Work – an endangered specie

“Work yuh want, work yuh go’ get”. This campaign mantra gives cause to examine the current state of work in the Grenada economy. It is from a status quo orientation that strategists look back and chart the way going forward under new dispensations.

In 1995 Jeremy Rifkin published “The End of Work”, a book predicting that technology, workplace automation, and robotics in the information economy would make millions of workers jobless. Rifkin’s thesis was discredited as flawed arguments, too deterministic and absolute, and downplaying the productivity efficiencies of technological innovation. That said, this commentary is not about machines taking away work from people, it is about people taking away work from people.

Darwinian evolutionary theory of natural selection sees the law of the jungle as “survival to the fittest”. And in our man-made “concrete jungle” of massive unprecedented unemployment, with work rapidly becoming an endangered “specie” facing extinction, only the strong will survive. Some will have to die for others to live.

This is not doomsday fantasy of science fiction. Nor is it about the mass killing campaigns of genocide and “ethnic cleansing” perpetuated on peoples over generations. In the real world there are suicide bombers, street protestors facing death and dying, and individuals committing self-immolation to give their people a better life.

The ultimate sacrifice is the abortion and fratricide of millions of female fetuses to keep males alive under China’s live-and-let-die, One Child Policy.

By ILO (International Labor Organization) definition unemployment is a flow variable of jobless people actively looking for work. “Statistics don’t lie” and some basic number crunching reveals an alarming trend in Grenada over the 2003-2013 period. Our 2003 workforce approximated 47, 000 workers with 12% unemployment (5,640 jobless).

In the 2008 CIA FactBook it was 47, 580 with 25% unemployment (12, 000 jobless). And a 2013 Labor Force survey found a 60, 000 workforce with 24, 000 jobless workers or 40% unemployment.

During the period unemployment jumped 300%, doubling every five years, but the workforce stock added only 28 percent. Paradoxically, while unemployment increased by leaps and bounds the workforce actually decreased relative to unemployment, defying the economic logic that positively correlates rising unemployment with a growing workforce.

This anomaly occurs when unemployed people stop seeking work and become workforce dropouts, retire, or are institutionalised. More importantly, frustration drives large numbers of Grenadians to migrate and “defect” to the diaspora as “economic refugees”. Expatriates are estimated to be twice the resident population.

The rapid increase in joblessness is negatively related to job creation and for ten years job opportunities have been spiraling downwards in free fall. If this trend is not reversed, we can predict a workforce decimated and largely diminished by 2024. Work would be disappearing with workers unable to find any.

Marxist dialectics a country is a “failed state” without labour commodity. Labor surplus value is expropriated for capitalist investments generating profit and workers’ income that governments tax to run the country.

So without work there is social, economic, and political anarchy. But the number of “red flags” currently unfolding signals a gloomy prognosis for the world of work. Fast forward to 2018 and the Grenada experience includes three years of austerity, job attrition, retrenchment, wage freeze, and other belt-tightening measures under Structural Adjustment Programs of “Shared Sacrifices”.

Downsizing and cutbacks inflict deep erosions on the workforce and the right to work is not a viable option. If private enterprise is the “engine” of our market economy, workers are the drivers. In austerity the engine shifts gear to idle mode playing the favorite game of “wait and see”. Instead of creating jobs, private enterprise would be rotating jobs or just not filling vacancies. Workers do two jobs for one pay.

Compounding the situation each year thousands of graduate students converge on the job market with high expectancy. But they encounter impossible prohibitive barriers to entry. Facing that reality, hopes and dreams are dashed and the vicious cycle of unemployment is repeated over and over.

In this scenario the job market environment is transformed into a “war zone” where only brute force works. Principles of meritocracy that rewards hard work are passé. Job seekers realise a degree is just a hyper-inflated useless piece of paper and the only qualifications that leverage their marketability are inside connections, “godfathers”, and nepotism.

Employers rule their little fiefdoms like tyrants unleashing a reign of terror in the workplace trampling workers’ rights with impunity. Arbitrary firings, sexploitation, and slave labour wages become the norm. The negative fallout on society is a wave of crime, prostitution, and addiction.

Incidentally, all this is already happening but it would increase exponentially in coming years.

In the 18th century Malthusian thinkers held the view that population explosions grow geometrically by quantum leaps while food supplies only increase arithmetically rapidly falling behind. They predicted catastrophe when food ran out. Apply that matrix in the context of work and workers.

Jay Bruno

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