New Internationalist

Making Work

Issue 086

The International Labour Office (ILO) projects the Third World will need 1 billion new jobs by 2000 just to maintain present employment levels. Some 40% of the poor world’s citizens are either unemployed or underemployed - not working to their capabilities and not earning enough to meet their basic needs.

  • But if the poor nations continue to follow their present path, they're not likely to come anywhere near that target. Third World governments are simply not able to create jobs fast enough to keep up with the flood of prospective job seekers.
  • But more important is the dependence on Western-style industrial development to solve the employment crisis. Governments have ploughed enormous amounts of money and effort into urban industries-and the modern education, transportation and energy sources they need to succeed.
  • At the same time, the rural areas were largely ignored. Overall results for jobs have been devastating: a) 'Modern urban industries duplicate traditional crafts and so create unemployment in the countryside. b) 'Green Revolution' techniques like high-yielding; disease-resistant seeds and mechanized farming strengthened large landowners and displaced small farmers = forcing more people to look fog urban jobs in the modern sector. c) Manufacturing industries geared ' to exports create 'few' jobs, fuel consumer demands for Western style luxury goods and, enlarge the rich/poor' gap.
  • To expand the number of job opportunities, the ILO and many Third World nations have called for an increase in the poor world's share of manufacturing from 7% to 25% by the year 2000.
  • But such a massive shift of employment and production to the Third World is unlikely given the reemergence of 'protectionist' trade measures by Western nations. In addition, Western trade unions are actively trying to protect their members from losing jobs to Third World nations desperate for Western investment, no matter how few jobs it creates.
  • Some observers have called for 'adjustment assistance' to re-structure Western industry. This would: a) Phase out selected manufacturing industries that are out-dated, inefficient and uncompetitive and favour more skilled, high-technology industries like computers and air-frame manufacturing. b) Labour-intensive industries like clothing, electronics and footwear would be permanently assigned to the Third World. Workers thrown out of work in the West would eventually find jobs in the more highly competitive sectors. c) In the meantime, governments would do all they could to ease the adjustment. Manufacturers, too, would get government help to defray costs of re-tooling plants or re-training workers.
  • But without firm guarantees of new jobs Western workers are loathe to sit-back and watch their employers relocate to take advantage of cheap labour overseas. Worker resistance to the 'run-away shop' has galvanized in recent years as more and more corporations pack up and move their most labour-intensive and polluting operations to low-wage countries.
  • Even so, more manufacturing jobs are likely to be lost to the Third World as long as multinational corporations are free to invest where costs are lowest and profit potential highest, without being held accountable for the social impact of their decisions.
  • But investment by Western multinationals is no real solution for Third World employment problems. MNCs don't need more than a limited number of 'export platforms' to supply Western consumers and limited markets in the Third World. Every country cannot be another Taiwan or Singapore.
  • If the mass of Third World citizens are to achieve a decent standard of living the present direction of development in poor countries will have to be completely reversed. More resources have to end up in the countryside where two-thirds of the poor live. Investment and incomes will have to be diverted from the cities in order for rural areas to grow and provide jobs. Yet this is easier said than done. As long as political power rests with urban elites, efforts to arrest imbalanced development will run into stiff opposition.

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