Politics: A social plan – do we need one?

A Social Plan – do we need one?

Yes, says Greg Stanley and it must have Socialism at its core.

How do we beat poverty? How do we beat crime? How do we beat AIDS? How do we beat low economic growth? How do we beat low wages? How do we make our country grow? These are all questions that occupy the minds of economists, politicians, unionists and most citizens. The answers are complex and there are strongly differing viewpoints. Current economic thinking is that neo-liberal and neo-con economics will do the job. It may for some in the economically developed countries but even they in many cases are wobbling in terms of increasing unemployment and an increasing wage gap. If they cannot succeed for the benefit of all their people, what chance have the countries of the developing world got and even worse off are those states that can only be called underdeveloped. We need to look at new economic policies that will push economic growth into double figures and then we have a chance at beating the odds. The move to the left in Latin America provides us with some guidance. The principle of the people’s ownership of resources, the responsibility of the state to provide services, the equitable distribution of land, social upliftment and debt reduction are good places to start.

The natural resources of the land belong to the people. The exploitation of these resources needs to be controlled on behalf of the people. To deal with mining resources there has to be a determination that profits for mine owners are not the sole motivation for running a mine and that the national interest is paramount. Mining provides employment, investment, foreign exchange, rural development, training and skills. There are options that are open to the country such as nationalisation, subsidisation and franchising that need to be explored to obtain the maximum benefits. Infrastructure such as railroads, communications, harbours, airports and national airlines need to be re-nationalised, not that private operators should be excluded, the principle being that private enterprise will only proceed with development if there are certainties in their profit projections. The state can do long term development that is necessary for long term economic growth but will not necessarily yield a profit.

The provision of services should not only benefit the people but can also be a powerful driver of economic growth and a contributor to mass employment. Basic services include the supply of water, sanitation, electricity and roads. We need to expand that definition to include items such as health care, education and transport. It is in the field of transport that most policy changes will need to happen. Private buses, taxis and privatised railroads are not public transport, they are private transport run solely to make profits for their owners. Public transport must be nationalised and subsidised to provide efficient, fast, comfortable and safe travel to and from our places of work. The Gautrain for instance is a great idea, but it should run from Katlehong to Marble Hall, from Soweto to Mamelodi and stops in between to serve the millions of workers who commute daily, often in dangerous and tiring circumstances. If there is one legacy of apartheid that we may never overcome it is the distances that workers have to travel. Subsidisation is the only answer. To reduce the ever-increasing load on our roads we need more commuters using public transport and we need to put commuters into buses and trains.

Each and every citizen has a right to own land, whether the land is a house in a suburb or a farm in the country. The land redistribution programme is commendable, but it still leaves many people landless and homeless. The principle should be that if you live in an urban environment and live below a determined income, housing should be subsidised. Agricultural land should be made more readily available, through processes such as expropriation, wholly or in part, through land taxes that will encourage farmers to maximise their land use or sell some or all of their property. But most important is that emergent and BEE farmers must be assisted with technical support that includes finance, skill acquisition, access to markets and subsidisation.

We need to start adopting social programmes for the immediate relief of poverty. The basic income grant (BIG) idea is the most immediate direction to follow. It will not provide total relief but it will avoid any person from being totally destitute. Rural infrastructure projects, increased salaries for our service workers such as police, nurses, doctors, teachers and free education to post graduate level will also bring relief. Increased employment in the police force, the use of auxiliary police, foot and bicycle patrols will all help to reduce crime.

Debt is becoming a dirty word, yet without it we could not possibly hope to achieve any economic growth. But how do we control it when interest rate increases seem to have little effect? Inflation control is all very well if interest rates do reduce spending, but the developing world has such primary needs that the money needs to be spent and it needs to be borrowed. The answer is not to increase the interest rates but reduce them to low levels so that current debt can be serviced and future debt can be accessed.

Is business and investment at risk if we follow a socialist policy? Obviously not, many countries have followed this route without compromising private enterprise and in fact as more of the population move from poverty to sustainability so business improves.Therefore, what South Africa needs is a good dose of socialism.

Greg Stanley is a Numsa member and a representative for Numsa organised salaried staff at Toyota