French Bug infects South Africa
Political parties and unions cannot be the face of the unemployed
FOR lack of a better word, let's call it the French Bug. It started in France and has now reached South Africa.
Once bitten by it, you develop symptoms of thinking illogically.
A few years ago the French government drafted laws proposing to adjust the retirement age from 60 to 62.
Faced with an increasingly ageing population, the government wanted to stop sending citizens to retirement villages at 60, when they could be productive.
Continuing to do so meant that the younger and productive workers would have to fund the retirement of those who could otherwise be fending for themselves.
In France, pension payouts are heavily subsidised. So it seemed like logical legislation when it was tabled in parliament in 2010.
Little did Nicolas Sarkozy's government know that the two-year difference was a sensitive matter to those who were about to retire. They could not wait.
But even more shocking was that it became a matter of life and death for university students who had not even begun looking for work. Trade unions were the most offended by the proposed legislative changes. They took to the streets and led violent protests that lasted for more than a week.
They almost brought France's economy to its knees. At least three million people joined the protests in all of France's major towns, resulting in fuel shortages and blockage of essential services.
A French commentator observed then: "This confrontation is getting harder by the day, more violent by the day, particularly the growing involvement of young people from schools..."
It became apparent that in France growing old is much sexier than staying younger. It's quite the opposite of what footballers from a certain West African country and South Africa's so-called celebrities wish for.
To outsiders it was inexplicable that university students and high school children could join violent protests while clearly wishing to get quicker to qualify for pension.
Those who apply a bit of logic in their thinking process would have found the articulation of interests by the French youth completely misplaced.
A few years earlier, the French youth embarked on protests against the government's proposed two-tier labour market policy that would have made it easier for university graduates to get employed while they gained experience.
But there was a trade off: if it is easy to hire, it should be easy to fire. At the time, France was struggling with a high unemployment rate. Back then, the trade unions and the students, who were yet to complete their degrees and had no clue how it felt to look for a job in vain, launched protests.
One would have thought it's only in France that such strange things happen, where the youth can't wait to get old to retire; where they would oppose any move to absorb the unemployed into a difficult labour market.
Alas, the French Bug has spread to South Africa, infecting university students and other youth. The South African Students Congress (Sasco), the biggest student movement at universities aligned to the ANC, participated in the Cosatu-inspired clashes with the DA.
The DA - of course, grandstanding - is campaigning for the implementation of the youth wage subsidy. The policy was proposed by the ANC government to tackle youth unemployment.
On the eve of the violence outside Cosatu House, Sasco secretary-general Thema Masondo said they would not sit idle while "our interests were being trampled on".
No doubt the French Bug had compromised his ability to think logically.
Sasco represents students. It is not a union of unemployed graduates. Only those who suffer from the French Bug would seek to extend Sasco's influence beyond the confines of university and college campuses to the street corners of our towns where the unemployed wait in vain for piece jobs.
Members of Sasco are on campuses. Logically, they are not entitled to any labour "rights". The right thing for them to do would be to pick a fight with Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande to fast-track his plans to ensure quality education.
It is only after they have have armed themselves with their gowns and hoods, and have looked for work without success that they will be entitled to speak as the unemployed.
The fact that the unemployed have no means to participate in public debates about policies that affect them does not mean that everyone has a right to claim to be the unemployed.
The DA, like any party, has a right to develop policies to solve the unemployment problem. But it should not appoint itself the spokesperson of the jobless.
Similarly, Cosatu is a labour federation made up of unions that will fight tooth and nail to protect and advance the rights of those who are already employed. It should not speak on behalf of the unemployed and prevent the ruling party from implementing its policies.
To escape the French Bug the government should conduct a survey among the unemployed youth. The question that should be posed is: Would you accept a subsidised short-term job?
- If you would like to share your views on this issue, please email firstname.lastname@example.org