Joblessness and Its Emerging Political Implications
THE recent World Employment and Social Outlook Trends, 2016 (hereafter WESO) shows that the crisis in contemporary capitalism has worsened in the last two years and the forecasts for the next few years are also quite bleak. This scenario is best exemplified by the growing rate of unemployment in the world economy, particularly in developing and emerging countries. It should be noted, that the current phase of contemporary capitalism is characterised by location of production units in emerging and developing economies by transnational corporations. The neo-liberal governments of developing and emerging economies argued that this measure was going to create jobs and thus propel prosperity. Prime Minister Modi’s flagship ‘Make in India’ programme is also part of this philosophy. Added to this is the newly launched ‘Startup India’ and ‘Standup India’ initiatives that aim to provide skills and capital to small businesses so that they can service the needs of large corporate houses. As the foregoing discussion will show, these measures have however not had the desired impact in the two years of the Modi government, and in fact created a scenario where politics of NDA II is being driven by the need to hide its failures and circumvent the main economic crisis in the context of the crisis of world capitalism.
According to the analysis in the WESO report, the global economy grew by 3.1 percent in 2015, ie, about 0.5 percent slower than in 2014. This slow down is expected to accelerate in the next two years especially in emerging and developing countries, having a dramatic impact on the increase of global unemployment which reached a level of 197.1 million unemployed people, ie, up by 170.1 million from 2007 ( a pre-crisis period with only 27 million unemployed). Most of this unemployment is concentrated in Latin American countries, the leader being Brazil which is experiencing a major political crisis in the last one year. The report projects that there will be about 3.6 million more people added to the unemployed workforce in the next two years.
Apart from this, the conditions of employment have also been deteriorating and about 46 percent of the workforce is considered to be in vulnerable employment in the entire global economy. Within this broad trend the concentration of the vulnerable workforce is in South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa where more than 70 percent of the workforce is in precarious and informal employment. The WESO states that about 25 million vulnerable workers are about to be added to the workforce of the emerging and developing economies in the next three years.
The regional disparities within this broad scenario show a clear difference between developed and developing countries:
Regional Patterns of Employment (Percentages)
Sub Saharan Africa
Latin America and Caribbean
Labour Force Participation Rate
Source: Extracted from WESO Report, Various Tables
The table above has some very stark facts. First the countries of the developed world have almost no vulnerable employment, but the level of unemployment in USA, Northern and Western Europe is quite high. One wonders whether this explains the popularity and rise of Bernie Sanders in USA and Corbyn as the new chief of the Labour Party in Britain. The perceived resurgence of social democrats and the ‘leftward turn’ in European politics in the last five years may have something to do with demands for strengthening the social welfare systems. Thus someone like Corbyn is arguing for a National Education Service on the lines of the National Health Service in order to provide universal coverage to all working classes. However this trend is contested by right wing capitalist supporters and the rise of Donald Trump signifies this. The crisis in Greece and the compromise of the Left led Greek in the aftermath of the referendum is also a signifier of the pressure that the corporate capitalism puts on progressive movements and political activists.
The second significant fact emerging from this table is that East, South East and Southern Asia have the bulk of the vulnerable working populations. Of these three regions, about two thirds of the working population of South Asia is considered ‘vulnerable’. This figure clearly shows that the expansion of capital in the emerging Asian economies is not a solution to the problem of joblessness in the region. This is also evident from the Indian experience where the Economic Survey 2016-17 itself admitted that the current government had not managed to generate the jobs that it had promised to create. The faulty analysis of the report suggests that the lack of job creation is a result of the lack of skills of workforce. It projects that India requires 120 million skilled people to cater to the corporate sector and therefore the Skill India programme will solve the problem of employment. But when seen in the context of the Make in India programme it is quite clear that the programme is meant to provide ‘cheap skilled’ labour with indecent jobs. The WESO report only explicates this point.
Given this global context, it is pertinent to ask what strategies and tactics the governments of the emerging and developing countries are using to tackle the problem of unemployment. The recent policy initiatives of the Modi government only show that it is intensifying its push towards neo-liberal reforms. But as the WESO report shows, such reforms are only pushing the world into a greater scenario of joblessness. In this situation governments of these countries are rapidly using cultural politics and ideological tools to mobilise the unemployed working class and move them away from the class based organisations which will struggle for their real issues.
The use of Hindutva politics to divert the attention of the unemployed youth and casual workforce are reflective of this trend, especially in the election season. The recent attack on universities is also reflective of this trend, because the government is not only taking away the jobs of the youth but also their scholarships. The Occupy UGC movement against the withdrawal of non-net fellowships and the public support of the JNU academic council to the cause of the students was the first step of defiance of the neo-liberal order which put the university in the line of fire. Thereafter the attempts at labour law reforms have been resolutely opposed by workers in the organised and unorganised sector. This united labour movement is the biggest threat to the rightwing Modi government. It is therefore not surprising that the government has resorted to emotive issues to push the ‘real issues’ of the working people out of the public discourse. A dominant section of the corporate media has also fallen into this trap and continued to highlight the emotive issues that strengthen polarisation between right wing forces and others. Given this situation it is incumbent on the Left and democratic forces to redouble their efforts to raise the main issues confronting the working classes and expand their organisation within these basic classes.