Speech at the International Labour Conference,
11 June 2003
Your Excellency, Vice-President Wamalwa of the Republic
of Kenya and President of the Conference,
Mr. Juan Somavia, Director General of the ILO,
Ladies and Gentlemen: It would seem right that I should
start by introducing myself. I come from Africa. I am
employed. I am certain the job I do qualifies for the
description 'decent work'. Though I would not like to
broadcast this matter too loudly, I would say I earn
a living wage.
However, I owe the position I occupy to a decision
taken by millions of our people, the majority of whom
are poor. These poor masses elected the ministerial
members of our delegation and I into government, in
the knowledge that we would ensure that the new democratic
order in our country does everything to extricate them
out of their miserable condition of poverty and underdevelopment.
Many among these masses are unemployed, with no guarantee
that they will get a decent job tomorrow. They fall
among those about whom the esteemed Director General
of the ILO, Juan Somavia, has written in his outstanding
Report, "Working out of Poverty".
As he says, for these fellow Africans, "poverty
is a nightmare. It is a vicious circle of poor health,
reduced working capacity, low productivity and shortened
life expectancy. For (their) families, poverty is a
trap. It leads to inadequate schooling, low skills,
insecure income, early parenthood, ill health and early
death. For (their) societies, poverty is a curse."
These masses expect of us that everyday, and wherever
we may be, we should speak out and act against poverty.
They expect that we will approach the challenge of poverty
eradication honestly, without prevarication, and implement
programmes that actually produce results.
They have the will to survive, of which Juan Somavia
speaks, but need the support and possibilities to move
up the ladder of opportunity, for which he calls. They
expect that we will address the structural failures,
the ineffective economic and social systems, the inadequate
political responses, the bankrupt policy imagination
and insufficient international support, that are the
cause of their poverty, as the Director General correctly
The International Labour Conference and the International
Labour Organisation occupy an important place among
the global forces that have to join, and are part of,
the war on poverty. Our people and the social partners
of our country represented at this important Conference,
as well as our community organisations, feel privileged
that they have you as comrades-in-arms in the struggle
to eradicate poverty in our country, in the rest of
Africa and throughout the world.
It is also in the same spirit that I must thank you
for the opportunity you have given us to address you.
As our people and the distinguished delegates know and
expect, we must, like yourselves, focus once more on
the central and urgent challenge of the global war on
In the Parable of the Talents in the Biblical Gospel
according to St Matthew, a money merchant, angry that
one of his servants did not discharge his duties as
a fund manager, by using the Talent given to him to
trade in the money markets, said:
"Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest
that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have
"Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money
to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have
received mine own with usury.
"Take therefore the talent from him, and give
it unto him which hath ten talents.
"For unto every one that hath shall be given,
and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath
not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
"And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer
darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Among the hundreds of millions of the African world
from which we came, as we travelled to Europe, the outer
darkness into which the money merchant cast his unprofitable
servant, there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Those who do not hear and do not see the agony, have
neither ears to hear nor eyes to see.
But I am certain that even they who do not see or hear
the people, have seen the great volumes of literature
that describe in the greatest statistical detail and
graphic language, the extent of the poverty that afflicts
billions in Africa and the rest of the developing world.
The poet has written: "If music be the food of
love, play on. Give me excess of it, that surfeiting,
the heart may sicken and so die." Since we speak
here of neither music nor love, we cannot ask for excess
of information about the incidence and human consequences
of poverty, because we have enough of it. The simple
fact is that we who sit in this room, and others like
us who are not here, but constitute the global leadership
of all humanity, know everything we need to know about
The surfeit of information available to all of us says
that we live in a world defined by a deep economic and
social structural fault that mirrors the angry outburst
of the money merchant of the Parable of the Talents,
when he uttered the ominous curse not just to his servant,
but to the poor of the world: "For unto every one
that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance:
but from him that hath not shall be taken away even
that which he hath".
Obviously, we have to explain what we have just said,
lest we are accused of special pleading and being overly
The European Union has what it designates as European
Structural Funds. These funds support social and economic
development and modernisation among the members of the
Union. These Structural Funds account for over a third
of the EU budget.
From these Funds, for the period 2000 to 2006, the
EU allocated a total of about 16.6 billion Euros to
the United Kingdom for specific objectives. The specific
Funds concerned are:
The Regional Development Fund, which aims to improve
the economic prosperity, social inclusion, development
and diversification of industry in areas that are lagging
behind relative to the rest of the Union;
The Social Fund, which assists with human resource development
and equal opportunity schemes, to end unemployment by,
among other things, training workers in skills that
match available jobs;
The Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund to encourage
the restructuring and diversification of rural areas;
The Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance to modernise
the fisheries sector and related industries; and,
The Fund for Community Initiatives.
