On 24 and 25 June, I participated in the first meeting of the Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights’ (SIGTUR) Futures Commission. The meeting was hosted by Eddie Webster in the Chris Hani Institute in Johannesburg/South Africa and supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. A group of left-wing intellectuals and trade union representatives was entrusted with the task to undertake the first steps towards developing concrete alternatives to neo-liberal globalisation. In this post, I will reflect on some of the key discussions during the two days.
|Photo by Egui_|
Second, the fact that the workshop took place in South Africa influenced the debates. Almost twenty years after the first democratic elections in post-Apartheid South Africa, the country is characterised by high level unemployment and enormous economic inequality between the rich and poor. These tensions exploded in the so-called Marikana massacre, when policy killed 34 striking miners within three minutes on 16 August 2012 (see The Marikana Massacre and The South African State’s Low Intensity War Against The People; and The Dance of the Undead – Not only at Marikana, Not only in South Africa …). In order to overcome South Africa’s triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, Zwlinizima Vavi, General Secretary of COSATU, demanded at the workshop a second phase of transformation in South Africa. With the political transformation accomplished since 1994, it was now time to tackle rising economic inequality. Counter neo-liberal policies were to include a shift towards state ownership and nationalisation of some parts of the economy, the stop of South African capital exports through capital controls and the punishment of capital speculation, as well as the provision of comprehensive welfare services. What South Africa needed, he concluded, was its own Lula moment, a reference to Brazil’s former President, who had presided over policies of wealth re-distribution towards the poor.
Collective bargaining is currently under attack in Europe (see How European pressure is destroying national collective bargaining systems). Unsurprisingly, when European trade unionists and labour academics discuss collective bargaining, it is a defensive move. Generally, I am sceptical about this as it fails to recognise that collective bargaining is covering fewer and fewer workers and has already become less relevant as a result. More importantly, in Europe too we should focus on how to organise the increasing informal sector of the economy.
|Photo by RachelIF2SEA|
|Photo by Alejandra H. Covarrubias|
The re-establishment of national policy space is clearly an essential element of an alternative trade regime. It would allow governments to protect infant industries until they are competitive, provide space for capital controls and the regulation of transnational corporations, as well as provide the possibility to emphasise food sovereignty over free trade by agribusinesses. And yet, it is also clear that while this would help to reform the current ‘disembedded free trade’ regime, where the WTO not only furthers the trade in goods, but also pushes trade in services and agriculture, as well as expands regulations into investment rules and intellectual property rights, it would not be enough to move beyond capitalism towards socialism. Ultimately, capitalist exploitation is rooted in the way production is organised around wage labour and the private ownership of the means of production and, as a result, capital maximises profits in the exploitation of workers. Only if the way of how production is organised is changed, can there be a transformation of the current system.
|Photo by GovernmentZA|
Dinga Sikwebu from the South African metalworkers’ union Numsaoutlined how capital was increasingly focusing on extreme energy generation including fracking, tar sands and further extensive use of coal. Renewable energy was clearly the way forward from a labour perspective. In contrast to Northern campaigns around jobs related to the green economy, however, he pointed out there are actually not that many jobs, which will be created as a result of a shift towards renewable energy. Hence, other arguments for an alternative energy policy, which resonate with workers, are needed. Considering that in South Africa many manufacturing workers still owned a piece of land, which they cultivate when not at work, a possible way forward would be to point out that all citizens will be negatively affected by climate change. In their role as farmers, manufacturing workers too notice the changing climate with different rain seasons than in the past. Unsurprisingly, Numsa, together with the agricultural workers’ trade union, is currently involved in a campaign for land reform linking up different trade unions and social movements. Nevertheless, Dinga Sikwebu also made clear that a shift to renewable energy in itself was not enough. For a real shift towards eco-socialism, it was necessary to move away from market-based incentives towards social ownership and democratic control of all types of energy generation, echoing Jacklyn Cock’s request for food and energy sovereignty.
Clearly, conceptual and strategic discussions are necessary in the search for alternatives to neo-liberal globalisation; alternatives, which are focused on human well-being and development in contrast to capital’s maximisation of profits. Nonetheless, concrete alternatives to capitalist social relations of production can only be developed on the ground in concrete struggles and the interplay between ideas and action. Moreover, alternatives which work in one part of the world may be unsuitable for other parts. No blueprint can be prescribed.
Hence, perhaps the next step in the search for alternatives could be a focus on concrete experiments of establishing a non-capitalist economy? In the area of ‘free trade’, for example, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) is already one practical example in this respect. At its beginning in 2004 was a treaty between Venezuela and Cuba with the former providing petroleum to the latter at very favourable prices in exchange for doctors and teachers from Cuba, working in some of Venezuela’s poorest states. Direct negotiations between the two countries had replaced a reliance on prices set by the market. A more in-depth analysis of this and other alternative economy examples may be the way forward in the search for alternatives by the Futures Commission.
2 July 2013