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Rescuing the dispossessed

Anthony Gomes

Wednesday, February 06, 2013    

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IN his monthly address, Howard Hamilton, then the President of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, commented on the heightened concern about the disintegration of discipline among able-bodied unemployed youth, the dispossessed in our society.

He observed: "The truth is that Jamaica has become a dangerous, tense and economically unfulfilling place to live. The Prime Minister says that those young people still untainted by drugs and crime must be rescued. A recent study revealed that nearly 70% of our secondary school graduates are leaving school and are functionally illiterate. We can rescue our young people through a system of training and apprenticeship that equips them to be more productive and disciplined. I propose that every boy between the ages of 16 and 21 must serve a minimum of four years apprenticeship in the army, where he would be subject to rigid discipline and a respect for authority". National service usually of two years duration is certainly a well tried and proved method of building character and discipline that is still operating in many countries today. Hamilton concluded: "No young person should leave this programme without having a skill. We already have some resources for this. The Social Development Commission should be absorbed into this new programme and the Sports Development Foundation should provide the funding. The World Cup is all well and good, but we honestly can't afford it. We are in a crisis situation with respect to the hopelessness and frustration of our youth. I would rather see 3,000 youth return to decency and respect for law and order than 50 parading around the world playing football. Enough is enough."

The level of unemployment is around 16% of the workforce. However, the official method of reporting can be misleading. For example, a senior bank manager who has been made redundant and who now sells snow cones on the street corner is deemed to be employed. If such interpretations are ignored, the actual unemployment level is closer to 30%! There is a self-evident connection between such a high level of unemployment and violent crime. The situation is becoming worse with each passing day, reflecting the consequences of globalisation and liberalisation worldwide.

A CNN report stated that the wealth controlled by the world's three richest men exceeds the combined income of 600 million of the world's poorest persons! Two hundred and ten million of the world's impoverished people — those living on less than one US dollar per day — subsist in Latin America according to ECLAC. In time, history will repeat itself and another "beneficial" leader will emerge, promising to improve the lot of the poor. Then the time cycle will begin again unless urgent measures are taken to alleviate the crushing pressure of economic deprivation.

Becoming internationally competitive is essential to survival in the New World order of business. The alternative is to be marginalised by more efficient producers, with the inevitable economic devastation. Becoming competitive is a very painful process, both in terms of human and financial resources. The necessary adjustment breeds insecurity and hardship in the society as job losses mount, and employees speculate about their uncertain futures.

Unlike the industrialised countries there are no comparable safety nets in the developing world, such as welfare and national health services to sustain the jobless. They usually have to depend on their families for assistance until they are again gainfully employed.

All too often in these turbulent times, the measure of management's effectiveness is the number of staff cut from the payroll. It is acknowledged that reducing staff is a necessary process in becoming competitive, but in a civilised humanitarian society there has to be a component of conscience which dictates how such terminations are treated. This consideration is even more relevant because of the stark reality that the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. What we are now seeing is called "the Ugly Face of Capitalism", that is the unbridled downside of the free market system. Disillusionment with the capitalist free market system is running high in many parts of the world. Symptoms of this are seen in the upsurge of the far right in Germany and Greece and the Communist sympathisers in Russia, who recall the "womb to tomb" job security provided by totalitarian regimes.

How should the growing stream of people joining the already bloated ranks of the unemployed be treated? There needs to be a national re-think on the entire process of redundancy. To presume that government should accept responsibility for dealing with the problem is but part of the solution. The problem is inherent in the capitalist system and the cost of providing assistance for the disadvantaged, should be the price of doing business under that system ie the price of becoming internationally competitive. It's cold comfort to say: "Its happening all over the world". We should be asking ourselves what we do about it as a civilised humanitarian society.

Profit at any price is not the way forward if we are to forge an enduring future for the next generation. To ignore the problem is to put our society at risk, which is already under stress from the effects of the new liberalised global environment.

When the new computer system is installed in your office to replace the work of five employees, ask yourself, "What is to happen to the other four who are put on the street?" In answer to the next question "What can we do?" Carefully consider all the options, and who knows, you may also sleep better at night!

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