These Funds are available to all the countries of the
European Union. As we know, most of these countries
are highly developed.
Quite correctly, the EU made the determination that
there are certain regions within the member countries
of the Union that are so underdeveloped relative to
the rest of the Union, that it would be incorrect to
rely on the market to supply the resources to end such
It therefore decided that the only way to address this
problem would be to direct specifically targeted official
funds to the affected areas, to ensure that they reach
the necessary levels of development. Simply put, the
Union decided that it had to engage in a deliberate
process of resource transfers to ensure the even and
balanced development of all communities within the Union.
For our part, we are convinced that this was and is
a correct decision and practice. I would like to believe
that all of us here share this view and applaud the
European Union for not falling victim to what the financier,
George Soros, has described as "market fundamentalism",
which would have led the EU to conclude that the underdevelopment
we have spoken of, would be addressed through reliance
on market forces.
I am certain that the distinguished delegates here
are all familiar with what is known as the Washington
Consensus, developed in the early 1990's. This was a
list of policy prescriptions that were said to be necessary
to stimulate economic growth, especially in developing
countries, ensuring, among other things, the necessary
capital flows into countries that respected these prescriptions.
The prescriptions included trade liberalisation, fiscal
discipline and 'sound' macro-economic policy, privatisation,
deregulation, tax reform, absence of civil strife, democracy,
promotion of inward investment, secure property rights,
avoidance of 'crony capitalism', adherence to all manner
of standards relating to banking and the financial markets,
The rules that have been set tell the poor that unless
they can reassure those that have, that more will be
given to them, they must not expect that the haves will
have any concern about the fate of those who have not.
Many developing countries, eager to secure much-needed
investments to pull their peoples our of the morass
of underdevelopment, embraced the Washington Consensus
policy conditions for growth, and used whatever capacity
they had to implement them.
A weekly newsletter dated 12th April 2000, titled 'Sand
in the Wheels', addresses the question of capital flows
in the context of the issue of the debt burden of poor
countries. It said:
"Nobody today contests the fact that the public
debt is an intolerable burden for many countries and
peoples of the South. Even the international financial
institutions admit that this is so. Not that debt is
the only reason for poverty, or for the widening gap
between rich and poor, or for the blockage on development
- but it sums up and amplifies these problems."
The newsletter says further that:
"Too often, payments on debt take precedence over
vital needs of the populations. Take sub-Saharan Africa,
which paid out $14.5 billion to service the debt - four
times the total sum spent on public health. Take Latin
America, where the service of the debt represents annually
35.6% of the subcontinent's exports of goods and services.
Take Mozambique, so recently hit by terrible floods,
and where in 1995, 33% of the budget went to servicing
the debt, against only 3% for health, and 7% for education.
Examples are legion".
The Washington Consensus urged the countries that bear
this debt burden to implement its policy options as
a necessary requirement for the creation of the conditions
that would result in the solution of their problems
of poverty and underdevelopment through the market mechanism.
These countries had to make themselves as beautiful
and alluring as the best mythical maiden, so that they
attract the rich suitors with investment funds, who
populate the global capital markets.
On the other hand, and quite correctly, a developed
and prosperous country, the United Kingdom, has been
allocated 16. 6 billion Euros by the EU, to address
development challenges that are relatively minor, compared
to those confronting the developing world. In the instance
of the UK, as with other relevant regions within the
EU, no call is made that these regions should beautify
themselves for the benefit of the market, and depend
on this market to supply the resources to pull them
out of their relative backwardness.
Bear in mind that even as it tried to prepare itself
for the suitors, Sub-Saharan Africa was transferring
to the rich countries of the North, including those
of the European Union, $14.5 billion to service its
debts. As a result, and as we all know, these African
countries could not provide jobs, adequate health services
and nutrition, education, housing, clean water and sanitation
and other basic necessities to their citizens.
Part of the money given to the United Kingdom is for
a "unique PEACE programme" in Northern Ireland.
Again, we believe that the EU was correct to take this
decision. But for developing countries, there must be
peace, stability and "absence of civil strife",
to use the words of the Washington Consensus, before
the rich can consider giving any financial assistance.
In one case, resources are allocated to achieve peace.
In another, peace must be achieved before assistance
can be considered.
