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Labour Wrap: Within the problems lies the answer

Feb 01 2018 06:01
Terry Bell

DESPERATE people have short memories and reach blindly for anything presented to them as a solution to their current concerns, says Terry Bell in his latest Labour Wrap.

This view, he notes, was summed up last week by Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), when he referred to the mistake he had made in heading the “Zuma tsunami” that toppled president Thabo Mbeki.

Aids denialism had fuelled the desperation to be rid of Mbeki so, as Vavi noted: “We chose the most compromised person [only] because he was brave enough to take on Thabo Mbeki."

However, says Bell, Vavi used these comments as an illustration of what he categorised as the “hero worship” of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Bell maintains that Vavi clearly sees this “personification, this personality politics” as a core problem; that a similar mistake to the Zuma tsunami is being made by those who now refer to themselves as “buffalo soldiers”.

This, says Bell, is a reference to Ramaphosa as “McBuffalo” a nickname bequeathed him because of his ownership of the McDonald's fast food franchise and his having once bid R18m for a buffalo for his game farm.

But the underlying argument, Bell says, is that no individual messiah can possibly cure the leprous economy or put the poor and downtrodden on the road to collective salvation. However, while this may be acknowledged, the search for solutions tends increasingly to be focused on state capture, corruption and the rise of populist leaders.

According to Bell, this amounts to yet another focus on the symptoms and not the cause of the fundamental problem. He maintains that the decline globally in the numbers of parliamentary democracies and the ascent of authoritarian “populists” can be traced to the ongoing economic crisis that continues to impoverish the many while enriching the few.

This economic and social trajectory, he says, will not be “going away” as the application of artificial intelligence, of algorithms replacing human labour, continues ever more rapidly. Yet these same developments that are causing such immense suffering and harm could be used to liberate humanity.

And this, Bell says, is the essence of the problem - and contains the answer. Time for everyone, and especially organised labour, to recognise this and act.

terry bell  |  labour  |  labour wrap
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