The neo-liberal agenda:
GEAR versus the working class
Underlying the government's drive to privatise is the neo-liberal GEAR
programme. This is a macro-economic policy adopted by the government in
mid-1996. GEAR argues that the capitalist class is the engine of
reconstruction and development in South Africa. As such, GEAR sets out a
list of government policies that are designed to put a smile on the face of
The key GEAR policies include
- A huge cutback in government spending. GEAR argues that government spends
too much money and must therefore retrench public sector workers, as well as
"strictly contain" and "reprioritise" spending on education, health and
other social services.
- Privatisation and commercialisation of state-owned companies, such as
ESKOM. These companies must be run like profit-making companies and be sold
to private companies where possible
- Deregulating trade and investments: instead of companies being closely
regulated through laws, customs duties, and so on, these companies should be
able to move their money easily, and import and export goods easily.
- Labour market flexibility, which means that bosses will be able to hire
and fire workers more easily, as well as vary wages, working hours and jobs
Government's idea is that these policies create "an attractive investor
climate," leading to large-scale investment by local and international
companies, which will create jobs, growth and tax money for social services.
GEAR has proved to be a disaster for the broad working class
- Over half-a-million jobs have been lost since 1994, and investment has
declined in a number of sectors
- Sectors such as textiles and automobiles are under fierce attack from
cheap imports, leading to job losses and large-scale anti-worker industrial
- Spending on social services has been drastically cut, which mainly affects
workers and the poor: service workers like teachers and nurses are
retrenched, pensions are being cut, housing programmes are being frozen and
hospitals run-down and closed.
- Important worker rights in the Labour Relations Act and the Basic
Conditions of Employment Act are under siege from proposed new labour law
amendments that cut overtime pay and job security.
- Money for local governments and universities has been slashed, leading to
the implementation of programmes like iGoli 2002 and Wits 2001.
- Government companies and utilities like electricity and water are being
run on a profit-making, 100% cost recovery basis, and are now being
sold-off, leading to massive job losses, price rises and cut-offs.
GEAR offers the working class nothing. GEAR lies behind the privatisation
crisis. And behind GEAR stand the rich, the owners of the big companies,
the real rulers of our country.
This article is from Zabalaza Magazine, no 1
published in April 2001
This page is part of the