Radical changes needed to address unemployment crisis: Irvin Jim

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National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) secretary general Irvin Jim says the continued failure of government to address the high unemployment rate is a great challenge that needs to be tackled. Jim points out that the first step towards addressing the situation should be the reversal of de-industrialisation. He says the reversal of de-industrialisation phenomenon will ensure that all key strategic economic sectors are owned and controlled by the State. He stresses that these key sectors could be developed into mineral ownership and further ensure the championing of manufacturing. He points out that South Africa is rich in chrome ore, which is used to produce ferrochrome. Jim says with the country sitting on 80% of chrome reserves, of which chrome extracted in the country is exported to China, such a practice kills the skills market and hinders possibilities of job creation. He also notes that the huge amounts of reserves the country is sitting on create an over-supply, thus killing the industry. According to Jim, all leading industries should be tasked with creating jobs, but says government is failing in this. He says it is crucial to improve import taxes within key strategic economic sectors, which will in turn force those with capital to weigh their options, and start up their businesses within the country rather than export materials. This will in turn create more jobs for locals. An argument in point, he says, is that “no major economy in the world allows for scrap metals to be exported,” something which South Africa still allows. He points out that most industrialised nations have banned the export of scrap metals, and thus South Africa should follow suit. Jim says because of exports, many foundries are closing down within the clothing sector. An example in point of major players that hinder job creation, Jim says, is that Sasol is currently sitting on R17 billion of profits, which is not being invested anywhere. Because the State has given mineral rights to such companies, he says, no investment will come forth. He maintains that major economic players have been given too much muscle. Jim says in 2006 the State dumped efforts to deal with Sasol’s position on windfall taxes. He lashes out at the State’s reluctance to address such issues, saying “government instead dumps issues with the Competition Commission to handle, which may take years to resolve.” He stresses that it makes no sense that South Africa imports plenty of plastic products whereas part of Sasol’s by-products is the polymer chemical, used to produce plastics. Jim claims that on products that Sasol sells to the local market, it does so at above global prices. Key to creating jobs, Jim says, is to nationalise key strategic economic sectors, to champion beneficiation as well as to redistribute wealth. He says another step to correct the current employment crisis would be to rectify the current macro-economic policies, which have been spearheaded by GEAR, which has in turn failed the economy.

Through GEAR, the country has seen high interest rates, inflation targeting instead of job targeting.

In his contestation, Jim says through GEAR, the country has seen high interest rates, inflation targeting instead of job targeting, as well as the removal of key controls. He says if the State is serious about improving our economy, they will do away with policies that only benefit the financial sector. The Numsa leader says there should be ways derived to invest only in productive sectors. He says South Africa is seen as a dumping ground by many, because tariffs have been dropped drastically, as a result, killing the market. Jim says such neo-liberal policies have failed the youth and the unemployed. Quizzed about the youth wage subsidy, Jim says it is an idea championed by the capitalist class. He says the idea is insulting to South Africans, particularly blacks and Africans. He notes that the country’s economy has flourished through black labour, “but the apartheid wage gap continues to be evident and still widens.” In an effort to make its voice heard, Jim says Numsa, together with Cosatu and alliance partners, have taken a decision to take to the streets in an effort to force dialogue on tackling issues that have to deal with jobs. He says the idea is to make their pronouncement on demands publicly clear. Jim says there is a need to promote localisation. He says it is evident that the country’s locomotive components need to be revamped. But he says despite the Union Carriage rollerstock in Nigel having enough capacity to handle such production, the tender contract has been awarded to China. Because of this, Jim says Numsa is worried about South Africa’s involvement in BRICS. He maintains that manufacturing is the future of the country’s economy to flourish.

To restore dignity among its people, especially blacks, Jim says government must address issues of a living wage. He says issues like the youth wage subsidy are radical programs supported by capitalists. According to Jim, the constitution signed in 1994 largely features sections that still benefit the white minority and also gives them permanent ownership of the country’ wealth. Such he says, should be altered. He says if certain sections of the constitution are amended, this will ensure equal access to the economy. Jim says an army of the unemployed make it easy for capitalist minorities to control the working class, which is not acceptable. He also notes that part of then-finance minister Trevor Manuel’s policies failed and have pushed for no radical shift from the apartheid system. This, he says, makes the current situation “co-ordination of apartheid through democracy.” Jim says there is a need to engage in a solid program of action through mass action where clear demands will be made to influence outcomes at Mangaung. He says the ANC has gone public to say it has failed to address poverty, inequality and unemployment challenges in the last 18 years. Thus, he says, it is time to “break the backbone of white monopoly capital.” He maintains that “radical programs are needed, which in turn need radical leadership.” In turn, there will be a need to mobilise people behind such programs. He says failure to achieve this, will arm forces like the Democratic Alliance.

– By Tshepo Tsheole, Midrand