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Report: Strategies to resist austerity

On the 15th of March 2023, AIDC hosted a public forum to discuss international and historical experiences of austerity with Professor Clara Mattei, author of The Capital Order: How Economists Invented Austerity and Paved the Road to Fascism.

For the past several years, the South African government has implemented and gradually increased the depth of what can only be described as austerity measures. From 2013, consecutive National Budgets have prioritized significant cuts and limitations towards government expenditure for basic service provision, public infrastructure, employment stimulation and social protection. As is often the case, the slashing of expenditure towards the public good coincides with tax relief for the rich, interest rate hikes and a deepening of regressive forms of taxation.

Trade unions, civil society organizations and grassroots movements have often framed their objections to austerity on the grounds that it is both irrational as fiscal policy and devastating towards the well-being of the poor, financially precarious and working class overall. AIDC has played a critical role in public advocacy against austerity measures while also providing substantial support for activists involved in anti-austerity organizing. This activism has unfolded primarily through AIDC’s partner social movement the Cry of the Xcluded, in cooperation with trade unions and civil society organizations across South Africa.

Clara Mattei offered a perspective on austerity that will certainly sharpen the strategic efforts of activists and human rights advocates. By identifying how industrial, fiscal and monetary policy work in harmony to kill the economic agency of workers, attendees realized that their resistance to austerity would have to go beyond resistance to budget cuts for the public good and welfare.

Post-input discussion with Clara Mattei on a range of critical issues relating to austerity in the South African experience. Attendees shared their various experiences of austerity, reflecting the positions they inhabit in society in regards to race, gender and age. A consistent theme that ran through this discussion was how the weakening of state capacity, due to budget cuts or limitations, severely damaged the socio-economic well-being of vulnerable groups such as the elderly and children.

Attendees raised questions, both to Clara Mattei and for collective discussion, on the possibility of pursuing litigation against the government’s austerity measures. Considering that local human rights advocates and a United Nations Committee have publicly criticized the government’s austerity measures as damaging to human rights and not aligning with mandates of South Africa’s constitution, most participants did not consider pursuing a legal case to be idealistic.

Following the public forum, AIDC is advancing its anti-austerity research and advocacy. Specifically targeting its efforts towards better understanding austere industrial and monetary policies, while also examining how corporate media and mainstream economists ideologically seduce the general public regarding the necessity and outcomes of austerity. On top of such renewed efforts, AIDC has begun internally deliberating and consulting progressive formations within South Africa’s legal community on how a legal case against fiscal consolidation can be built.

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