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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 12, No. 23, 20 June 2013

In this Issue:


Red Alert

Capitalism's Betrayal of a Generation: The Challenge of Youth Employment

By Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary

As we celebrate youth month and the heroic contribution of the 1976 young generation this June 2013, it also important to properly understand the primary challenge and reasons for the many problems facing our youth today.

The one social category that has been the single biggest casualty of neo-liberal capitalism has been the youth. Youth has been casualised, retrenched, labour brokered and thrown into the highest levels of youth unemployment since the Great Depression of the early 1930s. However, the sheer scale and intensity of youth unemployment, inactivity and under-employment globally is at a scale not seen since the industrial revolution.

The tendency from both the right wing and (neo) liberals globally and in our country has been to blame this on too much government interference and intervention in the economy, and often also to blame progressive interventions into the labour market by the state (e.g. affirmative action, progressive labour laws, regulating or doing away with labour brokers, etc.). In this argument, capitalism IS ABSOLVED OF ANY RESPONSIBILITY for this potential catastrophe and especially for the destruction of young, potential. Yet, it is the greed of the capitalist system that is daily gravitating our planet towards an ecological and social disaster.

Similarly most of South African media has perfected the art of blaming government and especially President Zuma for any and all of our economic problems, without saying a word about the responsibility of South African capitalism for many of our economic woes. Of course, this does not surprise us, as most of the print media especially is owned by a white capitalist class. Of course, government should be criticized if it fails in its duties and responsibilities. But this criticism should not divert us from examining the defects of the underlying, capitalist, socio-economic system.

The ultra left both outside, and to some extent from inside, our own ranks often behave similarly to the right wing and liberals by heaping the blame for all our problems on our government and especially the ANC. The criticism that the ultra left occasionally heaps on white monopoly capital is often a genuflection as it is not accompanied by any concrete campaigns against this section of the capitalist class. Instead, any campaigns of the ultra-left are directed at government, and particularly aimed at discrediting the ANC in the public arena.

Some facts and figures on youth unemployment

A specter of youth unemployment is truly haunting Europe, and in some countries, it is already even worse than during the Great Depression. The neo-liberal erosion and destruction of the welfare state, is increasingly making higher education more expensive. In the UK (as in the USA), university education is becoming increasingly more inaccessible for working class and middle class youth. Knowledgeable observers now argue that many European countries face expanding youth protests and uprisings. In parts of Greece and Spain unemployment of under 25 years-olds has reached 50%. Across the EU, 22% of all the unemployed are under 25.

Interestingly youth unemployment in Latin America is at historic lows, despite the fact that youth unemployment is still marginally higher than that of the adult population. Over the last decade unemployment in Latin America has fallen from 11% to 6,5%, and fueling this is the region's average projected growth of 4% in 2013, which is above the average predicted growth for developing countries.

Furthermore, over the past decade 35 million additional jobs have been created in Latin America. Women's share of labour force has grown steadily, and as at the beginning of 2012, 65% of women aged between 25 and 65 years had joined the ranks of the employed. Youth unemployment in Latin America is declining in line with the overall employment trends, although youth unemployment, like trends globally, is between 2,3 and 5,5 times higher than adults are. All these figures from the World Bank!

Of course what has been conveniently ignored by many bourgeois commentators and analysts is that some of the economic advances for the poor in Latin America are due to the ascendancy into power of many left wing governments that have rolled back the neo-liberal policies of earlier US-backed and often authoritarian regimes. Many of today's Latin American governments have successfully pursued many pro-poor policies, including return of land to poor peasants.

Of Africa's unemployed, 60% were young people. Africa has the highest proportion of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 and youth unemployment is double that of adult unemployment in most African countries. The problem of youth unemployment is particularly acute in middle-income countries. In North Africa youth unemployment is 23,4% in 2009. In RSA, youth unemployment is estimated at 48%. Of those employed in the informal sector, there is a higher proportion of younger workers than adult workers; and, this is a reminder that our movement needs to pay attention to all forms of opportunities for sustainable livelihoods and not in formal employment only. The SACP has a particularly important role to play in the organisation of the working class wherever it is located, both in formal and informal sectors of the capitalist economy.

Overall, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) paints a very bleak picture, which is that young people are 3 times more likely to be unemployed than adults, and almost 73 million young people globally are looking for work. The ILO has warned of a scarred generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work in developed countries, as well as persistently high working poverty in the developing world.

Implications of Youth Unemployment

The neo-liberal restructuring of the global economy has meant, amongst other things, massive retrenchments of especially young workers. The current global economic crisis was triggered by the bursting of the financial bubble in the United States in 2008. This financial bubble was directly caused by the greed of banks and other capitalist financial institutions. The worst part of the current capitalist crisis was that instead of the US and many EU countries taking state funds to cushion the impact of this crisis on the workers and the poor, these governments took public funds to bail out the very same greedy banks. In places like Cyprus, the government is literally is stealing money from the bank accounts of private citizens essentially in order to bail out the very same greedy capitalists responsible for the financial crisis in the first place!

The public funds used to bail these greedy institutions, have hugely subtracted from investment available for public projects that could create youth employment, like public work programmes and investment into infrastructure, as well as expanding education and skills development opportunities. In essence, capitalism has betrayed the future of our youth. There is a very serious danger that this crisis may negatively affect opportunities of employment and other means of sustainable livelihoods for the current youth generation, for the rest of their lives. This is largely because research evidence shows that those who fail to get a job soon after finishing school or college for an extended period are unlikely ever to find a decent job.

