mode of consumption with no production equilibrium. I saw a people with no skills to even cultivate the land for their own subsistence. It made me think of a conversation I had with a fellow in Cala who told me he once went around looking for a cow for his wedding, and upon seeing a herd and inquiring where the owner of these cattle was, the neighbour shockingly replied “the owner is out to collect his social grant”.

These are the stories we tell today. Those of thousands of tons in iron ore that leave Durban Harbour on an Australian Ship to Guangzhou.  Those of the Lumpenproletariat with no backboned set of values but the constant demand for higher wages. That of the masses seduced by handouts to fulfil an ingestion they cannot sustain. That of a government stuck on how to move the country forward.

The only direction this country has moved into is that of consumption. The only sector that the administration has made credible progress is that of tax collection. A taxation of producers to satisfy the hunger of consumers. An unsustainable consumption that will lead us to the bane of our existence. We have yet to substantially touch the means of production and entrepreneurship, with industrial development zones like Coega looking like deserts and international research councils continuing to flash out damning reports on the state of our entrepreneurial landscape.

These are the facts that constantly make me ask myself “have we really had a good story to tell in increasing the pool of self-sustaining people in this land? Can we look forward to a better story in the next 20 years?” I for one do not think so, not for as long as the status quo prevails and there exists a so called unimaginative ‘radical left’ that advocates for an increase of salaries for the proletariat and in so doing the de facto promotion of the waged people to sustain their lives only through what they can do with their hands. This, without regarding the Fanonian school of thought’s promotion to influence and to re-imagine what our industries should look like, the type of education we want our people to seek, the innovation and the knowledge we want to actualise and the state of society we want to leave for our children.

If there is a positive paradigm to consider, it is that most of the players in our society need to have a desire to industrialise. It is not in the best interests of business to preserve the Cash Mountains that the Minister of Finance continues to call on them to use and invest for the time value of money dictates against such conservancy. It is also not in the best interests of trade unions to have a stagnant industry that cannot sustain the labour of the proletariat. For further clarity one need not to look further than NUM. Having stated that I also do not think it is in the best interests of the intellectual working class to continue spending money on services, innovation and research and development that never goes beyond their soft and hard copies of intellectual property. Finally it is in all our interests to uplift the masses from social reliance.

And the only way that this can be done is by creating jobs for them. Jobs we ought to realise will not come from national planning documents. They will come only through the immersion and the participation of the proletariat in a coalition with the national bourgeois in what previous academia referred to as the “pre requisites of ‘dependent development’”. “An alliance able and willing to pursue a strategy of national industrial development over the long term” as noted by Mkandawira. A coalition that can drive the direction of industry for it is in both their vested interests to do so, not that of the government administration. This is a fundamental presupposition of the “developmental state”.

We need to redefine what the values of our labour force should be in South Africa. That as we need to define the broader values that industry should be based on. That is what we need from the Workers Party. If we do not succeed in these quests, then there will never be any national imperative for eccentricity will forever triumph over stewardship.

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