The newsletter to which we have referred is aptly called
'Sand in the Wheels', and speaks eloquently of the cruel
reality of the obstacles that ensures that many developing
countries remain poor. It continues that:
"Debt (also tells a story about) the state of
relations between North and South. Structural adjustment
programmes were imposed on countries of the South to
restore their capacity for debt repayment, and caused
further deterioration in the living conditions of the
most fragile classes of the population. The financial
transfers from South to North in service of the debt
set a mortgage on all chances of development, representing
as they do four times the OECD budget for public aid
The money merchant in the Gospel according to St Matthew
had said that "For unto every one that hath shall
be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him
that hath not shall be taken away even that which he
Indeed, we have seen how in the last decade, as globalisation
brought faster growth and better living conditions to
some parts of the world, the majority of poor countries
have become increasingly marginalised, sinking more
and more into poverty.
At the same time, many of these poor and developing
countries spend their limited resources to train, develop
and increase the capacity of their human resources.
This, as we know, is one of the conditions for these
countries to achieve sustained development, integrate
into the global economy and begin to compete with the
Unfortunately, however, these rich countries use their
enormous resources to entice and recruit some of these
skilled workers and professionals away from their poor
homelands, to work in the developed countries. To those
Much the same thing can be said about other matters,
such as commodities, terms of trade, market access,
access to affordable drugs and medicines, and others.
To those that have
Accordingly, the poor citizens of the world are right
to pose the question to all of us at this conference
and in other global forums - what can we do together
to end the intolerable situation foreseen in the Parable
of the Talents!
When we studied economics in South Africa and England,
my lecturers and professors told us that we must understand
this clearly, that the central and immanent driver of
the capitalist economy is the maximisation of profit.
Even as we struggled to understand such interesting
phenomena as 'elasticity curves', memorise the phrase
unrelated to human society, namely, 'other things being
equal', and having mastered such categories as 'supply
and demand', we had to remember that the critical organising
principle of the myriad of goings-on in the market place
was the profit motive.
I have not attended a class in economics for some time
now. But after much reflection, I can think of no reason
why today's South African and English lecturers and
professors of economics would say anything to their
students that would be different. I presume therefore
that, other things being equal, profit maximisation
remains an immanent feature of the capitalist economy.
I must also suppose that having understood this, the
EU took the decision that there are certain social challenges
that those who must necessarily pursue maximum profit
should not, and cannot be expected to address.
I presume that in this way, they came to the conclusion
that it would be unreasonable to expect that the problems
of underdevelopment in the Merseyside and the Scottish
Highlands and similar regions of the United Kingdom,
could be solved by those who, ineluctably, must be driven
by the objective of profit maximisation.
If all these assumptions are correct, the question
must necessarily arise as to whether the much larger
problems confronting Africa and the rest of the developing
world can be solved through a preponderant dependence
on those who, objectively, have no choice but to pursue
the goal of gaining maximum profit from their economic
As we have sought to argue with regard to various regions
of the UK, this same question is arising with regard
to many major cities in developed Europe. These are
also affected by the process foreseen in the Parable
of the Talents, with visible signs of widening disparities
in wealth, growing impoverishment for some, increasing
numbers of the working poor, and expanding numbers of
people who have effectively dropped out of the labour
The burden of our argument is that, as leaders of the
peoples of the world, we have to understand properly
and without prevarication, the facts available to all
of us, which confirm the correctness of the prediction
of the money merchant reported in the Gospel according
to St Matthew.
Having taken this position, I believe we must also
make the determination, as the European Union has, that
there are certain challenges of poverty and underdevelopment
that can only be addressed through a conscious process
of resource transfers from the rich to the poor, globally.
The decision must therefore be taken that those elected
by the people to represent them and to pursue the public
good, above sectional interests, have an obligation
to ensure that such resource transfers take place. The
process of globalisation says this decision can no longer
be taken solely at the national level. The war against
global poverty calls for global action.
I am convinced also that the leadership gathered here,
and others elsewhere, should also recognise the fundamental
truth that the greatest quantities of stored value available
to address the critical and structural global challenges
of poverty and underdevelopment - capital - are in private
Accordingly, meaningful ways and means have to be found
to mobilise this capital to help finance the eradication
of global poverty, in its own interest, while keeping
in mind the feature central to its nature, of the maximisation
At the beginning I said I belong among those who are
employed. I am certain that, as an individual, I must
also ask myself the question as to what I should do
to contribute to the common fight to eradicate poverty.
I would not ask this question out of a sense of altruism,
and perhaps not even out of a sense of class solidarity.
I, who disposes of no wealth and live by the sweat
of my brow, will say to myself that it makes no sense
that those who are employed today should be unemployed
tomorrow. It is an intolerable burden on me that I should
live in daily fear of retrenchment. It is equally unjust
that my rights as a working person should be threatened,
because there is another at the factory gate who is
ready to take my place on the factory floor, because
he or she is ready to accept lower wages, intolerable
working conditions, casualisation of labour, and non-implementation
of the standards set by the ILO.