It is therefore no accident that the youth has been at the centre of the so-called Arab spring, and it is not inconceivable that the advanced capitalist countries themselves may start experiencing youth uprisings.

Here at home we are daily being badgered by campaigns and policies that will be nothing but a betrayal of a generation of South African youth, in the same way as the apartheid regime did to successive generations of South African black youth. The youth policies of the Democratic Alliance (DA) for instance are disastrous and would do serious damage to generations of especially black youth of our country.

For instance, the argument for a youth wage subsidy divorced from a broader youth education, training and employment strategy will merely lead to reinforcement of black, cheap and unskilled labour, by merely giving all the money to employers. This is precisely what the labour market policies of the apartheid regime did to the black working class in South Africa. This will also stifle our economic growth and development, as we cannot develop our economy without massive investment into skilling our youth in particular and the working class in general.

Similarly, the DA's support for labour brokers is a direct assault on meaningful economic participation of our youth in the economy. Labour brokers are thieves of the workers' sweat and labour. But much more seriously, workers attached to labour brokers are generally not trained, as neither the labour broker nor the employer of the firm where the worker is placed, take responsibility for training these workers. Labour broking is not employment creation but a money making scam at the expense of the workers and the poor, with the youth being the biggest casualty

The DAs opposition to affirmative action, and often derisively ridiculing it as ANC "cadre deployment", is one of the most serious threats to broadening opportunities for black youth. Reinforcement of white appointments in the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town, where the DA is the majority party, can only reproduce the racialised and patriarchal apartheid labour market.

In fact the DA's policies are a serious threat to a whole generation of young people, whose future may be completely destroyed, especially taking into account that long periods of un (and under) employment, with inadequate education and training, diminishes the chances for millions of young people ever being employed..

Organisational challenges: Youth taking responsibility for the revolution

Ii is important that as a movement we continue to pay close attention to the youth and all the issues affecting young people. Despite the many challenges we face on this front, we must not seek to further engage youth as if we are on the defensive. We must confidently build on the very strong foundations we have laid over the past 19 years to tackle the many challenges facing our youth. Our point of departure must be from the strategic and programmatic commitments of the ANC's 53rd conference: that of driving a second, and more radical, phase of our transition. Youth and youth matters must be placed at the centre of this second phase of our transition as inclusive economic development must centrally address youth development issues as a priority.

Addressing youth development requires that we build on a number of policy and development initiatives of the ANC government. For instance, a strong foundation has been laid to expand basic education to cover millions of South Africans. Of particular importance here is the urgent necessity to organise our communities as well as all educators and government officials to make sure that our schools are functional.

The steady expansion of post school education and training opportunities must be seized within even more vigour to address the skills needs of our youth. The expansion of access to both college and university education requires that all progressive forces are at the head of these efforts. The repositioning of the NYDA and its prioritisation of education and skills is another important platform to build upon to address youth needs.

It is however, of absolute importance that youth itself must take responsibility in addressing its own challenges. The rebuilding of the ANC Youth League provides a huge opportunity for deepened work not only amongst ANC youth but also among South African youth as a whole. The ANCYL must be refocused on youth priorities, not just chasing tenders, with a particular focus on education, skills development and improving youth employability. The ANCYL needs strengthening so that it is able to lead the progressive youth alliance, and seek to unite rather than insult and sideline its components. In fact, the PYA must play a leading role in driving amongst others, the realisation of the goals and objectives of the recently signed Youth Employment Accord. The PYA must build its capacity to focus on the battle of ideas so that it is able to persuade the majority of South African youth to support the programmes and leadership of our movement.

For the SACP it is critical that we mobilise youth behind our Ngoye Congress' programmatic perspectives and commitments for the working class to take responsibility for the national democratic revolution. Working class youth must be mobilised by the YCL behind this line of march. The YCL must ensure that we defeat all attempts to mobilise youth in an oppositionist fashion, but to be a source for driving the programmes of our movement. We must expose and defeat all narrow populists, workerist and other regressive tendencies amongst the youth and young workers, through deepening ideological work within the PYA structures in the first in stance.

It is clear that youth are increasingly going to become more visible in the broader class struggles in the wake of the current and ongoing capitalist crisis. Unemployment, or threats of it, has the potential of uniting the different strands of the working class (unemployed, under-employed, casualised, labour brokered, etc) against capital. In addition, current struggles for jobs have in a number of instances united youth from both the working class and middle strata.

What the above means, amongst other things, is that communist parties must urgently share information and experiences around youth organisation and challenges.  This means paying additional attention to our respective youth formations and encourage them to work even closer together and discuss challenges facing youth globally, and share experiences on reaching out to other progressive youth formations. We must not be reactive to youth struggles during the current crisis, but should lead. As we have seen with the Arab Spring, youth uprisings and struggles do not automatically translate to progressive and/or anti-capitalist outcomes. This has to be struggled for by the communist movement, through hard and patient work amongst youth. Youth experiences in the current crisis provide important platforms to deepen and spread socialist education and general awareness about the inadequacies of capitalism. It is also for this reason that we must not allow liberals and other capitalist apologists to blame all problems on government as part of shielding capitalism!

It is important that our Party and our YCL engage through the International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties to explore the possibility of convening an international communist gathering with a theme focusing on capitalism, youth unemployment and youth mobilisation.

As we celebrate our youth month, we dare not fail or betray our youth!