Can Thuli Talk Truth to Power?
City Press published our response and challenge to professor Thuli Madonsela. We address employer monopsony power, conveniently erased by the privileged during conventional dialogue on poverty and inequality.
Thuli Madonsela’s ‘Inequality Time Bomb’ reminds me of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s famous quote “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.”
From school to work, we are shaped according to others assumptions of what’s right for us and so the links in the chains are forged. As a child, the poorer your family, the fewer options they have for your development. The poorer you are, the more virtue, sometimes talent, you are required to show in order to be deemed worthy to access opportunity.
Who profits from inequality?
Social justice is central to making SA fair and equal for all in the country depending on how the privileged define ‘social justice’ against power and right to profit. I agree with Madonsela that policies must ensure black people are primary beneficiaries to address social injustice holistically.
An insidious model of maleficence traps us in an apartheid economy thriving on black poverty. Obstruction of justice starts in government and infiltrates all aspects of profiting or surviving in South Africa.
To eradicate poverty and inequality in SA, it is necessary to address why we remain chained to it, which requires correctly identifying root causes and who profits unjustly.
Madonsela falls into the convention of abstracting inequality and describes our political economy without delving into power, profit and virtue.
South Africans struggle against a neo-liberal economy allowing the wealthiest to wield more power than those who must work for them in order to earn an income. For the majority, work is the only way we obtain money and build wealth.
The less you earn, the longer it will take, if ever.
Madonsela has likely never been an ordinary job seeker looking for entry into a labour market where it’s the norm to strip applicants of a constitutional right to fairness as per S23.1 “Everybody is entitled to fair labour practice.’
Recruitment is a vital labour market function marking an official worker entry point and must be scrutinised in terms of power as this is the point at which wages are negotiated and agreed upon. If a black woman agrees to a salary lower than that of another worker, who is responsible for perpetuating inequality?
The ‘push-over’ black women dominating low wage levels?
The recruiter or employer who smartly coerced them into accepting an offer that was unfair and kinder to profit margins?
Employers want to pay workers less, Madonsela avoids this essential truth thereby diverting from the essence of power, profit and inequality.
We live in a society and economy that lauds power and greed. If we want to destroy inequality, we need to restore worker dignity and protect the economic freedom entitled to in our economy.
Employers have assumed powers they are not constitutionally entitled to, including government. Madonsela is on point when castigating leaders for being constitutionally dissonant.
Labour markets are shaped by unbalanced power that perpetuates, not prevents inequality in South Africa.
If Madonsela has never been a job seeker, or been interested in how inequality is transacted, her questions regarding addressing inequality maintain a level of inanity.
If Madonsela has been a job seeker – did she apply to job adverts that were not upfront about pay when she must have known this information asymmetry is to weaken applicants wage negotiating power?
If she was a job applicant, did the recruiters contact her and ask about her pay history and pay expectation without ever being upfront about the pay range on offer? Did she instinctively know that such disclosures could be used to disadvantage her during wage negotiation?
And if they asked her, did she give away her right to fairly negotiate wages and be bench marked against unequal salary patterns? And if she refused, was she treated as if she would be a ‘problem’ or was ‘greedily’ wanting to negotiate for better economic opportunity and therefor had no virtue and was an unworthy worker?
If she surrendered her pay expectation and history, did she also provide a rival employer’s payslip so that the hiring company could poach or price-fix her accordingly? If Madonsela gave her cost to company information to a firm meant to be competing for her talent, is she not violating the Competition Act with such a disclosure?
The lot of the poor and all those dependent on an ability to secure decent wages is not addressed by a caviar crowd enjoying their own economic freedom, claiming success as a virtue. When we apply to them for jobs, they are overcome by the same rabid lust to drive worker value down and improve profits.
Many pro-poor policy stances are duplicitous, unwilling to drive a power paradigm shift in accord with constitutional values. For a few there is profit in inequality, for their stooges maintaining an unfair balance of power, there are accolades such as bonuses, profit shares and executive status.
Employers use disempowered workers to drive unconscionable profits entrenching apartheid labour modelling – allowing black people and all ‘deserving workers’ diminished labour market rights.
Which team does Madonsela think she really bats for?
The caviar crowd pushing conventional angst, or can she strip employer monopsony power to help sever the chains binding a labour market to inequality?