Having arrived at these positions, I must ask myself
the question - what should I do, in my own interest,
to end poverty and underdevelopment, to contribute to
the realisation of the objective so eloquently advocated
by Juan Somavia, "working out of poverty"!
All these players, the governments, the business people
and the workers are present in this room. I am certain
that each has a material interest in the solution of
the problems of poverty and underdevelopment. I am equally
certain that all of us will make greater and faster
progress towards achieving this common goal if we act
together as social partners, in the tripartite alliance
that defines this Conference and the ILO.
The poor of the world watch and wait to see what decisions
we will take and what programmes we will implement.
These are the billions cast out into outer darkness,
among whom there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth.
They are convinced that collectively, we have the power
to do something to change their condition, including
putting them on the ladder of opportunity that will
lead to the eradication of poverty through decent work,
of which the Director General has written.
Perhaps they do not know this, but all of us here do,
that the resources exist within the world economy and
society to achieve the objective of the eradication
of poverty, globally. The question we must all answer
is why we are not using these resources to achieve this
goal that is of central importance to the poor and unemployed,
but also to those of us present here, who represent
the tripartite constituency of the ILO.
During the last few years, the world community came
together at the UN Millennium Summit, the Doha Development
Round, the Monterrey Summit on Financing for Development
and the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.
If we are serious about defeating the forecast made
in the Parable of the Talents, we have an obligation
fully to implement the critical decisions we took at
these meetings. We have a duty to ourselves to ensure
that the resources are available to achieve the objectives
that humanity set itself at these historic gatherings.
During this period, the peoples from whom I come, the
Africans, launched the African Union and its development
programme, NEPAD. Through these processes, the African
masses have made the statement that they will act together,
to end war and conflict on their continent, to end dictatorship
and domination by corrupt elites, to use their means
and capacities to end poverty and underdevelopment in
Africa, to bring to a close the long period during which
many in the world saw everything African as the very
representation of human backwardness and barbarism.
At the same time, these African masses have made the
call to the rest of the world to respond to the noble
objective of human solidarity, by annulling the curse
of the ancients, that billions of human beings shall
be cast into the outer darkness, there to weep and gnash
their teeth. I belong among the African masses that,
for centuries, have been cast, like the unprofitable
servant, into outer darkness, so that some should reap
where they have sowed not, and gather where they have
But these masses are people who, as Juan Somavia has
said, have "enormous reserves of courage, ingenuity,
persistence and mutual support
who daily demonstrate
the resilience and creativity of the human spirit. (They),
the working poor are the ultimate entrepreneurs."
For these reasons, these masses have made the statement
that whatever the odds, we will undo the curse of the
ancients. In time, it will be said, again - ex Africa,
semper aliquid novi!
At the closing plenary session of the Bretton Woods
Conference, which set up the World Bank and the IMF,
on July 22nd, 1944, the famous British economist, John
Maynard Keynes, said:
"It has been our task to find a common measure,
a common standard, a common rule applicable to each
and not irksome to any. We have been operating, moreover,
in a field of great intellectual and technical difficulty.
We have had to perform at one and the same time the
tasks appropriate to the economist, to the financier,
to the politician, to the journalist, to the propagandist,
to the lawyer, to the statesman - even, I think to the
prophet and the soothsayer
We have shown that a
concourse of 44 nations are actually able to work together
at a constructive task in amity and unbroken concord.
If we can continue in a larger task as we have begun
in this limited task, there is hope for the world."
The question this Conference will have to answer is
whether, 60 years after Keynes made this statement,
we still have the possibility to make the statement
that 'there is hope for the world.'
If we do not make this statement in a meaningful way,
we should not delude ourselves into believing that only
the economists, the financiers, the politicians, the
journalists, the propagandists, the lawyers, the statesmen,
the prophets and the soothsayers, of whom Keynes spoke,
have a voice.
We must remember that even those cast into the outer
darkness, among whom there is weeping and gnashing of
teeth, are also capable of speaking. And when they do
speak in the end, on all continents, including where
we are meeting, they will proclaim - we are the hope
of the world, free at last of the curse of the money
My personal prayer is that they would give me an opportunity
to introduce myself to them, as you gave me an opportunity
to introduce myself to you. At that moment, I would
say to them that I did what I could to ensure that no
human being anywhere in the world, regardless of nationality,
race, colour, gender, age or ability, had to bear the
indignity, pain and humiliation of unemployment, hunger
and deprivation. I would pray in my heart that they
I wish you a successful International Labour Conference.
I thank you for your attention.